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Book review: ‘Smart Compassion’

By on May 22, 2017 in Book Review, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

How radical should radical hospitality get? If you are open to having foster children in your home, is one enough, or should you have two or four or maybe eight? At what point do you set a boundary? A foster parent himself, Wesley Furlong explores this and similar challenges in Smart Compassion.

'Smart Compassion'

‘Smart Compassion’

A church leader and nonprofit founder now living in Pennsylvania, Furlong leads readers into an exploration of community-based ministries that unify the head and the heart.

One might think making compassion smart requires head knowledge. This book actually notches up the heart element. Real compassion starts with connecting with others on a deep human level.

Increased knowledge, however, does make a difference to Furlong. He gives examples of how well-intended services to low-income parents and families can sometimes lead to unintended harms, such as embarrassing a recipient who would have appreciated more empowerment and less of a handout.

Learning more about people in need on both the sociological and psychological levels is vital for anyone who is committed to long-term service work. Understanding root causes from a systems approach is also critical.

I appreciate that Furlong gives plenty of attention to the inward roots of authentic service to others. He writes about loving others and listening to them in ways that make relationship-building the foundation of compassion-based ministries. This boils down to being more thoughtful as the service worker seeks to be a healing presence.

Out of this thoughtfulness comes discerning and responding, which complete the quartet started by loving and listening. Discerning always asks the question: How can I help bring new life in this situation?

All of this takes time. One nice example in the book is how Jesus, with the two disciples from Emmaus, was in no rush. He honored their questions, spent time in conversation and shared a meal with them in their home. Being with others in full and deep ways is what compassion is all about.

Radical hospitality, therefore, becomes a natural outgrowth to this process of being with others in their state of need. Furlong mentions how one woman with a reputation for making strangers feel like family used to say, “Food pantries are good, but let’s try to move people into our kitchens.” Part of following Jesus is “finding ways to turn strangers into extended family members.”

Returning to the foster care issue: Meet the Vernons. Examples like this couple’s journey to normalize the acceptance of foster children into their home run throughout the book. But there are more than just anecdotes here. Furlong presents several continuums that can help service workers navigate tough decisions. Providers can fall on a continuum of healthy to fragile. They can wrestle with boundary issues ranging from rigid to flexible. They can find a balance between nurture and structure. No matter what the case, though, learning to embrace tension is par for the course.

“There’s no compassion without relationship, and there’s no relationship without margin,” Furlong says. To allow for margins means, for instance, holding things loosely in our planned schedule.

I like the way Furlong emphasizes the role of God’s Spirit to direct — or better, to redirect — things that are beyond our control. This openness leads to kairos moments of opportunity that demonstrate God’s role in making new life happen for others. Examples of this populate the book.

Ultimately, smart compassion should lead to the empowerment of the people and communities being served. At this point I was expecting more from the book about how church communities can play a key role in being a healing presence, providing radical hospitality and empowering local players. Furlong could have done better to show how a mission-minded church can advance its own collective formation in its outward journey. But his section on how churches can be like Old Testament cities of refuge does well to pull the discussion in this direction. This is a great model for serving immigrants or people who feel isolated in our society.

If you are in the early stages of a new outreach to people who are beset with social needs, this book is for you. Furlong sustains a balance between head and heart, keeping God’s activity at center stage. Notching up both the head and heart factors of compassion will very likely move the background of life into the foreground of what you see day to day.

Ted Lewis works as a restorative justice trainer and consultant, and also runs the Agapé Peace Center in Duluth, Minn.

Showalter: Tanzanians’ audacious goal

By on May 22, 2017 in Columns, Latest Issue, Showalter: World Neighbors | 0 comments

It is exciting to witness how Anabaptist churches of the Global South are pursuing their goals. Tanzanian Mennonites may be the most ambitious of all.

Richard Showalter

Showalter

The Tanzanian Mennonite Church — in Swahili, Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania, or KMT — is a group of about 65,000 members, now more than 80 years old. The KMT is divided into 10 regions, known as dioceses, each led by a bishop. Two hundred thirty pastors serve one or more congregations.

