Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Couple Thoughts On Pacifism

War is always, has always been oppression. Even if one group has the right to fight another for self defense, the owner of the land on which the battle is held is the true victim. Every war has innocents killed, which is a crime against all humanity.

On the surface, it seems that those who refuse to kill are at the mercy of those who are willing to kill. But if it truly becomes the norm to not kill for any reason, then it becomes easy to weed the killers out and exile them. But as long as killers are trained in a society for “good purposes”, then murder will continue to be rampant.

Being Loved By The Text


To be Anabaptist is to be textual. It is allowing the text of the gospels to form one, to change one permanently.

It is seeing Jesus in the text, and fleshing that Jesus out in the life we have around us.
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

High Volume Meekness

Meekness isn’t exactly in demand today. Nobody wants it. Sure, people will buy books on love, on peace, on joy, on self-discipline—but how many people want Meekness for Dummies? Microsoft Humility? (Whoa, talk about a contradiction in terms!) McLowly? Meekness just doesn’t sell.

And why should it? Meekness doesn’t comfort us, it doesn’t make us more successful, it doesn’t help us make friends or influence people. Let’s face it—the meek in our society are rejects. They are the outcasts, the people who don’t really fit in. Let’s see, who are the professional meek in the U.S.?

• Homeless
• Elderly in nursing homes
• Those living in low income housing
• Poor immigrants
• Mentally ill
• Those who work for minimum wage
• Panhandlers
• Those on Disability or Food Stamps
• Non-English speakers

Not exactly whom you want to be like? Perhaps not the friends and neighbors? Nor your usual upstanding church members? Of course not. These are not the building blocks of society, the ones who can make things change for the better, the righteous, the acceptable. Again, the meek are the rejects. Not just the unimportant, but the unwanted, the unacceptable.

And how do the middle-class church members—the Uptight Upright—treat these folks, the meek and lowly? Sometimes they treat them with pity, feeling sorry for their plight, perhaps seeing how they can help them. That’s typically the best response. If only the best response were the only response. Often the meek are treated as a “problem” that needs to be solved, the solution of which has avoided the minds of all the mighty. The meek usually are ignored by most—best not seen, not dealt with. The apathetic aren’t interested in judging the lowly, but they aren’t interested in doing anything else with them either. But there are many that do wish to judge the lowly.

These judges use the logic of Job’s friends—These meek are in the positions they are in for a reason. Perhaps in these post-modern times we do not want to use the argument of God only offering material blessings to the righteous, but we would use other arguments. “They made terrible errors in their lives, and so they ended up where they are.” “They will have to work hard like we did and then they can get out of that situation.” “This is the land of opportunity—anyone who works hard enough can get ahead.” “They just need to apply themselves.” “Lazy.” “Addicts.” “Trying to take advantage of good people.” These labels are used on the meek, even if they are not known. And if you think you are immune to this, how many times have you ignored a panhandler whom you have never seen before because, you assume, they would use the money you might give them for their addiction? This is judging by stereotype. Would we assume such things of our neighbor who lives on the same suburban street as us?

If we looked at these meek with God’s eyes, we would see that these meek are not the insignificant and hopeless as we might first have imagined. Just the opposite. We need to remember that God does not choose the powerful, the rich, the ones who already have everything in place. God chooses the needy, the insignificant, those for whom everything is falling apart. This means, biblically, when we look at our world around us, we need to see it with new eyes. Next time you see a panhandler, instead of seeing him or her with pity or disgust, think, “This is one of the ones whom God chooses.” Next time you see an elderly woman, living alone, respond, “I wonder if God will give her a son.” Next time you meet a mentally ill person, consider, “I wonder what God is going to do in this person’s life—it must be magnificent!” Next time you hear about the starving in Africa or Asia, instead of being overwhelmed with a mix of compassion and guilt, pray that God would do a work of power there.

Poverty and illness are not dead-end streets—they are opportunities for God to act.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What is a Modern Anabaptist?

A church of the 21st Century Anabaptist (just off the top of my head):
-Builds up community both within and outside of its walls
-Is not committed to a single partisan agenda, except that of Jesus
-Meets the needs of the needy, according to its rescources
-Is committed to creating peace in our nation, our broader community, our families and in how we do church
-The leaders of the church not only leads in the rituals that are important to the community, but leads in creating service opportunities, and creating harmony out of conflict

The Mennonite denomination should be supporting congregations to be this way, IF the Mennonites are actually anabaptist in this way, and not just interested in promoting all things Mennonite, whether they encourage this ideal or not. They should be encouraging mediation training, encourage knowledge of Jesus-- his life and teaching-- rather than Mennonite history, giving ways to bypass the bi-partisan thinking that dominates American discussions, creating a network of service opportunities for churches, and offering training for community connection.

The evangelical church is heading the way of service and community building. John Roth is trying to train the church to stop thinking in a bi-partisan way. Scot McKnight (an evangelical anabaptist) is trying to train people to be more Jesus-focused. The resources are out there, will the Mennonites use them?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Judgement, Cheap Grace and Mercy

• Judgment is immediate. It demands the quick decision and the sentence is as swift and demanding as a guillotine.
• Mercy is slow. Mercy takes its time, deliberating, mulling over options. Mercy is often second-guessing itself, repenting of former decisions as repentance is made known.
• Cheap Grace is careless. It cares not what the issues are, and is as swift in its decision of forgiveness as judgment is of condemnation.

• Judgment is simple. Black and white, clear cut, no recourse, no compromise. Judgment sees all situations from a demanding, no fills position.
• Mercy seeks truth—no matter how messy. It deliberates, considers, ponders, discusses—but not without a goal. Mercy plods, the tortoise who wins the race, slow and steady. Mercy understands that truth cannot be found in a headline, but in a feature article based on many interviews.
• Cheap Grace triumphs the ignorant. There is no need for determinations, deliberations or decisions. The decision has already been made—freedom and blessing for all, no matter what the situation.

• Judgment focuses on the law as a principle. “The law is a standard which once broken cannot be mended. It is the Humpty Dumpty of God. It is an ancient china doll, needing to be placed behind glass—protected, served, and loved from a distance.” But the law of judgment is cold, hard and sharp as a steel blade. Judgment claims to be for the good of society, but the only one who benefits is Judgment itself.
• Mercy loves the law as a benefit to others. The law is to “love your neighbor,” thus mercy is the heart of the law. The law is to train us in mercy, to see the Other as the beneficiary of all of our actions. Mercy considers the well-being of all—even the law-breaker. Mercy’s law is comforting, light, for it always seeks the benefit of all.
• Cheap Grace discards the law. “The law was a plaything of youth, but is to be set aside as unworthy of consideration. Grace has set aside all law, especially the law of Jesus, as unworthy of God.” Cheap Grace claims to speak for Mercy, but denies the heart of God.

• Judgment demands recompense. Judgment seeks equity to the cost of the action of the law-breaker. “You broke it, you pay for it.” It seeks a balanced account book for which each debit has its equal and opposite credit—the coin of which is blood and dishonor.
• Mercy pursues reconciliation. Mercy can lead to dishonor, should repentance be the flip side of that coin. Mercy pleads for restoration, constantly seeking an ingathering together for all the saints.
• Cheap Grace rejects cost. Cheap Grace points to Calvary and claims that all had been accomplished there. Cheap Grace ignores the man who said, “All who would follow me must take up their own cross daily.” Cheap Grace demands no personal cost, no change, no death, no discipline, and so gains no gift, no new creation, no life, no restoration.

• Judgment has no escape. Once judged, there is no exit. The sentence is irrevocable, the differences irreconcilable, the community ununitable.
• Mercy offers an out—repentance. The one who has harmed another—and so has defied the law—has an opportunity to be brought back under the law. To repent, to reconcile is the extent that Mercy demands, and will seek any way to achieve that goal.
• Cheap Grace is unconditional forgiveness. It is spiritual bloodletting—seeking to heal the patient, while ignorantly killing him. Cheap Grace sees no need to gather in, to restore, for there was no separation.

• Judgment demands payment from the lawbreaker. As the law suffered, so must the criminal. As society was harmed, so must the harmer. Judgment claims the lost deserve nothing, and so gives nothing.
• Mercy sacrifices. Restoration also has a price, and the merciful takes that price on oneself. Mercy pays whatever the cost so the sinner can be restored. Mercy groans in prayer, endures attacks, forgives debts against it, pays debts against others, sacrifices its comfort, its family, its friendships, its resources, its very life—all for the sake of the lost.
• Cheap Grace gleefully ignores cost. It is the thief, stealing from God’s honor. Cheap Grace receives no payment, demands nothing, gives nothing, since there is no debt incurred. Cheap Grace celebrates at the foot of grace delivered, but ignores the call of grace transferred to others. Cheap Grace requires nothing and so gains nothing.

