Inspiration comes in a variety of ways: while reading the scriptures, in dreams at night, observing God's creation, talking with friends, God whispering in your ear. Sometimes I even inspire myself. Sunday afternoon I was writing to a friend of mine. This is what I said:
You know ... now there's a phrase that gets bandied about way too thoughtlessly. One should probably avoid using the phrase unless one has reason to think that it might reflect reality. People say "you know" when the the truth would be, "You probably have no clue what I mean; I don't even know what I mean." If they themselves had a clue what they were thinking, perhaps they would try to express their thoughts rather than foisting the responsibility off on the people listening to them.
Every once in a while, though, someone who is listening (or reading an email) really does know what you are saying more clearly than you know yourself. That can be very disconcerting, even annoying. A little dissonance there: Your picture of yourself doesn't coincide well with the picture the other person has of you and you are sure that they are mistaking your motives. And yet ... sometimes the other person sees you more clearly than you see yourself. And that can be annoying, to both of you.
Yes, that can be annoying. But it made me think about the need for us to hear honest appraisals of our lives. The first thing I thought about is the story of Paul and Peter on a mission trip to Antioch. This story seems especially appropriate this week, since the anniversary of the deaths of Peter and Paul is coming this Saturday, June 29. (The tradition is that Peter and Paul were each executed in Rome, on the same date and in the same city, but not in the same year nor in the same way.) Here is how Paul tells the story in the letter to the Galatians:
2 11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong. 12 Before some men who had been sent by James arrived there, Peter had been eating with the Gentile brothers. But after these men arrived he drew back and would not eat with the Gentiles, because he was afraid of those who were in favor of circumcising them. 13 The other Jewish brothers also started acting like cowards along with Peter; and even Barnabas was swept along by their cowardly action. 14 When I saw that they were not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you have been living like a Gentile, not like a Jew. How, then, can you try to force Gentiles to live like Jews?"
Perhaps the word "coward" seems too strong an image, but it is true that Simon Peter was not walking the "straight path". His acts did not coincide with the motives he claimed. And so it was right and necessary for Paul to call Peter to task.
You know that I always like to bring in some Methodistical tradition, and a second thing I was reminded of is the Methodist class meeting. This is an abbreviated summary of that tradition:
In the latter end of the year 1739 eight or ten persons came to Mr. [John] Wesley, in London, who appeared to be deeply convinced of sin, and earnestly groaning for redemption. They desired, as did two or three more the next day, that he would spend some time with them in prayer, and advise them how to flee from the wrath to come, which they saw continually hanging over their heads. That he might have more time for this great work, he appointed a day when they might all come together, which from thenceforward they did every week, namely, on Thursday in the evening. To these, and as many more as desired to join with them (for their number increased daily), he gave those advices from time to time which he judged most needful for them, and they always concluded their meeting with prayer suited to their several necessities.
This was the rise of the United Society, first in Europe, and then in America. Such a society is no other than "a company of men having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation."
That it may the more easily be discerned whether they are indeed working out their own salvation, each society is divided into smaller companies, called classes, according to their respective places of abode. There are about twelve persons in a class, one of whom is styled the leader. It is his duty:
There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: "a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins." But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.
It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:
It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men:
It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:
These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.
In the traditional Methodist class (as in other traditions you may know about) calling people to task takes a step from casual interaction between two people toward an intentional, mutual community. People joined the Methodistical class meeting recognizing their need for advising, reproving, comforting, and exhorting and seeking the clear opinion of their own actions from another person.
The third thing I thought of was Ryan Shiffer's report last Sunday morning about his mission to, and from, Columbia. What struck me this week is the mission from Columbia to the U.S., advice and exhortation for which Ryan served as messanger. Ryan heard this message first-hand from Hector and other Columbia people and so we could hear it just one step removed. The content of this honest opinion is not new, however. It is a message which people of Columbia have been offering to the people of the United States for some time, but it is not a view we have been seeking.
I found much the same information in a web essay by Herbert Tico Braun, a Colombian citizen currently teaching at the University of Virginia. Braun writes:
On May 26, hard-liner Alvaro Uribe Velez decisively won Colombia's presidential election. It's the first time in history that Colombians have elected a president who campaigned on a promise to defeat the guerrillas.
In the last presidential election in 1998, Colombians voted in Andres Pastrana, who had promised a negotiated settlement with the guerrillas to end the country's 40-year-old civil war. Pastrana's peace efforts failed, and he leaves office as one of the most unpopular presidents ever.
For the majority of Colombians who went to the polls recently, only a military solution seemed politically credible. The underlying desire for Colombian voters remains the same: They desperately want the guerrillas to simply melt away. Most Colombians have held to this outlook consistently during the past half-century.
