Balancing Acts – Hey Jude: Excerpts from a Commentary

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

But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God;

Jude 20-21a (NRSV)

In August 1968 The Beatles released their first single from the Beatles’ record label, “Hey Jude.” Written originally by Paul McCartney to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian in light of the divorce of  his parents, the song topped the popular record charts in both the US and Great Britain.

The song begins with words of encouragement: “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.”

By contrast, the New Testament book of Jude has not only words of encouragement, but also words of warning. This “balancing act” is characteristic of Jude. Despite the fact that “Jude is one of the shortest letters in the Bible” and that it “is arguably the least well-known writing of the Christian scriptures” (Daniel Powers, 1 & 2 Peter, Jude, New Beacon Bible Commentary), there are several important lessons to be learned from the book of Jude.

One important element is Jude’s ability to embrace paradox and balance seemingly contradictory ideas. This contrasts with our human tendency to see only one side of a paradox. Writing in the Believers Church Bible Commentary 1&2 Peter, Jude, Erland Waltner asserts,

Christians tend not to recognize the necessary tension inherent in biblical paradoxes. Sensing this tension, human beings are inclined to wipe out one side of a paradox. The human mind frequently pits grace and divine initiative against human responsibility. Believers Church Bible Commentary, p. 288

The themes of Jude are God’s faithfulness, the dangers and consequences of false teaching, and the believers’ need to “contend for the faith.” Several interesting and important ideas are presented in the Believers Church Bible Commentary.

First, it is evident that Jude, like other New Testament writers including Paul and Peter, is dealing with problems in the young church. Thought by most to be the half-brother of Jesus and the brother of James, Jude is writing to the embryonic first century church. What this tells us is that while the church today may be facing many problems, including disagreements and divisions within, we are not living in a unique time. As typically attributed to the infamous Yogi Berra, it is “deja vu all over again!”

Second, Jude deals with heresy and apostasy. Again, quoting from the commentary,

Heresy may be formally defined as doctrinal deviance from orthodox belief (Greek: haeresis, “a choosing,” a dissension, faction, sect; 1 Cor. 11:19). Apostasy constitutes the behavioral or ethical side of rejecting religious dogma (apostasia, a “withdrawing,” a “wandering away”; 2 Thess. 2:3). In Jude, both doctrine and ethics, belief and practice, are at work…Both doctrinal erosion and moral error compromise the integrity of the Gospel and the believing community.   (p.289)

Waltner goes on to say,

One sociologist describes modernity as making place for widespread heresy. He observes the increasing secularization of religion in American life (Berger: 1-3). To contemporaries, picking and choosing becomes an imperative, with people turning inward and claiming absolute authority for their own experience. Religion and theology thus increasingly become an    individual and human phenomenon. They lose their sense of transcendent moral authority. In the end, heresy is little more than private opinion.(p.290)

Thirdly, scripture can be used and often is, to support heretical or apostate beliefs. Waltner quotes Menno Simons as saying that “all heresy, seduction . . . and hypocrisy can be . . . defended with Scripture.” (p. 290)

As Waltner applies Jude’s writing to the “Life of the Church,” he emphasizes Jude’s careful balance between God’s grace and human responsibility: “Jude stresses the reality of God’s election and keeping power, while at the same time assuming the real possibility of departing from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. ” (p.310)

Despite, the ability of God to “keep” believers, Jude warns that believers must “build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;  keep yourselves in the love of God.”

Jude’s warnings and exhortations, may strike us living in the 21C as “old-fashioned.” Waltner writes,

Jude’s tone strikes modern readers as unusually forceful and even “insensitive.” In a culture  where “tolerance” has practically achieved status above God, we see intolerance for truth,  morality, and religious authority. The fact remains, however, that certain doctrines and lifestyles are true, and some are false. The latter, from Jude’s prophetic standpoint, lead to  disaster. Thus the distinction between orthodoxy and heterodoxy is not merely academic or  passé. Instead, it has consequences both for the present life and for eternal destiny, forever (Jude 6-7, 13, 21, 25). (p. 310-311)

Waltner wraps up this section of the commentary in this way.

With the advent of a new paganism in Western culture, the church …must reaffirm the importance of  absolute truth, a doctrine of “ultimate things,” which is both theological and    moral in character. (p. 311)

In these times of turmoil in culture and in the church, let us all heed Jude’s warning and encouragement. Let us recognize the dangers inherent in the post-modern psyche, “keep ourselves in the love of God,” and “contend for the faith.”

Lectio Divina Paci – August 11, 2014

Monday, August 11th, 2014

for Sunday, August 17th, 10th Sunday after Pentecost

READ: Genesis 45.1-15 “preserve life”

REFLECT: When I first read this passage, an image of a jar of fruit preserves came to mind – it was blueberry-lime jam, made by a friend, if you must know. As I continued to read a second time, I imagined a whole pantry of preserved produce – other jams, tomatoes, green beans, pickles – all glittering on the shelves like life-giving gems. I imagined that it was the dead of winter, on the coldest, darkest night of the year. No fresh produce to be had from the garden.

