Peace on the Hill – ‘Please protect me’

by Tammy Alexander

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“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

According to the Gospel of Matthew (2:13), these are the words Joseph heard from an angel, some time after the birth of Jesus.  Fortunately, Joseph and his family were able to find refuge in Egypt. This past summer, thousands of Central American families fled their homes and sought refuge in the United States and other countries. Some fled because their lives were similarly threatened.

Under pressure from members of Congress and the public, the Obama administration opened two new family detention centers as part of a strategy to deter others from coming to the U.S. Several lawyers have volunteered at the detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, as part of a pro bono project, working 16-20 hour days for weeks at a time. Several have written about their experiences and their stories are both riveting and disturbing

Angela Williams’ blog entries tell of brave women who, having already experienced untold suffering in their home countries, are further traumatized during their detention in Artesia. Many are forced to recount stories of violence and rape in front of their children. Some are mistreated by guards and denied access to proper medical care. Children are denied simple items such as coloring books. In Williams’ words:

“I feel betrayed and traumatized by this place … [by] this Administration that for some reason has decided that mistreating women and children is the best way to ‘send a message’ to any other Central American thinking of coming to the U.S. that they better not come.

“They are not ‘illegal.’ They are asylees. There is no other way to seek asylum than what they are doing. You cannot apply for asylum from outside of the country. You must be physically present in the U.S. to do that […] [As an asylee,] your country has some situation going on that is out of control that is impacting you and causing you harm because of your race, religion, national origin, political opinion or because of your membership in a particular social group. Your government is unable or unwilling to do anything to stop this harm. You flee. You arrive in the United States and you ask for asylum. […]  You show up and you say please protect me from what is happening in my country because I am afraid to go back.”

Mary and Joseph found refuge for their precious son, Jesus, when his life was in danger. How will we respond to parents showing up at our borders today, with babies in their arms, saying, ‘please protect me’? Will we remember the words of another former refugee who called us to care for the most vulnerable among us (Matthew 25:35-36)?

As of mid-December, the AILA Artesia Pro Bono Project had won all 12 of the asylum cases of detained mothers and children that have come before a judge. Pray for these brave volunteers as they continue to live out Jesus’ call. Pray for the women and children at Artesia and all who are struggling to find safety and welcome.

Urge President Obama and your members of Congress to also hear this call and to treat refugees and asylees with compassion. And, finally, consider how your church might answer the call to help immigrants in the U.S.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting domestic and international issues and detailing ways the church can be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy to elected leaders.

Silent Night and the 7:00 o’clock News

by Berry Friesen

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Again this December, I heard Simon and Garfunkel singing Silent Night over an August 3, 1966 broadcast of the evening news. It is an audio icon for people of my generation and has stamped us with an ironic view of Jesus:  the much heralded Prince of Peace who failed to bring peace.

It’s long past time to disavow this irony, this alleged contradiction between promise and performance.   Christmas tells us God is not giving up on Earth, on human history, on you and me.  It tells us the loving justice of God not only endures, but measures all things.  It tells us the light will continue to shine in the darkness, revealing the evil committed there.

Do you find this to be weak tea?  Do you think I’m trying to salvage a great disappointment?  Please, stay with me a little longer.

The “irony” of Christmas is rooted in a false image of god that goes back to the very beginning of the Bible when the fantasy lives of David and Solomon captured the imagination of the Israelites.  It was a deception, a falsehood from the beginning.  There never was a great Israelite kingdom and the god Israel claimed to worship never wanted one.  But no matter; people fell for the story hook, line and sinker.  “Our god rules and so will we.  Then there will be peace!”

Yet early on, another part of the Bible described this god another way, as the One who made a fool of kings and made a different kind of promise to everyday people like you and me.

This is the One of whom the prophets spoke, carefully avoiding triumphalist metaphors.  Amos spoke of rebuilding “the booth of David,” Hosea of “living in tents again,” Micah of resisting the terrible Assyrian army through the leadership of “seven shepherds.” Zephaniah said the same thing, but without figures of speech:  “I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.  For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly” (Zeph. 3:11-12).

But the fantasy lived on with its images of powerful perfection.  And it lives still in Simon and Garfunkel’s iconic recording.

