Peace Soup: "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life"
The final Peace Soup gathering for Lent 2018 took place on March 20 to a crowd of about 90 people. Tom Streveler hosted the final Peace Soup in a series of five, titled "In is in dying that we are born to eternal life." Peace Soup is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis and Prince of Peace parish's Pax Christi, both of Clinton. Tom is a member of Pax Christi.
Tom Streveler described "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life," as the key paradox of Christianity - dying in order to live. "The honesty of Christ is startling. No one could ever say they were induced into following Christ under false pretenses," he said, adding, "It's one of the few texts in Scripture that is actually found in all four Gospels...let there be no doubt to the reader that the Gospels of Christ's message of self-denial and of dying and living is clear."
Tom quoted C.S. Lewis by saying, "'If you're thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take a hold of you, brains and all.' The first table discussion of the evening took a closer look at the meaning of the Lewis quote.
Shifting the focus to Christianity's place in American culture, Tom used a quote from comedian Jon Stewart. "It makes sense until you think about it." Tom described American culture as having "a dark force at work" that is "smart, attractive, well-formulated, and most insidious of all, it wraps itself in the pretense of Christianity." Tom added, "For the most part this force tries to solve the paradox of Christianity by simply ignoring it as something that Jesus never really meant to say. We are told we can have it all or at least try to have it all and we are assured that we can be embarrassingly rich and shamefully poor at the same and not contradict any principle of Christianity. 'It makes sense until you think about it.'"
For the second table discussion participants worked with the questions, "If it's through knowledge that we gain understanding, and it's through understanding that we make decisions, then where do we get our knowledge?" What are you reading, watching, listening to, and teaching your children?
The evening concluded with two short videos, one was of Mike Wallace interviewing Ayn Rand, author of Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, who states "man must exist for his own sake..." contradicting Christ's teaching in Mark 8:35, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it." Following the video, groups at tables discussed what life would look like if people put themselves first.
"The first time I heard (Ayn Rand) it felt very isolating," said Elizabeth Braun, a St. Ambrose University student. "Her philosophy is very individualistic and self-centered. Hearing it here I felt more solidarity with what I believe."
Tom concluded Peace Soup with a video of a few minutes of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last speech, saying, "Through the process of dying to live there have been born the most precious things that humanity has." Many in the room remembered the assassination that occurred almost 50 years ago. "When he was assassinated I was in a Catholic grade school learning about aiding the poor and serving others. It was the most shocking and disturbing violence in our world," said Dr. Gary Deckard, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, who teaches online classes for Ashford University. "How could we take something like this and destroy it?"
Highlights from the March 20 Peace Soup
Dying in order to live is one of the few texts in Scripture that is actually found in all four Gospels.
From the Gospel of Luke: For whoever wants to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for me will save it. - Luke 9:23
We must spend life and not hoard it. The whole gamut of the world's standards must be changed. It's not how much can I get but how much can I give. Not what is the safe thing to do but what is the best thing to do. As Christians we must realize that we are given life, not to keep if for ourselves but to spend it for others.
From the Gospel of Mark: He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. - Mark 8:34
The honesty of Christ is startling. No one could ever say they were induced into following Christ under false pretenses. Jesus never tried to bribe men by offering them an easy way. The honesty of great leaders has always been their greatest characteristic. During World War II Sir Winston Churchill offered his fellow countrymen blood, sweat, tears, and toil. Jesus came, not to make life easy, but to make us great. Christ never asks us to do something that he would not willingly do himself.
From the Gospel of Matthew: whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. - Matthew 10:39
One who denies Jesus in order to save one's earthly life will be condemned to everlasting destruction. Loss of earthly life for Jesus' sake will be rewarded by everlasting life in the kingdom.
From the Gospel of St. John Whoever loses his life, loses it, and whoever
hates his life in this world will preserve it to eternal life. John 12:25
Only by death comes life. The grain of wheat that was ineffective and unfruitful so long as it preserved itself safely and securely it was when it was thrown in the cold ground as though buried in a tomb that it bore fruit. Not once but twice. Many times Jesus insisted that the one who hoards his life in the end must lose it. The one who spends his life in the end will gain it.
As you look at each of these verses, do you notice any similarities? Of course you do. They're all the same. Over and over let there be no doubt to the reader that the Gospels of Christ's message of self-denial of dying and living is clear. If we're looking for loopholes in the Scripture verses, there are none. The secret to this paradox is that there is no secret. It really is in dying that we're born to eternal life.
During World War II when Great Britain was being bombed by Germany mercilessly, the BBC had asked C.S. Lewis to deliver an inspiring series of messages over the radio, broadcast to defend the Christian faith. Many of those broad casts were lost because they were recorded over but a lot of them survived and became the book, Mere Christianity.