Colombia is afflicted with the hemisphere's longest-running civil war. The guerrillas have long claimed to be fighting on behalf of Colombia's politically and economically marginalized peasantry. But for Colombians of all social classes, the war's purpose remains strange and confused. Whatever meaning it might once have had is today largely obscured.
The character of the war has, however, undergone some changes. Illegal drugs and U.S. military aid are expanding this war beyond its local dimensions. Insurgents of the left and paramilitaries of the right are now sharply clad in clean military uniforms. They have more guns and ammunition then they know what to do with, and they have Web sites and e-mail addresses. They have grown wealthy from kidnappings and cocaine trafficking.
The United States is now deeply involved in this war, on the side of the Colombian army and, by extension, the brutal paramilitaries. Colombia already receives more than $1.4 billion in annual aid from the United States, more than any nation except Israel and Egypt.
Just as Pastrana made a negotiated peace seem easy, so now Uribe is portraying military victory as equally possible. But he has offered few specifics on how he will defeat the guerrillas, other than announcing his plans to double the size of combat forces to 100,000 and to increase the police to 200,000.
Who is going to be recruited into this expanded army? Most high-school graduates are not required to serve in the military, and those who do get desk jobs in urban areas. Middle- and upper-class Colombians who voted for a wider war don't expect that their children to fight it. Instead, Uribe has proposed a cheap and dangerous solution: to create a network of 1 million civilian "informants" to serve as eyes and ears for the military and police in workplaces and neighborhoods. This is a sure path to widespread vigilantism.
And where is the money going to come from for this new war effort? Only a skimpy 3.7 percent of Colombia's gross domestic product -- as little as $3.1 billion -- is spent yearly on the military and the police. The economy is limping along at a 2 percent annual growth rate, and in his campaign, Uribe made no mention of increased taxes.
The Bush administration, however, is stepping up to the plate, offering an additional $660 million in U.S. aid. Should the American people be asked to help pay for this war when Colombia's middle and upper classes have never done so?
By electing Uribe, Colombians have voted for a war without sacrifices and a war without a clear endgame. This kind of escapist thinking might appear odd and irrational, but it parallels the thinking behind Washington's war on drugs. Many well-meaning Americans support this "supply-side" drug war that targets Colombia and other drug-producing countries with increasingly militarized eradication and interdiction campaigns.
Many know that this policy does not work. More illegal drugs enter the United States today than when the drug war first began decades ago. In fact, last year alone, the area under coca cultivation in Colombia increased by 24.7 percent, according to recent CIA reports. But many Americans see it as easier than fighting "demand-side" drug consumption at home.
Guerrillas in Colombia and drugs in America are not simply going to melt away because politicians pledge that they will defeat them. If Uribe's administration is as superficial as his political campaign, his presidency will likely be a failure.
Instead of opting for facile solutions, both Colombians and Americans need to address the root causes behind these twin wars.
I cannot guarantee that any opinion of my actions, or of our actions, will be correct – or even honest. It may be tainted by prejudice or misinformation, or it may just be inaccurate. Or it may be insightful and true. It may even be the word of God to us. So I recommend being attentive to the words spoken by the Pauls, the Johns, the Hectors, and the Ryans.
Sometimes another person sees us more clearly than we see ourselves. And that can be annoying, to all of us. But when our motives are not aligned with our ideals, when we are "not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel," there is no better grace than to be rebuked.
Report by Ryan Shiffer to the West Side Moravian Church, Green Bay, Wisconsin, on June 23, 2002. Complete text below.
Electronic mail message from the author to Edward Bruno Oroyan, June 23, 2002.
Scripture quotations from Good News Bible: The Bible in Todays English Version, American Bible Society, 1976.
The General Rules of the Methodist Church from The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2000. Copyright 2000 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Reformatted from the version published on the internet at http://www.umc.org/churchlibrary/discipline/doctrinalstandards/doctrinal_standards.htm Church Library - Section III - Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules - Official Website of The United Methodist Church. June 24, 2002.
[Bibliographical Note: The General Rules are printed here in the text of 1808 (when the fifth Restrictive Rule took effect), as subsequently amended by constitutional actions in 1848 and 1868.]
Herbert Tico Braun, "Military force will not cure Colombia's ills". The Progressive Media Project, http://www.progressive.org/Media%20Project%202/mpbm2902.html. June 25, 2002.
[Herbert Tico Braun, an analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org), is a Colombian citizen and Latin-American history professor at the University of Virginia. He is the author of "Our Guerrillas, Our Sidewalks," a memoir of the kidnapping of his American brother-in-law by the guerrillas in Colombia in 1988 (University of Colorado Press, 1994). He can be reached at email@example.com.]