Tag Archives: peacemaking

Top ten posts of 2015 and before

You may have missed some of the posts others found interesting in 2015!

1. Obama runs over Jesus in victory lap

Even though I give the speech a high rating (which I am sure Barack is waiting to hear), and even though I can whip up some admiration for the president’s audacity, competitiveness and attention to some of my greatest irritations, the speech made me glad, as usual, that Jesus introduced me to an alternative way of life and glad that Circle of Hope keeps giving me a chance to practice it.

2. If I tell you not to watch Kingsman will it make you want to see it?

Continue reading Top ten posts of 2015 and before

SOMEONE has got to love their enemies

Today is Pearl Harbor Day. I have always celebrated it as a day to remember the absurdity of war and how much humankind needs a Savior. I usually get in trouble with someone when I do that – or even say it (like I just did again). I have not so totally hidden myself in the margins that someone in the mainstream will not find an opportunity to remind me that “brave soldiers saved me so I can have my naïve faith in the land of the free.”

The first time I got into trouble for being a peacemaker was when we were teaching The Cost of Discipleship to the high school kids.(Gwen and I have never lacked for ambition). Bonhoeffer was making plain sense of the Sermon on the Mount, which clearly says “Love your enemies.” If you only love those who love you, you are not a follower of Jesus, who is God-with-us gracing the righteous and unrighteous.

NOT what really happened.
NOT what really happened.

As it turns out, I found out I was teaching the daughter of one of the men who had been part of “the great escape” from a Nazi prison camp in World War 2. He did not take kindly to a whippersnapper casting doubt on his heroism. His daughter went home and told him I had said, “I can’t imagine Jesus wearing army fatigues” – and she was not lying.

Continue reading SOMEONE has got to love their enemies

Iraq Aftermath — six things Christian peacemakers can practice right now.

Gulf War — began on August 2, 1990 and ended on February 28, 1991. “The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated the cost of the Gulf War at $61 billion. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States covered $36 billion.” (CNN)

Iraq War — began on March 20, 2003 and officially ended in December 2011 (troops were recently added to fight ISIS). ”The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades. “ (Reuters).

iraq aftermath

I start with a few facts (although true financial facts are hard to get from the U.S. government) because many people who attended our event: Iraq Aftermath, did not have too many facts at hand for themselves. We were blessed with four people who had been to Iraq personally, spanning the 25 years of U.S. warmaking: Gwen White before the first Gulf War, Joshua Grace at the beginning of the Iraq War, Shane Claiborne during the Iraq War and Scott Krueger once during the Iraq War and twice after. They were full of facts and memories that astounded many of us who listened.

iraq aftermath panel

 

Continue reading Iraq Aftermath — six things Christian peacemakers can practice right now.

Peacemaking will make your faith stronger — even if it endangers it

Back in the mid-80’s I was lured out of my Protestant practices into Lent by an unlikely connection. We discovered the Lenten Desert Experience. Ever since then, I have been pondering all the things we learned from dipping our toes into protesting the ocean of violent work of the U. S. Empire.

nuclear testMaybe one of my readers will remind me how we got connected. I suspect it came from hanging around with our beloved Franciscans. However it happened, we got wind of a group now called the Nevada Desert Experience who were inventively protesting the ongoing testing of nuclear weapons in the huge Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas. We could not resist going out there to see what was happening; we had to do something! Before long it was an annual event. Gwen even appeared in the local paper sporting plastic handcuffs.

George H.W. Bush ended full-scale nuclear testing in 1992 which felt like a surprising victory. His son, however, added the beefed up drone base at nearby Creech AFB and started less-invasive testing. We managed to stick our cocktail swords into the belly of the beast for a few years, but that monster has amazing recuperative capacity! That’s why we need a Savior.

Lenten Desert Experience in peacemaking

For those interested, here is a short history from the Nevada Desert Experience site. The rest of you can skip to my point after it.