One quote has always haunted me when you think about the demands Christianity puts on us. It's a quote I use many times when I give a little address to the people who are thinking of coming into the church through the RCIA program. "If you're thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take ahold of you, brains and all.
"It makes sense until you think about." - Jon Stewart
I'm going to shift focus so we can better understand what we're up against in the culture that we are participating in. What it is about the current culture that makes living the Christian paradox so difficult, the paradox of dying in order to live. I think we would all agree that there is a dark force at work in our culture. It's smart, attractive, well-formulated, and most insidious of all it wraps itself in the pretense of Christianity. For the most part this force tries to solve the paradox of Christianity by simply ignoring it as something that Jesus never really meant to say. We are told we can have it all or at least try to have it all and we are assured that we can be embarrassingly rich and shamefully poor at the same time and not contradict any principle of Christianity. "It makes sense until you think about it." Let's think about it for a few minutes. One of the fundamental principles of epistemology of how we think or how we learn things is that it's through knowledge that we gain understanding and it's through understanding that we make decisions. If knowing is the key to our understanding, then where do we get our knowledge? How do we know what we know and where does it come from?
How do you know? What do you read? What do you listen to? What do you watch? What influences you? What do we teach our children or what do we teach our family? How do we learn? How much of this dark force has seeped into our base of knowledge and affects our understanding? How does our understanding formulate our judgments and how do our judgments affect our decisions?
You may wonder why an old interview would be of any significance some 59 years later especially if you've never heard of Ayn Rand and maybe you've never heard of Mike Wallace. The reason I think it's critical, and you'll hear Mike Wallace say that at the beginning, something like this, "If this idea ever catches on it's going to significantly change our culture." It has significantly changed our culture. It's one of the great influences of American thought in the last 50 years. It was a novel by Ayn Rand called Atlas Shrugged...
If you want to understand some of the rationale of today's political system and today's political thought it would be good to read or at least become familiar with, Atlas Shrugged. There are offices in the United States Congress for which Atlas Shrugged is required reading. Not the Bible, but Atlas Shrugged...As you listen, catch Mike Wallace's confusion regarding her stand against the Christian principles of particularly the principle of service to others.
To remember that it's always because some were prepared to die that great things have happened. The Christian paradox of dying to live is the greatest prescription ever given for physical, spiritual, mental health and happiness. It structures our lives and unifies our day-to-day decisions and brings with it a sense of fulfillment. You might even say joy. It is not only expressive of the person you are it is also creative of the person you will become. By death comes life. Through the process of dying to live that there has been born the most precious things that humanity has. Almost 50 years ago, April 4, 1968, I was a graduate student in Chicago at DePaul University and tragic news ran across the city like an explosion. Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Chicago literally burst into flames. If you know where DePaul is, it's right downtown on Wabash and Hyde Park wasn't far from there. Chaos was occurring. I really didn't know what else to do. I volunteered to work for a few days for the Chicago Police Department. I was a chemistry major. It had nothing to do with police work. They set up an emergency project called a rumor control central. There was such chaos in communication and so many rumors and things going on around the city people really didn't know where it was safe to go. Could you take a bus? Could you take a train? So we manned these phone lines for a while to get people some information... The night before his assassination, King was in Memphis, Tennessee speaking to a group of people organizing for a sanitation worker's strike. These were workers who were being paid seventy cents an hour under the most deplorable conditions. It was at this cause that he delivered what is now known as the "Mountaintop" speech. It ran 43 minutes. But it was his final address. In the number of years after his assassination, my wife Nancy and I visited Memphis and made a special effort to find the Lorraine Hotel which was downtown where he was shot. It was a rundown intercity hotel it was difficult to find. (It's much changed now. There's a museum there and a nice monument.) We stopped on the street outside the hotel and looked up at the second story balcony where he died. It was enclosed by an unattractive Plexiglass wall with a small sign marking the spot where he fell. I felt a deep sense of sadness. King lived in Chicago at the time that I was there. In an effort to understand the extent of the northern racism he took up residency for a while. I went to a number of protests, marches, and demonstrations during that time. I never saw King. I never heard him speak. I never marched in a march that he had attended ...I just wish I would have understood better the purpose of his cause...but I did show up because I felt that injustice had to do something...As I was trying to make sense of peace in Chicago, I maybe didn't understand what was going on...but we're there. I think that's the critical point. We show up...it's where you are that your faith is. I want to have you see and hear the words of a man who knew he was about to die without any hint of hesitation he was ready to accept God's will and it truly was in dying that he was born to eternal life.