• Judgment never forgets. It is the elephant of virtues. It never trusts, never believes, never forgives, never restores. Judgment says “Once a sinner, always a sinner.”
• Mercy gives the benefit of the doubt. Mercy does not forget, but allows complete restoration, a rebuilding of trust. Mercy believes in new creation, a new life, which has nothing to do with the old.
• Cheap Grace always trusts, even the hypocrite. It always believes, even the liar. It always forgives, even the unrepentant. It accepts everyone and everything—except God’s truth.

• Judgment is Satan. Judgment is the accuser of the brethren, the murderer of humanity for the sake of a bloodless law. It is the prosecutor seeking the death penalty.
• Mercy is Jesus. It is the self-sacrificer, the reconciler to God, the perfect sacrifice. Mercy is the one who said, “Go and sin no more,” “The one whom the Son sets free is free indeed,” “I have come to seek and save the lost,” “Unless you repent you will likewise perish,” “I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance,” “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.”
• Cheap Grace is the Flesh. It is self-seeking, self-upholding, self-deceptive. Ultimately, it upholds what is abhorrent to God as the will of God. They practice sin and gives approval to those who practice it.

• Judgment is a liar. It claims that God does not forgive, sees the sin and not the sinner. It denies the power of God to change the one in Jesus. It is lost, for it has forsaken the mercy of Jesus. Those in the power of Judgment will die by God’s hand—“Judge and you will be judged.”
• Cheap Grace is a liar. It claims that God’s standard is flexible, and so non-existent. It loves the lost to such a degree that it cannot be separated from the lost. It causes the lost to remain lost, and so dead. Those in the power of Cheap Grace will die by God’s hand—“Whoever does not obey the Son will not see life.”
• Mercy is the truth of God. It upholds the law, which is to love all. It demands love, even as it offers love. It demands forgiveness, even as it offers forgiveness. It demands sacrifice, even as it sacrifices. It demands purity, even as it offers purity. It demands devotion to God, even as it offers devotion to God. “Be imitators of God, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

Mercy stands with God over against Judgment and Cheap Grace

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Caesar and God: A Brief Bible Basic

Ideally, governments are servants of God.
[Government] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Romans 13:4

We should submit to governments, even when ungodly.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Romans 13:1

We should pray for governments to create peace
I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. I Timothy 2:1-2

Money belongs to governments, therefore give it to them when they ask for it.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's Mark 12:17

Jesus conquered all authorities on the cross.
He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. Colossians 2:15

Our bodies belong to God, therefore we should grant to God His use of it.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. Mark 12:17

We are never to disobey God, even if a government demands it of us.
We must obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29

We are not to fear a government’s wrath.
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

It is not a shame to be condemned by a government for Jesus’ sake, but a source of joy.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me: Rejoice and be glad. Matthew 5:11-12

We should not take revenge against oppressive governments
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Jesus provides access to the Lord of the universe if we would remain faithful to him despite those who make it difficult for us.
Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Revelation 3:8

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jesus and Understanding the Bible

A post by Tim N on Young Anabaptist Radicals:

A few weeks ago, in a discussion thread over here, folknotions asked the question (seconded by Tim Baer): “What do radical anabaptists believe about the Bible?”. I’ve been pondering this question for a few weeks and I haven’t come up with anything definitive, but I do have a few thoughts to share. It just so happens that DenverS posted a piece two weeks ago that very much speaks to this question as well. I’d love to hear what others of you (especially women) think as well. We’ve already got a quite active The Bible so if you add your piece to that category, we could even have ourselves a “YAR on the Bible” series.

My awareness of how I read the bible has been strongly shaped by my experience of British Anabaptism through working Anabaptist Network. The second of the Anabaptist Network’s seven core convictions is:

Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.(read more from the AN)

Naming an Anabaptist value as a "Jesus-centred approach to the bible" helped me to understand some distinctive of my own Mennonite tradition that I had always taken for granted. I gradually came to understand that many traditions claim to read the bible in a flat way with all passages seen with the same weight. This is not the case for me. The core of Jesus message is a vision for shalom liberation for all of us. Some parts of the bible communicate, at least on the surface, a contradictory vision. For example,
when I read the story of Ehud I see the story of an exciting adventure story told ’round the camp fire down through the generations by the Jewish people. It comes out of the life of a people struggling for justice and liberation. But its a way of living out that struggle that is very from the vision of Jesus of loving your enemy and radical, cheek-turning nonviolence.

The community of faith as the primary context for reading the bible is also a central part of how I approach the Bible. I don’t find it useful to sit in the corner and open the bible at random and read it. I’m much more drawn to reading the Bible in a group or discussing it on a blog (like YAR) or reading a theologian who unpacks the social and historical context of the text.

And finally, the gospel of Jesus as a source for discipleship in our lives. The bible is not primarily a source for doctrine or a set of beliefs for us to ascribe to. Its a story in which we are all actors, not passive recipients. Jesus lays out a way of being in and relating to all of creation rooted in redemption, not just of our souls, but of our lives, our communities and our empires. The Bible is the story of God coming along side humanity in that struggle. It is a story that we are all invited to join.

My response:
I fully agree with the Jesus interpretation of the Bible, as an Anabaptist. I fully agree that the Bible is only to be understood through Jesus– the Jesus of the gospels, not the Jesus of theology.

The Anabaptist ideal I have issue with in this subject is the idea of community interpretation. Of course, we interpret nothing except through the eyeglasses we obtain through experience, one of the great parts of which is society. But what I’ve seen is that community interpretation often leads to the idea that everyone in the community has an equal voice as to the truth of Scripture, and the other problem I see is that the truth of Scripture is best found by the agreement of the selected community.

If truth is found in each individual, then everyone’s silly interpretation is possible, and we have no real truth in Scripture. If that’s the case, then Jesus is a bunch of contradictory concepts. I think that Jesus is unified and that the Bible is unified in Jesus. That doesn’t mean we can’t have disagreements– certainly different equally valid interpretations exist. But there are a number of interpretations that are not possible to support through a clear reading, and I don’t think we should give those “interpretations” equal voice.

Secondly, to say that the true interpretation is found in the agreement of the community is equally false. Communities are formed by a common worldview, even when there is dissent, and the interpretation of all things are formed by that worldview. And this worldview is unlikely to be identical with that of Jesus, or even the first century Jewish world. So, in reading the Bible in community, we tend to interpret through our own glasses, not the glasses of Jesus.

Somehow, through the grace of God, we need to get past our own ideas of what Scripture “should” say, and accept what it does say, in Jesus. And then, understanding that, we need to take on another Anabaptist principle: The purpose of Scripture is not to understand it, but to do it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Anabaptism and Mennonitism

Question: The Anabaptist Vision is coming into it's golden age. Why is it that the Mennonites seem to be in decline? (from Mark Van S. on Facebook)

My response:
Because only some of the Mennonites are Anabaptist. Because the Mennonites are too focused on organization instead of spirituality. Anabaptism will reach it's peak when released from the Mennonite shackle of bureaucracy.

Only when Mennonites see that Anabaptism is a vision, not an organization that need be restructured, that Mennonites will thrive.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who Are the People of God?

We can look around at the different religions and the many different kinds of Christianity and we can wonder, who among all of these different kinds of religious people does God really care for? Some religions are strict, others are lax; some are private and personal, while others are public and in-your-face; some are meditative, others are ethical, while others are very social. And each one of them has their own ideas of what makes up the people of God and who really belongs.

Of all the people in the world, Jesus is one of the few who we can trust to really know what God prefers. Jesus lived among his people and taught and healed—but more importantly, God gave his stamp of approval on his life and teaching beyond anyone else, because God raised him from the dead. No other religious teacher or prophet or theologian could claim that. So rather than delving into theology or religious doctrine, let’s just look at what Jesus said about the subject.

The Beatitudes—Matthew 5:3-10
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ blueprint for God’s people. He didn’t come up with it himself—although he packaged it. Most of this teaching comes from the Hebrew Bible (which is usually today called the Old Testament). It is called “the beatitudes” today because each statement speaks about a blessing that the people of God will receive. “Beatitude” comes from a Latin word which means “state of bliss”. And these statements explain who will receive a state of blessing or fortune from God. Before we explain it, though, let’s hear what Jesus has to say about God’s people for himself:

3. The poor in spirit are fortunate because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
4. Those who grieve are fortunate, because they will be cheered.
5. The meek are fortunate, because they will inherit the earth.
6. Those hungry and thirsty for justice are fortunate, because they will eat their fill.
7. The merciful are fortunate, because they will be granted mercy.
8. The clean in heart are fortunate, because they will see God.
9. The peacemakers are fortunate, because they will be called 'sons of God.'
10. Those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are fortunate, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Who are these people?
The first thing we want to look at are the characteristics of God’s people. Jesus statements about these characteristics can be divided in two: a. Situational characteristics and b. Ethical characteristics.

