Back in 1978, Elvis Costello sang lyrics that resonate over 40 years later: “As I walk through/ This wicked world/ Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity/ I ask myself/ Is all hope lost?/ Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?/ And each time I feel like this inside/ There’s one thing I wanna know:
“What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?”
We have been entrusted with this incredible message of God’s all-embracing, transformative love for this world and all its people. Jesus embodied that love and reached out to those that the religious establishment excluded: adulterers, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, foreigners. Jesus lived out a message of peace, love and understanding.
And what have we done with that message? We have somehow perverted it into a weapon of judgment against those who do not look like us, act like us, believe like us. We have so twisted that message around that too many people identify the church with judgment, hatred and exclusion.
What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?
Isaiah proclaims this vision: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) When these words are repeated later, the prophet emphasizes that this is not a vision for some far-off future, but rather, “be glad and rejoice forever in what I [God] am creating.” (Isaiah 65:18) Isaiah envisions a world of peace, love and understanding.
John speaks of a vision of the tree of life that grows along the springs of the water of life that — even now — flows out of the city of God. About that tree, John says that “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2) God wants to bring about healing, wholeness, and restoration, not simply for individuals but for communities and nations. John dreams of a world filled with peace, love and understanding.
And where do we find this dream? Where do we find this vision? Jesus tells us: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact the kingdom of God is among — or within — you.” (Luke 17:20-21) This dream, this vision, this kingdom, longs to be realized right now. It is within our grasp.
Why then are we so divided? Why then have we used religion as a means to justify bigotry, violence and oppression?
What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding?
When I hear news reports of so-called pastors that actually promote violence against my LGBT brothers and sisters, I want to ask, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”
When I hear talk about building walls on our borders, I want to ask, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?”
When I hear about another shooting taking place at a school, workplace, concert, or nightclub, I want to ask, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?”
In response, Brian McLaren invites us to change how we look at our lives and our world by asking two questions: “1. If you were to live for another 50 years, what kind of person would you like to become — and how will you become that kind of person? and 2. If Jesus doesn’t return for 10,000 or 10 million years, what kind of world do we want to create?”
So if you feel similar frustrations about the church as I do, I invite you to join in imagining together a life and a world that God intended. A life and a world where it is no longer funny to speak and live peace, love and understanding.