The Lenten Desert Experience (LDE) began in the early spring of 1982 to honor St. Francis of Asissi’s love of nature, peacefulness, and opposition to governmental violence. The primarily Christian prayer-activists came to the Nevada National Security Site daily for six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, just prior to Easter 1982. This was an obvious, creative, and bold peaceful witness against nuclear weapons testing in Newe Sogobia. Soon these experiences in the Nevada desert were drawing more participants, of a greater variety in faith traditions and spiritual paths. The folks who organized the first LDE continued to help facilitate other events in the region near Las Vegas, NV as part of a larger movement. The people coming annually for LDE formally organized themselves into a group known as Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) and this group remains steadily organizing nuclear abolition events to carry on the peaceful witness against nuclear destruction. Participants joining the NDE and other abolitionist events care sincerely about protecting the air, water, soil and earthlings, and against the spiritual sickness of mega-violence in the history of the world. In 1991 Dom Helder Camara commentedin a way that challenges North Americans to use our spiritual power to put an end to the Department of Energy’s destructivity: “This is the scene of the greatest violence on Earth. It should be the place of the greatest greatest acts of nonviolence on the Earth.”

The Lenten Desert Experience was my first experience of witnessing for peace with the very diverse groups who make up the peacemaking movement. We were chanting with monks, keening with Quakers and dancing with Shoshones, none of whom we had ever really rubbed shoulders with. I began to form my rationale for sitting in holding tanks with people who might give Jesus a bad name if you met them without handcuffs. I based my thinking by stretching a saying from Jesus in Mark 9:

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.

What Jesus is actually saying is that “People who are with me, John, might not be part of your group.” That is always a good thing for divided-up Christians to remember. He didn’t mean to say, “People who do good things aren’t against me enough to overlook their lack of allegiance.”

Peace is too important to get it right

But I like the generosity of the latter interpretation, too. When it comes to the peace movement and many other social action movements, I make “unholy” alliances with people who are on my general wavelength, even though I might need to hold their spiritual direction at arm’s length. I let them know I am coming in the name of Jesus and sometimes that makes them hold my spiritual direction at arm’s length. But then we can get down to the business of sticking our cocktail swords into the belly of the beast together. They can meet Jesus on their own time schedule. For the time being, there is a monster to confront.

soa 2010The Circle of Peacemakers core team was discussing this the other day, since we are committed to providing a list of the comrades and acquaintances we have developed over the years. We want to give twentysomethings, in particular, a chance to do something before they crystallize into non-activist adults like most of the population. We would like to give parents options for interesting vacations with the kids! In the past, we have sent people to the SOA vigil at Fort Benning, GA (pic above), to the Migrant Trail protest in the Sonora Desert, to Christian Peacemaker Teams actions and a lot more (check out the new website). Sometimes the participants spend more time wondering about the other participants than they do focusing on the action! It might be the first time they ever rubbed shoulders with the likes of these radicals! Sometimes they understand where the unbelievers in the crowd are coming from better than they understand the Christians. Even with local allies like Heeding God’s Call and the Brandywine Peace Community, who are faith-based, you have to wonder how to walk with Jesus and them at the same time, especially when you run in to the little power squabbles of little groups of activists. Our team was worried about recommending faith-damaging relationships!

Forget your judgment and make peace

I go back to my interpretation of Jesus’ teaching. I think we can risk walking in love with people whether we agree with them or even understand them. If they are not against the cause of peace and the dismantling of the economy of violence, they are for us.  It is very tempting to begin with judgment instead of keeping our eyes on the goal. If we waited to sort out every potential bad influence from among the myriad or people and organizations we meet, it would be a full-time occupation! And for many of us, our faith is just that full-time occupation – we are judgers by nature, not peacemakers. That’s not right. I think being a proactive peacemaker, just like the Prince of Peace, will strengthen your faith much more than  avoiding potential bad influences will.

If we gave too much attention to judging the validity of our peacemaking allies, our suspicion and reticence could allow the U.S. government to make the traditional Shoshone nation in Nevada the most bombed place on the planet and make us overlook the Pentagon supplying excess war-making material to village police in Missouri!  We don’t have time for that. I don’t think Jesus wanted his disciples to become the judges of people trying to get it right. He did not want them to have a lack of discernment and miss following His heart, either! But the main focus of the Lord’s mission has a generous, reconciling mentality. We don’t know the exact right way to go on our journey through this desert, but we certainly have to keep going and we definitely need to love our fellow travelers.

Lowest Common Denominator Assumptions

I still remember the time, a few years ago, when fifty people came to our meeting about making a covenant.

Joshua Grace and I led most of it. Nate Hulfish got in there, too, even though he came with a fever and could barely talk! It was January, and everyone had to venture out over treacherously icy roads to a church basement in Camden. One intrepid person even found a way to get there by public transpo from Philly — he apologized for being late because he had to wait twenty minutes for one tardy bus in 28 degree weather!