But when I go into the pantry and look around, I see not just the jars of food, but also the memories they contain – memories of harvesting in the garden with family, of times spent canning in the kitchen with friends, or giving baskets of homemade gifts to neighbors. And the despair lifts as I select a few items that will nourish and sustain us on this dark night.

RESPOND: God, thank you for providing in ways seen and unseen. Help me to remember not only to check the pantry during dark times, but to regularly stock the pantry with the gifts and graces that you provide every day. Help me to trust that your provision will never run out.

Do you stock your pantry regularly? Do you savor the small gifts from God in your everyday life? Can you recognize them for what they are? Try noticing those moments today that fill you with faith, hope and love. Steep yourself in them and allow them to fill you up. Tuck them away in your heart so that when you need them, you can come back to them. What jar have you tucked away that you need to open to get you through this day? Feel free to respond or ask questions in the comments below.

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

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

 

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 – August 4, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

for Sunday, August 10th, 9th Sunday after Pentecost

READ: Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28 “wandering,” and “seeking”

REFLECT: When I read through this passage the first time, it struck me that a man saw Joseph “wandering,” but asked him what he was “seeking.” There are times when we think we are wandering, but actually we are seeking – likewise there are times we are certain we are seeking when in fact we are merely wandering. In my mind, “wandering” connotes aimlessness and uncertainty, purposelessness, drifting off course. “Seeking,” by contrast, is imbued with purpose, direction, certainty. But how to tell these doppelgangers apart?

As I read through this passage a second and third time, an image of a hiking trail came to mind. I am walking on it, going uphill. I am tired, and the trail ahead curves around a bend. I cannot see what lies ahead. As I pray about this, I ask God whether I am “wandering” or “seeking.” I do not know where I am going – does that mean I am not seeking? As I look back down the trail, I can see clearly how far I have hiked; I can see the bends that formerly held only mystery and uncertainty. More than anything, I see that every step on this trail is connected. And as I turn back to the path ahead, a peaceful certainty settles over me. What lies ahead is connected, too. I think this is what faith is. I chuckle as I think of Abram when God said “go to a place that I will show you.” How can I go if I don’t know where I am going? This is how.

RESPOND: God, sometimes it is terrifying, being on this path, not always knowing whether I am wandering or seeking. I can’t see what is ahead, and if I look over the edge, it’s an awfully long drop. Sometimes I feel paralyzed with not knowing. Sometimes I do find that I have wandered off the path. Whether I have wandered off or been too afraid to take the next step, recall to my mind instances of your faithfulness in my life.  May those memories give me the courage to trust that you will guide my next steps, even when I cannot see the destination.

How are you feeling on your own hiking trail? What drives you? Check in with yourself. Anxiety and our needs for affection and control can give us a false sense of direction and purpose. Ask God to work with you to sift through these false indicators, to the place of deeper trust and union with God. Feel free to respond or ask questions in the comments below.

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

1 Kings 19:9-18 Romans 10:5-15 Matthew 14:22-33

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.

NEWS RELEASE – Coffee for Peace

Coffee for peaceJoji Pantoja started working in Mindanao, Philippines with her husband as a Mennonite missionary with a vision to help in peace building. They were trying to better understand one of the longest armed conflicts in the world—the war between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. While doing their peace and reconciliation work among the conflicted groups in Mindanao, they began offering coffee to both disagreeing parties.  The goal was to try to encourage them to resolve their issues through dialogue over a cup of coffee. It seemed as long as coffee was available, peaceful talk would continue. Since then, they coined those events “Coffee for Peace.”

coffee for peace 2Their dream expanded as they saw the need for a safe place to talk about peace issues in Davao City. Their small coffee shop was established and became known among peace workers and non-government personnel. The need for coffee supplies increased over time and they were brought to various tribal communities who had been marginalized. Their lands were reluctantly leased for 25 years to big companies and multinational corporations at a very low price. The lease payments were not enough to sustain the tribal people, even for basic needs.  They, in turn, needed to borrow money from those same big businesses, which left them dependent and impoverished. Coffee for Peace is now a social enterprise that seeks to help advance justice and peace through finding a market that would pay fair price for the farmers’ labor and produce.  They strive to protect their environment by planting more trees side by side with Arabica trees and are committed to building peace in Mindanao.

Submitted by Jessica Peachey,  member at Grace Mennonite Fellowship in Lacey Spring, VA.

Peace on the Hill – Above and Beyond Peace Accords

czehr_photoBy Charissa Zehr

For years the process of forging peace accords in Colombia seemed elusive. An armed conflict between government forces, guerrilla & paramilitary groups has long beleaguered the Colombian people. In 50 years of conflict, thousands have been killed, kidnapped and impacted by horrific acts of violence. Many more have been displaced from their homes, creating the largest population of internally displaced people in the world at a staggering 5.5 million people.

