Ray LaMontagne’s recent album “Till the Sun Turns Black” ends with one of the most beautiful songs about peacemaking I’ve ever heard—in which he simply repeats the refrain “War is not the answer, the answer is within you” over the most delicately lilting instrumentation. It’s the kind of sentiment that could be accused of being too vague to have any practical meaning, but warm and positive enough to be popular. But there’s something about it that feels deeper than that.
It comes to mind as I sit in a cramped and crowded airport in Missouri, between cities on a trip that will take me from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest, meeting and talking with people seeking to explore faith at the margins of institutional Christianity. I’ll be part of a conference the week after next on the topic “Dangerous Living”(www.solitonnetwork.org)—a title ambiguous enough to invite further interrogation. The organizers aim to build a temporary community of fellow travelers asking questions and sharing experiences of what it means to follow the radical Jesus in a culture that often seems to privilege consumerism above all else and seeks to avoid anything resembling physical work at all costs. We’ll talk about faith and social justice—just what does it mean in our day to hear Jesus tell the rich young ruler how hard it is to get into the kingdom of heaven? We’ll investigate faith and authority: What kind of leadership is required when so many of our public role models leave so much to be desired? We’ll immerse ourselves in faith and creativity, hoping to become more attentive to the voice of God in art, film, music, and nature. Most of all, we will wonder together what it means to be stewards of the Christian tradition that we inherit without falling into the trap of religious imperialism. In other words, how can we take responsibility for sharing our faith without imposing it on others in a way that prevents anyone taking us seriously?
These questions were not far from my thoughts this afternoon, as we sat down for a meal at one of the in-house airport restaurants. Just after my Diet Coke arrived, the gentleman next to our table took a phone call, the first few lines of which went as follows:
‘Hi there—didn’t realize you were on that side of the pond. You looking for more bombers, or just drinking Irish car bombs?’
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