Balancing Acts – All or Nothing

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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.

by Tom Beutel

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Matthew 12:30 (NRSV)

Perhaps it is a sign of the current time or perhaps it is simply a characteristic of humans that we find it difficult to see and accept things as they are. Many view Christians and Christianity as exclusive, judgmental, and intolerant. Whereas Christians, particularly in today’s Western culture, emphasize the universality of God’s love, Jesus’ reaching out to and associating with “sinners,” and the Bible’s injunctions against judging others. But, things are not as simple as one or the other of these views.

The scripture quoted at the beginning of this article presents what many might see as a rather harsh statement by Jesus. It seems to contradict the idea that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and that “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45). Nevertheless, it is a statement that Jesus made and we have to take it seriously.

We must choose to take all of Jesus or nothing. We can neither limit our understanding of Jesus to sayings such as this harsh-sounding scripture, nor to those sayings that emphasize universal love. We cannot base our beliefs and behaviors simply on “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39) and “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1). These are true and vitally important, but there is more to Jesus, and hence to God, than this.

Consider the following scriptures, a sampling of Jesus’ thought and words, taken just from the book of Matthew:

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)

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)

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. (Matthew 11:20)

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels … And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41,46)

And, of course, there is the following statement made by Jesus recorded in John 14:6:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

There is much to understand in these scriptures and in the contexts from which they were taken. Nevertheless, there are certain things that stand out and these have implications for our beliefs as Christians.

First, it seems to me to be significant that Jesus begins his ministry with a call to repent. Taken in its own right and in conjunction with other statements by Jesus, there are several implications: there is such a thing as sin, ways of thinking and acting that are wrong as viewed by God. Sin may, in some cases, be simply something that does not promote well-being for us individually; alternatively, it may involve harm to others, or it may be detrimental to our relationship to God.

But, Jesus does not simply affirm that sin exists, he calls us to repent, to re-think and turn from sin. When Jesus talks about sin he does not focus solely on prejudices, judgmentalism, or unloving attitudes. He talks about breaking commandments (Matthew 5:19); harboring anger, insults, and name-calling (Matthew 5:22), adultery, sexual immorality, and divorce (Matthew 5:27-28, 32), and putting people (Matthew 10:37), possessions (Matthew 6:19-21), or everyday concerns (Matthew 6:25-34) before God.

Sin, for Jesus is a serious matter. Why else would he challenge the Pharisees with his authority to forgive sins as in Matthew 9:2-8? And so, he calls us to repent. So, where does that leave us? As the church, we are given the charge by Jesus to do his work. His final words to his disciples recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 are

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

We are to baptize and to make disciples. We are also to teach others to “obey everything” that Jesus taught. This includes Jesus’ teachings on love, forgiveness, and acceptance. It also includes his teachings on sin, repentance, and judgment. We must take all of Jesus or nothing!

Lectio Divina Paci – April 20, 2015

Monday, April 20th

For Sunday, April 26th, 4th Sunday after Easter

READ: John 10.11-18 “my own accord”

I’m sure that I have seen an Internet quiz somewhere entitled “What is the soundtrack to your life?” or “If your life was a movie, what would be on the soundtrack?” We like quizzes like this: What color is your soul? What is your ideal career? What kind of house should you live in? What is your spirit animal? We’re so out of tune with our inner lives that we place enormous weight on 10-question quizzes about whether our favorite meal is pizza, burgers, tacos or pasta — never mind if you want to answer “none of the above.”

When I first began to pray with this passage, the word “accord” gave me pause. When I considered the phrase, “my own accord,” agreement within oneself was the first thing that came to mind – having all inner instincts, thoughts and emotions being in agreement with one another. There is power in this. I was reminded of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4.12, “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (NIV)

Then I imagined these three energy centers – instinct, emotion and thought – as three notes of musical chord. We all have each of these centers operating within us to varying degrees, though we’re likely to have our favorite and ignore the others. But just as neglect can cause relationships with others to shrivel, so can neglect of parts of ourselves.