In 2034 the KMT will celebrate its 100th anniversary. In preparation, the leaders are unveiling an ambitious set of goals they’ve dubbed “Vision 2034.”

Their vision is to add a million members within 17 years.

You heard that right. One million.

Many would say it’s an unreachable goal. That’s more than 15 new members for each current one. Take into account deaths and other inevitable losses, and it’s even more than that.

This goal would be tough to market in the West.

Even the most rapidly growing, evangelism-minded Mennonite Brethren conference would set its sights lower.

Even the biologically reproductive Old Order Amish — though they wouldn’t set goals in any case — will hardly match it.

Looking around the globe, few others are so daring.

What’s with the KMT? Naivete? Ignorance? Overweening pride?

I don’t think so. Rather, it’s a combination of simple faith, prayerful consideration of the spiritual needs around them and determination to place their resources at God’s disposal. They know they are poor and weak in earthly terms, but together they believe God is leading them into a season of harvest.

They say: “Setting a goal beyond our human ability is a proof of trust that we do our part to invite God to finish the work within our hands!”

It’s a generational change. During the past three months, five new bishops have been ordained. Others will join them soon. The church is young in age and reproductive in spirit.

The KMT has chosen a new general secretary, John Wambura, who is both humbly dependent on God and highly skilled in strategic planning and project management. His background is with the U.S. Embassy, the United Nations and the poverty-alleviation organization Oxfam. But years ago he laid down those secure roles to serve a vulnerable church. Now he is honing his skills to mobilize the church for mission-focused outreach.

The Tanzanians are not counting on the West for material resources. Yes, they’re part of a global church, and perhaps others will join them in small ways. But this is about ordinary Tanzanians.

When Wambura left the U.N. to serve what looked like an unpromising, weak church, it was a huge step of faith. Many thought he was crazy. But God came through.

Now comes a bigger test. Last month in a living room, the bishops and spouses embraced the vision together.

Will God empower this little community to reach their breathtaking goal? I don’t know. But is it less likely than what happened after a motley new generation of the first Anabaptists baptized each other from a milk pail in a living room in 1525?

Richard Showalter lives in Irwin, Ohio, and travels in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.

Anabaptism in bloom

By on May 22, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Five hundred years after the first, a second Reformation is transforming the face of Christianity. This time the revolution is happening in the Global South. As historic centers of power decline in Europe and North America, believers in the rest of the world are becoming the dominant face of Christianity in the 21st century.

We’ve watched the hub of gravity shift in the global Anabaptist movement for some time now. The latest sign of the geographic trend comes from Ethiopia, where the Meserete Kristos Church now claims more than 500,000 adherents.

For years the MKC, the Anabaptist church in Ethiopia, has kept detailed statistics on the number of baptized members as well as the larger fellowship. The latest totals in these categories are 295,487 and 527,694, according to the Meserete Kristos College newsletter. The half-million mark is a new milestone.

The college plays a key role in the gospel-sharing work that fuels the growth spurt. The newsletter reports that on Feb. 25, 80 student evangelists conducted an outreach in the vicinity of the town of Dukum. They witnessed to 1,642 people, of whom “79 repented and received Jesus as their personal Savior. And 255 agreed to come and visit a church in their vicinity.”

Any who wonder how the Global South leads the expansion of Christianity could start by observing the Anabaptists of Ethiopia.

Another striking example comes from Tanzania, where, as columnist Richard Showalter reports, Mennonites have set a goal of adding 1 million members by 2034, their centennial year. To North Americans, the target might sound arbitrary and unrealistic. But if faith can move mountains, who are we to doubt?

It is exactly this kind of bold faith that has led to the remarkable fact that today a third of the world’s Anabaptists are African. This actually lags slightly behind a Protestant trend. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Africans today represent 41 percent of the world’s Protestants. At the current pace of growth, by 2040 half of all Protestants will live in Africa.

