Peace on the Hill: Responding to refugees

RLSBy Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

On June 20 the world will mark World Refugee Day. This year’s commemoration is particularly sobering, with more than 60 million people around the world displaced from their homes—more than at any time since World War II.

No one wants to become a refugee. But every day people are forced to do the unthinkable—leave their homes, often without knowing where they will end up or how long they will have to stay. Some leave due to natural disasters, others due to grinding poverty, persecution or violence.

Since 2011 more than half of all Syrians have fled their homes due to the brutal war that is raging in their country. More than 8 million have sought refuge in other parts of Syria. Nearly 5 million more have left Syria, most of them in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Caption for photo: An "informal tented settlement" is home to Syrians taking refuge in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Photo: Doug Hostetter.

An “informal tented settlement” is home to Syrians taking refuge in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Photo: Doug Hostetter.

Despite media images of refugee camps, only about 10 percent of Syrian refugees live in camps. Many are largely invisible in urban areas, where they share crowded spaces with extended families and neighbors from home.

Regular income is hard to find, as it is difficult to get a work permit. This makes it easy to exploit workers. Many children are also forced to join the workforce. More than half of Syrian refugee school-age children are not enrolled in school, according to the United Nations.

The need for services for refugees has taken a significant toll on the host countries. Assistance from the international community is not keeping up with the vast needs. Thus far in 2016 only about one-fifth of the money pledged by the international community for the Syria crisis has been received.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has responded with our largest humanitarian effort ever, totaling more than $37 million. MCC has provided relief kits, heaters, blankets and other emergency assistance. MCC also supports longer-term food, shelter and educational projects, as well as efforts to build peace in communities torn apart by the conflict.

MCC has resources available on ways to support refugees, including support for MCC’s Syria and Iraq crisis response. You can also send an email to your legislators to ask that they support more funding for the Syrian crisis. MCC U.S. has joined the Refugees Welcome campaign, which has an advocacy toolkit and other resources available.

As we approach World Refugee Day this year, reflect on how you and your congregation can help support refugees and then take action.

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.

POETRY – The Legend of the Blackhand

mandela-hand1Who were the men who drilled the holes for the dynamite to slip
into the sandstone cliff and blow up the petroglyph for a canal so short-lived?

The Blackhand, its fragments now washed by the waters and
sacred sand of the Licking River, once watched over this place
where no man would raise his hand against another man.

I hope my hands are black with the soil of the life I live.
As I stand before the now barren cliff,
I pray for a world that wears a Blackhand petroglyph.

June 18, 2003 (reprinted from peacegrooves.wordpress.com)

Balancing Acts – Get Out

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.

by Tom Beutel

It is that time of year again, at least here in Central Ohio, when the weather, though changeable, beckons us outdoors. It is time to “get out!” By this point most of the trees are displaying their full regalia of green; some. like the native Dogwoods, still sporting blossoms. While we do not boast woods filled with Bluebells, our roadsides, woods and trails are lined with wild Phlox in shades of purple, lavender and white. Mustard grows in fields that have not yet been plowed, though many have been and in some corn is already sprouting.

It is the time of year when while heading out on an errand one is tempted to just keep going, to find a place to hike or fish or just sit in the sun.

Of course, it is also a busy time. Cleaning up the garden beds is done (hopefully), but planting gardens, setting out plants, and mowing and trimming need to be done. It’s now or never.

Spring, of course, is a time of renewal, a time of “rebirth” and growth in the creation. Spring begins that season of “tending the garden,” which is our mandate given by God in the beginning. This work, like its essential counterpart of the Sabbath, it seems to me, is “made for man.”

Genesis 2:15 says that, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” God certainly did not need us to look after His creation, the creation which He had made out of nothing. But God, in His wisdom, put us in the garden to till it and keep it for our benefit.

