Editor’s Note – Voice of one nation to another

Keith 1Friends;

This month our writers reflect upon what it means to be a citizen of an earthly nation as well as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Our allegiance is to the latter of course though we are called to speak to the powers that be as advocates for justice and peace, especially when the decisions of the nation run contrary to Kingdom values. May we always be ready to give voice to the hope found in Jesus the Christ.

Blessings and Shalom

Keith

The Conspiracy of the Nations

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

“Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain” (Psalm 2:1)?

The psalmist answers his own question.  “The kings of the earth . . . and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:2-3).

These words come to mind as we reflect on the recent escalation of the war in Syria and Iraq through air attacks by western forces.  This escalation has long been plotted by the nations.  In September 2013, the US plan to bomb Syria was put on hold because of public opposition.  “Why should we provide an air force for al-Qaeda?” people said.  President Obama had no answer, but now he does:  the Islamic State.

The psalmist speaks of conspiracies that enable kings to overcome resistance to their plots.  He speaks of secret counsels to find ways to tear apart the arguments against war and overcome the restraints of international law and moral legitimacy.

Apparently, the kings of our time have succeeded in Syria.  Now, just one year after the people’s success in stopping the US bombing of Syria, we see little opposition and the bombing has begun. Everywhere we look, we hear reports on the atrocities committed by the Islamic State and read accounts of how the nations must do something to destroy it.  Even voices that usually speak for peace seem flummoxed.

What can those who are committed to peace say in the face of something as horrible as the Islamic State?

There is much we can say.  But to say it, we must first confront a very specific fear that keeps us silent: we will be called “conspiracy nuts.”  That is a mighty sword in the hands of kings.  We fear it more than nearly anything for it will cause our friends and neighbors to avoid us and shut their ears to our voices.

There is ample evidence that the kings of the earth created the Islamic State. The funding for its fighters, their freedom of movement across international borders into Syria, their sophisticated weaponry and their training in how to use it, their access to military intelligence about Syrian and Iraqi forces, their efficient command structure, their access to Western media to distribute propaganda and agitprop–all of this has been provided by members of the US–led alliance.

No, we will not hear confirmation of this on National Public Radio (NPR) or read of it in the New York Times; those media outlets have become integral parts of the public relations structure of the ruling powers.  But when we sift through news article over the past few years and consider how the Islamic State came into existence in such a miraculous and “unexpected” way while under the 24/7 surveillance by satellites and drones, we can only conclude that the Islamic State is the result of a conspiracy of the US and its allies.

As I write, my radio is broadcasting a report from NPR in which Syrian President Assad is blamed for the emergence of the Islamic State.  It’s an Assad conspiracy, NPR wants us to think, and a legitimate use of the term since it is pointed at someone it wants us to hate.

The Apostle Paul can help us get past this regime of deception and our fear of being labelled “conspiracy nuts.”  In his very first letter, Paul reminded the believers in the assemblies of Galatia that “the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age” (Gal.1:3-4). In a subsequent letter to the believers in Colossae, he again linked the salvation we have received in Jesus Christ with our rescue from “the power of darkness.” (Colossians 1:13).  And when writing to the believers in Rome, he attributed our bondage to sin to “the exchange of the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1”25).

Paul’s candid assessment of empire’s ways matches the psalmist’s view.  But we are slow to be convinced; we still prefer to think the empire’s leaders are well-intentioned and that when a bombing campaign is derailed (as it was just a year ago), the powerful accept the rebuke and change direction.

What is the point of challenging the popular story of how the Islamic State so suddenly emerged out of the desert to threaten the world?  It is the moral power of the story that justifies the expansion of the war. If the story remains unchallenged, then the violent plan will proceed.  If the deceptiveness of the story enters popular conversation, then implementation of the plan will stop.

So we have a choice:  join the psalmist and talk openly about the conspiracy of kings, or preserve our reputations and watch the violence escalate.  What would Jesus do?

Peace on the Hill: Rejoice in Hope

Patricia PS

By Patricia Kisare

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

How does one find hope in this increasingly unjust world? How do you stay motivated in your work? These are probably the most frequently asked questions that I hear when talking with church members.

Sometimes the injustice we see in our communities (and beyond) pushes us to want to do something. But other times, situations can seem so dire and paralyzing that they leave us with feelings of hopelessness.

