Faithful Witness Amid Endless War

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

It is time for a conversation to start: how do we Anabaptists living in the USA bear faithful witness to the Way of Jesus to our friends and neighbors, to our children and grandchildren, while living in a nation perpetually at war?

This conversation is not about the government; it is about us and our faithfulness to the witness of Jesus.

John the Revelator repeatedly equated Jesus’ “witness” with the “word of God” (Rev. 1:2, 1:9, 20:4).  This reminds us how important “witness” is to the work of God in the world. John described Jesus as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). These are bold and shocking claims, made credible by God’s vindication of Jesus in the resurrection.

Will his faithful witness become our faithful witness?

1. Our context has changed

Those among us who are older formed views about war and the state during an era when fascism and communism threatened the world with overwhelming force. The widely-held view combined opposition to war with recognition that the state claimed a responsibility to defend itself from ideologies of conquest.

Today, it is terrorism—not any foreign power or ideology—that “explains” the frequent war-making of the USA. But as evidence increasingly shows that the US war on terror has created more terrorists, other explanations for war-making have emerged: a humanitarian “responsibility to protect” and the importance of maintaining US dominance in the world vis-à-vis Iran, Russia, China, even Venezuela.

A century ago, the rivalry among the mighty nations of Europe plunged the world into a horrific war. Many historians say that nothing important was at stake. Nevertheless, through propaganda and deceit, those who wanted war mobilized public support for war. A great evil in itself, that war opened the door to even greater evils later in the 20th century and nearly extinguished the witness of Jesus within Europe.

Are we living today in a similar context?

2. The witness of the Bible

The Hebrew prophets preached against the worship of any god but YHWH. They also described the pathway to idolatry: greed, the desire to be esteemed, a reliance on coercive power and threats of violence.

Jesus reflected that prophetic tradition. He did not attempt to reform the Roman Empire. Instead, he called people to a new social and political reality, the Kingdom of God.

Paul focused on large urban settings where Roman officials and propaganda were a constant presence. Following Jesus, Paul called people to trust in the Kingdom of God instead of the empire and to stop participating in events that honored the empire (1 Cor. 10:21).

3. Naming our reality

Here is some of what we have learned over the 25 years since the Soviet Union collapsed.

  • War is a bread-and-butter issue for millions of people because it provides jobs. Our country has become addicted to the economic stimulus of war and war preparations.
  • On matters related to international affairs, war and national security, the mainstream media no longer function as independent voices seeking the truth. Instead, they report primarily what the government tells them.
  • The results of the wars pursued by the USA over the past 25 years have been horrifying. Functioning societies that provided economic and social opportunities have been destroyed. At least one million have died.
  • The violence has brought great harm to all who participated in it, including US soldiers who often carry unbearable burdens of guilt related to their involvement in war. The emotional scars from moral injuries are severe; 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
  • Many feel ashamed of the death and destruction these wars have produced, but that shame is suppressed by patriotic clichés and reminders of how indispensable the USA is to the future of the world.
  • As congregations and as individuals, we feel overwhelmed by the scope and complexity of these realities. We need help from church-related agencies.

4. Imagining a faithful witness

Each follower of Jesus has something to contribute to this; being a faithful witness is a communal task, carried on via sustained reflection, shared discernment and action.

Following are suggestions for witness that can be implemented locally in the USA. We hope they will be part of this conversation.

  1. Elections are public rituals to legitimize the power exercised by government. We must question our participation in the part of this ritual that legitimizes a foreign policy based on military intimidation and war. Is our witness muddled when we act as if it is important that the next Commander-in-Chief is a Republican or a Democrat?
  1. Let us follow early church writers in dethroning the reigning empire within our worldview (see Rom. 1:24-25; 1 Cor. 2:6-8, 10:21; Eph. 2:1-3, 6:12; Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:13, 2:8-10; 1 Thess. 5:3; 1 Peter 5:8-9). This is a delicate matter, in part because our children are taught in schools the very myth of our nation’s exceptionality that faithful witnesses must lay aside.
  1. Our times of worship are absolutely vital to this work of repentance and reorientation. How might we be changed if we routinely remember the victims of US drone strikes in our times of corporate prayer?
  1. Public engagement is a necessary part of a faithful witness. This does not mean we must be “protesting” in the streets. It might mean inviting soldiers returning to our communities to join us in the healing presence of Christ.
  1. Our personal testimony is that war tax resistance is a helpful teacher as we seek to live as faithful witnesses to Jesus. For those interested in learning more, go to www.1040forPeace.org.

To repeat, it is time for this conversation to start; the faithful witness of Jesus and the well-being of our loved ones and neighbors require it. May we have the faith and courage to begin, and may agencies of the wider church also join this urgent task.

(Authored by 1040 for Peace members to promote discernment around the resolution by the same title, which will be considered by the July, 2015 Mennonite Church USA Convention. Text also available in Spanish. For more about the biblical perspective of the authors, see www.Bible-and-Empire.net.)

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

 

Editor’s Note – families forgive

Keith 1Friends;

After the recent tragedy that took place in Charleston, SC, it seems fitting to acknowledge the incident here in this column.