The Anawim of God
Some of the characteristics of God’s people relate to the awful situations they find themselves in:

• The poor in spirit (oppressed, especially economically),
• The grieving (remorseful about the situations they find themselves in),
• The meek (lowly, disenfranchised or outcast),
• Those hungering and thirsting for justice (greatly desiring right to prevail in their lives)
• And the persecuted (rejected or spoken ill of).

This isn’t exactly a top-ten of things that we want to be! These characteristics can be summarized in one Hebrew word—anawim. The Bible speaks much of the anawim, because they are the kinds of people God focuses on, and desires to help more than anyone else. (Read Exodus 22:21-24; Psalm 37:11 and Psalm 34:6.) That’s because they have no one else but God to turn to. No power on earth will pay attention to them, because most people would prefer to pretend that they didn’t even exist. Some of the anawim in our society are the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly, the chronically sick and all the various others who are socially outcast. These are the poor, the lowly, the outcast—and they are God’s people. If a person thinks that they are of God or His people, but have never experienced this kind of rejection by society, then they are not, in reality of God’s true people.

The Loving of God
However, one cannot just be rejected or poor and be of God’s people. Many teachers and theologians today will teach that Jesus said that everyone who is poor or outcast represents him. But that simply isn’t true. Jesus said that those of his “brothers” who are needy are his people. And Jesus said that his brothers would “do the will of my Father in heaven”. In other words, they listened to and obeyed God. But what kind of obedience is Jesus talking about? Not drinking on a Friday night? Studying the Bible every day? Standing on a street corner yelling, “You’re going to hell” to everyone you see? Hmmm… let’s see what Jesus says:

• The merciful (those who do good to everyone in need without exception);
• The clean in heart (those who do what is right because they have a mind focused on God, and not because of superficial reasons)
• The peacemakers (those who do good to their enemies, who refuse to judge on appearances and who gather people to be devoted to God);
• And the persecuted for righteousness’ sake (those who are rejected because they were doing the good God said to do).

These are the people who keep two things on their main agenda: They are devoted to God first and foremost, not allowing anything else in their lives to get in the way of their love of God. Second, they are doing everything they can to benefit other people, no matter who they are. This makes sense, because Jesus said that these two things are to be the focus of everyone who lives for God (Matthew 22:35-40). They love God and they love other people. And sometimes they get burned because of it. Sometimes they are rejected or even physically hurt because of it. But they know it’s worth it.

How can it be worth it?
It doesn’t seem worth it. Jesus is saying that God’s people are those who are so focused on devotion to God and assisting others that they get hurt by it. It just doesn’t seem right. But it really is—in fact, it is a weird sense of justice that indicates that these are God’s people and not others. Just look at what God’s people get:

• Theirs is the kingdom of heaven (God lets them rule His coming nation!)
• They will be cheered (God gives them happiness!)
• They will inherit the earth (God gives them land and city to be in charge of!)
• They will eat their fill (God will give them true justice—forever!)
• They will receive mercy (God will overlook their faults and meet their needs!)
• They will see God (God will let them be in his presence!)
• They will be called sons of God (God will call them his own!)

All wrapped up, these are the blessings of God that almost everyone wants. It is peace, security, true spirituality, all of one’s needs met, a peaceful society to live in. It is winning the real lottery—obtaining true happiness that you could never get with cash.

So why do these people get it, and not others? Because only God is offering it, and only those who are truly devoted to God and His ways will get it. And how can anyone know that we were really devoted—and not just faking it? How can anyone know that we really cared about other people and weren’t just faking it? Because we acted in love even though we were living in hard times. We stayed right with God, even though we suffered for it. We continued to help others, even though people thought we were wrong to do it. We suffered and loved at the same time.

How fortunate are the oppressed because they will rule God’s kingdom!
How fortunate are the sorrowful, because God will cheer them up.
How fortunate are the lowly, because God will give them the earth.
How fortunate are those who desperately desire justice, because they will get just what they want.

How fortunate are those who act in compassion, for God will be compassionate to them.
How fortunate are those single-minded on God, for they will see Him.
How fortunate are the creators of peaceful communities, for God will make them rulers.
How fortunate are the sufferers for righteousness, because they will rule God’s kingdom!

Peacemaking 101

“I can’t believe he did that!” “What a jerk!” “They are morons!” We often feel like this when people have hurt us, whether on purpose or carelessly. When we are hurt, we act in different ways—perhaps we want to run away, perhaps we want to lash out, perhaps we want to pretend it never happened, perhaps we want to “talk it out.” Jesus and his followers say that the way to respond to those who hurt us is to attempt to make peace, instead of hostility. The way of peace is to listen, confront and to accept. How to do this is explained below:

Stop ourselves from being hostile. (Romans 12:17, 21)
When we have been wronged, we often want to respond in kind or to hurt the other person in some way. Sometimes we want to just separate ourselves from the one who hurt us and never come back. Sometimes we want to lash out at the person, verbally or even physically. The first thing we must do is to ask for God’s strength to be “slow to anger”, and to not respond with punishment.

Check our principles for judging (Matthew 7:1-2)
We have to decide if we have the right to judge the one who hurt us. Are we judging them by God’s standards of right and wrong, or our own? Are we assuming what their motivation was, or do we know? Do we have our facts straight? To help with this process, you might want to look at another tract, “Judging With a Right Judgement”.

Check our motivation for responding (I Corinthians 16:14)
In everything we do to another, if we do it according to the Lord, we do it for the benefit of the other person. Do we want to respond to the hurt in order to hurt in return? Do we want to just make ourselves feel better? Do we want the other person to admit they did wrong? Do we want to insist upon our “rights”? None of these motivations are according to the Lord. Instead, if we respond to someone who hurt us, we want to help them to grow in the Lord or to allow there to be reconciliation between us.

Ask the other person for their perspective and listen (James 1:19)
Rather than being hostile, which is an easy out, our first task is to listen to the other person’s perspective. Most of the time, we will find, that people either didn’t intend to hurt us at all, or they were responding to a misunderstanding of our words or actions which caused them to be hurt. If we can understand what they were really doing, then we can better evaluate how to prevent such a situation happening again.

Speak about how we were hurt (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3; Galatians 6:1)
We need to let the person who hurt us know how they hurt us and what they did. This step is essential, for the person might not know that they have done anything wrong, or not know that they have hurt anyone else. Even if it seems like it is obvious, we need to tell them. We should try not to say, “you did this wrong”, but talk about the actions that hurt us, and anything Jesus and the apostles say about that kind of action. When we speak about our hurt, we need to be brief and to be gentle, hoping for reconciliation.

Listen again. (Matthew 18:15-16)
We need to give the other person a chance to respond to our statement. Perhaps they will want to reconcile, perhaps they will want to say how we misunderstood what they intended. Of course, they may also want to excuse their behavior and claim that they were right to hurt. Whatever the response, we need to give them the opportunity to show how they really feel about their action.

Accept any attempt at repentance and reconciliation.(Luke 17:3-4)
If the person who did wrong makes some attempt at correcting their wrong, we should accept them. We must not look for a particular formula of apology or reconciliation. If the person, in some way, admits a wrong they have done, and is looking for the relationship to be restored, then we need to do our part and try to restore the relationship. This is the case, even if they have hurt us time and time again!

If they don’t want to reconcile, then get someone else involved. (Matthew 18:16)
If either party of a hurt doesn’t want to reconcile—either because one thinks they haven’t done anything wrong, or because one doesn’t want to forgive a repented wrong done—then someone who is of the peaceful Holy Spirit and is objective in the situation should come in to attempt to restore the relationship. That person should be able to listen to both sides fairly and to determine, according to Jesus, what could be done.

If trust isn’t possible, bear with each other (Galatians 6:2)
If the two of us were unable to completely resolve the conflict, then the teaching of Jesus is that we are still to love each other and care for each other. That doesn’t mean that we need to be “best friends”, but we need to be able to live together and at times serve together in the community. Perhaps, over time, the issues will be resolved.

Work something out to prevent the situation from happening again. (Matthew 18:15-17)
The ones involved in the hurt should make some kind of informal (or sometimes, formal) plan to prevent the hurt from happening again. This should almost always involve action on both sides, in order not to cause another to fall away from God or His ways (Mark 7:42-50). If one party refuses to reconcile, then a separation may be necessary until they are willing to.

If the way of Jesus’ peace sounds appealing, but too difficult, consult with your local pastor to gain spiritual strength and counsel, or call the number below.

In as much as we are able, let us be at peace with everyone.