Drawing on the work of John Caputo, Samford University professor B. Keith Putt describes the god of the prophets as “an event who disrupts grandiose theories of power, prestige and brutality.”  It is “the power of a weak force, a force that does not plot but promises, does not exploit but entices, does not violate human freedom but vitiates . . . oppression through the power of powerlessness and the seduction of divine suffering.”  This god-event does not crush oppressors, but persistently deconstructs their pretenses and “never allows injustice, violence, oppression, suffering and dehumanization to exist unperturbed and unrestrained.  The weak force of the event of God is in reality the Spirit of God as a messianic nuisance and a prophetic irritant.” *

This is the One to whom the birth of Jesus bears witness. It is the “weak force” of steadfast resistance, persistently witnessing to justice and truth.

Recently, I heard a woman from my congregation speak of her journey to Nigeria where she became acquainted with a faith-based group building relationships of trust and solidarity between Muslims and Christians.  During her visit, a bomb in a local market killed several people.  She felt despair at this news until she spoke to one of the leaders of the community group, who said:  “We expect provocations–the shedding of blood to trigger sectarian violence.  Our purpose is to interrupt the escalation the bombers are counting on.  It’s why we do what we do, so these provocations do not escalate.”

This is the prophetic, pro-active “peace” of Christmas.  It does not impose peace, nor does it despair at imperfection.  Instead, it initiates and invites as it persistently subverts the structures of evil.  We see this peace at work in our own country, revealing the hidden purposes of the U.S. torture program and subverting its power to use the lies elicited from innocent men to justify U.S. wars of aggression.

This is the light that has come into the world in Jesus, the light the darkness will never extinguish. This is who and what we celebrate at Christmas!

* Putt, B. Keith.  “Depravatio Crucis: The Non-Sovereignty of God in John Caputo’s Poetics of the Kingdom” in Peace Be With You:  Christ’s Benediction Amid Violent Empires, edited by Sharon L. Baker and Michael Hardin. Cascadia Publishing House, 2010.

Confessions of a white woman on a journey toward acknowledging racism and privilege

By Audrey Hindes

The recent grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner have left me confused, embarrassed and ashamed. Confused about the justice system. Embarrassed by my own privilege. Ashamed of my ignorance of the racial issues that keep us entrenched in our own experiences and divide us from one another. The grand jury decisions have left me wondering what I personally can do, convicted to learn more, and find ways to act.

It took a long time for me to come to the place where I could acknowledge how deep of a problem racism is in America. For much of my life, I’ve been a white person with many non-white friends. Racism? What racism? There’s no problem here. That was when my definition of racism was limited, narrow and one-dimensional.

My definition stemmed from a racist relative. He was blatantly, overtly and unapologetically hateful toward non-white people. When I was younger I would argue with him. But over time and getting nowhere, I adopted our family’s response of non-engagement: “You’ll never change him,” “just ignore him.” He was considered an anomaly. That’s how I learned to deal with racism. Those few racist people out there are set in their ways. There’s nothing you can do. Don’t engage.

A snapshot of my group of sixth grade friends: one white girl, one Hispanic girl, one black girl and one girl who was half black and half Japanese. We were the very picture of diversity. For me, to acknowledge my white privilege was just one step away from saying that I was racist. So no, I could not own my white privilege. We were all smart, all equal, and no one got an advantage.

It wasn’t until graduate school, in a class called “Religion in American Film” that I was finally able to see racism as something much more complex, more nuanced, more subtle and more systemic than the one-dimensional definition I had grown up with. It took seeing it on the silver screen, in a context safely outside my own, for me to truly see. As Dr. Gregory Ellison, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Candler School of Theology, often says, “Once you see, you cannot not see.” And now that I have seen, I also see that I have a lot yet to learn.

Years later, living in the American South, my education in racism and white privilege has continued. A stranger in this cultural context, I have felt free to be honest and ask questions of my friends. And in my experience, the word “friend” is key. I have seen that once an authentic relationship has been established, hard questions can be asked and received in a spirit of grace and love. Even if I don’t know how to frame my question the “right” way, I can ask my friends to help me learn how to ask the question in the first place. Do you have someone in your life of whom you can ask these questions? If not, how can you diversify your news sources to broaden the cultural ideas presented to you?