It was heartening. It was encouraging to find out that we were still meeting people who would do unusual things as if they were usual. Ten of our cell leaders were there, bringing cell mates with them – they’d been to the meeting before and they were going to lead other meetings that week, so you might have thought it was “beyond the call of duty” to show up.  One of them said, “The church is not in the meetings, it is a 24/7 reality.” One of them was upstairs caring for her cell mates’ children so they could enjoy the meeting! Like I said, it was pretty amazing.

Lowest Common Denominator -- Jaako Mattila
Lowest Common Denominator — Jaako Mattila

The meeting was even more amazing to me because I compared what my friends were actually like to what some denomination leaders thought they were probably like.  I had just come back from a conference in which I discerned some attitudes in “higher up” church leaders about what people could tolerate when it came to living out a commitment to Jesus. They didn’t expect much. I probably shot my mouth off a bit too much (as I am wont to do), but they were talking about the BIC doctrine about peacemaking, which is so close to my heart. They didn’t expect people to make peace much.

The Brethren in Christ list peacemaking among their collection of ten “core values.” We say we are all about:

Pursuing Peace: We value all human life and promote forgiveness, understanding, reconciliation, and non-violent resolution of conflict.

 That is not a radical statement. But it is right there among our top ten values!

In the Articles of Faith and Doctrine we say:

Christ loved His enemies and He calls us as His disciples to love our enemies. We follow our Lord in being people of peace and reconciliation, called to suffer and not to fight. While respecting those who hold other interpretations, we believe that preparation for or participation in war is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. Similarly, we reject all other acts of violence which devalue human life. Rather, we affirm active peacemaking, sacrificial service to others, as well as the pursuit of justice for the poor and the oppressed in the name of Christ.

That is a straightforward statement.  It is worthy of people who will get out in 28 degree weather to investigate how to form an authentic church! Yet when I called on my leader to promote a “prophetic” expression of our stated doctrine, he publicly worried that others would not take too kindly to such aggressive behavior (whoever these “others” are, I don’t know). It seemed to me that he was managing for the lowest common denominator, or working on a non-violent resolution to conflict by avoiding conflict altogether!

So it was encouraging to meet up with the next set of Circle of Hope (BIC) covenant-makers who are, basically, brave enough to do something that other people might assume is just too much to ask. I will always wonder, I guess, about what the big deal is about following Jesus. If you’re going to do it, do it! Why doctor up his clear teachings and example to fit into the lowest common denominator that can pass for Christianity?

It is such an honor to be sought and called by Jesus! It is not like he is “asking too much of me” when he gives me life and assumes I’d like to live it! I have rarely been disappointed when I was “presumptuous” enough to assume that Jesus has impressed others in exactly the same way. We’re glad to follow Jesus! Put me in coach!

I expect to keep finding those kind of people and doing what I can to form a covenant community with them. After all, thirty more people than one might expect could pile into the basement at any moment.

I think we should not get the drift, at least in a bad way

The “state” has sucked up the majority of everyone’s allegiance and made the church a private, leisure time matter. That makes our public covenant-making with the people of God a radical, countercultural act. We still think Jesus is Lord and he personally leads a kingdom. On vacation I read a stimulating book that stoked the fires of my covenant convictions. I’ll get to that in a minute. But here’s the gist: I got excited about how it made me think about a piece of our “about making a covenant” teaching that has just become more radical since we started teaching it.

The covenant is a life, not a concept

It should be an obvious teaching — elementary Christianity. In my estimation, it is stating the obvious to teach that a Jesus follower will not be one in name only but will, by nature, demonstrate their covenant with Jesus and His people with some basic activity. In the case of Circle of Hope:

  • they will obviously be part of our weekly meeting when the community shows herself to the world in worship and truth-telling (1 Cor. 14);
  • they will obviously be part of a cell where we share our gifts face to face, are given basic care,  and share in basic faith dialogue (Acts 20:20);
  • they will obviously be  part of some expression of our mission as part of one of our many teams or, if they are blessed, through their occupation (1 Cor. 2:4);
  • and they will obviously share their money in our common fund (Acts 2:44).

In our teaching about what it means to make a covenant with real people in real time, we note that we all have resources of spiritual gifts, time, care, and money. We actively put these resources into practice as a part of the body. All this seems like basic Christianity to me. But I think it has become radical. Circle of Hope is a community of activists in a lowest-common-denominator Church and world.

Are most American Christians followers in name only?