Monday, May 25, 2009


I know a woman who had an abortion when she was young. The infant wasn’t the product of rape, it just wasn’t the right time for the couple to have the baby. Abortion, in this case, was being used for birth control. Since it had just been legalized, why shouldn’t she take advantage of it? Years later, however, that decision haunted her and she considered that she had killed her only daughter.

A number of years ago I met a professional drunk who was homeless. He was interested in whatever help we would be willing to offer. However, he had clearly already lied to my wife and I and he, frankly, had an obnoxious personality and smelled of wine processed through his pores.

A woman who had stayed in our house for years has been struggling with drug addiction for years, but she is losing the fight. She won’t work in the house or pay rent and gets angry when I approach her about it.

This is the kind of stuff that ethics are made of. Difficult situations. Some small and some large. Libraries have been created on the ethics of abortion, homeless, drug addiction, homosexuality, war, adultery, marriage and much more. When we think about these issues philosophically, we make one ethical choice, but when we face them in real life, we might very well make another.

In philosophy, there are two names that come to the forefront of ethical thought: Mills and Kant. John Stuart Mills taught that the basis of correct moral decision is happiness. Decide what makes the most people happy over the longest period of time, and that is the correct decision. Kant thought that the basis of ethics is duty. If we know what we should do, the right thing, then to do anything else is unethical. However, neither can be completely true. If a friend of mine experienced a death in the family, my empathy doesn’t make either of us happier, but isn’t it more right to feel for him than to not? If my duty is to not lie and obey government, does that make it right for me to tell the Nazis at my door that the Jews are hidden under the panel in the dining room floor?

The heart of right action is in the heart of human existence and experience. And human experience is found in the midst of others. Most of these others are human—we come out of our mother’s womb, live in a community, learn with children, connect with neighbors, buy from retailers, read the words of authors, work with co-workers, care for pets, have sex with lovers and hopefully, die with family. Since our whole life is spent with others, then the heart of the most basic decisions—that of right and wrong—also has to do with others.

But what is the nature of our relation with others, of life in general? The basic experience of all life is need. We are all a gaping hole needing to be filled. Three meals a day. Six cups of water. Sleep. Health when we are sick. A kind word. A good talk. Support when depressed. A good story. The needs perpetuate without end—the basic truth of life. And we spend our time filling these needs. We get a job so we can get money to meet our needs. We remain in long term relationships to meet our needs. We purchase things—a comfortable bed, a good book—to meet the needs of rest and pleasure.

To see ourselves as full of need, constantly being fulfilled, is to see us as life. And if this is what life is, this is what every living being is on the planet. Around every single one of us is another gaping hole, another sponge in constant need of filling. Yea, not just one, but many, perhaps hundreds, perhaps millions, even billions. Some of us pretty much meet our own needs. But for every one that is self-sufficient, there are a thousand or a million that are not. Every child is in need of raising until they are grown. Every spouse is in need of the love of their partner. Every ill person is in need of the care of another. Every destitute person is in need of assistance. And every person is in need of another to talk to, to obtain respect from, to love and to be loved.

This is the true foundation of ethics. Not the partnership of command and submit. Not the limits of pleasure. Rather the recognition that everyone’s need is the equivalent of our own. And that even as we are in need of others to meet our need, we must live our lives to meet other’s needs. Not as a duty, although it can be considered a responsibility. Not as a part of our own pleasure, although we can find joy in it. Rather, we meet needs because it is a part of life, part of the community we live in.

To see the other’s need and to recognize it as a part of one’s own; to not only observe the need, but to feel it; to meet the need of the other and so be completed oneself—this is love. It may sound like co-dependency. But codependency is acting toward the other’s hurt, and so establishing one’s own hurt as well. Love recognizes true need, not just felt need, and fills the gaping hole. Love never turns away. Love does something.

And this is the good life. The life of love.

The woman on drugs on our house? We confronted her, but didn’t force her to leave until she had another place to be. On her own, she still struggles with addiction, but is on the road to recovery. Without basic structure, she would never succeed.

The homeless drunk? He stayed in our house one night and we found that his screaming in the middle of the night was not good for the rest of us to be able to sleep. But we had him come to dinner. And the next night he came again. The night after, he brought another homeless friend. And now we feed a hundred and fifty people a week, friends with them all, bringing love and hope to street folks and the mentally ill, meeting all the needs we can.

And, finally, the woman struggling with her decision to have an abortion? That was my mother. It was my potential sister she decided to not have. It was certainly not my place to forgive her. She needed the forgiveness of God and of the baby. But in receiving welcome, support and hope from those around her, she experienced the forgiveness of God and her fourth child.

Love truly does conquers all evil, which makes it the most powerful substance in the universe.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Everyone wants to battle prejudice. To label people by their group, to stereotype an individual by who they look like or false ideas about their group is a horrendous crime. However, sociology teaches us that this is not a crime that we can just point at and jeer, but rather it is a sin within our own hearts. There is not a single person who has ever lived who has not made a determination of another’s personality, goals or vices based solely on one’s looks, one’s accent, one’s clothes or the people one is friendly with. Labeling on insufficient evidence is hardwired within us, and we will all stumble because we assume that our current experience with a person is based on a previous experience or story of an experience with someone we put in their same category. To confront a bigot, all we have to do is talk to the mirror.

It is for this reason that many Western societies have targeted certain areas of prejudice. We have laws against some forms of racism and sexism. We decry homophobia and religious bigotry. And so we should. Because to limit one’s rights or ability to survive due to one’s beliefs, one’s sex, one’s race or one’s sexual orientation is wrong. Every adult, without exception, should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to meet their needs, as long as it does not harm another. If one person has the money for an apartment, then all who can afford it and not harm others should get the same apartment. If one person can sit in a bar to drink, then all should be allowed. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. died for.

There is far to go in these focuses. Yes, an African American has been elected president, but fifty percent of all abortions in the United States are on African American fetuses. Yes, women are now able to succeed in almost any occupation men used to hold a monopoly on, but the second most popular entertainment application on an iPhone is iGirl—where an endowed cyber-woman can be manipulated by her male “master”. Most people have the freedom to worship as they please, but any Muslim appointed to a high government position will soon have to resign because of false allegations that they have associated with terrorist groups. With prejudice, the work is never done.

With as much work as must be done on the bigotry that has been targeted, there is a problem with speaking of racism, or sexism or whatever other focus one has. For every prejudice our society focuses on and tries to wipe out, a hundred are ignored and five more are created. Yes, our society has made great strides in sexism, but assumptions are publicly made daily about the poor who receive welfare—that they are lazy, are cheating the system, are taking advantage of the government. Racism has changed and in some ways gone underground, but social workers can manipulate and control the lives of the mentally ill because the mentally ill have been deemed unable to care for themselves, even when they are not under a court-ordered commitment. People are allowed to worship as they please, but people who have pot for their own use are thrown into prison, although they have harmed no one—not even themselves.

The list of prejudices go on and on—the homeless are treated like criminals for not having a place to sleep, an immigrant is treated like an idiot for having an accent, someone who criticizes democracy or capitalism is held at arm’s length, distrusted, a person over 80 is treated as unable to make their own life decisions. Why is this? Not because we haven’t been taught about tolerance. Simply because our teaching of tolerance has been limited to only a few categories. Thus, we who are white males feel guilty at just glancing at a young black man, but we can openly speak hatred against the same man if we find out he is homeless and speaks with an African accent.

The issue is not racism, or sexism or any other ism of limited scope. Our prejudice is against those who are unlike ourselves—of any other culture that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. When one person or a group of people make a values decision that is different than one we would make—whether or not it would hurt another—that person is wrong and potentially dangerous. The different are not allowed to rule the society, because they will not uphold the cultural standards, whatever they may be. No matter how we try to attack bigotry, as long as we limit it to just a few issues, we will always fall behind our own unknown prejudices. I believe that our problem is not racism or homophobia—rather it is monoculturalism. The limitation of the “acceptable life” to only a few choices.

Our problem is not simply a lack of education. Certainly Americans would be more tolerant if they learned more about cultures, religions, and a variety of cultural mores and habits. But knowledge is not the answer to a monocultural outlook. The prejudice against women persisted because there was a mutual agreement between the sexes to not interfere with each other’s way of life, mores and areas of influence. Only when they began to live as equals, interfering with each other’s lives was there the beginning of understanding and a breaking down of the wall of sexism. The prejudice against African Americans persisted (and will continue to persist) as long as there is separation in neighborhoods, schools and cultural blocks. Only when there is a free and equal mixing between races will understanding and true hope come about.

