Lectio Divina Paci – March 2, 2015

March 2, 2015

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

READ: Philippians 4.4-8 “shot through with gratitude”

REFLECT: When I read the phrase “shot through”, I imagined a swath of blue woven fabric. But there was one strand of red fiber that was shot through the cloth, woven in right alongside the blue strands. And I thought: this is how gratitude should be in our lives, woven in right alongside, an intentional interruption that grabs our attention.

And then it struck me that the key to this whole passage, the mystery of being joyful always, and the antidote to worry and anxiety, is gratitude. People talk about an “attitude of gratitude” – and maybe there’s something to that. But I also think it may be deeper than that. A fundamental orientation of the heart, like a compass that always points north, no matter what direction you’re facing.

Before I began to pray with this passage, I started with a prayer of gratitude. I’m familiar with the way my heart feels when gratitude is stirred within me. I’m aware of the times during the day when gratitude comes most easily and even the physical sensation of my heart stirring and opening in gratitude. And it occurred to me that I need to practice being aware of that feeling stirring in my heart, and even to practice catching myself – interrupting that train of thought — when I feel my heart turning in the opposite way toward worry and anxiety.

RESPOND: God, help us to recognize when our hearts are closing and turning away from you in worry and anxiety. And in those same moments I pray that your Spirit would stir our hearts to open in gratitude.

Do you recognize any warning signs or red flags within yourself when you start going down the road of worry and anxiety? Is it a tape recording that you play over and over in your mind? Is it a physical sensation in your body? Get curious – and without judgment, ask God to sit and look at it with you. How could it help you if you didn’t ignore those signs, but took them seriously and then took action accordingly?

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.

The Overlooked Spiritual Teacher: Dr. Howard Thurman

johonna-mccants_portraitby Johonna Turner

I enjoy reading about contemplative spirituality and the Bible’s call to holistic discipleship. With each text, I learn more about spiritual disciplines such as silence, solitude and stillness, how they position us for inward transformation by Jesus Christ, and how this personal transformation enables us to transform the world around us. In these writings, I often encounter the same lists of names – the philosophers, priests and prophets from Catholic and Protestant streams who authored great teachings on the spiritual life that are worthy of our attention. They include Saint Theresa of Avila, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Foster. Based on most of these lists, though, it seemed that no Black people nor any other people of color have made noteworthy contributions to the rich literature on contemplative Christian practice. It was only recently while reading the book Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color that I realized a glaring omission in these lists — the name of the African-American spiritual teacher, theologian and mystic Dr. Howard Thurman.

Howard Thurman is perhaps most well known as the spiritual advisor to civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and James Farmer. In fact, Howard Thurman and King, Jr.’s father, Martin Luther King, Sr. were family friends as well as colleagues in seminary. King, Jr. was thus exposed to Thurman’s teachings from boyhood and likely encountered them again as a student at Morehouse. He later became Thurman’s protégé when he was enrolled as a seminary student at Boston University and Thurman was one of his professors. In mentoring King and other civil rights leaders, Howard Thurman was a central cultivator of the spiritual roots of the civil rights movement — teaching students, clergy and many others that social and political activism must be grounded in spirituality — in the study of Scripture, in self-awareness, and in the disciplined seeking of God. Dr. Thurman also sowed the seeds of the movement’s commitment to nonviolent resistance, or satygraha (love in action), which he learned directly from Mahatma Ghandi during a pilgrimage of African-Americans to South Asia, which he led in 1935 (while he was a professor at Howard University).

Dr. Thurman sought education in matters of the mind, heart and spirit from disparate sources. Whereas his formal academic training took place at Morehouse College, Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, and the Graduate School of Theology at Oberlin College, he also studied with the Quaker mystic Rufus Jones, and spent a summer at Columbia University studying philosophy. While still in seminary, Thurman began serving as an assistant to the pastor at a Baptist church in Roanoke, Virginia. Upon graduation in 1925, he was ordained as a Baptist minister. Only three years later, he would become the Professor of Theology and Director of Religious Life at Morehouse and Spelman colleges and in 1932 to join the faculty at Howard University as Professor of Systematic Theology and the Dean of Rankin Chapel. In 1944, Professor Thurman left his faculty position at Howard University to co-found the first interracial interdenominational church in the United States, the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, in San Francisco, California. Nine years later, Dr. Thurman re-entered the professoriate — but this time at a historically white university. When he accepted the invitation to work at Boston University as the Professor of Spiritual Discipline and Resource, University Preacher, Minister to the University-at-Large, and Dean of Marsh Chapel, he became the first Black dean at a predominantly-white university.