RESPOND: God, help us to listen. Give us courage to pay attention. Help us to be in tune with our inner worlds and the world around us. Reassure us of your presence in all things and that you will not leave us alone no matter what song is playing in our hearts.

Are you in tune to the chords playing in your own life? What is the song that, if strung together, these chords would be playing? Is it harmonious? Is there dissonance? What prevents you from paying attention to each note? On its own, each note has value, but we can learn even more about ourselves when we pay attention to all three. A greater understanding of our inner lives can have a tremendous healing impact on our relationships with God and with others.

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

Acts 4:5-12

Psalm 23

1 John 3:16-24

 

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.

Lectio Divina Paci – April 13, 2015

Monday, April 13th

For Sunday, April 19th, 3rd Sunday after Easter

READ: Luke 24.36b-48 “touch me and see”

REFLECT: Before I even started reading, as my eyes glanced over this passage, these words stood out to me. As I began to pray, I remembered something that happened a number of years ago when I was teaching.

A colleague and I went to the cafeteria on campus for lunch. “Two Dollar Tuesdays” was a great way to get staff and faculty in the door. As I was walking with my lunch tray into the dining area, I noticed a number of people looking at me quizzically. As I scanned the room looking for my friend, I was also doing a mental scan of my person: Did I have something on my face? Had something wonky happened with my hair? My friend approached and I whispered, “why is everyone looking at me funny?” He looked back at me as if to say “you need to ask?” Still confused, he reached out and grabbed a carafe of sunflower seeds from my tray. “Like sunflower seeds, eh?” I was shocked. Apparently, I put the whole carafe of sunflower seeds on my tray and took it with me, rather than back on the salad bar – and was completely oblivious about it. I literally could not see it until he touched it.

RESPOND: God, you invite us to touch you, and we pray for you to touch us. Just as we love you because you first loved us, we pray that we might see, and that seeing, you would open our minds to understand and join with you in the work you are already doing right in front of us.

How can we touch Jesus when he is physically not right in front of us? One way is to get in touch with Jesus inside of you, and inside of those around you. What prevents you from seeing Jesus? What noise drowns out his voice? What obstacles block your view?

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

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

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.

Lectio Divina Paci – April 6, 2015

Monday, April 6th

For Sunday, April 12th, 2nd Sunday after Easter

READ: John 20.19-31 “the doors… were locked for fear”

REFLECT: A number of years ago I was doing a 6-week study with a group on Joyce Rupp’s book Open Door. The first sentences of week 1 day 1 are these: “The metaphor of a door provides a symbolic way of identifying who we envision ourselves to be and how we currently experience life. The door also helps us name how we are in relationship with God.”

I began to pray with this passage from John and imagine what I do with the door of my heart when I experience fear. I imagined a door that swings freely both ways with no lock and no window. It is like the door in a restaurant between the kitchen and the dining room. There could be accidents if two people approach from each side at the same time. It’s made of some sort of durable plastic or composite material. It’s mostly kicked open because those passing through it have their hands full of dishes and trays, coming and going from the kitchen.

This kind of door is a temptation for me. I want to have an open heart, but it is dangerous to not be able to close it as well. It is important to have healthy limits, to be able to say “no”, and being willing to lock out anything harmful. At my best, I imagine my door to be made of oak. It is a big door that opens wide, but it also has strong locks. The upper half is made of beautiful clear cut glass in a floral design. It lets in lots of light, but also allows me to see who is knocking before I decide to open it.

RESPOND: God, in this first Sunday after Easter, help us to know what it is to live as redeemed people. When we are afraid and the doors to our hearts are locked, come in anyway. May we see the in-breaking of your reign all around us.

How do you imagine the door to your heart at this moment? What is it made of? Does it have locks? If so, what kind? Are the hinges rusty from being closed too long? Tell God about this door and ask Jesus to breathe peace on your heart. What might your door look like at its best?