It is hard to know where to begin to list the benefits of being in the creation, of spending time in or working in, the “garden” that God has made. For many of us, after a long, perhaps dreary winter, it is the sheer beauty of spring flowers and trees, the warmth of the sun, the gentle rains watering the earth, the chorus of birdsong that seem to be the main benefits of this garden. Amid the busy-ness of jobs and  family, the strife which encircles the globe, the suffering of those who are oppressed, victimized, or suffering loss, the beauty and hope of the “garden” coming back to life is a tonic.

And it should be. We need reminding that the world, though rife with problems, still is God’s creation, still is beautiful, still is filled with new life and a promise of growth. For some, those in the middle of wars, disasters, or oppression, reality may be too grim to take this optimistic view. But, for the rest of us, it can be just what we need to be re-energized to carry on work to aid and relieve the distress of those who are suffering, to bring peace.

When we “get out” and work, hike or garden we not only see beauty and hope, but we see the very nature of God. In Romans 1:20 Paul reminds us that, “ Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” The beauty, majesty, and power in nature remind us that we are limited in who we are and what we can do. Only God has the ability to create and sustain life. All we do as humans, as good as it might be, is in a sense “second best.” Our best efforts are when we cooperate with God to “till and keep” the garden He put us in.

We are made in such a way – part of being made in the image of God, perhaps – that we find some degree of fulfillment in productive work. This God knows since He made us. And because of this He has given us work to do. While “tending the garden” probably refers to all of our creative participation in the world, at its most literal it can mean being in and working in nature – getting our hands dirty, watering and feeding plants, being part of the process to help things grow and thrive. Whether a single pot of petunias, a perennial border, a family vegetable garden, or a farm there is satisfaction in connecting with God through nature.

I could go on: nurturing and observing growth, producing food, capturing nature in a poem, photograph, or some other art form, and probably many other things I can’t think of are all benefits of being aware of and being part of the creation, especially during Spring and Summer.

One of my favorite Psalms which captures the beauty and majesty of God’s creation in the natural world is Psalm 65, particularly the last two verses:

The pastures of the wilderness overflow,

                        the hills gird themselves with joy,

                        the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,

                        the valleys deck themselves with grain,

                        they shout and sing together for joy.

So, get out! Get out into nature this Spring – enjoy it, relax in it, work in it. Look for the meadows that “clothe themselves with flocks,” and listen as the hills and valleys “shout and sing for joy.” Now that Winter is over, re-connect with nature, with God, and with that within ourselves that is fulfilled by working in and being in God’s creation.

Letter to Liberty University from an Alum

Julian TurnerApril 6, 2016

Dr. Jerry Falwell Jr.
Liberty University
1971 University Blvd.
Lynchburg, VA 24515

Dear Dr. Jerry Falwell Jr.,

I enrolled at Liberty University during a difficult time in my life.  I cannot explain what it meant to receive the warmth and concern from all of the staff that I encountered.  Every time I had a need or concern and called the university, I felt supported.  Representatives were always encouraging and would always remind me of prayer services available.  I was not always a good student, even failing out at one point.  After letters from people that cared to see me succeed, Liberty readmitted me.

God’s call on my life became clear during this period.  Ultimately, I graduated in 2013, with honors.  As part of the 40th Anniversary Class, I earned a B.S. in religion with a minor in counseling.  My journey was just beginning when I was at Liberty.  I am now pursuing a Master’s degree at another Christian university.  I heard your emphatic comments from the convocation on December 5th, 2015, in response to the abhorrent shootings in San Bernardino two days earlier.  You stated that you “always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,… and killed them.”  In my moment of stupefaction, my mind went back to May 11th, 2013 and graduation. I thought back and remembered walking across that stage with my parents and my then-fiancé watching.  That day, I was filled with joy and a sense of completion.  Afterwards, as I shook your hand and shared a few words as pictures were being taken, I had a feeling of pride like never before.  That said, reading and re-reading your concealed-carry statement firsthand left me dumbfounded.