In my advocacy work I have felt both.

As is the case in any peacebuilding work, changing systems that perpetuate injustice requires persistence and resilience. But I am also inspired and energized as I see the tremendous work being done by many of Mennonite Central Committee’s partners around the world.

This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Beza Community Development Association, one of MCC’s partners in Ethiopia. In 2007, Beza began an outreach program to people living around Entoto Mountain, located just outside of Addis Ababa. The majority of people living in this area are HIV positive. They move to Mount Entoto because they believe a spring there has holy water that can heal them.

The lack of adequate shelter, jobs and social services provide a big challenge for this isolated community. In response to these needs, Beza established various programs to help improve the lives of the people living in the Entoto Mountain community.

With support from MCC, Beza provides vocational training, counseling and tutoring services to many of these families. Most of this work is done by young volunteers from universities in Addis Ababa, who are motivated by their faith and desire to serve their communities. Furthermore, participants receive health care services, including free antiretroviral medications provided through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Beza is only one of many local organizations doing remarkable work to improve the lives of those in desperate need. From Guatemala to eastern Congo, similar works abound thousandfold. The efforts of these local staff and volunteers build hope in the communities they serve and help to inspire the work of building a just world.

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.

Student and Teacher

by Max Ediger max e

At all times we can be both student and teacher.  We become a student when we open ourselves to learn from everyone we meet and every situation that springs up in our lives.  Always, however, we are a teacher.  Occasionally we teach through our words, but we are continuously teaching through the actions of our daily lives whether we are aware of it or not.

For a great many years I worked with a small local group in Thailand called Burma Issues.  Our group was diverse with both Christian and Buddhist friends working together.  We put in long hours and the work was often stressful and complicated.  One day a Buddhist colleague approached me.  I could see she was in a pensive mood and wondered what was on her mind.  After some talk relating to our busy schedule, she suddenly asked me, “Max, you have been doing this kind of work for many many years now.  What keeps you going?  Why don’t you just get tired and quit?”  The questions were not necessarily strange or difficult, but I had not thought about this for a long time so was not ready to give a quick response.  I fumbled around in my thoughts for a while, but before I could think of a good reply, she answered for me.  “It’s your Christian faith, isn’t it?”

I was aware then that all of the years we had been working together, she had been watching me.  How did I respond to conflicts in the group?  How did I cope when stress levels got very high?  How did I respond to the tremendous suffering we heard about every day from other colleagues living and working in Burma’s conflict zones?  Without my being aware of it, my life, as a Christian, was teaching others around me.  Those lessons could be either negative or positive depending on how I conducted each minute of my activities.

The same responsibility rests on us as a nation.  We Americans refer to our country as a “Christian Nation.”  We proudly hold that banner high for the entire world to see.  Consequently, every action we do is teaching the world something about our understanding of what being a Christian means.  That should encourage us to be more deeply reflective about how we relate to each other within the country and also how we related to global issues which we are so much a part of.

The events that recently unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri made the news here in Asia in a big way.  The shooting of unarmed Michael Brown by a police officer and the response by the police force against protesters calling for justice reflected so much about a “Christian” response to human rights in America today.  In the past, the United States has strongly condemned militaries and governments in Asia for using such violent tactics against their own people.  At one time, those words of condemnation had value and power.  Now they can no longer be said with much integrity.  The Prime Minister of Cambodia recently justified his heavy-handed treatment of villagers protesting loss of their lands to big corporations by referring to Ferguson, Missouri as validation of such violent tactics.  Why not?  If a Christian nation can do this, why not other countries as well?

And as we sink deeper and deeper into a war culture, we must be aware of what our actions are telling the world about how we interpret and use our faith at the global level.  It is no surprise now that some people are rejecting Christianity as a religion no different from all the others that speak fine words but are ready for violent revenge at a moments noticed.  If Christianity is different and truly holds core values such as love, compassion and inclusiveness should we not be able to find more Christ-like responses to the violence the world is immersed in now?  What are we teaching the world?

“My children, our love should not be only words and talk. No, our love must be real. We must show our love by the things we do”. (1 John 3: 18)

Lectio Divina Paci – September 22, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

for Sunday, September 28, 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost

READ: Philippians 2.1-13 “consolation” and “selfish ambition”

REFLECT: The first thing that came to mind when I read the word “consolation” was a consolation prize for the loser on a reality television show. I’m usually in the minority when I tell people that I’m unable to watch reality television. Lies and deception, mistrust and back-stabbing. It’s not fun for me, it’s painful. All I can see is selfish ambition.

