Balancing Acts – To a Man with a Hammer … or a Bike

tom bEditor’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 each month.

by Tom Beutel

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:17 (NIV)

Mark Twain is credited with saying that “to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.” Sometimes I feel that way about peacemaking, and, I think, rightly so.

In his book Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice & Peace Perry Yoder unpacks the broad implications of the word that the Bible typically translates as “peace,” that is, shalom. One way to think of shalom is in terms of a healthy, right relationship with God, self, others, and the creation. This encompasses far more than simply avoiding violence with others; it includes our relationship with God, ourselves, and the creation as well, and it emphasizes healthy, right relationships; that is positive, active peace-making.

On a recent bike ride I was thinking about biking and the ways in which it fits well with the idea of shalom. For me biking is a multifaceted activity, providing exercise, relaxation, and a degree of solitude. The past couple of years I have begun to take fairly long rides, long for me – about 15-25 miles at a time. I maintain a decent pace, but I’m not trying to set any speed records. All of my biking is done exclusively on trails that are converted railroad lines; they are paved, level, and scenic, along rivers, through farmland and marshes, and connecting small local villages.

So, how do my rides relate to shalom? First, there is peace with God. With the somewhat longer rides, allowing stops to sit on a bench along the river or by a small frog pond, I can take time to meditate on the beauty of God’s creation, to be thankful for His provision and the opportunity to enjoy it, and even to study scripture or other Christian writing. It is a time of meditation and communion.

Peace with self, an important aspect of shalom, is probably the central element of my rides. Perhaps most obviously, biking is one way to get physical exercise which is vital to good health. The health benefits of biking are well-known and numerous. Biking builds strength, increases muscle tone, builds stamina, improves cardio-vascular fitness, burns calories, improves heart health and reduces stress ( A 180 pound adult, riding at the rate of 10-12 mph, burns 245 calories in 30 minutes. ( The 10-12 mph rate is moderate pace, easily achieved on a bike trail.

Beyond the obvious physical health benefits, biking, as noted, reduces stress. Biking at a moderate pace, fast enough to get the health benefits, but slow enough to enjoy the ride and the scenery, is therapeutic.

There are several ways in which biking provides peace with others. Biking with a friend, child, or spouse builds relationship through shared experience. But, there is more. Biking on a bike trail means that you are sharing space with others: walkers, other bikers, roller-bladers, people with dogs or strollers, children just learning to ride, serious riders going long distances or faster speeds. Each person must look out for the other, announce when passing from behind, slow down when necessary. There is the sense of a broader community. Meeting and taking time to talk with strangers enriches the experience and is a peacemaking activity.

Finally, wherever one bikes, there is an environment to be enjoyed and preserved. Bike trails constructed along disused railroad lines typically go through beautiful scenery and small villages. The pastoral beauty of the ride is inspiring and biking allows the rider to be a part of the environment. Wildflowers come and go as the seasons change; sun, clouds, wind and even rain are typically part of a ride. Biking has small impact on the environment, leaving it as it was. Peace with the creation is built in to biking.

May is National Bike Month ( For many, this is a great time to embrace a healthy, fun activity. But, for peacemakers, biking can be an opportunity to think about and engage in shalom: peace with God, self, others, and the creation.

For more in formation on biking here are a few links you might find interesting:

Calorie Burning Calculator:


God, what are you up to?

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger

God, what are you up to?

I see the signs, but I don’t know what they mean.

Writing on the wall, but I don’t know how to read.

Something is happening, something big.

But what?

The adversary has his chess pieces out,

Starting to put them into play.

But you see a puzzle, a story,

Not a game.

You know where the pieces go together,

You alone are writing the play.

We put our trust in you God.

We pray that the Spirit that groans for us

Shows our hearts the way,

Lead us to still waters and calm our souls.

Though we do not know where we are going,

We are your sheep, and we will follow your voice

To our resting place in your grace.


EDITOR’S NOTE – Strategic Praying for Peace

Keith 1By Keith Lyndaker Schlabach

I am a recovering humanist.