May we continue to work with all of our hearts, souls, and minds to alleviate the hate that spawns such violence.

May we continue to pray for the loved ones of the victims as well as the shooter.

May our hearts be filled with the incredible forgiveness shown by the family members of the victims towards the shooter.

In prayer, I offer the following haiku:

senseless tragedy
but hate is no match for love
families forgive

Blessings and Shalom

Keith

Balancing Acts – Practice, Practice, Practice!

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

It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. Romans 14:21 (NRSV)

On the face of it this verse from Romans 14 seems obviously applicable to peacemaking. After all, if we seek the well-being of others, particularly of other Christians, it would not be an act of peacemaking to engage in behaviors that cause them to stumble in their faith.

This verse is part of Paul’s dealing with a specific problem in the church of Rome where some converts (of Jewish heritage) believed that it was a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols and other converts (formerly pagans) did not. This second group, having been freed from idol worship had come to understand that idols are not really gods and, therefore, sacrificing meat or anything else to them was of no real significance.

Paul’s goal in this disagreement is two-fold; first, to re-establish unity in the fellowship, and second to emphasize that love, not knowledge is at the heart of the Christian faith.

A thorough and thoughtful reading and study of Romans 14 reveals a complex yet specific answer to the problem of differences among Christians with respect to practices, more specifically religious or possibly cultural practices. It is probably safe to say that within the church today many if not most disagreements and divisions are a result of differences in understanding about practices.

Practices, in particular practices related to our faith, can include such things as how one is baptized, what type of music is sung, how we dress in church, how we pray; in general, how we worship together in church, even how we do personal devotions.

In the case of the issue being addressed by Paul, there are three main points that are emphasized. First, “those who eat meat must not despise those who abstain.” Throughout Romans 14 Paul treats this group as “more enlightened” and even as “stronger” in their faith. Even so, his admonition to them is not to “despise”, or as translated in the NIV, “look down on” those who refrain. (v. 3). Today we might say that those who embrace certain practices are “clinging to the past,” too conservative, close-minded, unwilling to change. Paul says, don’t look down on those whose practices are more constrained!

Second, Paul commands that those who do abstain (the “weaker”) “must not pass judgment on those who eat.” This is the other side of the coin. In today’s climate those who eat, might be branded as “liberal,” disrespectful of teaching and tradition, lax, “talking the talk, but not walking the walk.” Paul says, don’t condemn those whose practices are more free.

One might say that by giving these two commands, Paul is “separating” the disputants, figuratively sending them to their own corners. Having done so, Paul now gives the decisive pronouncement, ” Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” (v. 13) This, says Paul, is acting out of love. And how does he propose for this to happen? By having the “stronger” refrain from their more enlightened behavior! So, in the context of Romans 14, in the presence of a “weaker” brother or sister, do not eat meat sacrificed to idols.

So far, so good. If we have differences with respect to religious practices, we must neither look down on nor condemn those who have different practices, while always pursing peace by refraining from our more “enlightened” practices if those might cause spiritual harm to another Christian.

Note that this is not carte blanche to tolerate or nurture differences within the church. On the contrary Paul is seeking to unify the church in its love for one another. And, where necessary, take the more “conservative” view, willingly giving up our freedom out of love.

It should be said that, as with all scripture, applying Romans 14 must be done with care. Paul’s way of handling differences in this passage deals specifically with differences in religious practice, not differences in theology or morality. Differences in these are dealt with elsewhere in scripture, by Paul and others.

It should also be said that Paul assumes that the differences in religious practices are not simply personal preference or opinion, but are based on scripture (or the apostles’ teachings which would become scripture). Issues such as the color of carpeting or the style of seating would not fall into the category of scripture-based religious practices. It would be difficult to argue that a choice in carpet or seating could affect the spiritual well-being of another person.

Issues to which we might apply the lessons from Romans 14 might be: the style of baptism: immersion vs “sprinkling,” tithing, conservative dress in church, style of music, or behaviors during worship, among others. Style of baptism is probably a fairly obvious example of a religious practice where there are differences today. Paul’s admonition would be do not look down on those who baptize by immersion and do not condemn those who don’t. If in a group of Christians with mixed views on this, perhaps at a summer camp, go with the more conservative view out of love.

I include dress, music, and behaviors in the list of examples because these are very “hot” issues today. If we allow that differences in these practices are scripture-based, not just personal preferences, then we can look to Romans 14 for guidance. Like the issue of baptism, if we are in a group that all affirms a certain practice, or perhaps in private, Paul says to follow our conscience. However, in settings where views differ (including most congregations) we should neither judge nor look down on those with whom we differ, and, out of love, we should refrain from practices that might offend and therefore be a stumbling block to Christian brother or sister.

No web links this month, but the issue of how we deal with differences in religious practice is certainly a peacemaking issue. For actions, think about practices in your own church and follow Paul’s teaching as to the proper way to handle them. The goal, as always with peacemaking, is not just to calm the waters, but to seek the well-being of the other while honoring God. This is the balancing act!

In Search of Heaven

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger

 

 

We know where we are going,

But have no idea what it will look like,

this place called Heaven.