I wish, however, to draw our attention to much more than his prestigious positions, beyond the numerous honorary doctorates Thurman has received, and the hundreds of lectures he has delivered at institutions around the world. I wish to draw our attention to the vast and important contributions Dr. Thurman has made to the literature on contemplative spirituality, the Christian’s call to reconciliation, and the radical life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Thurman is perhaps best known for his 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited, in which he responds to a question that first came to him during his trip to South Asia, What is the message of Jesus “for those whose backs are against the wall?” The result is a deep examination of Jesus’ teachings on the transforming power of love in the midst of oppression.

Another more familiar work is Meditations of the Heart (1953), a book of meditations Thurman wrote for use by the members of his multi-racial congregation, the Church of the Fellowship for All Peoples. In Meditation 26, “The Need for Approval,” he writes,

“We cannot escape the need for approval. It is a searching question. From whom do I seek approval and why?…This need of approval that complements the personality, giving to it a sense of well-being and significance, is the very core of the religious assurance. It is here that religion takes on its authenticity and authority in the life of the individual. Stripped of all superficialities, the claim of religion is that the ultimate basis of self-respect, the ultimate guarantor of the life of man, is found in God. To have a sense of being related to Him is the ultimate assurance — to miss this is to miss all.”

Deep is the Hunger (1951), The Inward Journey (1961), The Centering Moment (1969) and The Mood of Christmas (1973) are also collections of meditations, prayers and poems penned by Thurman to help us attend the voice of God and become deeply rooted in His presence; in Thurman’s own words from the Foreword of Meditations of the Heart, “Their purpose is to focus the mind and the heart upon God as the Eternal Source and Goal of life.”

Thurman have also given us stirring sermons (for e.g. The Growing Edge, 1956) as well as challenging lectures and essays (for e.g. Mysticism and the Experience of Love, 1961 and Disciplines of the Spirit, 1963) wherein he teaches about the unity of humanity, the relationship between inward discipline and outward action, and the need for spiritual disciplines including suffering, growth and reconciliation. In Footprints of a Dream (1959), he tells us “the Story of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples) and in the 1979 volume With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman,” he tells us the story of his life.

Thurman died in 1981. One expert on Thurman’s life and work has stated, “Dr. Thurman was way out ahead of his generation and he is, in fact, was a 21st century theologian working in the middle of the 20th century.” This may just be the encouragement we need to return to Thurman’s vast body of writings in our time and look closely at the legacy he left behind.

Recommended Resources:

The Legacy of Howard Thurman: Theologian and Mystic (Video)

Howard Thurman: This Far By Faith

Dangerous Spirituality by Vincent Harding, Sojourners Magazine.

Howard Thurman – An Annotated Bibliography

Johonna R. Turner is a member of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington, D.C. An educator, cultural worker and scholar, she has taught American studies and African American studies courses at the University of Maryland, provided training and program development services to community organizing and advocacy groups, and served as a Soros Justice Fellow with the Open Society Institute.

Peace is a calling

by J. Ron Byler Ron Byler

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. – Matthew 5:9

Just over 20 years ago, in a 100-day period, the genocide in Rwanda resulted in the deaths of almost one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, just about 20 percent of the country’s total population.

Last November, I visited a former Catholic church, now a memorial, an hour outside of Kigali in the village of Nyamata. On April 10, 1994, about 10,000 people were killed in and around this church. People had gathered in the church and padlocked themselves in. The Hutu militia broke down the doors and massacred the people in the church and in the surrounding villages with their rifles, grenades and machetes.