Often with good intentions and passion I have poured myself into a particular cause or idea with some accomplishment but also with a realization and a deep sense of dissatisfaction at the end that perhaps my work was not Spirit-led.

Prayer changes things. If nothing or no one else, it changes me. Remember the old adage? Be the change you wish to see in the world. I have dedicated my life to peace. Alas, I do not see the same dedication to prayer – let alone praying without ceasing.

So to that end I offer the following: is an excellent visual resource which shows a map of the current conflicts occurring in the world. Clicking on a hotspot reveals a window with pertinent current info. In the upper left-hand column are conflicts that are the focus for the day. Clicking on these opens up a window at the spot on the map with pertinent info.

Focus Verse: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

Strategic Praying for Peace:
1. Click on the link
2. Spend some time in silence while looking at the map of the entire world.
3. Ask for God’s spirit of reconciliation to permeate the whole earth.
4. Click on the conflicts that are the focus for the day.
5. Pray for the people whose lives are affected by the conflict. Pray for a peaceful solution that is just and equitable to all parties. Pray that any outside influences or issues that are fueling the conflict are resolved. Pray that those who are doing violence would be convicted and be filled with an overwhelming love for those around them. Or use any of the Prayers for Peace included below.
6. Keep these people and region in your thoughts and prayers throughout the day.
7. Repeat each day or as often as you wish.

Prayers for Peace:
Lord Jesus Christ, We praise You: Bring peace into the world By bringing Your peace into the hearts of all. Help us to turn away from sin And to follow You in love and service.
Glory be yours, and honour, For ever and ever.

Lead me from death to life, from lies to truth Lead me from despair to hope from fear to trust Lead me from hatred to love from war to peace Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe, peace, peace, peace. Amen

The Forseable Future
By Carol Penner leadinginworship
A hymn of praise for fists uncurled!
Alleluias on our lips for ammunition abandoned!
Guns dropped, forgotten,
bombs defused, harmless!
Fervent thanks for tanks rusting,
for jet fighters permanently grounded!
This future, peace-bright,
hovers on the horizon of your kingdom.
It will dawn the day we remember
there are no soldiers—
only your children, beloved and loving,
there are no borders—
only one world, creative and creating,
there has been no collateral damage–
only broken hearts, broken homes, broken dreams.
It will come the day we remember to pray,
“Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
The Spirit and the church say, “Come!”

Jesus, rightful Advocate of peace, Elegant Champion of reconciliation, Your victories echo harmoniously. You taught me the way towards peace, My assurance of congenial oneness. Teach me to carry the torch of peace, That it may reside within my heart And radiate in my surroundings. Through the Grace of Your power, Transform the world into a Heaven. You are the only hope of mankind: You are the most gracious Peace Maker! Amen

Prayer for World Peace
by Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B.
Great God, who has told us
“Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.
Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.
Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.
We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.
We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the love it takes
to care for all the peoples
of Afghanistan and Iraq, or Palestine and Israel
as well as for ourselves.

Give us depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptation of power,
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to undertsand
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace – not war – wherever we go.

For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.

And so may we be merciful
and patient
and gracious
and trusting
with these others whom you also love.

This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.

Blessed are the Peacemakers,
for they shall be known as the Children of God.
But I say to you that hear, love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
To those who strike you on the cheek, offer the other also,
and from those who take away your cloak,
do not withhold your coat as well.
Give to everyone who begs from you,
and of those who take away your goods, do not ask them again.
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
that we may walk the paths of the Most High.
And we shall beat our swords into ploughshares,
and our spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation—
neither shall they learn war any more.
And none shall be afraid,
for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken.

Prayers are from a variety of sources including:

Originally published on

Choosing the Next Commander-in-Chief

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

The solemn ritual to legitimate the empire has begun. When completed, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul, Elizabeth Warren, Marco Rubio, Jim Webb, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker or Mike Huckabee will be the new Commander-in-Chief.

A national election is important.  It is how a great power shows humility and accountability to the will of the people.  After the votes are counted in November 2016, the authority to use the overwhelming violence of the empire will gently change hands, a transition unimaginable among peoples less blessed by the gods.  Thus, the empire will carry on, freshly legitimated by popular acclaim.