I believe that the answer to monoculturalism is living in other cultures, being humble in a situation apart from that which we grew up. When I visited India, after living my whole life in Southern California, I was confronted and ashamed by some of the things I did which was acceptable in my own society. I learned that not only were different races, religions and languages acceptable, but so were different ways of thought. When I began to live among the poor, I learned that there was much that I had an instant revulsion to—dumpster diving, for one—that was not only acceptable, but actually a moral benefit to society.

Only if we live humbly among different cultures will we learn to accept other cultures. Only if we are forced to confront our prejudices face to face with those who we appreciate but run in the face of our prejudices will we change.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Varieties of Reform

This is in response to a discussion on “A Platform for MCUSA”.
I got to thinking about something there and it got so long, I decided to post it seperately.

I suppose pretty much everyone on this forum is interested in reforming the church. Perhaps we don’t all agree at exactly what this reform looks like, but we agree that it must be done. There is a lot of talk here, but little action. It is time to make some changes.

But what is the most effective agent for change? What is the catalyst that will bring about the necessary reform? Let’s look at some of the reforms of the past and see how it happens:

-We could begin with one small group of reformers and live radical lifestyles. Of course, by the next generation (or possibly even before that) the radical lifestyle will be compromised to such a degree as to be un-radical. And besides, people will just exalt us as “special” or “a saint” and so separate themselves from the change they need to have. (Francis of Assisi)

-We could train the poor the truth of living radically for Jesus and let them preach openly. We just need to hope that they don’t start a war. (John Wycliffe- Lombards; Peter Waldo- Waldensians)

-We could begin a really successful writing campaign that stirs the hearts of angry young men and women until they cause an upheaval in churches around the world. Of course, we had better not get politically involved or else we might find ourselves on one side of a battle. (Martin Luther)

-We could go from congregation to congregation, teaching a single, unified message that becomes an underground movement (John Wesley; missionary movement)

-We could have a top-down decision to make some radical Jesus changes. (Vatican II, Desmond Tutu in South Africa)

-We could take to the streets, to show mass support of our important cause (MLK Jr.)

-We could teach a message that is threatening to the powers that be and have them kill us, which will plant the seed for a future generation to make the changes necessary. (Jesus, Anabaptist reformers)

There are so many ways for it to be done successfully. We don’t want to hang our hopes on just one. Reform is multifaceted and powerful and it can be done in many ways.

However, there is one component that is necessary for reform to happen. We need to have a mass of people—not a majority, mind you, but a good amount—knowing that change is necessary and is ready to make sacrifices for the change. Every reform happens in seasons of discontent and usually oppression.

How can we have reform amidst complacency? How can we have reform amidst people who feel that writing on a blog is their contribution to real change? How can we have reform when cable, DVDs, and preachers keep us entertained and satisfied with our lives? Yes, oppression happens, and our answer to it is to “click here”, and so we feel that we’ve done our part.

There is slavery in the world, the oppression of the poor, AIDS is an epidemic, the U.S. is continuing to stir up war to solve their economic woes—and the only thing we can get stirred up about is medical insurance? Just to give you a hint—the people on the street don’t care about medical insurance. They want a safe place to sleep where they won’t be bothered by the police. The people in Darfur aren’t concerned about medical insurance so much as having their family members survive. And Jesus himself is less concerned about medical insurance as he is about equity between the wealthy and the poor—which the Mennonite church seems to have forgotten about. As well as the Methodists, the Waldensians, the Unitarians and whoever else.

There’s plenty to reform. But it won’t happen until we FEEL the anger. God Himself is yelling at the world leaders, saying, “How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked….You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes.” And the psalmists reply is:”Arise, O God, judge the earth!”

But we, the wealthy of the world are too caught up in our economic slowdown and the latest events on American Idol to feel the anger of God. We Mennonites are so fearful of experiencing that anger, of facing conflict, that we would rather take medication or slave-harvested chocolate to calm us down instead of changing the world as it should be changed.

This is why reform won’t happen. Not because of a wrong method. But because we lack empathy for the poor. And, as much work as I do for the poor, I have to admit that I am part of the problem myself. I need to be more radical. And I need to join more radical people, filled with the anger of God and ready to act, in order to make the change happen.

The Radical Anabaptist Reforming the Church

A “radical” is, by definition, someone who speaks and acts in a way that is in discord with the rest of the world. An “Anabaptist” is one who believes in accordance with the 16th century “radical reformers”, holding to a radical interpretation of the New Testament, following Jesus above all else (including the rest of the Bible), speaking out boldly their convictions and attempting to reform the church to be more Christlike. The Radical Anabaptist speaks out about subject like assisting the poor, welcoming the outcast and reconciliation. These are my definitions, perhaps yours are different, but this is the base from which I write this.

I have been asked what a “radical” looks like, and how this radical will reform the church. Below is my more complete understanding:

A. The Radical Anabaptist does not just speak or write radical ideas, but acts on them. She acts on them in her life and he acts on them in the world. In the world, it is enough (in fact preferable) for a radical to hold radical opinions, but to never succeed in doing anything. The Radical Anabaptist needs to see Jesus living and breathing in the world, especially through their own lives, and so changes themselves to be active participants of the world’s change.

B. The Radical Anabaptist sees the world’s evil and refuses to participate in it. He sees the abuse inherent in pornography and so doesn’t participate. She sees the chocolate manufacturers who support slavery and refuses to buy such things. He sees the teaching of hatred and death and refuses to support it. She sees a church rejecting the poor and outcast and doesn’t attend there. The world looks at them as separatists for this, but they do so as a matter of their own right standing before God.

C. The Radical Anabaptist lives out love. Love is using one’s resources to fill the lack in others. One way in which a Radical Anabaptist might do this is selling one’s possessions and giving to the poor. But she might also take time to listen to those who are lonely. He might also invite the outcast to a party, and make them welcome. She could help the homeless with temporary housing. But most importantly, they do not let the normal limitations of privacy and the typical anxieties limit them from love. This doesn’t mean that they are unwise—they see people for their real weaknesses, not by their stereotypes—but they work through the weaknesses, and are not put off by them.

D. The Radical Anabaptist takes seriously Jesus’ statement “Deny yourself and take up your cross.” If she is offered leadership, she might accept it, but she does not act in order to pursue leadership. He will allow himself to be humiliated, if it means that another will be benefited. She will identify with the outcast and those who are separated from the world. He will accept being rejected by communities, if it means that he can love more.

E. The Racial Anabaptist isn’t just interested in speaking negatively. Although often pessimistic about institutions and ideologies, he can be optimistic about people and their growing sense of love and humility. She invites others to participate in acts of mercy and hope, and develops opportunities for people to do so. He doesn’t only create opportunities for the mainstream to support the outcast, but also for the outcast to do acts of service. She seeks not only to be a “voice for the voiceless”, but to give opportunity for the “voiceless” to speak for themselves. The Radical Anabaptist creates communities of welcome and love and service. In this way the Radical Anabaptist is no longer an “I” but a “we”.

F. The Radical Anabaptist looks at the old institutions of the church and recognizes them as part of the world, a participant in empire. Seeing that, he understands that he cannot possibly change the institution as a whole. However, she can be optimistic as to bringing change to many, many within the institution. Therefore, she must seek places and opportunities to be a catalyst for change for many. Radical Anabaptism is a movement for reform, not for separatism. And so he calls for change and will see this individual or that congregation change for the better, in many places, for many communities. The institution may change, or it may not. Probably not. But the institution can still be used as a forum for radical speech, and radical actions. The Radical Anabaptist should use that forum as often as possible.

G. Just as Jesus turned over tables in the temple, so the Radical Anabaptist must do off the wall prophetic acts to help the people of God to wake up to their participation in the world. She may protest in front of a church who has shown hatred against the outcast. He may speak to church groups about their own failures to act in accord with their own principles of love and reconciliation. She might publically decry a leader in the church who is causing others to fail to follow Jesus. Prophetic action, however, is not only separatist, but reconciliatory as well. When the church has put lines of separation down where lines of separation do not exist, then radical listening must be enacted. The red and blue must be given the opportunity to hear the other point of view and to see that the other side has a point, even if disagreed with. Trinitarians and Unitarians should not have a debate, but an opportunity to hear each other. The Radical Anabaptist leader can create not only prophetic stands, but prophetic opportunities for reconciliation.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Jesus Calls His People To Suffering

We are Christians, therefore we are dedicated to Jesus—right? We look to Jesus for our salvation and trust in God that through Jesus we will be delivered from sin, Satan and death. Praise God for the deliverance we have through his death on the cross! May the cross be proclaimed from the lowest parts of the earth to the highest point in heaven!

But in our proclamation of the salvation to be found in the cross of Jesus, we have forgotten the teaching of Jesus about the cross. The cross is not just something that we look at, believe in and admire from a distance. Rather, the cross is something for us to carry. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

The gospel is not a “feel good” religion. The source of the gospel is Jesus himself, and he himself determines what the gospel consists of. And Jesus himself declared the gospel to be the accepting of suffering and economic sacrifice— not only for himself, but for everyone who wishes to receive his salvation.