The remains of 250,000 people are buried on the grounds of the former church. And the clothing of the victims is stacked high in the sanctuary. In an underground vault, thousands of skulls are displayed as a memorial to those who have died.

While I was in Kigali with other MCCers, I met David Bucara, leader of the Evangelical Friends churches in Rwanda. David said that there was no life and no hope after the genocide 20 years ago, and he said it was a genocide the churches had participated in. He told us that when the churches decided they wanted to resurrect their peace identity, it was MCC who was there to help.

Now, David says, there is an entire network of peace organizations in Rwanda and he can see the impact of MCC’s support. “You are blessed, and you are children of God,” David told the MCC Africa country representatives who gathered in Kigali to hear him speak.

The following Sunday morning, we worshipped in an Evangelical Friends church where David was preaching. He preached from the beatitudes in Matthew 5. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he told the congregation.

“Peacemaking is not a job, it is a calling,” David preached to the congregation.

After the service, the pastor introduced a new program for adopting orphans in the community. He referenced the genocide Rwanda had experienced 20 years ago and he said that one of the consequences is that the surrounding communities still have more orphans than would normally be the case. “We have decided to open our doors to these children,” the pastor announced. He asked the congregation if they were ready to receive these children.

MCC continues to support the Evangelical Friends churches through a Friends Peace House and a peace library that reaches out into the Christian and Muslim communities.

Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Editor’s Note – Heroes of Peace

Keith 1Friends;

This month when we commemorate with our African-American brothers and sisters their struggle for civil rights, we are reminded that the struggle continues in this nation and the world over. I hope you will find inspiration to continue the struggle as you read the reflections of our authors this month.

Blessings and Shalom


Peace on the Hill: Drones and death

headshotBy Joshua Russell

Drones are one of the most popular innovations that new technology has brought us in our society today. Drones can be put to many uses such as crop monitoring and resource management.

Armed drones, however, have been used by the U.S. government to wreak havoc in various corners of the globe. Civilian casualties, such as the well-publicized death of a 13-year-old boy in Yemen, have drawn increasing criticism toward the use of armed drones by the U.S.

On February 17, the Obama administration announced that it would begin selling armed drones to foreign countries that meet vaguely-worded standards set by the Department of Defense. The Obama administration has shown no signs of reducing its own use of drone strikes, and is now proposing this new policy of exporting the frightful power of drones to other parts of the world.

Some have argued that drones are necessary because they save U.S. lives. But drones take the lives of innocent civilians, create instability in a volatile region, and give fuel to the fire of extremism, which can increase the risk to U.S. troops.

The faith community, long concerned with the use of armed drones, is now calling for a complete halt in the face of their wanton destruction. Last month at Princeton Theological Seminary an interfaith group gathered to consider the moral, ethical and legal questions raised by drone warfare. Ten Mennonites participated in the conference, which ultimately reached a set of recommendations, the most notable of which was an immediate and complete halt to drone strikes. Agreement on this recommendation by such a wide variety of faith groups, including many that are not pacifist, was highly significant.

One might legitimately ask why Mennonites or other peace churches would focus particular attention on drones. After all, we oppose all wars and bombing campaigns and favor a permanent end to the use of armed drones, not just a temporary halt or moratorium. At the same time, any reduction in death and armed conflict is better than the existing state of affairs, and supporting a halt on armed drones is one practical step right now in which we can find common ground with many other faith groups.

None of this should preclude us from continuing to call for a more sweeping end to violence in all its forms. The Mennonite worldview is not a popular or mainstream one, but we remain committed to it because of Jesus’ teachings. Furthermore, our experience has shown that violence creates an atmosphere where extremism can flourish. Rather than promoting military efforts such as the use of armed drones, we can put our words into action by supporting community-level peacemaking efforts and diplomatic efforts to resolve conflict.

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.

Joshua Russell is Legislative Assistant and Communications Coordinator for MCC’s Washington Office

Lots of Power or a Fair Amount?

by Berry Friesen

Berry fOver one hundred Mennonite leaders recently gathered in Florida to discuss “how power works” across Mennonite institutions. According to accounts written by Wil LaVeist and published by The Mennonite and the Mennonite World Review, the meetings were designed to help the agencies and organizations of Mennonite Church USA “embrace diversity, so it can thrive amid the racial and ethnic demographic changes occurring church wide.”