While Africa has provided fertile ground for Christianity, the flowering of global Anabaptism also is happening in places where the soil often has resisted the seeds of faith. Earlier this year in Thailand, which is only 1 percent Christian, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren encouraged its Thai members by sending delegates from around the world to a consultation on mission and prayer.

In the latest issue of Mennonite World Conference’s Courier, Carol Tobin, a former mission worker in Thailand, notes the diverse streams of Anabaptist witness there. She describes the conservative Mennonite presence in Chiang Mai, where “Anabaptists are known for their head coverings and large families, not to mention zeal for the gospel.”

Whether surging in Ethiopia, setting lofty goals in Tanzania or gaining a foothold in Thailand, Anabaptists of the Global South are leading a 21st-century Reformation. Their style of faith — evangelistic, theologically traditional, not centered on institutions or distracted by affluence — may be the dominant form of Anabaptism in the movement’s second 500 years.

Gospel on forbidden radio

By and on May 22, 2017 in Feature, Featured, Latest Issue | 4 comments

Evangelical radio broadcasts helped Henry and Tina Rede­kopp understand the gospel. Now the couple are doing the same for others, operating a Low German radio station, De Stemm (The Voice), for the 3,700 Old Colony Mennonites in Belize.

“We both grew up in the Old Colony church setting, so we’re very familiar with the theology they have,” Henry Redekopp said in a May 15 interview.

Allen Kehler, conference pastor of the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, and his wife, Anita, left, talk on air with Henry and Tina Redekopp, hosts of De Stemm (The Voice), a Low German gospel  radio station reaching Old Colony Mennonites in Shipyard, Belize. — Rachel Redekopp/EMMC Recorder

Allen Kehler, conference pastor of the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, and his wife, Anita, left, talk on air with Henry and Tina Redekopp, hosts of De Stemm (The Voice), a Low German gospel radio station reaching Old Colony Mennonites in Shipyard, Belize. — Rachel Redekopp/EMMC Recorder

Living among Old Colony Mennonites in Seminole, Texas, Tina Redekopp had questions about her church’s beliefs and practices that couldn’t be answered to her satisfaction. She found some answers while listening to evangelical radio broadcasts but was slow to accept them.

“It sounded blasphemous, because of the way I was raised, to say that you can know you’re saved,” she said.

Henry and Tina Redekopp were married in 1995.

“I believe I was saved before we were married,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to follow God and serve him, but I didn’t really know how that looked. It looked like following a bunch of rules, and if I was good enough, I could go to heaven.”

After the couple attended a Family Life marriage conference, Henry Redekopp said it was the first time the gospel was clarified for him.

“After reflecting on what had been taught there, the Holy Spirit somehow penetrated my hard shell,” he said. “I caught on and embraced it, and I accepted Christ.”

They approached their church leadership about starting a Bible study to share what they had learned, but that did not happen.

“They gave us their blessing to move on,” Henry Redekopp said.

A new voice

After attending Steinbach (Man.) Bible College, the couple moved to the tiny Central American country of Belize and became part of Gospel Fellowship Chapel, an Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference congregation of about 70 people in Shipyard, where they have been for seven and a half years. Henry Redekopp is pastor there.

De Stemm Radio, which began broadcasting in April 2016, reaches the Reinlander Mennoniten Gemeinde community in Shipyard, Indian Creek, Little Belize and New Land with music, teaching and tips on cultural interaction.

“Our culture is very isolated . . . very limited in outside influence,” Henry Redekopp said.

Most of the men speak Low German and some English or Spanish. Most of the women only speak Low German. Many people are illiterate.

Although having radios and listening to music outside of church singing are prohibited for church members, the ­Redekopps know people are listening.

“Our culture loves music,” Henry Redekopp said, describing the station’s selections of hymns, country gospel and contemporary Christian songs, all in Low and High German. “That’s kind of the gateway into their hearts.”

Teaching programs take the church’s catechism and help listeners better understand the biblical foundations of their own beliefs and practices.