Where was the relational Jesus that dined with tax collectors and talked with prostitutes?  With all the Bible courses and study required of me while attending Liberty, I could not find any biblical justification for your comments.  The exegetical skill that I acquired as a Liberty University student has not enabled me to find any scriptural support for responding to the Muslim community in such fashion.  As believers in Christ we have to seize opportunities to share the love of Christ.  He loves us as His creation even before we choose to be in relationship with Him.  We cannot fulfill the Great Commission without sharing His love.  I dare not question your credentials. I merely want to suggest that perhaps, the example of Christ throughout the New Testament is most important in times like this, times when displaying the love of Christ is most difficult.

As I was reminded in a sermon by my Pastor Chris Johnson recently, Jesus was not born into wealth, prestige, or even comfort.  He was born in a manger, a place of filth.  He came from the bottom of society to save all, not some of humankind.  How that narrative gives way to love being expressed through firearms is incomprehensible.  Did not Jesus heal the ear that Peter so violently removed?  And what of the Muslims in northern Kenya that on December 21st, 2015 risked their lives to save a group of Christians (one of the Muslims, a teacher, Salah Farah, died after being shot as he shielded these Christians)?  Or the Pakistani Muslims that formed a human chain around another group of Christians in 2013 allowing them to worship safely?  Or the Muslims in Egypt that protected Coptic Christians from sectarian violence also in 2013?  Or the young Muslims that protected a group of Christians in Nigeria in 2014?  I could continue, but I think the point has been made.  You’ve acknowledged that Liberty has 15-20 Muslim students.  Have you considered how these comments may impact them?  With nearly 100,000 on-line students, that number is almost certainly significantly higher.

Paul impassionedly pleads in Ephesians 3:14-21:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.  Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  Now all the glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

I have waited to compose this letter so that it would not be confused with some sort of knee-jerk reaction.  Who would have known in the time that has elapsed that you would endorse Donald Trump, a man that has an agenda constructed on separation and beating the “savages?”  Building walls, having people pledge allegiance to himself while having others forcefully removed from his conventions, all while venomously attacking anyone that disagrees with his point of view.  Furthermore, I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon of the other open letters.  Interestingly, in the few months since the San Bernardino shootings, our nation has experienced two more mass shootings. The first, February 20th, in Kalamazoo, Michigan which resulted in six killed, and two injured, and the second, in Hesston, Kansas which resulted in four killed, and 14 injured.  Neither committed by Muslims.  Both committed by home grown Americans.  So is calling for the arming of more people the answer?  Does it not stand to reason that the increased proliferation of guns will only continue to make these atrocities much easier to commit?

I might also point out that conservative stalwart and icon, Ronald Reagan ushered in stricter gun control laws as Governor of California, and also after his presidency, lending his support to the Brady Bill and an assault weapons ban.  His response to being the target of an assassination attempt was not to push for relaxing gun control laws.  Instead, he realized that with an annual murder rate of over 9,000 people, more gun control was prudent.  Additionally, President Reagan hadn’t forgotten the American creed from Emma Lazarus etched onto the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So at this time, I am returning all of my Liberty University paraphernalia including, but not limited to, my degree.  I encourage all fellow Liberty University alum to do the same, not to show solidarity with me, but to acknowledge that arming everyone, or even every Christian, or every American, is a quick way to leave everyone blind, or worse.  This is a way to demonstrate the relational love of Christ, to live the Gospel.  I appreciate the role that Liberty University has played in my life.  Thus, this is not an indictment or condemnation of the university or any of its faculty and staff.  However, I could not bring my conscious to terms with such harsh, violent, and threatening suggestions in the light of my faith.

Sincerely,

Julian Turner

Julian Turner a Washington DC., native, is currently a graduate student at Eastern Mennonite University pursuing a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies.  Currently he is a volunteer with InterVarsity as a Global Urban Trek co-director.

Prescription

jlseagull on flickrby Keith Lyndaker

I will go back to the place tomorrow.