But since 2012 there has been some forward progress. The government and the largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have been in peace negotiations in Havana since September 2012. Now, after more than 22 rounds of peace talks, people are cautiously optimistic about the peace process.

Tentative agreement has been reached on several key points, but challenges continue. Remaining agenda items include the challenging issues of addressing the needs and reparations for victims of the conflict, as well as bringing human rights offenders to justice.

It is important to ensure that other international actors who played a significant role in funding the armed conflict for decades are also engaged in the peace process. The U.S. government has been Colombia’s largest source of foreign assistance over the last 15 years, with 60-70 percent of that aid given to the military and the so-called “war on drugs.”

For years, Mennonite Central Committee has called on the U.S. government to end military aid to Colombia, in line with our beliefs as people of peace and a vision for a future when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares…neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4) We stand with partner organizations and churches in Colombia who want to see an end to the violence in their communities and an end to damaging policies in the “war on drugs” that address only symptoms, not root causes. We support our Colombian brothers and sisters who understand that the absence of conflict will not mean immediate peace, but will require a re-imagining and re-constructing to be able to move forward.

Our government and military empire have long influenced the conflict, and now it is their responsibility to support the entirety of the peace process—not only negotiations and peace accords but supporting processes of truth, justice and victims’ rights to reparations for years to come.  A 2013 letter signed by 62 members of Congress began to bring these issues to the forefront of policy towards Colombia.

Peace will not come overnight in Colombia. Just as dawn breaks slowly over the horizon, gradually coloring the sky with imperceptible shifts, so is the process of building peace after long years of conflict. The changes may be slow at first, and special care must be given to each step of the process, building momentum and not diminishing the steps that have come before.

Read more

Timeline of peace negotiations

Analysis of peace talks

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.

Charissa Zehr is a Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the MCC U.S. Washington Office.

Tell Me Your Story

by Max Ediger max e

Immigration is a big issue in America.  Like so many important issues being debated, there seems to be little dialogue; only very polarized opinions, criticisms and judgments.  This is unfortunate for all of us, not just for those facing deportation.  We need to listen calmly and deeply to all the different perspectives in order to find a just solution.  Most importantly we must be willing to listen to the stories of the immigrants themselves for each of them has a very important story to tell us.

The USA policy on immigration reaches all the way here to Cambodia.  In the late 1970s, as the Khmer Rouge regime fell, the US began to resettle large numbers of Cambodian refugees to the States.  They were scattered around the different States, but ultimately many migrated to areas with a climate more similar to Cambodia and where larger numbers of Khmer people were living.  Like so many of us, the people of Cambodia like to live in community, and they best found this among their own people.

Having survived life under the Khmer Rouge and a difficult life in the refugee camps, the resettled Khmers also found their new life extremely difficult.  Many were suffering from severe trauma inflicted by war and the Khmer Rouge, but often did not receive the help they needed.  The smallest children also suffered.  Their families, still suffering from the brutality of the Khmer Rouge and not having work that could provide sufficiently, were dealing with many psychological issues which were passed down to the children.  The children grew up in low income communities and were influenced by the youth culture in these areas.

At the same time, the resettled families were often not informed of the proper processes for getting citizenship.  Many children grew up without any identity papers.  This was no problem until they got into some kind of problem such as a charge of possessing drugs, dangerous driving or street fighting.  They would be sentenced to prison for a period, and upon release were often again arrested and deported back to Cambodia because they lacked proper citizenship papers – something that should have been provided to them by the authorities where they were first resettled.

These young people abruptly find themselves in Cambodia, a country they hardly know with a language they may not speak.  In some cases they have no idea in which part of the country they were born of if they even have any living relatives here.  A few come back with severe mental problems and cannot receive the help they need to adjust to a new life.

A local organization by the name of Returnee Integration Support Center (RISC) provides valuable service to these young people as they struggle with adapting to their new life.  Not all of them can do it.  Suicides are, unfortunately, too common.  RISC, with limited funds, provides counseling services, help in getting jobs or just a place to hang out when the going gets too difficult.

This situation reflects many injustices.  One of the most glaring of the injustices is that these young people and their families were resettled in the USA by the government but were not given the proper attention needed to find a new home and solid place to live.  That same government now deports the youth when they break a law, throwing them into a new situation far from their families, their wives and children and the American life they grew up in.

As Christians we are required to care for the homeless, the hungry and the distraught.  Jesus said that what we do to the least of the people around us, we do also to him.  This must become a part of the immigration dialogue.  It will require us to listen to the stories of the immigrants with love and compassion before passing any judgment on them.

Before we make assumptions about immigrants, or pass judgment on them, let us simply ask them, “Can you tell me your story?” Perhaps we will then discover that we are entertained by angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:  1-2)