Heart Language

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger

What language do you speak when you pray?
What is the language of your heart?

Do we talk to God when we are afraid, tired and lonely?
Do we talk and let him comfort us?
We are afraid to talk to God from our hearts
Even when the Lord has come to dwell with us.

What language does he speak,
That we do not understand him?

Fully God and fully human
Speaking the language of humanity.
In the Word, God understands us,
And speaks to us in our heart language.

But we hide ourselves from God,
We cover our bodies with fig leaves.

We will talk to Moses.
We will talk to Augustine, Luther, and MLK Jr.

But has he not come to dwell with us,
The Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth?
Has he not come to dwell with us,
In the fullness of The Christ?

We run to the ends of the earth,
And flee to the depths of hell.
We hide as if we think he cannot find us.

What must we do to inherit eternal life
And peace and happiness on earth?
And peace and happiness on earth?

Pray to God from the language of our hearts,
And from the language of our hearts
Express grievances with each other.
What is this Peace that comes from God?
That speaks to us in many earthly languages?

Why are we afraid to speak to God
And to each other from the language of our hearts?
What language does he speak,
That we do not understand him?
But there is no condemnation in his love.

Peace on the Hill: Syria and Iraq – Money, power and the roots of war

RLS

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

When I visited the Middle East earlier this year, people shared many opinions on the war in Syria. But they all agreed on one thing: the war is incredibly complex and it will be difficult to get to a resolution any time soon.

Why is the conflict in Syria (and now Iraq) so complex? There are many factors, including:

  • There is big money to be made. Arms manufacturers are profiting handsomely from the conflict. Journalist Robert Fisk notes the profits of those making the bombs, missiles and aircraft used in the U.S. airstrike campaign against the so-called Islamic State (IS). Another article highlights the political contributions by defense companies to Members of Congress who voted in September in favor of training and equipping members of the Syrian opposition.
  • The conflicts have gone far beyond internal civil wars. Regional and even global actors are deeply involved. The conflicts have exacerbated Sunni-Shia tensions in the region, including regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile global players, including Russia and the United States, have economic, political and military interests in the region that are driving their involvement.
  • Underlying factors have not yet been meaningfully addressed. Columnist Rami Khouri gives a helpful overview of the various grievances that have led to the rise of numerous Islamist movements within the Middle East. These include poverty, corruption and a lack of voice within political structures. Until these economic, political, social and religious grievances have been addressed, there will always be new groups rising up to challenge the status quo.

While there are no easy answers to conflicts as complex as the ones in Syria and Iraq, Mennonite Central Committee wrote a letter to President Obama recommending that the U.S. government:

  • Stop the widening campaign of airstrikes and move away from the current, militarized approach;
  • Address the political and social grievances at the root of the conflicts within Syria and Iraq;
  • Engage in sustained and energetic diplomacy with all regional actors, including Iran;
  • Continue to provide generous funding for humanitarian needs throughout the region; and
  • Provide support for religious leaders and civil society groups working to build relationships of peace and reconciliation across political, sectarian and religious divides.

Today, consider taking three actions for peace.

First, pray for the people of Syria and Iraq and for all those in positions of power related to the conflict, that the seemingly intractable roots of war will be uprooted.

Secondly, send a letter to your Members of Congress here.

And third, please give generously to MCC’s response to the Syria crisis, to help provide food, shelter, trauma healing and support for those building peace in the region.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

Moving Beyond Ableism: Boosting the Economy-Why Hiring Adults with Disabilities is a Smart Business Decision and Builds God’s Kingdom

deborah-ruth ferberEditor’s Note: Moving Beyond Ablesism is a quarterly column featuring the work of the Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet) www.adnetonline.org and offers reflections from different authors on the various issues facing persons with disabilities. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

By Deborah-Ruth Ferber

At 4pm on the 15th and 30th of every month, Darryl comes back to his group home waving his check excitedly in the air.  “Deborah, tell me how much I made this month!” he eagerly demands.  We open his mail together, I read out the number at the very bottom of the page, and give him a high-five.  The next question is a natural one, “So, Darryl, how are you going to spend your pay check this month?”  Without hesitation, Darryl answers back, “I’m saving my money for my vacation.”