In his book, “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough,” Harold Kushner says that there is no “Answer” with a capital A, but there are lots of answers, with lower case a’s. So I don’t know what the Answer is. But I do know that every authentic friendship, every act of courage and solidarity, every acknowledgement of white privilege, and every single stand for peace, justice and reconciliation is an answer.

A CHRISTMAS REFLECTION

by Max Ediger max e

“There is a story they tell of two dogs. Both at separate times walk into the same room. One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling. A women watching this goes into the room to see what could possibly make one dog so happy and the other so sad. To her surprise, she finds a room filled with mirrors. The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him. What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are.” (author unknown)

During the Christmas season (all 365 days of it) we need to celebrate by looking for signs of love, hope and peace to counter all the negative narratives issued daily by the mass media.  These positive signs, rather than the negative narratives, are the stories reflecting the gift the birth of a child in a simple stable so many years ago brings to our suffering world.  They can help calm the storms of fear and stereotypes that negative narratives stir up in our emotions.  We must not let the mass media dictate how we see the world – only God’s love should, and does do that through the Christmas experience.  When we truly understand the Christmas event, we will see the world as a place filled with much love, hope and peace, because that is what our own life will reflect back to us.

The positive stories are there, but we may have to struggle to hear them above the mass media’s storms of islamophobia, homophobia and a multitude of other phobias.  As we listen to, and celebrate, these positive stories that reflect “Joy to the World”, we strengthen them and the love, hope and peace that they bring to us.  Only love can overcome fear and hate, and what better place to find love than in a manager tucked away in a stable in far-away Bethlehem?

So, in this time of joy and celebration, I share one such story out of so many I hear and witness during my travels around Asia.  It challenges the stereotype that Islam is a religion of violence and all Muslims are extremists.  It shows that if we go into the world with a happy disposition, there is a good chance that happiness and compassion will be reflected back to us.

My friend John is a Christian from Bangladesh.  Christians in Bangladesh are a small minority of the population and are generally surrounded by Muslim communities.  While the relationship between Christian and Muslim is normally peaceful, violence does occasionally break out.  When that happens the mass media (perhaps a growling mass media?) tends to highlight news about these “radical Islamic” forces in the country that threaten peace-loving people.  John shared a very different story with me.

John’s father is the pastor of a small church which is situated in the middle of a Muslim community on the outskirts of Dhaka.  Early in 2014, his father suddenly became very ill with a heart condition.  He was rushed to a hospital for treatment and doctors reported his situation as very critical.

It was the Islamic celebration of Ramadan and all of the Muslim neighbors were observing the required fast by consuming no food or water from sunrise to sunset.  This is a very important practice of devout Muslims and is followed religiously.  However, when the news that John’s father was in serious condition in the hospital spread around the community, some of the Muslim men decided to end their fast and begin eating so they would be strong enough to donate blood in case a transfusion was needed.  They did this out of high respect John’s father.

How much better it might be for the world if the mass media entered the global arena with a smile rather than a growl.  How much better for the world if we, as Christians, entered the global arena with a clear expression of “Emanuel – God with us” rather than fear and anger.

“Those who see the world filled with storms, do so because they have a storm in their heart.” (Author unknown)

Lectio Divina Paci – December 15, 2014

Monday, December 15th

for Sunday, December 21st, 4th Sunday of Advent

READ: 2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16 “settled”

REFLECT: A well-known test for the freshness of an egg is to put it in a bowl of water. If they float, they’re bad. Likewise, when soaking a pot of beans. The ones that float should be tossed. The things that sink, that settle to the bottom, are worth keeping.

As I read through this passage a few more times, another image came up: a threshing floor, separating grains of wheat from the chaff, tossing it all up into the air and letting the chaff blow away until all that’s left is usable grain. And this made me wonder: what if those things that disrupt our lives, tossing it all up into the air, are actually helping to separate the wheat from the chaff that blows away?

As a person who has moved around this vast country several times, I know what it is to not feel settled, and to feel like I live in an extended period of transition. There’s a lot of uncertainty and feelings of insecurity could completely engulf us. And sometimes, let’s face it, they do. There is a lot of waiting and wondering and hoping.

With so much about the future unknown, it can be easy to put life on hold. Years could be spent this way, thinking that life will really start when some goal is accomplished — when we buy a house, get a dog, finish a degree, start a family, get that dream job or car. THEN, life will be good.

