king-nobel-peace-prize-ABThe late Christian civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: “I believe the unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” As we come to the end of 2015 I have reflected upon this a great deal and applied it to my own life and work. We are about to enter what appears to be a year that will be filled with war, tumult and continued suffering. There will be a lot more bad news. And we are entering an election year in the U.S., a time when minds and hearts are taken away into profound partisanship.

I look ahead to 2016 praying to God that I will be armed with both “truth” and “unconditional love.” I do believe it is not “pie-in-the-sky” to adopt this stance toward all things. Let me elaborate.

Those who love me, and follow me via the social media, know that over the last six months of 2015 I wrote very few blogs. There were several reasons for this:

  1. I was working on a new book and this work required more of me than I expected.
  2. I grew weary of blogging and lost my purpose for why I was writing blogs.
  3. I fell into unexpected polemical patterns that in hindsight denied my God-given goals for this mission.

What do I mean by “polemical” in this third point? The word polemical refers to becoming disputatious, or strongly critical, especially when it comes to an adopted writing style. As much as I set out to avoid this style I easily fell back into it over time. Some of you know that I mastered this style in the late 1970s and 1980s and came to deep repentance about the division I caused by the 1990s. If you have not seen my story  watch “Sanctuary,” an ABC Chicago program aired in March 2015. In fact, if you wish to understand me and my work there is no better way to see and understand this than by watching this video.

Let me be very clear. There is a proper place for disputation. We become lazy and anti-intellectual when we give up disputation altogether. But when this form marks a considerable portion of our writing and rhetoric it easily poisons relationships. I looked up the word polemical and found the following synonyms for this word: critical, hostile, bitter, virulent, vitriolic, caustic, cutting, acerbic, sarcastic, scathing, sharp, devastating. A few words that are used as synonyms are better. These include: trenchant, sharp and incisive. The latter are words that describe what I aspire to do in one sense thus I leave place for polemics but not for caustic, cutting and continually negative writing.

But here is my point – continual polemics is common to much of modern religious debate. Christians have broadly adopted this style and thus they have embraced a constant partisanship that threatens relationships and ruins close friendships.

My mission is rooted in what I have called missional-ecumenism. This mission requires careful thought and biblical care. It also requires deep attention to Paul’s admonition to “Make love your aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1). In the context of confusion and disputation in the church at Corinth, Paul admonished the church to “eagerly pursue and seek to acquire love as your great quest.”

Having devoted so much time to writing a book, now tentatively titled Costly Love, this truth of love has worked on me personally. With Richard Rohr I now believe, “Both God’s identity and our own True Self are Love.” (Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediation, Monday, December 28, 2015, adapted from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, 2003). I am not a negative, disputatious person when I am the person that God has called me to be. When I fall into ways that do not value others, and promote my own knowledge of facts as “the truth,” I call back into the polemical way I do not desire to adopt.

So, looking ahead I plan to write more on this site in 2016. I will engage with issues and global concerns but my response will “make love my aim.” I will not fall for “pop-psychology” as a replacement for true religion, and I hope to be genuinely prophetic at times, but I also desire to steadfastly reject polemics. I am weary of it, frankly. In the last three days I have heard enough polemics from both the left and right to distress me. God has used this to awaken me to my own calling. With his help I hope to inform you and encourage you, and thus to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

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  1. Phil Miglioratti December 31, 2015 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Tweeted … praying many more Christ-followers will demonstrate this costly love through a lifestyle.

  2. Chris Criminger January 1, 2016 at 6:06 am - Reply

    Hi John,
    If this is a new years’ resolution, it is a great one. I hope to show more compassion and mercy this year, I have especially been inspired by reading about the life of Pope Francis who is like a living saint to me.

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