“It’s very biblically sound,” Tina Redekopp said about the catechism. “We had to learn the catechism by heart. Before you get baptized, you have to stand in front and answer the questions. They learn it, but they don’t really understand it, because it’s in High German.”

De Stemm also features programming geared toward women about cooking and women’s faith, children’s programming in the evenings and general programming on health, farming, weather and news.

In addition to the local radio broadcast, De Stemm can also be heard online and recently launched listening apps for Apple and Android devices.

“We are starting to see some fruit of broadcasting,” Henry ­Redekopp said. “We know we’re investing our time into something that’s making a difference. . . . When the transmitter was down a couple weeks, we got a lot of calls asking where we went.”

Much of the feedback the ­Redekopps receive is secondhand because church members don’t want to admit they are listening to the radio. But they’re encouraged to know people are listening.

“We definitely feel like God is blessing it,” Henry Redekopp said. “We’re not asking people to reject their culture. We just want people to accept Christ and make him the priority in their life.”

Powell: Why I sing gospel

By on May 22, 2017 in Columns, Latest Issue, Powell: A Voice from the Center | 0 comments

It’s hard to keep focused on God’s preferred future when marginalized communities are attacked and deprived of justice. People use different coping mechanisms to deal with it. Some let anger, resentment and frustration take over. Many express their moods and feelings through music. Some sing the blues, which laments the loss of someone or something precious. Some sing protest songs to bring attention to the need for change.

John Powell

Powell

I sometimes struggle to find cohesion between faith and practice as I work for justice. Now is one of those times. I need to retreat to fortify my resolve.

Gospel music provides that for me. It binds me to my ancestors, who struggled or died to gain freedom from oppression and degradation. It connects me with my grandfather, who was a slave. His mother and her generation used the spirituals (the forerunners of black gospel) to convey the message of promised freedom. The rhythmic message of “Steal Away” captures the core of the gospel song that enlivens me.

Gospel music is a window into my soul.

It is a communal enterprise. The community is invited and united in one voice to give praise, admonition, prayer and thanks to God. Through it the community expresses its relationship to God and Jesus as Savior and emancipator. God calls, and we respond. The spiritual community experiences Jesus as a personal and collective friend. There is a simultaneous connection to God, who is present, listens and speaks truth to God’s people. My community affirms my status as God’s child under God’s protection.

There’s a sermon in every song. It admonishes everyone to accept grace, love, forgiveness and freedom. It says Christ has broken down the walls that separate us. Whether singing or listening, we are aware of each other and can affirm the message of the song: “God has spoken, so let the church say amen.”

Congregations around the world hear the gospel of Jesus Christ every Sunday through word and song. Services bring hope and encouragement. Many leave church ready to join in the work for God’s liberating justice. Every Spirit-filled justice seeker needs to be fortified with music for the journey.

The English playwright William Congreve wrote, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” Gospel music does this for me. What kind of music comforts and inspires you?

If your spiritual foundation is shaken, I recommend you begin to rebuild it with music. Find the music that connects your soul to humanity and your Creator. Let it soothe the anger and delusion that the current state of our community presents. Let it replenish your soul for the rocky journey ahead of us.

For the past several months, I have been listening to “Lord, Help Me to Hold Out,” a gospel song by James Cleveland. It has been a fortress for me. It’s a prayer for God’s intervention. He says to God, “My way may be not easy. You did not say that it would be. But when it gets dark, I can’t see my way, you told me to put my trust in Thee. That’s why I’m asking you: Lord, help me to hold out.”

This song lifts my hope. I declare with it, “I believe I can hold out!”

Find the music that keeps you focused on the justice trek. It will help you to hold out. When you do, you will be able to say with me and others, “God has spoken, and I can say amen.”

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

Patience, prayer, power

By on May 22, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

The weeks following Jesus’ resurrection must have been an exciting time of transition for his followers.