My feet will walk where his did that night last week.

I stepped out to get some groceries and knew something was up when I saw the roads blocked, the darkness lit up by the flashing lights of 20 police cars.

I passed the groups of people standing around. A man shouted at another, wondering what happened. He didn’t know, but it was something bad. I went inside the Giant, grabbed a cart, and started shopping.

At the cash register, the manager advised the cashiers on how to be safe when they go home. “Get in your car and lock the doors,” she said.

And “You never know what these people will do.”

She seemed to know what had happened. Something about an attempted robbery and someone being shot.

“He died,” the manager stated knowingly.

She’s right. I find that out later from the newspaper. There’s no mention of a robbery, just somebody banging on store windows who when confronted starts shooting at the police.

Who respond in kind.

So I am confronted yet again with the violence that is very much alive around me.

And those who pound upon the store windows of the world seeking part of the prosperity that is within,once again realizing that it is often only a thin transparent barrier that separates different lives.

So tomorrow I will return to the place, changed by what has occurred.

I need to renew a prescription.

If only the diseases of society were so easily cured.

 

(orginially posted March 15, 2011 on peacegrooves.wordpress.com)

Balancing Acts – Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

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.

by Tom Beutel

“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

John 8:11 (NRSV)

While the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” does not actually appear in the Bible, it is a commonly expressed sentiment within the Christian community. The saying is attributed to St. Augustine, included in a letter c. 424 as “With love for mankind and hatred for sins.” Biblical support includes passages such as Romans 5:8, “ But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” in which God demonstrates his love despite people’s sin.

The idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin would seem to be foundational to any idea of peacemaking. In almost any situation that one can imagine involving peacemaking it is assumed that there is wrong that exists and which must be corrected: a government or leader or group is oppressing others; an army is killing enemies; the rich are prospering at the expense of the poor.

Here I fall back, as I often do, on the idea of peace as it is presented by Perry Yoder in Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice & Peace. The Old Testament word for peace, Shalom, and its New Testament Greek equivalent eirene denote more than the absence of violence; they describe wholeness and well-being, “things as they ought to be,” healthy, right relationships between people and God, themselves, others and the creation.

Peacemaking thus inherently involves discerning situations or behaviors that are not as they ought to be, where well-being of some is not present because of the actions of others (or even because of their own actions). Peacemaking then acts to bring about change, relieving those who are suffering. It seeks to do this without harming those who are causing the situation, even seeking their true well-being, loving them. This is what is meant by loving one’s enemies.

But notice what is implied. To say that things are not “as they ought to be,” that there are “enemies,” that is those who seek to deprive others of well-being, is to say that some behaviors are wrong while others are right. It is to say that some behaviors are sinful. As peacemakers attempt to rectify situations which are not “as they ought to be” while still loving those who cause them is to hate the sin and love the sinner.

Peacemaking goes beyond calming things down, beyond “keeping the lid on;” it is more than a “cease-fire.” To simply “get along” without recognizing wrong behaviors does not result in true peace. The Old Testament prophets frequently railed against such behaviors, calling out those false prophets who declared peace when there was no peace.  For example,

My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations …     Because, in truth, because they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace; and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it. Ezekiel 13:9a-10 (NRSV)

The implication of this scripture is that something is not right (a wall), but that it is being portrayed as things being right (whitewashed), in fact as “peace.” But, says God, there is no peace, the people are being misled.

We may be entering a time, in fact are already in that time, where peacemaking as we understand it will be very difficult, because it will be impossible to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” We are already in at least the beginnings of what some call the postmodern age. It is a time characterized by disillusionment in modernism, the age of reason and science which have failed to deliver solutions to humanity’s problems. This disillusionment has spread into a general distrust of all authority: government, education, science, parents, the church, etc.