As I continued to read, I thought about another use of the word “consolation” as found in the Examen of Ignatius of Loyola. The Examen is a form of prayer in which one reviews the day, paying close attention to the “consolations” and “desolations”. These are inner stirrings of the heart that lead either to an increase or decrease in faith, hope and love, respectively.

Again my thoughts turned to reality television, and I remembered that there was in fact a show that I appreciated, precisely because its premise was contrary to so many other shows in the wilderness/survival genre. Bear Grylls, host of “Get Out Alive,” rewards those who look to the good of the whole group. On this show, participants are penalized and reprimanded for selfish ambition at the expense of others. Humility and love are not consolation prizes for the weak. They are key attributes of the winners.

RESPOND: God, help us to remember that humility and love for others is the way to exercise and put into practice your saving grace in our own lives. Help us to trust that as we care for one another, we can let down our guards and experience deeper and more meaningful relationships and stronger communities.

Think about your home, neighborhood or workplace. Is there a culture of mutual love and respect, or competition and undercutting? Choose one person from one of these contexts with whom you are at odds. What might happen if you adopted an attitude of humility rooted in love?

LECTIONARY TEXTS FOR THE UPCOMING SUNDAY (and for you to try on your own):

Exodus 17.1-17

Psalm 25.1-9

Matthew 21.23-32

 

Lectio Divina Paci is a weekly devotional guide for peacemakers in the lectio divina form. Lectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) is a traditional Benedictine practice of scripture reading, prayer, meditation, and reflection that treats scripture as the Living Word. Lectio Divina Paci is an opportunity for peacemakers to become more in tune with the voice of the Prince of Peace.

Lectio Divina Paci – September 15, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

for Sunday, September 21, 2014

15th Sunday after Pentecost

READ: Philippians 1.21-30 “fruitful labor”

REFLECT: I imagine we’d all like to think that our time and efforts are not spent in vain. Indeed, two people can engage in the same action — but with different motives and intentions — and one’s labor can be fruitful while another’s can be in vain.

As I prayed through this passage, two scenes emerged. Both scenes took place in a rock quarry. In the first scene, a group of chained prisoners were set to the task of breaking down boulders into gravel. Different motives fueled them. In one it was the desire to dominate the group and assert power. In another, it was the people-pleasing desire to look good to others. In a third it was the desire to achieve personal security through hard work. But no matter how hard they worked, nothing would ever be done with the gravel they produced, and there were always more boulders to break down. These various motives, unchecked and with no healthy outlet, turned inward and ate them alive.

In the second scene, a free person was also engaged in breaking down boulders. As a free person, there was meaning and purpose, agency and human freedom. These rocks were destined to build something, something greater and beyond the self.

RESPOND: God, you alone know my motives. Sometimes I can even deceive myself. Search my heart, God. Where am I acting in freedom, and where am I reacting and merely propping up my ego? Help me to look with compassion and to let go of false security, people-pleasing, and the need for control.

Think for a moment about a time when you felt frustrated in your efforts or work. Try to identify the underlying motivation. Was it the need for affection and esteem, belonging and security, or power and control? How did you feel in your body? Let that physical sensation be a signal to you that you are not acting in freedom, and to let go in surrender to God.

LECTIONARY TEXTS FOR THE UPCOMING SUNDAY (and for you to try on your own):

Exodus 16.2-15

Psalm 145.1-8

Matthew 20.1-16

 

Lectio Divina Paci is a weekly devotional guide for peacemakers in the lectio divina form. Lectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) is a traditional Benedictine practice of scripture reading, prayer, meditation, and reflection that treats scripture as the Living Word. Lectio Divina Paci is an opportunity for peacemakers to become more in tune with the voice of the Prince of Peace.

Balancing Acts – Peace and Justice 101-Revisited

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

I wrote the following article seven years ago for Peace Signs. It seems appropriate to re-visit it again as we reflect this month on MCC Peace Sunday.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27 (NRSV)

I recently received an e-mail from a friend that included several questions related to peace that had been posed to her. As I considered responding, I was again reminded of the fact that often we who talk about peace assume that everyone means the same thing by the word “peace,” yet this is not necessarily the case.