“After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of details of that period, but we can imagine how they adjusted to the stunning fact that death was beatable. The 2016 film Risen shows their joy and fearlessness while being questioned by Roman authorities trying to prove Jesus’ followers have hidden his body. It seems Jesus is invincible, and if they stick with him, they reason, they probably will be, too.

Jesus promises more is coming but tells them to wait in Jerusalem. At least some of his followers are still thinking in terms of an earthly kingdom. They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus tells them they will receive power from the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses around the world. Then he is taken up into the sky and hidden from their sight.

Now they have nothing to do but return to Jerusalem and wait. What a challenge that must have been! We can relate to times of waiting for something exciting we know is coming, but we don’t know exactly what or when. We just know we can’t move forward quite yet. Waiting is often a trial in itself.

What did Jesus’ first followers do?

They constantly devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). Communion with God through prayer is particularly essential during times of waiting and discernment.

They also did some housekeeping, trusting God’s appointment of Matthias as a leader to replace Judas.

They spent as much time together as possible. When the holiday of Pentecost came, “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).

The time had come. Signaling his presence by fire, the Holy Spirit enabled his prayerful people to relate the good news of Jesus’ victory over death in languages they did not know, so that the international visitors for the holiday could understand it.

This power birthed the church and continues to grow and renew it today. Prayer for God’s Spirit to act remains essential for the church renewal we seek.

Opinion: Exorcising the ghosts of fundamentalism

By on May 22, 2017 in Latest Issue, Opinion | 5 comments

I often encounter Christians who once were fundamentalists but now distance themselves from that kind of faith, which they found to be spiritually oppressive. Often, this distancing has to do with the Bible.

Seeing the Bible as a source of violence and judgmentalism, they may say they like Jesus but find the Old Testament (or Paul or Revelation) a problem.

I sympathize. The way some people use the Bible does underwrite hurtful attitudes and actions. Parts of the Bible lend themselves to such use.

I love the Bible and use it as a source for teaching peace. Post-fundamentalist friends have told me that while they admire my attempts to wring peace from the Bible, they think I am engaged in spin and am misleadingly optimistic.

I had one such conversation recently. As we talked, I realized my friend still reads the Bible in a fundamentalist way. It’s just that now she disagrees with what she finds there.

I suggested it would help if she could move past her fundamentalist hermeneutic. She agreed, but noted this is difficult. Not because she still wants to believe in that approach but because it is so deeply ingrained in her mind.

‘House of authority’

I sense that belief in biblical authority is more important for fundamentalists than the actual content of the Bible. They often call a view biblical without showing how it reflects the Bible’s actual teaching.

Let’s think in terms of a “house of authority” where three elements are at work: the revealed Scripture, church hierarchies to interpret the Bible and church structures to enforce the interpretations. This structure is necessary for fundamentalist biblical authority to work. The text cannot enforce its own authority but needs human agents to do it.

Actual authority, then, does not rest with biblical content but with human interpreters. But the emphasis on biblical authority provides an illusion of divine sanction for what actually are human efforts to define truth. The power of this authority stems from how it cultivates fear about the consequences of uncertainty: chaos, vulnerability, lack of control.

A fundamentalist approach gives authority to the pieces more than the whole of the Bible. A key doctrine is “verbal plenary inspiration”: Each word is directly inspired by God and therefore without error. So isolated texts have great authority.

It is an unfortunate irony, then, that when many post-fundamentalists don’t like something in the Bible (such as divinely commanded genocide in Joshua), they feel they have to reject the Bible altogether. Why this all-or-nothing approach? They still look at the Bible through the lens of a system they have rejected. They overlook the fact that the fundamentalist view of the Bible is far from the best way to interpret it.

A more affirmative view

The following points may help exorcise the ghosts of fundamentalism and embrace a more affirmative way to read the Bible.

Fundamentalist Christianity is modern.

There is nothing sacred or even time-validated about the fundamentalist approach to the Bible. It only makes sense in the light of modern rationalism and of efforts to establish truth based on irrefutable arguments and hard evidence. Fundamentalism responded to the rise of modern skepticism. It is a defensive measure that does not arise from the actual living of Christian faith over the centuries.