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

Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

1 John 1:1-2:2

 

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.

Lectio Divina Paci – March 30, 2015

March 30, 2015

(This is the seventh post in our Lectio Divina Paci Lenten series. To read the introduction, click here).

READ: Philippians 4.4-8 “everything that is upright”

REFLECT: Whenever I teach centering prayer, I lead it just as I was taught. I start with guiding participants in posture: both feet flat on the floor, hands on top of thighs (palms up or down as preferred), sitting up straight and tall, but not stiff – as if there’s a string coming up out of the top of your head, holding your spine, neck and head in perfect alignment. The word “upright” brought this image of good posture to mind as I began reading this passage today.

Generally speaking, good posture is a result of well-trained muscles. It’s not accomplished by exerting a lot of strength and the results are never stiff or rigid. On the contrary, there is a fluid, effortless grace to good posture. But it doesn’t get that way overnight. Like anything worth training for, it takes time and reinforcing habit on countless occasions.

As I began to pray, I asked God which of my muscles are stiff and rigid? Which muscles am I straining and exerting? Which muscles are underdeveloped or overworked and are preventing me from being in alignment with God in a graceful and effortless way?

RESPOND: God, help us to cultivate free-flowing compassion for others and for ourselves, that we might develop strong, graceful muscles of faith, hope and love as we serve you and serve the world.

Have you been with us during this Lenten series on Philippians 4? What has your experience been like spending so much time with just one text? Do you notice a constant theme that keeps coming up during your prayer time? If so, ask God about it and tell someone what’s been on your heart – maybe a friend or loved one, maybe a professional. This is Holy Week, culminating with Easter on Sunday and the promise of resurrection and new life. What new life can you imagine?

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.

Moving Beyond Ableism: The Silent Monster – From Stigma to Inclusion – A Journey in Mental Illness

Editor’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.

By Ezekiel Lee

Jesus called His followers to embrace a message of hope and love. A lifestyle in which we shrink margins, practice restoration, and embrace healing. This is the very essence of peacemaking. A desire and thirst to move towards what is better, to move towards inclusion, and to practice empathy. It is a climate in which investment in the souls of individuals trump their differences. This message also has been sadly missing throughout much of my life as I have struggled with profound mental illness.

The thought will forever be emblazoned in my mind. Me, the awkward 16 year old, just starting grade 10, and with a recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. To be honest, at 16, the term “bipolar” sounded like a death sentence. On the one hand, I was relieved to know that these endless days of intense depression followed by a period of shifting elation and hyperactivity could soon be combated; but in the moment, all I could feel was a profound sense that I had done something wrong, that I deserved this life, and that I would never amount to anything.

I began seeing a psychiatrist. She was young, inexperienced, and just a bit brusque. Although pretty on the outside, she made me feel very small with her insistence that I would never amount to anything without the use of medications. That I would never be able to have a family or get married because I was too unstable, that this disorder would wreak havoc on my professional and personal life. She doubted my ability to pursue higher education, my ability to date, and my ability to handle my emotions. Hearing her say all of these things, after already feeling the weight of the new diagnosis made me even more anxious and resentful.

I began taking medication. The combination of negative side effects coupled with my ever growing desire to prove this psychiatrist wrong eventually led me to stop taking them. That struggle – first developed due to a nagging professional – has led me down the slope of being rather ambivalent towards medications, often starting and then abruptly stopping, much to the chagrin of subsequent doctors and counsellors.

I grew up in a very emotionally detached family. Although both my parents are very loving, their relationship with me and with each other has often been withdrawn, devoid of any intense feelings. My Asian mother found cultural solace in the concept that there was no need to discuss anything that would portray our family in a negative light. Asians, she reminded me, have no time for such things as mental illness. Mental illness, she insisted, can easily be solved by “snapping out of it,” forgetting or else denying that a problem does indeed exist, and simply plunging oneself into working hard and attempting to add more things to one’s schedule so that we won’t have time to continue thinking of the path we are going down.

