Craig Vick's Scattered Thoughts

Adventures in Virtual Community

A Christmas Truce

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For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12 ESV)

This verse often comes to mind when we sense forces against us that we cannot see. My sister has been a Wycliff Bible translator for many years and currently serves as a translation consultant in Senegal. She has noticed that whenever a New Testament is near completion, all kinds of things begin to spiral out of control. Computers break down, power goes out, roads are washed away, team members face personal crises – from economic hardship to deaths in their families – the list goes on and on. Of course, other observers may look at these events as coincidences, but for us it’s easy to see reminders of the unseen battle.
I’d like to focus, however, on another part of this passage. Paul writes that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. In other words, people are not our enemies. In our country today many have noted how difficult it has become to have civil debates. We Evangelicals in particular are seen as strident, judgmental, self righteous and defined by what (or should I say whom) we oppose. We can blame some of this on distorted perception or even intentional misrepresentation, but do we really believe that’s the whole story? How do we see the people around us, especially those with whom we have serious disagreements? Do we listen? I find we easily slip into being so convinced of our rightness that we are quick to speak and slow to hear. We even use war terminology to describe our differences. We speak of cultural wars. We describe disagreements as persecution.
Paul says people are not our enemies. That’s why he can bless when he’s reviled, pray for those who curse him and endure persecution. Jesus commands us to love our enemies as our neighbors. Even if they hate us, we’re not against them. We see them as neighbors.
World War I was a dark time in human history. Men waiting for death in trenches, exposed to gas, grenades, mines and machine gun fire – these are emblems of that terrible war. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict endured death and brutality at a level difficult for us to even imagine. The war left deep scars and deep hatred. It contained all the seeds for the atrocities of the next world war. In the midst of these horrors, a small victory for humanity appeared, a Christmas truce. As Christmas approached battlefields saw unofficial cease fires. Enemy troops exchanged gifts, sang Christmas carols together, played soccer with one another and even wept together over the dead. At one level they were still enemies. At a deeper level their humanity transcended the war. I imagine joy in these truces.
When Paul tells us that people are not our enemies I like to think he’s encouraging us to always be on the lookout for a Christmas truce. The dark forces that pit us against one another can be eclipsed by our common humanity. We can learn from, weep with and love our enemies as our neighbors. I’m not so naive as to think that this will drive away all conflict. It won’t. It’s hard work. It goes against our instincts. This I know, however. We are to be known for our love.

5 thoughts on “A Christmas Truce

  1. Craig, this is beautiful. I have much to say, but will do it tomorrow.

  2. Thanks Margaret, as always I look forward to your thoughts.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. My husband and I recently saw a _Star Trek: The Next Generation_ episode called “Darmok.” In it, the Enterprise is threatened with destruction if they can’t interpret the language of the “enemy” ship. Captain Picard is sent to a planet to attempt communication with one of these “enemy” aliens. As it turns out, the aliens’ language is all based on metaphors from their folklore. The captain must not only interpret the words but the stories behind them. There is no grammar involved, simply the requirement to understand the folklore.
    We know that soldiers who killed those uniformed as “enemies” and then found evidences of their common humanity–a photo of a wife and children, a letter from a parent–were often haunted by the killing for years. They would use words like “I murdered”, or “I slaughtered.”

    I refer to the events your sister describes as “the bells of Hell.” I also have experienced them before the conclusion of an important project. And thinking of your sister makes me think of my father, whose whole life has been dedicating to learning the stories that make the language.

    When I was eight years old, my brother and I accompanied my dad to Yucatan. Dad worked with a Baptist minister to learn Maya, and they used Bible stories as their texts. The Mayan minister re-told the story of the Prodigal Son using images distinctive to his culture. The prodigal son, for example, had grown his hair long, a sign to Mayans of rebellion.

    Surely all of us have our own signs of rebellion when it comes to the family of God. Even fashion and hair style can identify us as belonging to one group and rejecting another. Sadly, we have seen some activity by white supremacists lately, who have their own symbols calling them into a circle of hatred.

    The family of God calls all of us to open–open our eyes, open our ears, open our minds, and especially open our hearts. We are asked to “awake and arise.”

    In my religion, we don’t use crosses. Yet I found myself moved to tears as my family and I visited Lithuania and saw the Hill of Crosses, boldly built by Lithuanians in defiance of Societ rule, which insisted that no crosses be displayed. The people sent crosses down the river to be placed on that hill. My father asked me as we approached, “How many crosses do you guess you’ll see?” I said perhaps one thousand. Actually, they weren’t countable. Every cross had several rosaries (with crosses) dangling from the nexus. I could hardly imagine the courage of these people, who had said to the Communist regime: “We are not yours. We are Christ’s.”

    Maybe I’ll post some of this on a blog and include a photo of that hill.

    Thank you for your thoughts, Craig. It made me remember so many things.

  4. Margaret,
    That’s one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I’ve read accounts of soldiers seeing the humanity of an enemy. It’s hard for me to imagine how crushing that could be. There’s a very gripping description of this in All Quiet on the Western Front. A soldier mortally wounds an enemy, hears the enemy groaning through the night and then sees his face. Merold Westphal points this out in his little book, Levinas and Kierkegaard in Dialog, as an example of the force of the face of the other. Even thinking about it brings tears. The account is fictional, but I’ve no doubt it mirrors actual experiences.

    I’ve thought about my own words with respect to groups like the white supremacists. What does it mean to say they aren’t my enemies? I have to admit it makes me uncomfortable. Seeing through the powers of darkness and seeing them as neighbors, that’s not easy for me. Yet, that is what Jesus commands.

    Be sure and ping me if you post the photo with your thoughts. I wouldn’t want to miss it.

  5. I did it. http://www.bycommonconsent.com . I cut and pasted some of what I put on your blog, and added other thoughts. The shot of Bruce at the hill of crosses was just too low res to use, so I took one off the internet. You should see that hill, Craig. I wonder if anyone can see it without weeping.

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