We can affirm biblical truth without taking it literally.

We may find truth in the Bible in ways that are similar to how we find truth in literature, poetry, music, visual art, stories told by traditional cultures and other ways that do not rely on scientifically verifiable facts or strict logic.

The Bible’s truth inspires love-enhancing ways of life. A stumbling block for post-fundamentalists is violence in the Old Testament. We may learn from these stories without assuming God literally told Joshua to lead the Hebrews in genocide. There is truth in these stories, though we are not bound to take them as literal history.

Jesus loved the Old Testament.

Most post-fundamentalists like Jesus a lot but do not share Jesus’ love for the Old Testament. But they should. If we start with Jesus’ positive view, we notice Old Testament emphases in his message: the created world reflects God’s love; the importance of forgiveness, as Esau and Joseph showed in Genesis; a concern for vulnerable people; a critique of power politics, like the story of Israel asking for a king in 1 Samuel 8; and God’s power expressed as servanthood, as in Isaiah 40-55.

A narrative approach helps resolve many problems.

We look for meaning in the Bible in relation to the big picture. Each book of Scripture was written as a narrative whole. When the books were gathered together, they gained additional meaning in relation to each other. The whole shapes the meaning of the parts.

Thus we see the God-ordained violence in Joshua in light of what follows. The establishment of a territorial kingdom for a people who would “bless all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12) ended in failure. When the Babylonians destroyed the Hebrew kingdom, maintaining a nation-state was no longer an option for God’s people.

The story of the violence of Joshua’s time shows why such violence could never be possible again. God will never again channel the promise through territorial kingdoms. Based on the Bible’s overall story, the political message of the Old Testament is not that God might command genocidal violence to establish and defend a nation. Rather, the kingdom of God is no longer to be linked with the possession of territory. This lesson is reiterated in the life and teaching of Jesus.

Biblical authority is life-giving.

One reason post-fundamentalists distance themselves from the Bible is because they think the only valid way to use the Bible is as an absolute authority. However, this notion of authority comes from later doctrines about the Bible rather than the Bible itself.

To treat the Bible as life-giving rather than as having absolute authority makes it easier to approach the Bible as a positive resource and not as oppressive and coercive. Like Jesus, Scripture’s authority is gentle and persuasive. The Bible’s true authority comes from its ability to guide us to love God and love our neighbor. If we expect that the Bible gives a message of peace, we are better prepared to recognize the message and not be distracted by elements that seem to undermine it.

Ted Grimsrud is senior professor of peace theology at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Yoder-Short: Trust not the foxes

By on May 22, 2017 in Columns, Latest Issue, Yoder-Short: Living the Story | 0 comments

Ten baby chicks arrived at our house along with a flock of childhood memories. I grew up where banties roamed the barnyard, and spring included clucky mothers with newly hatched chicks.

Jane Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

As I put our chicks in their new space, I remember a hen who faced an unsolvable dilemma. Her nest was high on a mountain of hay bales. No matter how hard this mother called, the chicks couldn’t get down. Enter another mother with an apron. This brave mother gathered the chicks in her apron as the mother banty pecked her legs. Down the steps the parade went, arriving safely on the barn floor. The apron opened and the chicks ran to their mother. It took two mothers that day, one with a gentle apron and one with protective wings.

Jesus likened himself to a mother hen — or was it a mother wearing a safe apron? Jesus tells us of longing to gather in the scattered chicks of Jerusalem. He longs to keep them safe and protect them from danger and a certain fox (Luke 13:31-35).

Foxes have a reputation for being cunning and ruthless. Fox Herod, as Jesus labels him, fits the image. He is a shrewd operator. He divorces his wife, a Nabatean king’s daughter, to marry beautiful Herodias, his half brother’s ex-wife. John the Baptist criticizes this fox’s messy private life. John’s head ends up on a platter as a dance prize. Foxes’ grandiosity shouldn’t surprise us.