Darryl is a member of one of the largest untapped work forces in our nation—the group of industrious workers made up of individuals with developmental disabilities.  As a young man in his early thirties who has Down Syndrome, Darryl is quick to tell you that he is “no longer a school boy, but a working man.”  He proudly describes himself as a businessman, and with the greatest sense of philanthropy I have ever seen, adamantly repeats his desire to raise more funds for the intentional community he is a part of.

Working 5 days a week, alternating between a packaging company and a local woodworking shop which makes splints for St. John’s Ambulance and Flare Sticks for railways, Darryl has shown me first-hand the positive effects of working a steady job. To Darryl it is not just about the money he receives at the end of the day—his capacity to understand and manage his own finances is very low—but rather it has to do with contributing to society, being part of a group, and living a more normalized life.  The average person gets up, goes to work for 8 hours a day, comes home and rests only to repeat this same cycle again the next morning.  For persons with a developmental disability who have joined this rhythm of life, their self-esteem often increases and they find they have much in common even among those who do not have a disability.

Yet, even though recent statistics have shown that close to 20% of the American population has some kind of disability, the unfortunate reality is that only a third of those individuals are currently working, which means that the other two-thirds are unemployed.[1]  Reasons for this vary.  Some employers resist hiring people with developmental disabilities because they feel these individuals will be too difficult to train or will lack the passion and the stamina to keep going.  For the most part, nothing could be further from the truth.  People with disabilities often are hard-working, committed, and dedicated to making a difference in their fields.[2]  These individuals also are less likely to complain about what may be seen as minimal tasks, instead embracing each opportunity as another job to be completed.  Additionally, it has been shown that individuals with developmental disabilities are up to 3 times more likely to stick with entry level positions compared to the high turnover rates companies often experience.[3]

As Christians, we are called to help those who otherwise would be marginalized and to seek ways to include all of God’s children.  One of the best ways for this to take place is to have Christian employers become more aware of the positive outcomes employing people with disabilities provides.  As more churches become aware of every person’s need for inclusion, self-worth and purpose, we can corporately reach out as the Body of Christ to try to place individuals with disabilities in jobs which best use their interests and skillsets.  As Christians, let us take the risk of allowing someone with a disability to be part of our workforce rather than only persons with a university degree or years of experience.  As someone who works with employed individuals with disabilities I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

[1] “Disability Employment Information, Facts, and Myths,” Disabled World, Accessed September 17, 2014, http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/employment/disability-employment-information.php

[2] “Why Hire?” Community Living Ontario, Accessed September 17, 2014. http://www.communitylivingontario.ca/employers/why-hire.

[3] Disabled World. http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/employment/disability-employment-information.php

Deborah-Ruth Ferber is a Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.

Occupations, Movements, and Eschatological Hope

by Bert Newton PS Bert

It’s been two years since we held the last General Assembly for Occupy Pasadena. Only three or four people attended that last assembly. For months our numbers had ranged from two to six participants.

In the early days of the movement, passion and hope ran high. People came to our assemblies saying that it was the first time in a long time – or even the first time ever – that they had hope for substantial change in our society. Some believed that “the revolution” had finally arrived (and it was even being partially televised!).

For my part, I was skeptical that our movement would achieve any substantial change, but I kept that skepticism to myself; I wanted to believe. I listened to these young people who were so confident that they could change the world and hoped beyond hope that they were right and that I was wrong.

I went down to the camp site for Occupy Los Angeles where I heard Cornell West speak. I don’t remember what he said; all I remember is tears streaming down my cheeks as I listened, standing there among a very ethnically diverse crowd of idealistic and passionate young people whose hope and courageous occupation of the grounds around city hall was one of the most beautiful things that I had ever seen; they had created this daring, if temporary, egalitarian and inclusive society whose economy ran on love rather than money. Homeless people, rejected everywhere else, were welcome there. A part of me knew that this thing could not last, that something, either the brutal impatience of the powers-that-be or the fragility of human compassion and cooperation combined with the narcissistic individualism that is our American birthright, would doom this gutsy experiment, but I didn’t want to think about that. And listening to West, I felt eternity break into the present and make a temporal space for itself among the tents and tables of that fragile community.