Will you join this public ritual? Or will you decline to vote for a new Commander-in-Chief?

In various other settings, many of us participate in communal rituals of legitimation and renewal.  Family reunions, so-called founders’ days hosted by venerable institutions, ethnic festivals and local elections serve to gather people, focus attention, reaffirm values and a communal identity.  By participating, we say “yes” to a broader purpose and confirm its importance. All of this is good.

But what if your extended family is involved in the sale of meth?  What if the institution to which you have given so much has become a front for a criminal enterprise?  What if the festival you enjoy has evolved into a venue that exploits the naïve and the innocent?  You would stop participating in its rituals of legitimation, right?

Many of us said that the US government had “gone rogue” during the years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  We prayed for a return to the rule of law and voted for Barack Obama in the hope he would lead in that direction.

But he didn’t.  He built on the lawless and violent ways of his predecessors and added the people of Waziristan, Libya, Syria, the Ukraine and now Yemen to the roster of victims.  And no, President Obama’s support for an agreement with Iran because “the only alternative is war” should not convince us otherwise; it is simply another form of extortion.

Illegal, aggressive and violent interventions in societies that pose no threat to the US are now the bipartisan norm, one unlikely to change under any Republican or Democrat elected as Commander-in-Chief. This is not going to change any time soon. Venezuela, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon and Thailand are places that may next experience the violence and carnage of US interventionism.

Yes, I know our national government consists of more than its foreign policy. It includes important programs and efforts that contribute to human well-being.  In a similar fashion, when one gets acquainted with the principals of a garden-variety criminal enterprise, one may find gentle fathers and loving mothers, picnics in the park and lots of charitable activity. Yet we know better than to be fooled by the attractive veneer or to assume the underlying evil can be kept apart, “over there.”

If we do not want to legitimate the criminality of US foreign policy, we can decline to participate by thought, conversation or voting in the ritual of choosing the next Commander-in-Chief.  That is my intention. Aside from tax resistance, it is the most effective action by which to say “no.”

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. A version of this essay first appeared at

Peace on the Hill: “We are tired!”

RLSBy Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

Forty years ago, in April 1975, the Vietnam War came to an end. But that same month, a civil war was beginning in another part of the world. The war in Lebanon would eventually take the lives of an estimated 150,000 people and devastate the country’s infrastructure, before coming to an end in 1990.

Just next door to Lebanon, a brutal war has been raging now for more than four years in Syria. A year and a half into the conflict, I asked an analyst in Lebanon how long he thought the war in Syria might last. He said, “The best case scenario is five years. The worst case scenario is 20 years or more.”

At the time I thought his assessment was pessimistic. Now, with no end in sight to Syria’s war, I see that it was all too realistic. Many in Lebanon fear that the war will cross over into its borders. In some ways, it already has.

Last fall clashes related to the war in Syria broke out in the northern city of Tripoli. In other parts of the country car bombings have been carried out in retaliation for the Lebanese group Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.

As many as 1.5 million Syrian refugees have sought refuge in Lebanon—meaning that 1 out of every 4 people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Many have exhausted their resources and struggle to meet basic needs such as housing, food, health care and education.

The refugee crisis has taken a heavy toll on host communities within Lebanon as well. But based on the level of pledges made at an international donor conference in late March, the Lebanese government estimates that it will receive only a third of what it needs to respond to the refugee crisis in the next several years.

At the same time, significant funds are going toward military efforts. The United States, France and Saudi Arabia have all given military assistance to Lebanon in recent months. The U.S. also continues its convoluted involvement in the Syrian civil war, carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State group—part of the opposition—while simultaneously training and equipping other Syrian opposition forces.

In some ways it is surprising that the Syrian war has not spread more fully to Lebanon. But the memory of the pain and suffering of their own civil war serves as a strong deterrent. People do not want more war.

As he reflected back on Lebanon’s civil war, Rashid Derbas, Lebanon’s Minister for Social Affairs, said, “I used to feel that life depended on my team losing or winning, and I discovered that all of Lebanon had lost.”

