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Michael Hardin, founder of Preaching Peace

16 December 2016

‘Peace is not an ideal, it’s a person’

Preaching Peace is about educating the world and the Church in Jesus’s vision of peace. It’s a revolutionary, holistic model of peacemaking.


In March 2017, we’ll inaugurate the School of Peace Theology to provide online education; and in November we have a major conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Stanley Hauerwas, Douglas Campbell, and many others. I also teach theology on Facebook.


Peace is not an ideal: it’s a person. It’s God enfleshed as Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to follow him and learn to make peace the way Abba makes peace, through self-giving. As such, this self-giving, or surrender, as the mystics might have called it, has deep consequences for both spirituality and ethics — but more so for theology. How might we learn to read the Bible from Jesus’s perspective? Did Jesus have an interpretive method when he read his sacred textual tradition? I think he did. If you read the first seven or eight pages of Chapter 2 of my book The Jesus Driven Life you will see what I mean.


I’ve been speaking in the UK four out of the past five years. I do these six- to eight-week tours. I’m especially fond of Yorkshire, and I’m received rather well, thankfully. I speak to a lot of post-Christian people and groups, and do some university lecturing and some preaching in churches.


Lorri and I moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in September 2005, home of the Amish and Mennonites, who come in so many different varieties, you wouldn’t believe it. We came because we fell in love with a local Mennonite congregation. This part of our journey has taught us to be frugal, compassionate, honest, hard-working, and generous with others. Sadly, my part in the Mennonite venture ended in 2013.


I use the anthropology of René Girard. I’ve found his the best explanation for the origin of the human species, and the role of the scapegoat in maintaining culture, to be not just intellectually brilliant, but also quite prophetic. The revelation of the non-retributive God in Jesus, as the God who becomes the ultimate victim, or outcast, of a God who does not retaliate but only forgives, who only loves and has no hidden dark side — this revelation is all about God the peacemaker, and how God makes peace through forgiveness, not by transaction.


This is what I do to pay the bills. It is full-time researching, writing, preparing talks or lectures, writing posts for Facebook, or working in a reading or mentoring group, editing videos and podcasts for the website, doing interviews, hosting folks who come to be mentored, or just come to visit. . . And I travel about four or five months a year speaking. There’s also conference planning, work on the School of Peace Theology website, admin, and so on. It never ends, and it’s all good. I am content.


Silly though it sounds, Advent means Christmas songs, carols, and music to me. Liturgically, of course, Advent is about waiting — waiting for God to invade our world. And when God does invade on Christmas morning, the word is “Shalom, peace”. I’m quite fond of the church year.


God invades the world in Jesus. We humans, hard wired to copy one another’s desires, need a human model to show us how to live at peace. This we have in Jesus of Nazareth.


I hope peace is achievable from a human perspective, but I’m also a realist. We, as a species, may well end up in an apocalypse of our own doing. Who can say? I do know that, while governments and corporations duel it out on the world stage, the regular person prefers peace. But the kind of peace Jesus gives? That is another story. The peace the world gives has strings, and comes from power. The peace Jesus gives is free, merciful, gracious, and kind, with no strings attached whatsoever. We used to call this agape.


I’m not sure I could describe what this peace would look like politically, but it would have to be a peace where there is no hierarchy, nor brought through power, but through weakness and forgiveness. The world knows peace only through strength: Pax Romana, Pax Americana. The cross of Jesus is the way God subverts and dismantles the human peace process and initiates the divine one.


I have a different view on creation than most, due to the fact that I’ve been engaged in Native American wilderness survival, nature observation, tracking, and awareness training. We started Tracker School in 2002, and our most recent class was earlier this year on making primitive weapons for hunting. I love the creation. I find it to be a mirror of my soul, because of the earth I’ve learned to see in new and exciting ways.


This has been, and continues to be, a difficult and tumultuous time for the American people. Fear grips America, and with the seasonal change and holiday depression and stress, I am very concerned that we are a people waiting to come apart at the seams.


I define the metaphor of Jesus as our chauffeur on the journey of life. My book The Jesus Driven Life is a biblical systematic theological approach to the Bible that offers a method of reading the Bible as a book on a trajectory of radical peace, the kind lived by Jesus of Nazareth.


My first experience of God must go way back, to when I was a young boy at Catholic mass, maybe five or six. I love the mass. Yes, that experience has changed, and continues to change. At almost 60, there is a calmness that has descended. I know I am known and loved by our God.


I love the voice of Jon Anderson (of Yes fame). Mostly, though, I would say it is the birds. I also love the sound of people laughing.


I have 7000 or so favourite books. . . Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, anything by René Girard, good scholarly biblical or theological tomes. My favourite novelist is James Rollins.


I had a bit of a dust-up last winter with one of my teenage granddaughters. I was in the wrong, and thankfully that relationship is mended. She is precious, and I think that she may be a writer some day.


To quote a song I wrote back in the mid-1990s: “I’m most happy when I’m all alone in the kitchen with my guitar.” I like writing songs, and singing them.


My wife, Lorri, is the biggest influence in my life, hands down. In terms of others I’ve known, I’d say George Eldon Ladd, Bernard Ramm, Ray C. Barber, Edwin A. Hallsten, Walter Wink, Douglas Campbell, and René Girard.


I wake up with a pulse every morning, and I am happy. I have today only, and that’s all any of us really have. But if I look long-term, what gives me hope is that so many people are expressing their hunger for a Jesus more viable, more authentic, more like a peacemaker than has traditionally been given them by the Church.


I don’t pray for myself any more, ever. I let the Spirit and others do that. I do pray for others though. I don’t know that I pray for any one person the most.


I badly want to say I’d choose Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be my companion if I was locked in a church, but the apostle Paul is so exciting, and the new work done of his life and letters so invigorating, I’d bring my Greek New Testament and would love to do some exegesis with him. That would be a thrill ride, hey?


Michael Hardin was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. www.preachingpeace.org

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