Back in Pasadena, we never established a camp, but we did carry out more than 25 actions in the first seven months, from educational events to street demonstrations. That was far more activity than any other group that I had ever organized with . . . but then it all faded. All the young people disappeared. A couple of us older folk tried to keep it all going, but hardly anyone showed up.

After struggling for a while with the disappointment and depression that I was left with, I went back to organizing with groups that had more modest but realizable goals or a less radical agenda.

Currently I’m working with two coalitions on labor justice and a living wage for Pasadena. At the same time, I’m involved with three other local groups addressing the ecological crisis. Additionally, I’ve joined with scattered clusters of friends to organize various educational events, street demonstrations and lobbying initiatives for international peace.

The Occupy movement addressed all of these issues by trying to create a more ideal society. That didn’t work, or at least not enough people showed up to make it work (I often say that it is not the Occupy Movement that failed, but rather all the people who didn’t show up to support it that failed). So now we are back to trying to address the issues all separately and settling for very for modest gains or symbolic achievements: a “living wage” that you still can’t live on but is better than what we currently have, or a  well-attended candle-light vigil or teach-in to “raise awareness. “

Jesus initiated a movement for a new inclusive and radically egalitarian society that he called the Kingdom of God, where everyone was to be provided for according to need. It only took a few generations for the movement to lose that original spirit, becoming exclusive and hierarchical, serving Mammon rather than God.

If that is what happens to our movements for justice and equality, then where is our hope?

Back in my more pietistic days, I would have said that our hope lies in Jesus. But what does that really mean? Does that mean that our only hope lies in a very particular – and therefore implicitly exclusive – religious faith in the founder of Christianity; that somehow we can take refuge in him so that all of the people that we care about and the justice that we struggle for now no longer matters?

Or maybe it means that Jesus, who cares about all the people and things that we care about, who came and lived among us and gave his life in the struggle, will one day lead us to victory.

The second option feels much better, but it still requires a kind of faith language that only works when talking with other Christians. When I’m out there in the streets, struggling for justice with my secular and interfaith friends while most of my Christian friends are too busy to show up, that language feels too anemic, escapist and dismissive of what is really going on and who is really with me.

Yet my life remains rooted in the Gospel. The only way that I can even imagine hope is through what scholars call the “realized eschatology” of the Gospel story. “Realized eschatology” is a fancy way of referring to the belief that the future breaks into the present through special moments or activities, such as in those instants when we actualize our love for each other, or through our struggle for justice, or on those occasions when, even temporarily, we establish communities of grace.

All I really hope for anymore is to experience those sorts of moments, to engage in those kinds of activities.

Some people like to quote Martin Luther King: “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” I used to believe that, but now I worry that the ecological crisis – or more precisely the sixth extinction that we are living in – has shortened “history” and that the arc of justice is simply too long for it and will overshoot human existence.

So I cling to those moments and those activities. I do what I can do now. I work as a slave for love while it is still day, because when night comes, no one will be able to work (John 9:4).

The Gospel promises us a dawn after the night is through, a resurrection after death. I hope that’s the case; I confess that belief in church; but I have no real way of knowing whether that will really happen. What I do know is that I have a choice now to make the most of the day that is left.

What I have now is the opportunity to engage in those activities and participate in those moments where heaven breaks through and touches us, however briefly, granting us a glimpse of what we hope for, of what may one day be reality.

Bert Newton is the author of Subversive Wisdom; Sociopolitical Dimensions of John’s Gospel

Human nature and the culture of war

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

As human beings, do we respond with most vigor and authenticity to love, forgiveness and compassion?  Or to threats, coercion and violence?

I have just completed a year of intensive Bible study as part of a project to write (along with John K. Stoner) a popular biblical commentary.  The Bible includes a variety of perspectives on this question of human nature, but on balance suggests we are divided–split in two–at our very core.