If we desire to partake in the salvation of Jesus, the cross is not just an option—it is a requirement. To lose our lives, to deny ourselves is not just something for the super-powerful saint, but for the everyday disciple of Jesus. If we do not follow him, we do not have salvation.

The New Testament is clear about the place of suffering in the Christian life. If one is not suffering persecutions, rejections, tribulations, testings or opposition because they are following Jesus, then that one is not truly following Jesus. The one who does not suffer does not receive the kingdom of God.

What do Jesus and the apostles say?

Those who are persecuted will gain God’s kingdom.“Blessed are you when men hate you and insult you and slander you and separate themselves from you for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for your reward will be great in heaven.” Luke 6:22-23
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
“But woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers treat the false prophets.” Luke 6:26

If we are followers of Jesus, we will receive the sufferings he suffered“A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor is a slave greater than his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher. If they have called the head of the household “Satan,” then how much more will they slander those who live in the house!” Matthew 10:24-25
“If you patiently endure suffering for doing what is right, you have favor with God. For the purpose of suffering like this you have been called, since Christ also suffered for you, and thus he left an example for you to follow in his steps.” I Peter 2:20-21

It was Jesus’ purpose that his followers suffer opposition
“Do not think that I came to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace to you, but a sword will be held against you. I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household.” Matthew 10:34-36

The one who hates his life and suffers for Jesus will gain eternal life.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. John 12:24-25

We will not gain the benefits of the salvation of Jesus without suffering.
“We will not enter the kingdom of heaven except through many trials.” Acts 14 22
“Everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” II Timothy 3:12
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” Romans 8:16-17

Suffering is not an option. If we do not suffer for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, then it shows that we are not true followers of Jesus. If we do not truly follow Jesus, then we will not gain the kingdom of heaven or be called children of God.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Should This Man Be Head of ANY Church?

I have been involved in some pretty strange things—a church planter of an all-homeless/mentally ill congregation; encouraging leaders of a mosque in Bangladesh to re-think Jesus; dumpster diving for Jesus, and so recently becoming the poster child for dumpster diving in Portland (Check out
and read a recent article about me—heck, just look at the pics!). Stuff like that. But when I got a call from MCUSA a week ago, that took the cake.

Someone nominated me to be the Executive Director of MCUSA.

At first I figured it must be a joke. Who would, in their right mind, think that I—radical pastor who has to bite his tongue every time he speaks to a middle class person—would make a good Executive Director? Someone just did it for a lark, I thought. Or perhaps I was recommended by someone who just wanted to shake things up. Well, that would do it. Me as taking Jim Schrag’s place? Just unthinkable.

But some of my friends weren’t so sure. They thought it was not such a crazy idea after all, but fascinating. My wife looked over the qualifications in the packet I received and she said, “Actually, you pretty much qualify for the position.” Scary. And perhaps MCUSA needs a little shaking up. And it isn’t like I wouldn’t work with whomever God gave me.

In thinking about it, I thought about the things I could stir up, changes I might be able to initiate in the church:

1. While continuing the focus of antiracism, I could also encourage MCUSA to welcome another significant group that are without a voice in MCUSA: the lower class. For many different reasons, those who are poor or uneducated aren’t given an equal opportunity to speak out in the Church, conferences or in most congregations. I would want to champion their cause, to allow them to have a voice where they currently have no voice.

2. I would want to service agencies to be more missional and missional agencies to be more service-oriented.

3. As an aspect of following Jesus, I could encourage the following programs:
-A church-wide memorization program of Jesus’ words
-Discussion groups on Jesus’ words and life, investigating the meaning of Jesus’ words and pursuing the living of them out

4. I could invite leaders from the Mennonite church all around the world—for instance, Columbia, Vietnam, India, Congo, Ethiopia, and Germany— to talk in our churches and to our conferences. We can only become a world-wide church if we participate in and interact with the world.

5. I could try to help us balance our church and conference budgets by encouraging volunteerism, discouraging restructuring, and using technology to try to reduce costs.

6. I would directly challenge MCUSA and its congregations to be less nationalistic. This could mean a name change for the Church, as well as seeking out means to be politically involved that does not involve partisan dichotomies.

7. Encourage educational opportunities that teach how to create peace and love. I would encourage the Mennonite schools to have outreach courses not taught by professionals, but by those who have been involved in ongoing acts of love in challenging areas. For instance we can have an MCCer teach about cross cultural communication in an urban setting; a CPTer teaching about how to deal with an angry person; and perhaps someone who has been working with the homeless teaching about how a church can begin to be pastoral to the poor, etc.

8. I would want to encourage the development of new monastic-type communities, who could then become full members of every conference.

9. I would attempt to create contexts in which the church can openly talk about controversial issues, like LGTBQ

10. I would want to introduce the idea of stewardship as being giving to people’s needs in a way that creates relationship, instead of money being a replacement for relationship.

One thing is certain: I never lack for new ideas.

However, as tempting as it would be, I think it would be wrong for me to apply for the position.

First of all, my own church, Anawim, is not yet ready to stand without me, because of inadequate leadership (although in another year, it may be.) Also, I couldn’t in good conscience put my name forward as long as a woman has not yet been moderator of MCUSA.

But most of all, I do not actually represent MCUSA, nor, I think, could I ever (unless it changes considerably). The Executive Director position is as much as anything supposed to be the voice and face of MCUSA. Even if I got a haircut, I don’t think I fit the bill. Finally, I am more of a prophetic, even challenging voice, and the members of the church are much more used to leaders who are conciliatory. I don’t think MCUSA is ready for me. Maybe next time around, eh?

I still think it sounds funny.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Classic Anabaptist View of Baptism

Classically, anabaptist were characterized by their refusal to baptize infants. This caused them problems because in the middle ages, baptism filled the rolls of citizens, and is the basis for taxation and such. To refuse to baptize infants is to demand that people make their own choice as to whether they participate in a Christendom society or not.

The Anabaptist's argument against infant baptism was three-fold:

 Non-sacramental view of baptism. Since the water is only water, it does an infant no good.
 The scriptural pattern is always that faith precedes water baptism.
 Baptism involves a commitment to discipleship which children can’t make.

Radical in that it overturns centuries of practice

The result is a different kind of church – a believers’ church – which is different than the world. This goes hand-in-hand with two kingdom theology.

Classic Anabaptist View of Salvation

By William Higgins

From Protestants – Salvation is a gift of God’s grace, based on what Jesus has done, that must be received by faith

Salvation is not based on deeds we do, religious or otherwise. Anabaptists learned this from Luther/Zwingli.

but Anabaptists go beyond Protestantism - They do not believe that salvation is by faith alone

They emphasized that the grace of salvation, if it is real will produce acts of righteousness. Only the one who does the will of the Father in heaven will ultimately be saved - Matthew 7:21.

As to the benefit of salvation they agree with the Protestants – Salvation has to do with forgiveness of sins

But also go beyond Protestantism - The one who believes is born of the Spirit

Anabaptists used this Spirit language often, and not the legal language Protestants emphasized.

We are not simply forgiven sinners, who continue in sin

We are also transformed by the Spirit so that we can obey God.

o For Luther God’s grace is best emphasized when we see God as accepting us despite our continued sin. This keeps us from thinking we can earn our salvation.

o For Anabaptists God’s grace is best emphasized when we see God’s grace powerfully transforming us. All the good we do is a testimony to God’s powerful work in us.

Summary: The salvation experience is an empowerment for discipleship, which is the necessary result of true salvation

These are three key ideas – framework for discipleship

Now seven discipleship practices, again - not necessarily all, put key practices - briefly

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Revolution and Wealth

All institutions are based on wealth. The economics of the wealth—how the resources are moved and who controls them—change with the times and with each society. But wealth is instrumental to how institutions and powerful people operate. Ancient institutions we primarily about the collection of wealth and the distribution of it to the powerful. Nothing much has changed. As can be seen in any corporation or government, the bottom line is always about finances—who gets what wealth.

Revolution always promises to change the system of how wealth is distributed. And it always says that the lower classes will gain more wealth. And sometimes that is true. Until the lower classes become the upper classes and then suddenly they want to keep the newly-gained income they’ve achieved through their hard work. People are people, no matter which side of the tracks their on and they want to gain and keep as much wealth as they can.

Jesus is proposing a new system of distributing wealth.

The Revolution Jesus is proposing is prepared to punish anyone who uses their wealth strictly for their own gain and pleasure. In other words, anyone who has excess wealth—money or possessions that are not needed, possibly termed "disposable income"—and they use it for their own gain when there are those who have need, they will be punished. Those who keep resources for their own greed will not be accepted in a system that focuses on meeting the needs of everyone.