I’m coming to the conclusion that American Christians love nominalism; they like being Christians in name only. They are having a tough time right now because the culture changed on them and the nation is less inclined to protect their “freedom” to sit in their Christianity, having it unmolested by any need to exercise it. When Circle of Hope got started, we flourished by picking up a lot of the radicals who could not find a place in a nominalized Church, and a lot of new believers who never found Jesus from knowing inactive Christians. We are still going against the grain. But our capacity is going to be tested in postChristian America. Circle of Hope has also had some freedom to sit. Now we might have to mean what we teach.

The drift away from consensus building

Rachel Maddow explains driftThat brings me to my book. I have been reading Rachel Maddow’s Drift. It documents how the presidents have slowly become the sole deciders of when the U.S. goes to war, without the approval of Congress and certainly without the input of us citizens. The book shows how the privatization of what used to be soldiering and the expansion of secret operations has led to perpetual war that is off the radar of the nation. The leaders make sure we aren’t disturbed by war. Maddow is generous enough to say that this was caused by “drift,” not decision, starting with Ronald Reagan and added to by every president since.

I could not help but think that in the same era the BIC leaders have drifted the same direction (and I think that includes a lot of us pastors). They also do more in secret and ask the constituency to trust their advertising. We are not disturbed by our body life. It seems that the BIC started going this direction when people misapplied John Maxwell’s leadership training. I don’t think Maxwell meant to install the “my way or the highway” style that characterizes congressional debate these days. But it got installed.  I think the leaders drifted out of what they considered ineffectual consensus-building and into “over-anointed” leadership.

The radicality of covenant

I’m thinking about that drift in relation to maintaining ourselves as a group of activists. What I am working on is that Circle of Hope is growing up in an era where radicals are less likely to float to the top of a placid sea of nominalism and collect as a new, cool church. The sea of the nation and the Church is too stirred up, and the people who lead the nation and church have drifted into an authoritarian style that keeps people from handling too much reality. We might need to really choose to live by faith. We might have to be thoroughly disturbed. Honestly, I am delighted with that challenge. Good trees need to bear good fruit (Matt. 7).

The Jesus way honors us all as crucial “members of the body.” Our way of life as Circle of Hope demands that we act on the reality of our life in Christ – at least that is what we teach. We are going against the grain when we insist that we all make a difference, not just the leaders, in a world where Occupy sputters into distrust and ineffectiveness, and we don’t take to the streets when the president fights secret, debt-exploding wars that no one is required to pay for while the bankers run us into the ground economically with impunity. It is good to go against the flow if the flow is going down the spiritual drain.

When the thirty-or-so people showed up to consider making a covenant with us the other night, they were exploring something that has become even more radical than when we imagined it. Imagine! – people who would consider coming right out in the public, as it is now, and pledging their allegiance to Jesus and his people in a way that is not just in their secret thoughts but in their hands and feet and relationships, in a way that impacts their loves and their finances. That’s not a surprising thing in the Bible, perhaps, but it seems rather rare these days.

Last Twelve Weeks of Shalom House?

[The ShalomHouse Guidance Team has posted this a couple of places — why not here, too? You might be a future member, or someone who will help!]

In 12 weeks Shalom House might end and its function distributed among the Circle of Peacemakers. We don’t want that to happen. So we are going to tell you our story for twelve weeks to see if your convictions and prayer can keep the flame burning bright.

We have a great idea for proactive peacemakers — SHALOM HOUSE.  We are trying to become excellent promoters because we have a do or die opportunity: we can either find the people who are called to do this great work, or we can close it down.

Before I go any farther, let me remind you that we live in the middle of the biggest war machine the world has ever known. The cost in lives and dollars of the Afghan and Iraq wars is staggering (unless you can’t stagger anymore, you’re so used to astounding numbers!). Just think of this one fact — the United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites outside our country! Unless we close our eyes to it, that is what our country is, primarily — a persistent warmaker. If you are 21 right now, half your life has been associated with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq!

Christians need to talk and act about this situation. We do talk and act as a church. Shalom House leads us to keep our minds and hearts open to what our country is and what we can do about it. As an intentional community devoted to proactive peacemaking they make the big difference a group can make when they concentrate. The house doesn’t just speak out against things, they act to build the alternative way of life, not death, that  Jesus inaugurated with his resurrection.