During my years of working within a Mennonite institution (1989–1997), “power” was a frequent topic of conversation around office water-coolers: who had it and who didn’t, why some were being groomed for it and others not, where it was being used deftly and where clumsily, and how gender and ethnicity factored into it all. I gather from these recent news accounts that discussions about power continue to attract a curious crowd.

“Power” is often referenced in the Bible, more than 150 times within the Second Testament alone. It’s remarkable, though, how differently the Bible speaks of power as compared to my experience.

First, the Bible is rather unabashed in its affirmative view of power. It shows no embarrassment about the matter whatsoever. John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, John, Stephen, Philip, Saul and Apollos are all described as powerful. When Jesus commissioned his disciples and sent them out, he first equipped them with “power and authority over all demons and to cure disease” (Luke 9:1).

Second, the Bible anticipates more power and more people exercising it. The prophecy of Joel—fulfilled so remarkably at Pentecost—is the clearest example with its proclamation of the Spirit’s abundance poured out “upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17).

In other words, Biblical writers did not assume a static reality where a fixed amount of power must be allocated equitably according to some moral principle. The primary example of that approach—the mother of the sons of Zebedee lobbying Jesus to name her sons to executive positions in the new administration—resonates within our institutional frames of reference, but serves in the Bible as a lesson in how not to think about power (Matt. 20:20–28).

So power is good, will multiply with great abundance and be spread around. That’s the expectation.

Toward what end? Read the gospel accounts of Jesus and you see that power is consistently viewed as the capacity to attract an audience, unmask deception, speak with authority and persuade people to repent and align their lives with God’s truth. Yes, healing is also a frequent element, but apart from the context of healing, power is usually demonstrated through the transformation of people’s emotions and worldview.

Certainly biblical writers were aware of a less rhetorical kind of power—one that humiliates, inflicts physical harm, throws people into prison and destroys livelihoods. In our contemporary way of framing the matter, we take pains to denounce such power as violent and unethical. Yet biblical writers wasted few words on this. Instead, they spoke of the “power of sin,” our enslavement to sin and the futility we experience “following the ruler of the power of the air” (Rom: 3:9; Rom. 6:16; Eph. 2:2). Apparently, the fact that we are forced to act against our interests is unremarkable; what’s important to grasp is how we’ve been persuaded to want what is bad for us and thus empower those who oppress us.

How does all of this relate to a typical Mennonite institutional setting where there are only three vice-president positions, ten department heads and fifteen seats on the board of directors?

Paul’s second letter to the assembly in Corinth may help us. He was involved in a power struggle with other leaders there. Beginning with chapter 10, Paul’s tone intensifies and we see hints of our contemporary win-lose approach to conflict and power.

But amid Paul’s typically combative rhetoric, two things shine through. One is his insistence that just as weakness, suffering and affliction played a key role in the power of Jesus’ message and life, so it plays a key role in the exercise of power within the Kingdom of God. This makes no sense (or seems manipulative) from a conventional perspective, but it makes a lot of sense when we embrace the biblical view of power as the capacity to transform how people see the world and themselves in it.

The second noteworthy aspect is Paul’s way of placing his power struggle within the larger frame of mission. Thus, he speaks of “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) and of proclaiming “the good news in lands beyond you” (2 Cor. 10:16). In other words, the greater cause in which he and the assembly in Corinth were engaged dwarfed Paul’s little arm-wrestling contest with his rivals there.

This suggests an organizational context that is dynamic, outward-looking and accepting of risk. It engages the injustice of the world with the gospel of Messiah Jesus. Because the mission is big and risky, it summons all hands on deck to help. Power flows and the number of people exercising it multiplies. Conversely, when the vision is narrow, accommodating of injustice and focused primarily on making an institution and its official leaders look good, then power is a zero-sum game in which every winner results in many losers.