Today, take two actions for peace. Urge Members of Congress to oppose further U.S. military action and to support a political solution to the crisis in Syria. Then, offer your prayers and support for peacemakers in the region. As Christian leaders in the Syrian city of Aleppo plead, “People of conscience, if there is anyone willing to listen, we implore you to end destruction and massacres. We are tired! Close the doors to the sale of arms and stop the instruments of death.”

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.

WATCH: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Zone series produced by National Geographic

Originally posted on Aziz Abu Sarah:

Just over a year ago I started filming for a web series produced by National Geographic. My goal was to highlight the conflicting narratives and the different points of view while inspiring hope. As Obama is visiting the region, I no longer believe that he or other leaders will bring an end to this conflict. It must be people who lead the leaders. However, I have found that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians are indifferent and ineffective. Indifference is the greatest enemy to peace and justice. In this series, I try to understand why this conflict is still going on. I try to examine the narratives and perspectives. But most importantly I also explore the effect of interactions between the sides.

This special online 4-part video series, Conflict Zone, follows Aziz Abu Sarah, a cultural educator, a native of Jerusalem, and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer who works in…

View original 94 more words

EMU helps bring restorative justice to police department

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Originally published at Mennonite World Review Mar 30, 2015 by ,

HARRISONBURG, Va. — If one particular young man in Harrisonburg had stolen from his employer a few months earlier, he might have found himself standing before a judge, facing a possible jail sentence. Thanks to a new restorative justice program with the Harrisonburg Police Department, however, this young thief instead found himself facing his employer to talk about what he’d done and how he could patch things up.

Carl Stauffer, co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, speaks about the Harrisonburg Police Department’s new restorative justice program, the first of its kind in Virginia. — Jon Styer/EMU“I can’t imagine a better first case,” said Josh Bacon, the facilitator who led the meeting between the two men. “This person could have been charged with a felony.”

Instead, the offender and his employer were able to speak frankly about their needs, agree on a restitution plan and reconcile the matter in a mutually beneficial way outside of the criminal justice system.

The new program, the first of its kind in Virginia and more than two years in the creation, was announced at a press conference March 19 in Harrisonburg.

Emphasizing the collaborative partnership, police chief Stephen Monticelli stood alongside members of the steering committee, including representatives of local law practices and the Commonwealth’s attorney, and restorative justice practitioners from Eastern Mennonite University and James Madison University.

“We kind of get to the point where we believe that the criminal justice system is the only thing that’s going to work,” said police lieutenant Kurt Boshart, who led the initiative from within his department. “It’s exciting to see where this program could go. I can foresee it catching on pretty quickly.”

The idea began several years ago, when Sue Praill of the Fairfield Center proposed it to the Harrisonburg Police Department. Praill directs restorative justice services at the Harrisonburg nonprofit.

Eventually, a broader advisory group began meeting with Boshart to plan the program in more detail. Also participating have been Carl Stauffer, co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, as well as defense attorneys, a representative from local prosecutor’s office and other community representatives

Positive reaction

While change can be a slow process within the protocol-bound world of law enforcement, Boshart said reaction to the new program within the Harrisonburg Police Department has been generally positive.

So far, five officers have taken a restorative justice training. By this summer, he hopes that most or all of the department’s 94 sworn officers will be trained to identify specific crimes or conflicts that might be best handled through a restorative approach that focuses on victims’ needs and holds offenders accountable to meeting them.

One of the larger challenges facing the new program is communicating the fact that restorative justice emphasizes offender accountability and isn’t simply a get-off-easy approach to criminal justice.

Boshart said that as people learn more about restorative justice concepts, they understand how it can offer police more effective and affordable ways of dealing with some crimes than the traditional criminal justice system.

One of the main benefits of restorative justice is the way it humanizes both victim and offender, giving each a better understanding of how and why one hurt the other.

Praill points out that under the new program, officers who refer cases for restorative justice will participate in the group conference and benefit from this humanizing process as well.