Complicated lines

Oct 12, 2015 by

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Life is complicated for Daniel. Training to become a civil servant in a foreign country is tricky. Taking classes on the wisdom and literature of the Chaldeans is confusing. Studying astrology, omens and myths that shape Babylonian culture challenge his Hebrew identity. Daniel doesn’t say no, but he draws a line when he is offered the king’s royal food.

Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

Daniel’s loyalty is to Yahweh, not to Nebuchadnezzar or any pagan deity. To accept royal rations goes too far in blurring his allegiance.

As Mennonites we have a history of nonconformity, of refusing to go along with outside foreign culture. In World War I, Mennonites went on trial for refusing to put on military uniforms. In World War II, my mom quit her good-paying factory job when they received an order from the U.S. Army. She drew a line. Allegiance to Jesus meant loving enemies.

Kim Davis, the civil servant working for Rowan County, Ky., drew a line. She refused to sign her name to same-sex marriage licenses. Some see her as a hero, as today’s Rosa Parks. Others see her as a George Wallace.

How do we sort out present-day lines? How can we distinguish bold, faithful acts from acts flavored by cultural illusions?

When we start drawing lines, it is helpful to remember what sort of homeland Jesus invites us to join. Jesus envisions a new society. A society where the poor hear good news. Where those captive in detention centers and by society’s expectations find release. Where the blind find sight. It is a place where those in the back of the bus find fresh air. Where those at the end of the line are elevated and where enemies love each other.

George Wallace wanted a segregated world. He stood in the way of students entering the University of Alabama. Wallace was trying to preserve an unjust, fading culture. Wallace later found grace and made amends to the students he had blocked.

Rosa Parks wanted a homeland where blacks did not have to stand while whites had seats. She drew a line and refused to give up her seat. We still struggle to move toward a society where seats and privileges are fairly distributed.

From where we now stand, it is easy to admire Daniel for his refusal of royal rations. It is easy to cheer for Rosa Parks and condemn George Wallace.

In today’s world, we are not always sure how radical faithfulness looks. As Jesus-followers, we do not always agree on where to draw lines. We do know that Daniel was not in charge of saving Babylon. Neither is it our job to save America nor to legislate our faith. Finding our way is not easy.

Many jobs create tension and ambiguity. How does faithfulness look when we produce bulldozers that make roads, but some bulldozers destroy Palestinian homes? How does faithfulness look when we create guidance systems for drones that aid farmers, but some drones kill people? How does faithfulness look when we sign marriage licenses that create healthy partnerships, but some result in abuse and divorce?

Together we are learning to dance in a foreign culture where Jesus calls the steps. Sometimes we trip, but we keep talking, and we keep dancing, and we keep trying to remember where our allegiance lies. We keep trying to love those who draw different lines. And when we misstep, grace is waiting.

We worship the God of Daniel, the God revealed in Jesus. May the Holy Spirit help us navigate life in this foreign culture.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.


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