Practically speaking, Mennonite Church USA will soon be going through a process of constriction in which the number of paid leadership roles is likely to decrease. Yet the power of many in the church will increase as we identify with the pain of our world and proactively engage it in the bold-yet-humble and compassionate spirit of Jesus.

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. He blogs at www.bible-and-empire.net


Presente! Basta!

by Max Ediger max e

Marilyn Turkovich, interim director of the Charter for Compassion, recently wrote on her blog, “There is a tradition in Latin America of calling out the names of individuals who have lost their lives in the struggle for human rights and justice–the individual is named and then “presente” is intoned. It is a symbol of recognition that their lives were not lost in vain. We remember them.”

We have a need for heroes – people we can admire for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. They give us encouragement for difficult tasks, and also help stimulate our vision for what we want to do to build a better world. Unfortunately the heroes we are presented with through movies and television stories are generally not the ones who promote human rights and justice/righteousness. That is unfortunate because the world is filled with such heroes and by recognizing them as “presente” we empower the hope, vision and energy they brought through their lives.

I think of Monika, a young African woman in Burundi who challenged me to recognize the racism in my own life and encouraged me to confront it for self-transformation. Monika disliked the tribalism which was rampant in her country during the 1960s and through her Christian faith and work, she struggled to raise awareness of it and called for unity among the tribes. She, along with all of her family members, was killed during a tribal uprising shortly after I left the country. In my mind, I see Monika looking up as the machete came down in its murderous blow and saying a prayer of forgiveness for those who had not the courage to be transformed. I call out Monika’s name and say, “presente.”

A young man in Vietnam became a close friend of mine in 1971. As a high school student he was always under threat of being drafted into the South Vietnamese army. He struggled to avoid the draft, telling me he could not imagine going into a war in which he would have to kill his own country folk. He yearned for peace and involved himself in work to make a more peaceful country. His life was taken from him when he was only 19 in a strange and unexplainable accident. I call out Yung’s name and say, “presente.”

Ted Studebaker volunteered to work in Vietnam with the Church of the Brethren in the early 1970s. He worked with Indigenous people living in the mountainous regions of South Vietnam to help them improve their agriculture. He also spoke out strongly against the war, openly sharing his commitment to live faithfully the Sermon Jesus gave on the mountainside as told in Matthew 5. Ted was killed in 1971 when the town in which he was living was caught in a fire fight between opposing forces. He died, still strongly committed to his belief that Jesus calls us to forsake violence and depend on love. I call out the name Ted Studebaker, and say “presente.”

I am remembering Saw Johnny, a young Karen man living along the Thai/Burma border. Saw Johnny’s parents were killed when his village was attacked by the Burmese military. He fled to a refugee camp inside Thailand along with other survivors of the attack. He felt great anger at the Burmese military for the destruction they rained down on his village and his family. He thought often of revenge. However, after attending as training course on human rights and community organizing, he committed his life to going inside the war zones of Burma to locate groups of Internally Displaced Persons. He documented the human rights abuses they had experienced, and also helped them find ways to grow food even while hiding deep in the jungle. Saw Johnny developed a dream of a peaceful land in which people of all ethnicities could live together in harmony. The work he was doing was dangerous, and one day he was caught by the Burmese military. For three days he was tortured before being executed. His dream for peace lives on and I call out the same of Saw Johnny and say “presente.”


Marilyn Turkovich continues her article. “There is another word that was and continues to be used in Latin American struggles and that is “Basta!” “Enough.” The more we collectively shout “Presente!” and “Basta!” the more we awaken others to our need to act in a different way—with compassion–and deepen our own commitment to peace.”

I have been blessed with knowing so many other heroes who continue to be “presente” with me and who continue to inspire me to go on with the struggle for a true peace with justice. Together with them I say, “Basta!”   The violence, anger and hatred does not need to continue. We as Christian are especially challenged with a new vision for our world. We may find the challenge too great, but we can always look at those heroes who gave everything for peace and justice to draw our own courage and energy. I thank God for allowing me to know these and so many other, special heroes.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” Matthew 4: 9-12 (The Message)