We have had great people found the house and live in it for the past four years. Really, we are just now ready to build on what they organized! Even when a few people lost their commitment and even lost their faith, the house was a great witness for peace and has lead the church in all sorts of things we would not have normally done. Right now, our mainstay, Mimi Copp, is about to complete her final term. Another  house member is considering leaving. A new house member is considering joining. But we are up in the air because the house is not sustainable as a community and a mission with too few people in it. We have one in, one maybe-in, and one maybe-coming. That won’t do it. The Guidance Team is unsure we should keep the house going if we do not have enough people who want to be a part of it. The thought of closing it breaks our heart, so we are making sure we have tried everything can do before we move on to other things.

There is room for 3-4 people in the house. They make one, preferably two year commitments. They make a huge difference just by being there, much more as they get good at proactive peacemaking. You can be young or old, married or single, male or female, from Circle of Hope or not — all sorts of people are welcome. You just need faith, a commitment to proactive peacemaking, and a willingness to live by the simple rule that aids the community life and mission of Shalom House.

If you are interested, read through our blogsite, or talk to the Guidance Team Leader, Jane Clinton. If you know of someone who should be interested, even if they don’t live in Philly, please let them know about us! And please pray about our future. We are writing you with our plans and progress because we trust that whether we are on a particular team or not, we are all in this together and we all care about each other.

Kristen and the Sword of Wendell Berry

I have been meaning to tell this little story about Kristen for a few weeks. The Monday after resurrection Sunday seems like a good time to tell it. Our good feeling of new life is going to meet up with our schedules. The resolve we honed with our Lent disciplines is going to meet up with opposition. The week after Easter can be such a let-down because we get tested and we don’t meet the test as well as we would like. So I thought I would offer you a story about how Kristen got tested met the test. I think of her up on her soap box quite often, making herself heard among the big loud men speaking for the empire. I appreciate her example, because I also need the courage to open my mouth and speak my heart. Like her, I am also confronted with a world that desperately needs what has been lavished on me in Jesus.

She was doing a summer internship last summer at a farm in Massachusetts. It was some, wonderful organic farm that invites the kids up to do some work, get themselves dirty and get reconverted to humanity. One of the farm’s outlets for their produce was the farmer’s market in a village nearby. Kristen went along to help sell the kale and whatnot.

It happened that the village had a good Massachusetts tradition of having a “speaker’s corner.” When there was a farmer’s market, they set up a place where people could exercise their right of free speech. Since it was near the Fourth of July, speakers were feeling especially patriotic and quite a few people were getting up to say something. The rhetoric was tending to lean Tea Partyish.

One man got up and read a familiar paragraph: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. — That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it…”

He thought that the government was doing a relatively admirable job of securing our rights with its various wars. He exhorted the crowd to support the troops. Kristin was not having it. She had been reading Wendell Berry. She was about ready to join Shalom House for a couple of years (at least). So she decided to get up on the soapbox and speak back with poetry. She whipped out the sword of Wendell Berry and said: 

The year begins with war.
Our bombs fall day and night,
Hour after hour, by death
Abroad appeasing wrath,
Folly, and greed at home.
Upon our giddy tower
We’d oversway the world.
Our hate comes down to kill
Those whom we do not see,
For we have given up
Our sight to those in power
And to machines, and now
Are blind to all the world.
This is a nation where
No lovely thing can last.
We trample, gouge, and blast;
The people leave the land;
The land flows to the sea.
Fine men and women die,
The fine old houses fall,
The fine old trees come down:
Highway and shopping mall
Still guarantee the right
And liberty to be
A peaceful murderer,
A murderous worshipper,
A slender glutton, Forgiving
No enemy, forgiven
By none, we live the death
Of liberty, become
What we have feared to be. — 1991 – I

Her new friends at the farm we a bit concerned. Not only were her listeners the prospective buyers of farm-fresh organic tomatoes, they later told her that they were not entirely convinced that the villagers would not do her harm if she kept reading her poetry. But sometimes when Kristen gets going she needs to complete her thoughts. So she kept going and closed with this: 

 Now you know the worst
 we humans have to know
 about ourselves, and I am sorry,

 for I know you will be afraid.
 To those of our bodies given
 without pity to be burned, I know

 there is no answer
 but loving one another
 even our enemies, and this is hard.

 But remember:
 when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
 he gives a light, divine

 though it is also human.
 When a man of peace is killed
 by a man of war, he gives a light.

 You do not have to walk in darkness.
 If you have the courage for love,
 you may walk in light. It will be

 the light of those who have suffered
 for peace. It will be
 your light. 

1995 – V To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzak Rabin, November 6th 1995.