First and foremost, peace is much broader and richer than simply the absence of war or violence (or for that matter than the absence of anything). The word that is normally translated peace in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word shalom. One way to think of shalom is that it denotes healthy, right relationships including those between people and God, people with and within themselves, people with other people (including nation with nation), and people with the rest of creation (the land, “nature”, the Earth).

Perry Yoder, in his book Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, & Peace, describes the use of the word shalom to indicate not only right relationships, but also material prosperity and moral integrity. Peace, in terms of shalom, is not present if one or more of these three conditions is absent. For example, there is not peace (shalom) when some have prosperity at the expense of others. It does not matter whether the inequity is intentional or not. Because all do not have prosperity – and by implication, a healthy, right relationship with each other – the state of affairs is not one of shalom.

Yoder also defines shalom less formally as “things being as they ought to be.” Whether “things are as they ought to be” is determined by whether all (not just some) are doing better than just getting by, whether relationships (including those with God, self, and the rest of creation, as well as with others) are healthy, and whether there is moral “rightness.”

This informal definition of shalom can be helpful in understanding whether there is peace in a given situation. If North Americans have abundant, inexpensive goods while those in developing countries endure sweatshop workplace conditions to make these goods, there is not shalom – things are not as they ought to be. If a friend, relative or neighbor does not know the person of Jesus Christ, does not understand the rich, satisfying life available in right relationship with God, there is not shalom – things are not as they ought to be. If people are hungry, or without clothing or a home or health care or work, there is not shalom – things are not as they ought to be.

Shalom is only possible when there is justice. Where injustice exists, at least one of the three components of shalom will not be present. Typically, we tend to think of justice as “fairness.” However, the Biblical idea of justice is richer than this. An excerpt of the commentary to Article 22 of The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective [1995] reads:

According to Greek and Roman ideas of justice, people should get what they deserve.

According to the Bible, justice involves healing and restoring relationships. That is a

reason for the special concern for the poor and the oppressed evident in the Bible

(Deut. 24:10-22; Matt. 20:1-16; James 2:5).

This is a key concept. Biblical justice is not based on merit (deserving) – either positive or negative – but rather on need. Biblical justice is not about punishing those who have “done wrong,” nor is it about rewarding those who have “done right.” God’s justice provides what is needed to restore shalom – material prosperity, right relationship, and moral integrity. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:45, “your Father in heaven … makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This is “just” because, it is what is needed. Whether “good” or “evil,” “righteous” or “unrighteous” all need the sun and the rain so that they may have the basic provisions of life.

A perfect example of justice as what is needed rather than what is deserved is Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. In this parable the owner of a vineyard, goes to the marketplace throughout the day hiring laborers to work in his vineyard. The first ones hired, early in the morning, are promised a day’s wages. Those hired later in the day are promised that they will be paid “whatever is right.” When the end of the day comes, those hired last, near the end of the day, are given a full day’s wage as are all of the others, including those who were hired first. According to the way we typically see justice, we would say that this is not fair since those hired last did not work the full day and therefore do not deserve a full day’s wage. However, if we look at justice as providing what is needed rather than what is deserved, we see that this is “fair.” Each man hired needed a day’s wage to buy food and take care of his family. Thus, each received a day’s wage.

There are many books related to Biblical peace and justice. Some that I have found helpful include:

  • Choosing Against War by John D. Roth, 2002, Good Books
  • Letters to American Christians by John Stoner and Lois Barrett, 1989, Herald Press
  • What Would You Do? by John Howard Yoder, 1983, Herald Press
  • The Politics of Jesus (2nd edition) by John Howard Yoder, 1994, William B. Eerdmans
  • Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, & Peace by Perry Yoder, 1987, Evangel Publishing House
  • Kingdom Ethics by Glenn Stassen & David Gushee, 2003, Intervarsity Press

The following links provide general information and resources related to peace and justice and opportunities to take action to promote peace and justice in practical ways:

As we try individually to live lives of peace and justice and work and advocate for peace and justice in our communities, the nation, and the world, it is important to keep in mind that God’s peace, shalom, is characterized by material prosperity, right relationships, and moral integrity. There is peace when things are as they ought to be.