On the one hand, the witness of Jesus, the Torah, and prophets such as Micah and Isaiah assumes we want shalom and have the capacity to live in the way that brings shalom into reality on Earth.  On the other hand, the witness of Second Temple priests and other prophets assumes our selfishness and envy is overpowering and inevitably leads us to employ threats, coercion and violence to get our way.  According to this second view, Earth will be saved only through an apocalyptic intervention by God.

The Apostle Paul reflected both views by insisting we are by nature slaves.  What sort of slave we become depends on which master we follow.  It is not a flattering view of human nature, but neither is it bleak.  It is not only darkness we want, but also light.  And we have the capacity to walk into the light.

Of course, with Paul’s view of human nature comes responsibility.  Each of us has choices to make.  It follows that as a church, we must equip people to make those choices.

How does this play out within the context of the emergence of the Islamic State? It is a mighty stimulus, propelled into our hearts and minds by the horrific images on our screens, wrenching reports of religious persecution, and the solemn words of our political and military leaders.   Most Americans have responded with fear and calls for renewed military violence.

It is easy to critique this response.  For starters, there is the hypocrisy of hyping the beheadings of a few Westerners after ignoring for the past three years many worse atrocities committed by rebel forces supported by Western governments.  Then there is the implausibility of an Islamic State emerging unexpectedly in a place where the U.S. and so many of its allies are actively engaged in arms sales, covert operations, the recruitment and training of mercenaries, surveillance and the collection of intelligence.

Yet the way Americans have responded to all of this is authentic nonetheless.   War is continually promoted by the media as a powerful moral narrative of good resisting evil. The Islamic State is just one of many “threats” that can be taken off the shelf and amplified for public consumption at the appropriate time to keep the system operating.  A part of human nature finds all of this reasonable, full of meaning, and even right.

The church’s effort to call forth the other side of human nature seems puny by comparison.

As we read the New Testament, we are given the opportunity to see how the early church—living in an empire and war culture similar to ours—worked at this and succeeded on a large scale.   Of course, its focus was Jesus—his life, death and resurrection—and the work of the Spirit in our lives.  But how did it carry out that focus?  This is where the contemporary church needs so much help.

First, starting with Pentecost and the visible “signs and wonders” that occurred on and after that day, Jesus followers maintained a visible public presence that gave voice to an alternative vison for society.  Their message was religious in the sense that it was rooted in God, but it also was political in the sense that it called people to another way of running the world.

Second, the leaders of the early church debunked the empire’s narrative as false and deceptive.  We see this in Colossians, where Paul referred to the empire as “the power of darkness”, in 1 Corinthians, where he said “the rulers of this age were doomed to perish” and 1 Thessalonians where he said the empire’s fabled “peace and security” would end in “sudden destruction.”  The author of 2 Thessalonians said that deception was a hallmark of “the lawless one. “  Revelation identifies the empire as this lawless one and the entire book elaborates on this theme.  This debunking interfered with the effectiveness of propaganda in eliciting an authentic and willing human response.

Third, the church’s public presence included suffering.  Herod Agrippa put James to the sword, and other imperial officials hung Peter and Andrew on crosses and cut off Paul’s head.  Many were martyred, many imprisoned.  When combined with the story of Jesus and how the empire executed him, these events created a story-line powerful enough to compete with the empire’s moral narrative.

Contemporary congregations typically exhibit none of this because they are convinced Jesus proclaimed a religious message and a metaphysical salvation.  This abandonment of the church’s public mission leaves people ill-equipped to counter the empire’s propaganda.

To be clear, this essay is not a call for churches to lobby Washington or organize a take-over of the government.  It is a reminder that the calling of the church is to articulate and embody an alternative to empire’s way of approaching life and organizing the world.  Jesus is lord, Caesar is not.  That was the public proclamation of the early church and the sign of Jesus’ triumph.  It again must be ours.