Thank God for people with the courage to share their heart for peace! Jesus died on the cross for reconciliation with God and others. Jesus pointedly did not raise an army to achieve his ends. Jesus rose again and continues to rise in people who have the courage to be the light. The light comes from being at peace with God. But peace with God that does not make peace on earth doesn’t really have much to get up on the box and say, does it? Let’s meet our tests this week with audacity and hope.

Admiring Menno Simons

It is Menno Simons Day. If you would like the 90-second recap, you can find one here. (I love the tone of the narration!)

Some people say that the amount we encounter in a week of the 2010s is like what we might have experienced in a year of time past. For instance, Hilary Clinton felt the need to call unprecedented meeting of all her ambassadors this week to try to get a handle on the U.S. response to the upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa — things are changing fast. On Menno Simons day (died Jan 31, 1561), it is good to remember that many years in the  1500’s were like last week in Egypt. Without social media and technology, change took longer to take hold in the past, but it was no less earthshaking. Menno Simons struggled for many years with how to respond to the new opportunities for faith and action that came to him as a priest in the crumbling Catholic Church of the Netherlands.

A delegation of Jesus-followers who wanted a radical way of life, came to Mennon Simons and asked him to be their leader.  He became a leader in the Anabaptist movement upon request. The delegation came while the memory of  Munster was fresh. Radical reformers took over that city and tried to usher in the second coming by force. Simons had a more reasoned and gentle way, and he promoted that way the rest of his life. Get the whole story here.

He told the delegation who asked him to lead the scattered Anabaptists that he would pray about the matter of his leadership. When they came again, as he says in his writings, that he surrendered his “soul and body to the Lord … and commenced in due time … to teach and to baptize, to till the vineyard of the Lord,… to build up His holy city and temple and to repair the tumble-down walls.”  He was re-baptized soon after his withdrawal from the Catholic Church in 1536. By December 7, 1542, one hundred guilders were offered by the authorities of Leeuwarden for the apprehension of Menno, who appeared by night at different places to preach and baptize.

Menno Simons turned away from mere tradition and became Bible-centered in all his beliefs and practices. Once he had turned to the Bible, he took it for the Word of God and made it the cornerstone of all his work. His writings are filled with Bible quotations. His approach to the Bible differs from that of other church-reformers in the 1500s. For Simons, everything is, above all, Christ-centered. Every book and every little pamphlet he wrote has this motto on the front page: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Christ-centeredness marks his theology and the practices he derived from the Bible. Discipleship, or a fruitful Christian, life was very strongly emphasized.

Also emphasized was the fact that discipleship does not take place in a vacuum or as a matter merely between the individual and his God, but rather within the congregation, the church of Christ. Menno’s faith is therefore not only Christ-centered but also church-centered. His chief concern was the living in  the true body of Christ. Again and again he refers to 1 Corinthians 12:13, 25-27, and Colossians 1:18-24. The prerequisites for being part of the church according to Menno are regeneration and willingness to bear the cross of Christ. These two are inseparable. Discipline was as natural in the church of Menno Simons as any normal function of the healthy body.

Menno Simons was one of my heroes of the faith when I was first becoming a Christian as a history major in college —  I ended up being a history-of-Christianity major! As I met my ancestors in the faith, I kept meeting people in every era who seemed to “get it.” The majority of the church might be adapting to whatever political or philosophical emphasis dominated the world, but God always had someone who notably kept the true faith and fed his or her era with it. Menno Simons was one of these people.

Today, among the many things he has left us in our inheritance from him, I offer four exhortations that match his convictions:

  • Pay attention to how the Lord wants us to respond to the times. Be afraid, if you must, but don’t let fear stop you from obeying your heavenly vision.
  • Take the lead. Simons did not think he had it in him, either. True leadership may be less about charisma and more about consistently doing what needs to be done.
  • Be Christ-centered. As the Egyptians are demonstrating, regimes and ideas come and go. What we can demonstrate is that the word of Jesus is everlasting. The word is not about “god” or “values” it is about the Lord.
  • Build a real church. This is the Anabaptist genius that I appreciate the most. The majority of the reformers in the 1500’s either cleaned out the Catholic church and kept the framework, or made up an alternative wedding between state and church with better theology. The Anabaptists took the reform movement to its radical basis and tried to live it out. I’m still impressed that they were so much the church that the authorities wanted to arrest them! May our authorities see us as that real and so not them that we pose a threat.