With John the Baptist out of the way, Herod is ready to face his other threat, Jesus. Just before we hear Jesus longing to be a mother hen, some Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod plans on killing him. Did Herod send them in hopes of scaring Jesus? Were they leaking inside information in hopes of saving Jesus? Knowing what foxes are up to is hard.

Foxes can fool us into thinking they are doing good, into thinking they are keeping us safe. Are they saving us from rioting, from the wrath of Rome, from terrorists?

After a death threat, it seems Jesus would long to be something threatening, perhaps a wolf. Instead, Jesus imagines being a chicken, gathering Jerusalem’s scattered chicks under his wings, in his safe apron. They refuse to be gathered.

Why would you say no to the safety of Jesus? Let’s not be too critical. The odds do seem to be with Herod. Crafty predators too often look like winners. Do we bet on the Herods or Jesus? Do we bet on military might or vulnerable love? Oil corporations or the water protectors? Congolese armed groups or Michael J. Sharp? Sometimes we bet with the mother hen, and violence seems to win. Hens can lose their lives.

Cunning foxes fill us with fear and then shrewdly offer their security. We will be safe if we rid the country of those people. We will be safe if we bomb our enemies.

Cunning foxes persuade us that having a good income or being admired brings satisfaction. Other foxes convince us that having the heads of our critics on a platter (figuratively) brings gratification. The real danger comes in trusting a fox.

In a world of foxes, the church finds hope huddled together under Jesus’ wings. Or is it in his apron? Huddled together, we help each other understand the world’s tricksters. Huddled together, we bandage the wounds of legs pecked by misguided attacks. Huddled together, we weep for those the fox has devoured. Huddled together, we face seemingly unsolvable dilemmas while trusting that there is a way forward. Huddled together, we remind each other to love recklessly like a mother hen.

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

Health care and prayer

By on May 22, 2017 in Latest Issue, Letters | 4 comments

On May 4, the National Day of Prayer, the U.S. House of Representatives completed the first step toward passing the American Health Care Act. When members of Congress gathered at the White House to celebrate, one might have expected the event to be about extolling the virtues of the AHCA. However, the major message was the victory of Trumpcare over Obama­care, no matter how premature the celebration was (the Senate still has to vote on the AHCA).

The major concern is whether the AHCA is fostering hope, courage and trust or, instead, cultivating fear, anxiety or cynicism. While the content of the bill is essential in addressing this concern, the rhetoric through which it is communicated is vital.

The communication of the AHCA is partially responsible for reviving the concept of “blue lies,” which swap truth for trust. The message of blue lies is: “I don’t care if you believe me, but trust me.” Ironically, blue lies are frequently accentuated with statements like “trust me” or “believe me” — which should be unnecessary if the speaker expects the audiences to believe or trust them.

Americans expect our national leaders to display some degree of piety. However, unless our leaders have the moral integrity to act on their pious proclamations, their words become blue lies.

The AHCA is not giving people hope that their health insurance premiums will be affordable or that they will be able to acquire policies to cover pre-existing illnesses. Instead, the AHCA is raising the levels of anxiety, fear and cynicism, especially because tax cuts for the wealthy are one of the few certainties.

If our elected officials took the National Day of Prayer seriously, they might consider the words of the prophets Micah and Zechariah, who called for acting justly, loving mercy and not oppressing the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Let me paraphrase the prophets: Don’t wrap your tax cuts for the wealthy in a shroud for the poor and call it a health-care package. And please, not on the National Day of Prayer.

Bruce Bradshaw
Nashua, N.H.

No, Christian pacifists are not cowards

By on May 18, 2017 in The World Together | 1 comment

I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, which naturally means I am a Christian pacifist. I refuse to use violence against my enemies or intentionally harm them in any way, even if they harm me. I will love my enemies, I will die for my enemies, but I will never kill my enemies.