Editor’s Note – Sowing seeds of peace

Keith 1Friends;

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month so for this month our feature article is by Deborah-Ruth Ferber, field associate with the Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet) for their quarterly column Moving Beyond Ableism. We also have a variety of thought-provoking reflections by Cara Ediger, Berry Friesen, Bert Newton, Tom Beutel, and Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach. As always we hope you will continue to follow our Lectio Divina Paci devotionals for peacemakers by Audrey Hindes.

During this season of harvest may we continue to sow the seeds of peace.

Blessings and Shalom

Keith

Balancing Acts – Orthodoxy: Faith in the Postmodern Age

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns and appears the second week of each month.

by Tom Beutel

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.

(Matthew 23:23 NRSV)

Francis Bacon, according to Neil Postman (Technopoly:The Surrender of Culture to Technology, 1992), “was the first man of the technocratic age.” In Postman’s taxonomy of the ages of technology the technocratic age is the second age, the age in which a shift began away from making tools to solve specific problems to making tools because one could. It is the age in which science and technology were thought to hold the answers to all human problems and would “advance the happiness of mankind.”

By the late 19th century and early 20th century it was apparent that the promise of science and technology to solve all of humanity’s problems and supply unending riches was an empty one. Science and technology do indeed provide many undisputed benefits, but science does not always get it right. Some of its products – like the internal combustion engine, mechanized production, electronic communication, and others – can harm the environment and reduce the quality of life for humans as well as for other living creatures. Wars and conflicts continue despite advances in science and technology. Questions about and longings for true happiness and love are not answered by science and technology.

Not only did science and technology and their associated institutions – institutions of higher learning – not live up to human expectations, but other institutions seemed to fall short of their promise: governments could be and were at times oppressive, economic systems could fail to produce prosperity,   and the church as often as not seemed to be more preoccupied with itself than with the well-being of others.

Out of this realization, was re-born (it has happened before) an age of skepticism, of distrust in established institutions and beliefs, an age in which truth was to be constructed out of one’s own experiences, an age of relativism – the postmodern age.

Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality … postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid  for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into   being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually…. Postmodernism  … denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a    scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody.

PBS Faith & Reason: http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/postm-body.html

It is obvious that postmodern thinking has taken root in the church as many question established beliefs and strive to re-interpret teachings and even scripture in light of their own experiences and experiences shared with others. Established hierarchies and ways of doing things are treated with skepticism. New structures and ways of doing things are promoted, (structures and ways that someday will be the  established ways!)

Postmodernism incorporates “acute sensitivity to the role of ideology” according to the definition in the Encyclopedia Britannica. We see this perhaps most obviously in our political systems, but also in theological positions within the church. Labels such as “conservative” and “liberal” not only apply to one’s politics, but also to one’s religious views. The gulf between these caricatures is wide and widening.

Perhaps a way to resolve the divisions that accompany postmodern ideologies is to re-embrace an old, and probably somewhat misunderstood, term – orthodoxy. According to the Believer’s Church Bible Commentary on the book of Jude, “orthodox faith surely manifests itself in a lifestyle that honors God rightly (orthos, “correctly”; doxazein, “to honor, magnify or glorify”).” While many of us probably tend to think of orthodox as traditional or conservative, in fact it simply means to honor God rightly.

Orthodoxy can be set in contrast both conservatism and liberalism (a third way?). Orthodox belief is not restricted to either and thus is not loaded with the ideological bias characteristic of postmodernism.

Even in the teachings of Jesus we see both “conservative” and “liberal” thought. For example, Jesus told His followers, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) These certainly have a conservative ring to them.

But, Jesus also told His followers, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 35:25) This teaching emphasizing social ministry seems to be more “liberal.”

The scripture at the beginning of this article is a good example of the “joining” of conservative and liberal ideas. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they should practice “justice and mercy and faith” (liberal) while not “neglecting” their attempts to fulfill the law (conservative). Othodox faith and practice include both!

So, perhaps as we encounter issues within the church which tend to divide, rather than aligning with conservative or liberal positions, we can together seek to understand the orthodox view, that which honors God rightly.