A final image: a handful of unhulled grain. I rub my hands together and the hull comes loose. When I open my hands, the wind carries away the chaff and I cam surprised that what remains in my hands are lavender buds. Their fragrance soothes my senses and invites me to be settled right now, in this moment, because this moment is where my life truly is.

RESPOND: God, help us to remember that you are the one who exists outside of all time, not us. We are creatures of the present. Draw our hearts, minds and senses to the present. Help us to hold all things very loosely and to live open-handedly. When we are waiting for something to come, help us to wait in the spirit of Advent — of the expectant hope of what is already here, and what is yet to come.

Are there milestones in your life that you are waiting to happen before you feel that life can truly begin? What gifts of the present might you be missing while you’re putting things on hold? Practice living in the moment today by noticing what is beautiful, living and growing around you.

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

Psalm 89.1-4, 19-26

Romans 16.25-27

Luke 1.26-38

 

Lectio Divina Paci is a weekly devotional guide by Audrey Hindes 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.

Mary’s Song

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger

This road was meant for me
Before I was born here you put my feet
This road was meant for me

Before I was born
You led the way ahead
and marked my path
This road for me

You are the potter
I am the clay
Let me be the clay
Let it be done to me

You know the world as it was created to be
You know the path that you made for me
Now I am here and it’s just like you said

You are the potter
I am the clay
You made me for this day
You hold in your hands
All the days of my life
You made the road I walk on
And you are making the days ahead

You are the potter
I am the clay
Let me be the clay
Let your will be done

I am the body and you are the head
Whatever you will, it will be said
Whatever you do, it will be good

You spoke the word
And created the light
You made the world
And are making things right

You are the potter
and I am the clay
I am the body
and you are the head
Whatever you will, it will be said
Whatever life brings
I will step into the light
Let it be done to me as you will

In safety I walk
In the dark valley
I know you are keeping me,
Watching and waiting
Whatever life brings
I know you are there.
Watching and waiting
protecting and keeping
molding making
This new life that’s waiting

In safety I walk
In the dark alley
You spoke the word
and there was light
You made the world
and are making things right

Balancing Acts – Soli Deo Gloria

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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

“For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

(Isaiah 9:6, NKJV)

Last night my wife, Wendy, and I attended a local performance of Handel’s Messiah presented by the Choral Union of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. With over one hundred vocalists, professional soloists, and a small orchestra, the performance, as always, was beautiful and inspiring. Attending this performance has become a tradition of ours since our coming to Mount Vernon over 20 years ago.

Isaiah’s prophecy given above, made 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, forms a key part of the Messiah and is probably one of the reasons that this famous work has become a Christmas tradition throughout much of the world.

The release of 142 indebted prisoners was secured by a portion of the proceeds from the first performance of Handel’s Messiah on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland. Two other charities, the Mercer’s Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary, both established to serve the poor in Dublin, also benefited from the proceeds. How fitting that the most famous musical tribute to the One who came heal the sick and set the prisoners free should, on its inaugural performance, be used to do His work.

To accommodate the crowd of 700 people in the small Musick Hall on Fishamble Street, “gentlemen were requested to remove their swords, and ladies were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messiah_(Handel)) Neither fashion nor arms prevailed at the inaugural  performance of this work which honors the Prince of Peace.

From Handel’s notes, we know that Messiah was composed in 24 days. Having received Charles Jennens’ text, comprised solely of scripture passages relating to prophecies about, and the passion,  resurrection and glorification of, the Messiah, Handel began composing on August 22 and finished on September 12, 1741. At the end of the 259 page score, Handel wrote SDG, Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory.”

If you have never attended a live performance of Messiah, I would encourage you to do so. While the whole piece is inspiring, one part that always stands out for me is the final “Amen.” As I sit with my eyes closed it seems that wave upon wave of the choral “amen” wash over me. It is a truly exhilarating experience and fitting ending for a great piece.

This Christmas season, amid the hustle and bustle of shopping and decorating, the preparations and get-togethers, the children’s programs and cantatas, find time to listen to Messiah. If possible, attend a live performance. If that is not possible, listen to a good recording. Like an encounter with the Messiah Himself, you will find it transforming!

Here is a list of a few resources related to Messiah:

Finally, it is my hope and prayer that all you do this Christmas season, and every day, would be done saying “To God alone the glory,” Soli Deo Gloria.