In fact, since Jesus lived a life of nonviolence (see the inconvenient things we call the Gospel accounts), taught his disciples to live lives of nonviolence (you might want to skip Matthew 5 or Luke 6), and both Jesus and later New Testament writers tell us that we are to follow in the example of Jesus even if it results in suffering (John 13:15, 1 Peter 2:21, 1 John 2:6); I have no idea how one can be a Christian and not be a Christian pacifist. While I express a certain ambivalence on it, Jesus spoke more forcefully, saying a commitment to nonviolent enemy love was a requirement of being considered a child of God.

To be a Christian yet to reject the centrality of living a life of nonviolent enemy love would be as silly as saying “I am a Republican who believes in big government, a small military, and abortion on demand.”

It just wouldn’t make sense — and claiming to be a Christian yet rejecting the calling to nonviolence doesn’t make sense, either.

Those of us who have decided to follow and obey the example of Jesus in this way frequently face harsh backlash from the American Christian Machine. While the vile speech slung at us by Americanized Christians is vast, the most common name we as Jesus followers are called is that of a coward.

Coward.

Coward.

Coward.

I’ve been called a coward a thousand times.

My commitment to preserving life and not participating in death somehow makes me a coward to the American Christian Machine. My refusal to pick up a gun, place a human being in the sites and pull the trigger somehow makes me a coward to this machine that spins and turns in a motion that does not represent Jesus.

The reverse, they say, is what I should do to be brave and courageous: I should be like every other “good” American and have a gun locked and loaded so that I am prepared on a moment’s notice to gun down anyone who breaks into my house to try to steal my television.

Beyond the theological requirement to commit to nonviolence in order to become a Christian, let’s just focus on the argument Christian gun-slingers make: Christian pacifists are cowards.

Let’s see if that’s actually true.

The dictionary describes coward as: “A person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things; one who is afraid of danger or pain.”

I’m sorry, folks, but that’s not a description of a Christian pacifist. A Christian pacifist isn’t afraid of danger or pain — in fact, Christian pacifists have committed to endure danger and endure pain, to the point of DEATH, in order to obey Jesus.

Cowards? How do you call someone a coward who is willing to die for a stranger she’s never met? How do you call one a coward who is prepared to lay down his life at a moment’s notice?

Becoming a Christian pacifist is only for the brave and least cowardly among us.

It is only for those willing to risk what Jesus said when he taught, “those who lose their lives will find them, but those who seek to save their lives will lose them.”

Beyond the opposite of cowardly, Jesus said that the greatest love someone could have is the willingness to die for others. Thus, not only are Christian pacifists not cowards, but they are the ones committed to a love that Jesus said was actually greater than all the other love in the world.

So, let’s talk about the Christian gun-slingers on the internet who repeatedly call me a coward.

Why do they carry a gun under their shirts? Why do they stock up on ammo and practice shooting at cut-outs of human beings?

Well, they do it because they are “afraid of danger,” and as we just saw, being afraid of danger, being unwilling to endure pain, is what actually makes one a coward. Furthermore, Christian gun-slingers carry guns in order to kill — not so that they can lay their lives down for another. To carry a gun is to be afraid of facing danger all on your own. To carry a gun is to give into fear and find the teachings of Jesus too risky, too costly, too self-sacrificial.

Thus, not only is this cowardly, but it’s less than the beautiful, ultimate love Jesus called us to — because the greatest love is to have the courage to die and give your life up so that another might live. The “greatest love” has everything to do with dying, and nothing to do with killing.

I am a Christian pacifist not because it is easy — it’s not. I knew when I made this commitment to follow Jesus it might be a death sentence, just as he warned.

A commitment to nonviolence is not safe, it does not offer one security, and it is a commitment that begins with a willingness to one day potentially die for someone I don’t even know.

Nothing about that is cowardly. In fact, this decision has taken more courage than any other decision I’ve made in my lifetime.

So, if you’re a Christian gun-slinger who calls the people who live like Jesus cowards, just be careful — it’s a case of pointing one finger just to have four fingers pointing right back at you.

Benjamin L. Corey, an Anabaptist author, speaker and blogger from Auburn, Maine, is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-Anabaptist vantage point.