Conversion Stories

In my circles, the word “conversion” sort of has a bad reputation. I think that is because strange, power-hungry men (for the most part) have been in the mass media for decades prowling for conversions. People feel like it would be a sign of low self-esteem to give in to them – sort of like owning the Pocket Fisherman because you saw it on TV.

That’s too bad. Because conversion is a good word. It basically means an event that resulted in transformation. Maybe we don’t like getting coerced into conversion, but people yearn for transformation, and that is the essence of what relating to Jesus is all about. So maybe I don’t need to be “converted” in the worst sense of the word, but no matter how many people try to get me to accept myself just as I am, I long for the transformation God promises. The more of it I experience, the more I long for the fullness.

I got to thinking about conversion when I was sitting at breakfast yesterday with the members of Shalom House and their Guidance Team celebrating the entry of Kristen into the household. We told peacemaking stories. Many of them included the conversion it took to be committed to Christ’s way of peace. I needed to be converted to that even after I was a Christian! My father was in the Navy. My brother was in Vietnam. I enthusiastically voted for warmongers. My conversion was mainly due to an honest reading of scripture. When Paul talks about the armor of God he says to have “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Eph 6:15). I don’t know why I would need to be a Christian at all if I have to undo Christianity so I can fit war into Christ’s peacemaking.

So I was encouraged by the Shalom House people.

As I was remembering them this morning, a flood of realization came to me. Last night at our PMs, I was surrounded by people who were experiencing conversion. Some of it was rather dramatic.

A person quit his high-paying and high-powered international job last week because he feels convicted to have a life in Christ.

A person risked her job to get off in time to get her family to the PM, now that they have just one car.

A person is making a covenant with the church, even though it goes against his grain to be so noticed and connected.

A person has been released from her former ambitions and is bravely looking into the brand-new future that is opening up before her.

Even as I am listing these conversations that all happened during the course of one evening, I realize that there are many more I could be listing — some small examples, some large. There is a lot of conversion going on. Knowing Jesus and being one of his people is changing people and allowing them to go with further change. I don’t know if transformation is breaking out, but I am glad to at least have my eyes opened to it a bit more. Are you noticing any conversion in your quadrants?

A Fast with Shalom House

We had a great blessing-of-a-feast last night – turkey, all the accoutrements, Gwen’s famous (or should be) dessert punch, amazing friends and comrades. Now for the fast.

The people of Shalom House have called for a fast today. Our friends over in their West Philly outpost are proactive peacemakers who just seem to get more devoted, creative and assertive all the time! They bless me. At our feast last night, as we toasted 2009 in various ways, someone got us to raise our glasses to the great triumph of shutting down Colissimo’s Gun Shop. Mimi even went to jail over that! In an age where, somehow, the “right to bear arms” has been interpreted as the right to flood the street with weapons designed for personal “shoot outs” and spraying the neighbors with semi-automatics, thank God for young women who don’t take “no” for an answer.

I invite anyone reading this to fast, in some way, with the people of Shalom House and their partners. Don’t eat a Christmas cookie for a couple of hours or send them a check for $50,000 – whatever works for you. And PRAY! This is what they are doing: “In this season of advent, of expectation, we at Shalom House are feeling the expectation of new community members.  We are feeling the burden of the longing for Peacemaking efforts to be multiplied among us.” They want to do more and get more house members to do it with them! Thank you, Lord!

As part of their suggestions for what to do as we all pray with them today, they offer a quote from a great peacemaker we should never forget, Oscar Romero: “I do not tire of telling everyone, especially young people who long for their people’s liberation, that I admire their social and political sensitivity, but it saddens me when they waste it by going on ways that are false. Let us, too, all take notice that the great leader of our liberation is the Lord’s Anointed One, who comes to announce good news to the poor, to give freedom to the captives, to give news of the missing, to give joy to so many homes in mourning, so that society may be renewed as in the sabbatical years of Israel.” Someone still longs for jubilee! Someone is not so worn down, defeated, overwhelmed by evil, discouraged by hope-that-ends-up-in-increased-troops-to-Afghanistan, that they can’t still apply themselves to the cause of redemption! Thank you Lord! That is also a feast, and a great motivation to fast and pray.