When the Revolution comes, they will first take all the "rich"—all those who used their disposable income for their own gain—and they will either punish or exile all of them. Then the Revolution will punish everyone who uses wealth in a way that harms those around them. These punishments will be quite severe, for the use of wealth and resources for everyone who has need is a basic tenant of the Revolution.

This does not mean that fun will not be had. Perhaps you think of the Revolution as a peasant revolution, where everyone is miserable and living on almost nothing. Just the opposite. The Revolution will be characterized by parties and feasts. The only difference between these parties and feasts and the ones you see now is that in the Revolution, the parties will not be exclusive. They are for everyone and all races, all languages, all kinds, all peoples will be involved in them.

And so, as an ethic in preparation for the coming Revolution, Jesus strongly recommends that you take any extra provision you have—any extra money or possession that you have—and use it for those who have need. Perhaps you will allow those who have need to use what you have through loans or shared use. Perhaps you will sell what you have and make the income available to those in need. Perhaps you will just give things away. But take care that you do not just collect and keep for yourself what is not necessary.

Classic Anabaptism: Two Kingdoms Theology

By William Higgins

idea of two orders – comes out of the tension between

 the ethics of the sword required to run a worldly government – force, coercion, violence
 and the ethics of Jesus the sermon on the mount – loving enemies and not resisting evildoers

In a Christendom model of Christianity you have to deal with this tension because when church and state are fused together – you have Christians running the State - using the sword – ‘How can this be?’

Catholics – two realms within one society

 lay realm that can use the lower righteousness the sword
 and the monastic, priestly realm that holds to the way of Jesus

Luther – two realms in each person’s life

 public realm where you use the sword – if you are in office
 private realm where you are to hold to the way of Jesus


Anabaptists – two separate realms: the church and the world

The church is a separate social entity from the rest of society which is “the world.”

This is not a Christendom model so they don’t have to be fused together.

 the world lives by the lower standard of the sword (given by God to order the realm “outside the perfection of Christ” as Schleitheim famously says)

 all Christians live by the way of Jesus no matter what position they might have

favorite text here - John 18:36 - "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."

Christendom models try to reduce the tension between the sword and the way of Jesus to allow for Christians to take up the sword

But for Anabaptists - The two orders cannot be combined, they are different

awkward relationship: Christians are to respect and submit to governments . . . (in as much as this doesn’t require what is contrary to Jesus), but they cannot themselves take part in what involves the ethics of the sword.

some vagueness in the early Dutch here – some saw some possibilities for a Christian to be in government – but this faded over time – in terms of the confessional tradition.

Note: This is not the same as our Separation of church and state – which seems to mean:

the political part of society is kept separate from the religious part of society, but they are really just two parts of one society – its just best practically, legally to keep them separate

Anabaptist view: The church is a complete social unit – spiritual and political - not the spiritual part of secular or civic society

two halves of a whole // or two separate wholes that coexist in the same place.

church has its own leader – Jesus, elders, own justice system – discipline process etc.

Summary: The world lives by the lower standard of the sword. Christians are to live by the standard of the way of Jesus in all situations.

Classic Anabaptist View On Scripture

By William Higgins, pastor of Cedar Street Mennonite Church

View of Scripture - High view of scripture, but have a unique take on it

Like Protestants they accepted the idea of Scripture Alone: Scripture is the supreme authority over the church.

- Catholic popes, councils or traditions are not the authority. Indebtedness to Luther here.

- But they went on to say that teachers like Luther, Zwingli and Calvin are not the authority – they too are not Scripture.

Also accepted from Protestants - The literal meaning of Scripture is accessible don’t need the pope or tradition to make sense of it

but added to this – with the help of the Spirit, it is available to the common person – not just scholars

favorite text: Matthew 11:25 - "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children”

these are radical twists of Protestant ideas – but the next two points are really radical – go way beyond the Protestant positions at this time . . .

The New Testament is the final and complete revelation and the final word on all issues. The Bible is not flat. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles takes precedence over the Law and Prophets.

The Old Testament has the character of promise. The New testament is all about fulfillment. Now that the promises are being fulfilled this should be the primary focus - especially the gospels and the Sermon on the Mount.

Since there is movement on issues of teaching - you need to see what the New Testament says on any issue

favorite text - Matthew 5:38-39 - "You have heard that it was said, . . . But I say to you”

second really radical idea . . .

The point of reading and interpreting the Bible is to put it into practice

To put it another way - We literally do whatever Jesus and the apostles teach, whatever the consequences.

so there is a real practical focus to reading and interpreting the bible,

but this also results in a different approach to reform.

It is not enough to take the medieval church and tinker with it (Luther, Zwingli). One must get back past the fall of the church with Roman Emperor Constantine and restore the practices of the New Testament church. This is the goal

Summary: Scripture alone, available to the common Christian, using the standard of Jesus and the New Testament, with the goal of recreating the New Testament church

Monday, February 2, 2009

Revolution and Institution

When revolution hits, the world gets turned upside-down.

Nothing remains the same. Every government institution is shut down and replaced with systems that are realigned in accordance with the new rulers. When a government has been in place for a while, institutions are old, with policies that pile up on one another, creating a bureaucracy of injustice that can never be righted. The only thing to do is to scrap the institutions and to begin anew.

Any institution is created to serve people. If it was not intended to do that, then it never would have been created. A war department is created to provide security for the people in a particular nation. A social department is created to help those in need. A Tax department is created to serve those who work for the government—perhaps a small percentage of the population, but it still serves people. However, should an institution and the people within that institution no longer serve people, but the institution itself, then that institution is no longer worth anything.

It must be recognized that any group or institution is only as good as the people working for it. If there are people who really care about others and seek their well being, then all is fine. However, usually, institutions become entities that train people to not care about people, but to care about policies and to maintain the status quo.

This is what had happened to the Temple institution in the first century. The building and maintenance of the Temple had become so huge, that it no longer served people, but the people of the nation were conscripted to serve it. Those who were in charge of the Temple were no longer concerned with doing what they could to help people, but to keep the programs of the Temple continuing. The Temple was a contention-point of national policy and the priests would do all they could to keep it up—they required taxes, created legal loopholes so money could be put into the Temple. The whole structure of the Temple itself was changed, so that it might be maintained, without consideration of the people who were to be connected with God. Salespeople were allowed to sell their goods right where the poor and outcast were to worship.

The Temple was no longer submitted to its true king, God, but it served the interests of its builders—the Herodians--, its maintainers—the priesthood, —and its lords—the Romans. But as for helping the people serve God, it no longer did that successfully.

Rather than being a servant of people to connect them to God, the Temple cult became a block between people and God. A new way was needed to connect with God, a way that the Temple could not provide. A way that people could worship and have God hear them anywhere, not just in one place in the world.

Thus, Jesus determined the Temple needed to be destroyed. And Jesus said that when the Revolution came, it would be.

All institutions are based on the foundational institution of all societies—the family. The family provides the structure and social formation necessary to create citizens and workers. All people work and create social institutions to protect and support their families. Thus are nations created. Nations provide military and economic security so that the family might thrive. However, should nations no longer serve the needs of families, then those structures will fall. Should it no longer provide for the needy, then the nation is no longer a necessary part of life.

In the first century, the nation-province of Judea was not serving families. Rather, Rome used the government of the province to maintain its bloated government and to uphold the wealthy of its government. It moved people around at will and blocked people from their daily work to survive.

Thus, Jesus determined that the nation of Judea must be destroyed.

Every institution is only worthwhile if they recognize the authority that created them and followed the fundamental principles that they were created for.

The Jewish families of the first century were created by God to love each other and to serve God with all of their heart. However, many of these families were only seeking their own greed and power. They were insisting on every member to serve the family, or the leaders of the family, but they did not focus on serving God and dedicating all of their resources to honoring Him and helping the needy, as God established.

Thus, Jesus determined that the family must be destroyed. And his Revolution would destroy it.

The Revolution is not coming to support the institutions that already exist. Most churches that exist now are bloated and focused on self-maintenance, not on serving others. Even the “outreach” that most churches do are simple programs to grow the church, not to meet people’s needs. The United States government is out to serve the interests of the wealthy and its own policies and it doesn’t care who they need to kill or what lies they need to say in order to maintain the status quo. The Christian families are no longer concerned with serving Jesus or obeying him. Rather, they are focused on their own greed and authority in the world.

When the Revolution of Jesus hits, they will all be destroyed.

These institutions will not just be re-formed. They will not just be gutted. They will not just be given new leadership. Revolution transforms society. It rips it apart. Revolution takes all that is known and replaces it with new things.