 

Where is this place,

this dot on the map,

this place we call heaven?

 

Is it out there in outer-space

with the stars?

Is it inside a whole,

redeemed community

living in peace?

 

How will we know exactly until we get there?

 

Will we be the same people,

in our new, redeemed bodies,

or will we have to get used to ourselves again

in this new place called heaven?

 

New earth, heavens new-

golden streets or heavy dew?

What do the scriptures say,

that we know how to describe it,

except for a place for God’s people to dwell?

 

How can we know exactly until we get there?

 

Only one thing I know, of one thing I am certain

I would surely like to go!

No requirements exactly, but repentance and forgiveness

Don’t need no ticket, just get on board!

 

New earth, heavens new

New bodies, and souls too!

 

Peace on the Hill: Speaking the language of peace

czehr_photoBy Charissa Zehr

As a bilingual person aspiring to be trilingual, living with a bilingual spouse, I spend a lot of time thinking about language construction and the flawed way we interpret one language into another. Words fail to describe certain feelings; idiomatic expressions refuse to be confined by Google Translate and the sentiment falls apart.

Conflict negotiations are often a study in successful interpretation. Each party brings their side of the story and they have trouble understanding the frustrations or perceived injustices of the other side. They may be speaking the same language or dialect, but they are not communicating constructively and they won’t find any help from Google Translate.

The government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) offer a clear example. The conflict between them has spanned more than five decades, and there have been multiple attempts to work at a peace agreement. The current negotiations between the two groups have been in process since 2012 with plenty of advances and breakdowns along the way.

In this situation, both parties at the negotiating table speak Spanish; however, they have divergent approaches to political solutions that could end the violent conflict. Last December the FARC guerrillas declared a unilateral ceasefire hoping this would encourage a ceasefire from government forces.

The government avoided language of a “ceasefire” but did suspend air strikes against the guerrillas for a time, while continuing to engage in other forms of armed combat. In April, one small spark in a remote area lit an explosion of retaliatory attacks that soon ended the sentiment on both sides. The terms of a bilateral ceasefire have never been agreed on during the three years of negotiations.

When the parties have spoken the same “language,” there have been great advances on certain points of the peace accord. Land mines became a prominent strategy of the war in the mid-2000s, largely impacting civilians and farmers caught in the crossfire. But in March the FARC agreed to cooperate with the Colombian Army to clear their minefields, a huge step towards peace.

Recently, faith leaders across the U.S. sent a letter to the Obama administration and members of Congress highlighting the need for our government to continue “speaking the words of peace.” This means not just giving it lip service, but prioritizing peace in all of the financial assistance and technical support that the U.S. provides to Colombia.

The letter quotes some Colombian faith leaders whose wisdom summarizes it well: “There can be no true reconciliation if there are no processes: of forgiveness among enemies (Matthew 18:21-22), of carefully seeking the truth (Psalm 85:11), of restorative justice (Galatians 6:1), and repairing the great wounds resulting from more than 50 years of armed conflict.”

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.

Helicopter Seeds

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by Keith M. Lyndaker

It takes a strong wind to loosen the helicopter seeds.
They whir through the air in a great spinning swarm,
cascading down through bright leaves to blanket the ground.

It is that turning that drives them into the soil where they can germinate and grow into a forest of trees.
Each seed is latent with a vibrant potency.

Such is the work of peace.

Do not bemoan the strong breath of the struggle that breaks your hold upon the comfortable place and sends you whirling out over an unknown land.

Remember.
You are a seed.

You may not know where you land but wherever you alight,
do your best to germinate and grow.

The wind knew where to send you.
The sun and rain will find you.
Seek out companion seeds.

Together we rise to create a wilderness that reaches everywhere,
our branches heavy with the weight of the
fruit for the healing of the nations.

originally published on peacegrooves.wordpress.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: Saving the World One Cupcake at a Time

Keith 1By Keith M. Lyndaker

In the morning the cop cars are outside the house on the corner again. We hear shouting as my daughter and I are getting into the car.

On the way to school, she asks about the situation and why it seems to occur there on a regular basis. I describe what little I know of the family, some of the stressors they face. I mention how we need to continue be in relationship with them, how we’ve helped them in the past, that we should continue to pray for them.

She sits in silent reflection for awhile. Then she announces that she is going to bake cupcakes for them.

And she does. As soon as she gets home, she goes right to the kitchen and starts baking. After the cupcakes are frosted, we pack them up and walk up the street.

The gift is welcomed with effusive thank yous.

We walk home with smiles on our faces. I am so proud, not because of how good a cook my daughter is (which she is), but rather for her willingness to use her gifts for her neighbors. This year has not been easy for her. Yet here she is reaching out to help someone else.

It is a reminder to me to not let my own stuff keep me from blessing others. There is a song called The Magic Penny. The verse goes “Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.”

Love is not a thing to be saved for certain people or hoarded like a miser’s stash.

It is a dozen cupcakes made by the hands of a teenage girl, who’s been having a tough time, shyly offered to a neighbor, whose life isn’t easy.

And on and on and on we go, saving the world one cupcake at a time.

(From peacegrooves.wordpress.com)