With stigma comes an inevitable weight of shame. A weight that no one, especially a 16 year old, should have to carry. As months turned into years, I began a steady road to healing and recovery. Although bipolar is an illness that I will have for the rest of my life and I have come to accept it, I have learned that this does not limit my ability to positively impact the world.

Through gracious mentorship, generous counselling, prayer, and supportive doctors, I have learned that although I cannot change my diagnosis, I can try to have a happier outlook on life and not let it hinder my desires for marriage, a family, or further schooling. With this new outlook, I have been able to finish off my master’s degree (and will eventually pursue my PhD). I’ve been able to buy my first car, work with adults who have developmental disabilities, and form satisfying friendships. Actually, my life is quite normal. I have my challenges for sure, and my professors have mostly been understanding of that, but I am still capable and expected to do the same amount of work, to socially function the same way in society, and to pursue the same dreams as everyone else my age.

People who have bipolar, or a host of other mental illnesses, can often be misunderstood, marginalized, or ignored. Sadly, I have experienced unprofessional disclosure, teasing, and even suggestions that I may be demonized. I have had well-meaning Christians suggest I should simply pray more or have more faith. I even have had people suggest that I NOT enter leadership positions because I may get out of hand. What these people are failing to understand is that peace building begins right here, with us. It begins by understanding and embracing those who are different from us, all the while noticing that they really are not so different after all.

Ezekiel Lee is the pen name of a writer who prefers to remain anonymous.

Peace on the Hill: Tears and Hope

By Charles Kwuelum

CharlesKwuelum“… saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture” (Isaiah 49:9).

I recently received a call from a friend who is an international development worker in one of the countries in the Sahel region of Africa. He told me about a group of young children who for a while were identified only as numbers in U.N.-run camps because their parents or guardians had died as a result of war, disease or malnutrition. The children face the same fate. For a moment, we broke down in tears as my friend and I mourned the lives cut short by violence and the unsecured future of the children who lack the basic amenities of life, education and family.

The terrible hunger, water scarcity, health and humanitarian crises in various countries makes my heart burn with passion, exhibiting that divinely-ignited hope that God is timely in favor, covenant and salvation. Sometimes, such situations are not only outcomes of war and conflict, but also natural disaster, poverty and unfair policies. The life of the church in missions is expressed, in part, by the prophetic zeal put into relief, development and peace work (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 42:1). It is a way of life to which we have all been called to participate, and we are filled with the sure hope that our efforts can help reduce protracted humanitarian crises that are deepening by the day.

One small way in which we can work to ensure that people’s basic needs are met is by supporting reforms to U.S. food assistance programs. We must therefore call on Congress to support and pass into law the reintroduced Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 525).

If passed into law, the bill would:

  • Make food aid more cost effective by allowing the purchase of more commodities locally or regionally, as well as the use of vouchers and cash transfers;
  • Save about $50 million per year in shipping costs and shorten the shipping time;
  • Remove the policy of ‘monetization,’ a process that allows U.S. donated food to be sold first by aid organizations, producing cash that then funds development projects. This policy causes the loss of 25 cents out of every dollar. Ending monetization would free up an estimated $30 million per year, feeding an additional 800,000 people.

At the end of my conversation with my friend, I felt an extraordinary kind of assurance together with a deep sense of lively and unfailing hope for the great mission of meeting the needs of communities torn apart by hunger and violence.

In order to be faithful followers of Christ who would inherit the Kingdom, we must heed the call to attend to the needy in acts of mercy by ensuring access to enough food, improvement of farming techniques and fairer trade policies (Matthew 25:31-46). When we raise our voices and translate the prophetic zeal of our hearts through congregational prayers and calls to our representatives in Congress, we seek to bring dignity and hope to millions of people through food, relief and development provided in a modest and dignifying manner.

 Charles Kwuelum is Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington office.

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.