Apathy will be replaced with love.
Bureaucracies will be replaced with caring people.
Policies will be replaced with trust.
Conservatism will be replaced with radical transformation.
Liberalism will be replaced with strong leadership.
And nothing will be the same.

Destruction of the World Corporate Structure

This country is filled with injustice. Corporations and the rich receive all the benefits, while the poor are thrown in jail for small offenses. Laws are unfair and you can’t get fair treatment in the courts. And the people don’t care. As long as they have their television, they are subdued and will do nothing to change what has existed since before they were born. The few who actually try to change things either get caught up in the same system themselves or they are rendered impotent by the locked system.

Nothing can be done.

But a revolution is coming.

This revolution is introducing a new government who listens to the cries of the oppressed and looks to make a real change for them. Not just changing those in power, but offering a whole new structure of government. A structure where the poor and just will rule. Where laws are given because they encourage love and justice—not the agenda of the rich. Where there will be enough food and shelter and warmth for everyone, even the poorest and the lowest. No one will have their power cut off, no one will be without light, no one will be without heat, no one will be without food. Those with mental health problems will be listened to, not just dictated to, and they will be healed. The elderly will be cared for as honored citizens, not as outcasts. This government is concerned with everyone—especially the poor and oppressed— not just in keeping their own power and authority.

This new government has already begun in this country. This revolution is an underground movement that has ties to movements in other countries around the world. This movement already has some small facilities that feed the poor, care for the elderly and assist those with mental health problems. This movement is teaching its doctrine to millions. And its time has come.

The movement has many names. Some call it Ekklesia. Some call it The Anawim. Some call it the Way. Some call it the Truth. Some speak of the Martyrs. It is all of this—and more.

When the Anawim take over this country, the rich and powerful will be put down and the corrupt will never take up power again. When Ekklesia rises to power, both the Republicans and the Democrats will be rejected as the greedy, corrupt groups they are. When the Way takes power, every nation in the world will be reshaped and the economic structures will be destroyed. When the Truth is raised, every corruption and hatred will be exposed. When the Martyrs come, the poor themselves will rule—and rule better than the wealthy and powerful ever did.

How can this be? How can a small, poor, movement take over the governments of the world? How can there be a sudden change from the powerful to the oppressed ruling? Who will begin this revolution? Who leads this underground movement? Who started it all in the first place?

All this can be explained by one word: Jesus.

Jesus began this movement 2000 years ago. He announced the coming of a new government that would cause the structures of humanity to falter. And when that new government came, it would establish the poor and merciful as the rulers of the world, while the rich and powerful would be destroyed, receiving nothing. Jesus spoke about the corruption of religion, of rulers and of the church. And all the corrupt would be thrown out of the new nation, and the meek would take over.

Jesus’ movement is not what is commonly called “the Church.” From the early fourth century the establishment church has united themselves with the corrupt governments of the world and participated in partisan politics. Jesus rejected all earthly politics and instead established a community that assists the oppressed and needy and follows his new laws of non-reciprocity, care for those who hate you, equality for all in the community, and open sharing of all wealth. The establishment Church has never followed this ideal—some of them even promoting war, greed, national partisanship, hatred and revenge. There have been smaller movements throughout history that have held these ideals—the early Waldensians, the early Franciscans, the Anabaptists, the early Pentecostals and others. However, these movements have always been a minority, and most of them were corrupted by the establishment Church.

In the end, the establishment Church structures will be destroyed by Jesus himself. All of those who call Jesus “Lord” will be tested, and many of them will be cast out of Jesus’ new government. Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ but do not do what I say? When I come, there will be many who say, ‘Lord, didn’t we do this, didn’t we do that? Didn’t we heal people? Didn’t we cast out demons?’ I will tell them ‘Get out of here. I never knew you.’ ”

So forget about what the Church has done to you—Jesus will bring justice. Forget about what this or that “Christian” has done to you—Jesus will only allow those who truly followed his principles to rule. And those who want to see the world become just and loving will turn to Jesus.

Are you tired of your government? Trade it for a new one. Instead of having a corrupt leader guide you, make Jesus your leader. Make Jesus your president, your king, your Lord. Begin to follow his principles of enacting love to everyone—even those who hate you, of giving up your life of this age and begin living for the revolution.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The State Is Still The State

By David C from Young Anabaptist Radicals:

Yesterday was truly a big day in U.S. history. The inauguration of the first African-American President is truly a turning point for our nation, especially given our abysmal history on race. Moreover, it was encouraging to hear Senator Dianne Feinstein’s reflections on the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, President Obama’s message that we need not choose “between our safety and ideals” and his call to diplomacy and international aid over sheer violent force and military power, and Reverend Joseph Lowery’s prayer that one day we will “beat our tanks into tractors.”
Nevertheless, I had a difficult time getting too emotional or excited over this change of guard. For, while yesterday was historical from the perspective of the United States, it was a pretty small speck when history is viewed rightly. As John Howard Yoder tirelessly argued, the locus of history is not with the state but with God’s work through his church. The state is merely the context in which the real drama of history can unfold.

So, while the words and symbolism of the inauguration may be moving, the sobering fact is that the state is still the state. Yes, Obama seems more intent than Bush on using diplomatic tactics to secure peace, but his message to our “enemy” was still virtually the same: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Not much room there for Jesus’s message to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and turn the other cheek. But this is as should be expected, because the state is still the state.

Ironically, with this change of guard many us open-minded, progressive Christians will begin to forget that the state is still the state. We will start to put our faith in the ideals of the state and our hope in its progress. As blogger Halden recently argued, now more than ever is it imperative (though difficult) to be resolute in our anti-empire polemics. It was far too easy to maintain a prophetic witness to the state when those in charge overtly sanctioned military aggression, torture, and seemingly unbridled increase of personal power. But when those in power seem to share many of our ideals, the temptation will be to give them a pass when they deem military violence necessary in this or that situation. And it will be difficult for us to make the unfashionable charge that those in power sanction the unjust extermination of the least of those among us. Indeed, to increase the irony still further, it may be the conservative Christians who begin to recognize with more clarity the separation between church and state (as many of my students, for example, ponder whether or not Obama is the anti-Christ!). They will now be the ones to speak prophetically, though their witness will be narrow and tainted by their continual use of political means to grasp for power.

It as at this time, perhaps more than any other, that we need to heed Yoder’s exhortation to what he calls “evangelical nonconformity,” quoted here at length:

When then Jesus said to His disciples, “In the world, kings lord it over their subjects . . . Not so with you”; He was not beckoning His followers to a legalistic withdrawal from society out of concern for moral purity. Rather, His call was to an active missionary presence within society, a source of healing and creativity because it would take the pattern of his own suffering servanthood.

Jesus thereby unmasks the pretension to use violence for the good as being a form of hypocrisy: these rulers call themselves “benefactors” but they are not servants. He who would claim to have the right to use violence, and especially legal violence, against another, places himself outside of the scope of Jesus’ mode of servanthood. This is not so much because he sins against the letter of the law from the Old Testament or the New but because he claims (with a pride intrinsic to his position) to have the right — (whether on the basis of official status, of superior insight, or of his moral qualities) — to determine in a definitive way the destiny of others. The older language in which the theme of “conformity to this world” was stated in Bible times had to do with “idols,” with those unworthy objects of devotion to whom men in their blindness sacrificed. Thus it is quite fitting to describe the use of violence as the outworking of an idolatry. If I take the life of another, I am saying that I am devoted to another value, one other than the neighbor himself, and other than Jesus Christ Himself, to which I sacrifice my neighbor. I have thereby made a given nation, social philosophy, or party my idol. To it I am ready to sacrifice not only something of my own, but also the lives of my fellow human beings for whom Christ gave His life.

- John Howard Yoder, “Christ, the Hope of the World” in The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism, 174-75

In this time of celebration, may we not forget that the state is still the state. And we are still called to be the church.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Anawim: Radicals for Jesus

On Facebook, Anawim just began an Anabaptist "cause" called "Anawim: Radicals for Jesus".

These are the core priorities:
Living a Jesus lifestyle amidst a dying empire.

1. We believe in taking risks to serve Jesus. We don’t believe in church leadership as a profession, or in upward mobility.

2. We believe in setting aside our desires and resources for the sake of the needy. We don’t believe in the American dream or capitalism, nor in our own personal property or privacy.

3. We believe in accepting persecution for Jesus. We don’t believe in staying quiet or in remaining comfortable.

4. We believe in loving our enemies and accepting persecution. We don’t put any faith in violence, empires, or cultural prejudice.

5. We believe in Jesus’ community working together to create community. We don’t believe that any denomination or church has a monopoly on loving God.

6. We believe in Jesus’ return and rule over the earth. We don’t believe in preserving our life, but are holding out for the next one.

If you're on Facebook, check it out!