This postmodern age is one in which there is no absolute truth, only stories constructed by individuals and groups out of their own experiences and desires. And, all stories are equally valid. Because stories are personal, it is not possible in the postmodern age to separate sin from sinner. To reject a particular behavior or belief is to reject the person exhibiting that behavior or belief. It is not possible to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” It is not possible to say, as Jesus did in John 8:11, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” We must either reject the person as well as the behavior, or we must accept the behavior as well as the person.

The very idea of peacemaking is founded on the recognition that some beliefs and behaviors are right and others are wrong; there are behaviors that deny well-being, while other behaviors promote well-being. We, as peacemakers, need to be able to tell the difference if we are to truly make peace.

This Spirit of Craziness

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

This past Sunday, my local newspaper published two establishment voices decrying the political craziness at work here in the US.  One lamented the “disturbing” candidacy of Donald Trump and how it revealed “our country’s dark side,” the other condemned the “ideological extremism” of Bernie Sanders.

In the Bible, the gospels include a story of Jesus encountering political insanity.  As it happens, the adult education class at the church where I am a member studied the story this past Sunday.  It describes Jesus’ encounter with an extremely violent man—likely a veteran of the Roman legion—who lived naked among the tombs along the Sea of Galilee’s east bank.

The story attributes the man’s rampaging violence to evil spirits that had possessed him. The name by which the spirits identified themselves—Legion—also named the notorious Roman cohort of 6,000 troops based in that particular place.  In the year prior to Jesus’ birth, this particular military unit had destroyed the Galilean town of Sepphoris and terrorized the population by crucifying 2,000 Jewish rebels.

The double meaning of the name (“Legion”) provides the interpretive key, helping us to see in this story Jesus’ response to the Roman Empire. Using this key, other elements of the story become clear.  The man’s craziness was a manifestation of his embrace of political domination and violence.  He had become incapable of being accountable to anyone or anything.  His desire for control was insatiable and could not be restrained.

This created a wretched isolation.  No one could bear to be in the man’s presence. He lived alone in a graveyard among the dead, abusing himself with stones.

Nearby, an industry required by the presence of the Roman Legion flourished:  pork production.  It was a large operation consisting of 2,000 pigs plus human attendants. Historian R.W. Davies notes that typically members of the Legion received a food ration of one pound of meat per day, often pork. So lots of locals found paid work tending that herd, butchering the mature animals and preparing the soldiers’ rations.

Jesus commanded the evil spirits to leave the man, restoring him to “his right mind” (Luke 8:35).  But the spirits of political domination and violence insisted they be allowed to occupy some host.  Why not the pigs?  Jesus agreed. “Then the unclean spirits came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned” (Luke 8:33).

One lesson is clear:  the spirits of domination and violence cause self-destruction.

Though Jesus had restored the crazy man to sanity, the local people were not pleased. Perhaps they had found the man to be entertaining in a scary sort of way.  Certainly they had enjoyed the economic benefits of hosting the spirits of domination and violence in their community.  Now they would need to find other paid work.  And so they begged Jesus to take his message of liberation to another place.

I find this story applicable to our time and place here in the US.

While we lament the craziness of this political season, we stubbornly refuse to make the connections between the craziness and the spirit of empire that sustains this country in its present form.

Why?  Because then we would either need to evict the spirits of domination and violence or admit that we too have come to welcome and depend upon their presence.  Rather than submitting to such an unpleasant but potentially liberating choice, we persist in our attempts to bind the beast with chains and shackles, pretending to limit the harm.

The election of Barack Obama—a very good man—was such an exercise.  Indeed, the spirits of domination and violence have intensified their evil under his watch, adding Honduras, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen to the places where death and mayhem reign, and parts of Nigeria, Mali and Chad too.

In the biblical story, the authority of Jesus was sufficient to evict the crazed spirit of empire and leave the man in his right mind.   But the story also reminds us that many actually prefer the turbulence of insanity to the uncertainty of healing.

As we live through this crazy election year, what will be our choice? Will we name the spirit producing the craziness?

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