For the Cadets on Jean Donovan Day

Last night the president had some uphill sledding to do with his speech to the cadets at West Point. I admit I did not listen very well to every word, since I was also reading a magazine and writing our Christmas letter (sorry Barack). But I did notice that the poor man could not get any applause for the longest time! And, if nothing else, he is a good applause-getter! He finally loosened them up with the sheer power of a great speech. But the cadets didn’t get their hands moving until he complimented them! It was glaring. They were either feeling reticent about showing too much emotion (they were apparently instructed not to smile until the end – attenshun!) or they were reticent about him. But they finally got clapping when they were essentially clapping for themselves!

Am I making too much of this? I doubt it. I think we have been raising people to be aggressively self-centered and amazingly entitled for twenty years, now. Of course the cadets applauded for themselves! I wouldn’t be surprised if the line was purposely inserted in the speech to make sure they would get what they wanted. Why wouldn’t the president be a deliveryman for one’s self-interest?

It may have been more interesting than that. There was a lot of politicking going on in that speech. Obama talks to the cadets, then he turns to the camera and talks to the nation. He turns back and talks to the military in general, then he turns to the camera and talks to the world. He’s good. Plus, he was doing some slight variations on the stock, “We’ve got to pull out the stops and keep the war going” speech that people will be talking about today. The pundits were already being amazed that he was saying “We’ve got to build up so we can pull out.” And John McCain was already doubting that ever having an end point to a war is a good thing. I think his point is, “Even if it bankrupts us and we can’t really hope to dominate them, we need to try.”

It is quite jarring to think about all that when I go to bed and then wake up and realize it is Jean Donovan Day. She was martyred by a Salvadoran death squad on Dec. 2, 1980, when she was twenty-seven years old on a two-year mission with the Maryknoll sisters. She was supposed to be advancing literacy among the campesinos and ended up a disciple of Oscar Romero burying people caught in the crossfire of the government’s attacks on “subversives.” Her famous note to a friend, a few weeks before she was raped and murdered, said: “The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave… Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.”

Yes, I do want the cadets to care about the children and do unreasonable things to serve peasants. They will certainly find enough of them in Afghanistan! Honestly, I think a lot of the cadets would like to do that, too. So I want the president to help them change the world in the Jean Donovan way. Honestly, I think he might like to do that. So I want Jesus to keep defeating evil for us so we are not so foolish and controlled by self-destruction and the president gets to do what he must really want to do. In the meantime, I hope each of us will honor Jean Donovan today because she knew how to be in league with Jesus in a very practical way.

Afghan War Anniversary

At least someone was out on the streets on the anniversary of the Afghan War yesterday.

http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpp/news/local/100709_protest_marks_afghan_war_anniversary

In the past few years, it has been fascinating to watch the country be muzzled by the new “no news” news which makes every issue a postmodern discussion of equal, red state/blue state opinions. More and more people now get their news from random internet sources who all have a point to push. Dialogue is dead. Everything is marketing.  

Meanwhile there was nary a peep of outrage around here yesterday, on the anniversary of the Afghan war — no lament over the fact that the government is still pouring billions of wasted dollars into the war and still wasting lives in their hopeless cause of domination. I am feeling sorry for Obama, since the previous regime alienated everyone who might have helped (like Iran, Russia, China) and decided we had enough wealth, power and the all-important juevos to fight a perpetual war on terror on our own. They propped up a fake, corrupt “democracy” (again)  and decided the dirt farmers of the Afghan hills would cower before their faceless weapons. Now what does a president do? A fabulous lack of wisdom, a tremendous act of godlessness (in the name of all that is good, of course) is hard to follow.

My sympathy notwithstanding, I am feeling a bit Jeremiah today, as my prayer book lead me to chapter 6:

I appointed watchmen over you and said,
`Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, `We will not listen.’
Therefore hear, O nations;
observe, O witnesses,  what will happen to them.
Hear, O earth:  I am bringing disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes,
because they have not listened to my words

While I do not think we have responsibility for what the country does, no matter how many times they try to convince us that this is a democracy in some remote representative way, I DO think the people of God have a responsibility to tell others to “listen to the trumpet” and to blow it ourselves at appropriate moments of dire warning. I find it kind of scary when we don’t seem to be “feeling it.”

I suggest we take off our muzzles, slough off our apathy, renew our resentment of godless domination, stoke our concern for people languishing in ignorance of God and their plight, and make sure (at least!) to say a few words of outrage to people who need to hear them today. It might be a good idea to remind a few people that our government has sent soldiers to Afghanistan for eight fruitless years, now; and they are still adventuring in Iraq. Politically, it is disastrous; spiritually, it is hard (even on our least-Jeremiah-like day) to even imagine a connection to Jesus.