Archive for the ‘anabaptism’ Category

Two things that seemed worthy of sharing.  First is the MCC Penny game about the National Budget, and the second is a video from Sojourners.



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Anyone who has known me for a while has probably heard me say some version of this sentiment:

“Anabaptists center their faith on Jesus and the Gospels and read the rest of the Bible through Jesus”

But this sentiment has some interesting implications.   The biggest of which is; to say that Anabaptists focus on Jesus is to imply that other Christians don’t focus on Jesus.  And that feels like a rediculous thing to say because wouldn’t all Christians say that they center their faith on Jesus?  Isn’t that what it means to be a Christian after all?  Am I really saying that other Christians don’t really have Jesus at the center of their faith?

Well…….actually……….yeah, I am.

Let me see if I can explain what I mean by this with a look at current events.

This last week Michelle Bachmann got herself a couple of headlines for making a joke about how God is trying to get the attention of Americans by sending an earthquake, hurricane to the east coast.  While many people were up in arms about this being in rather poor taste (and generally not really being a joke), the thing that stuck out to me was the theology behind the joke.

While Bachmann might claim to have been joking, she’s still drawing on a particular theological understanding of how God works.  Namely, the assumption is that God  punishes and rewards behavior in this life in very real and concrete ways.  The other side of this belief is that when good or bad things happen to people, either individuals or entire groups of people like whole country, that is taken to be evidence that they have done something deserving of either reward or punishment.  In short, external events of either natural or cosmic origin are taken as punishment or reward by God.

In Bachmann’s case, this logic took the form of a “joke” implying that God was sending a message to the U.S. in the form of natural disasters.  While Bachmann was joking, there have been many people who understand God in this way who are most certainly not joking.  This understanding of divine punishment in reward could be seen right after the September 11 attacks when two leading Evangelical Christians (Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell) said that the ones who were really responsible were liberals/ gays/ abortionists/ the ACLU and the like because they made God mad and brought God’s punishment upon us.

Fallwell and Robertson are in good company along with Fred Phelps and the Westboro baptist church who are known for things like maintaining the website godhatesfags.com, maintaining a virtual memorial dedicated to the number of days Matthew Shepherd (a high school student beaten and killed for being gay) has been in hell, and (most visibly) keeping up a rather incredible schedule of picketing various public events especially the funerals of armed service members who have  been killed in the line of duty.  For Phelps, the logic is that God hates the U.S. and is punishing the U.S. by allowing our soldiers to die in war because of a whole slew of things that Phelps deems as sin.

And lest you think this theology only shows up in horrible post-tragedy statements and crazy picketers, this is the core theological principle behind most televangelists who preach the prosperity Gospel.  In the last 10 years this was seen in the rise of the Prayer of Jabez book/ movement/ study/ merchandising line/ anything-else-you-could-sell.  It also shows up in many wealthier churches because the logic is, “God rewards good Christians, therefore if I’m wealthy then I must be a good Christian”.  My favorite was the luxury SUV with the bumper sticker that said “Thanks God!”

Now the problem here is that this understanding of God is very Biblical.  It is most certainly in the scriptural texts.  The Prayer of Jabez comes from I Chronicles.  In Deuteronomy in the Ten Commandments God says that he will punish and reward to 3rd/4th and 1000th generations (respectively), not that God will punish and reward in an afterlife.  In many places in the Bible, the reward and punishment for faithfulness and right behavior comes from God in this life in real and concrete ways.

The problem is that this is a particularly Old Testament way of understanding God.  More specifically, it’s an early Old Testament way of understanding of God.

Granted, the book of Job does some damage to this theology.  Job’s friends are the ones who firmly believed that the horrible things that were happening to Job were God’s punishment and that Job must have done something truly horrendous to deserve it.  (They turn out to be wrong, by the way)  However, in the Old Testament, Job is kind of on his own.

Jesus, on the other hand, is a whole other ball game.

When you look at Jesus, and how he understands how God works, the idea that good or bad things happening in this life are absolute proof of God’s reward or punishment just doesn’t hold water.  This can really be seen in the story from John 9 about Jesus healing a man who was born blind.  The story opens with the disciples asking Jesus the question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”.  To this Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  The core assumption that the disciples start with is that God rewards and punishes directly and thus either this man or his parents surely had sinned and that his blindness was evidence of this.  Jesus soundly rejects this idea offering the possibility that he was born that way to show the glory of God.  This is a fundamentally different way of understanding how God works than what we see in the Old Testament.

So, back to the politicians, TV preachers and Anabaptists.

My original claim was that Anabaptists center their faith on Jesus and that other Christians….well…..don’t.  What I mean by this is that there are many Christians who fully claim Jesus as the Son of God and publicly profess a faith in Jesus, yet when it comes to things like which parts of the Bible are elevated, the understanding of the basic character of God,  the center of ethics, the basis for justice, the understanding the importance of taking care of the most vulnerable in society, basically everything that actually affects how you follow God these Christians look to other places in the Bible long before the look to Jesus.  In many cases, when Jesus conflicts with other parts of the Bible, certain Christians will go to rather extensive lengths to disprove either the validity or sincerity of Jesus and his teachings.

So, have a grand ol’ time claiming that God is punishing or rewarding people the next time a hurricane or earthquake hits, just make sure to leave Jesus out of it.

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I find that government, that is the idea of government as well as specific local to national governments, have taken a beating in the last few years.  The rhetoric that government can do no good and that it should just get out of the way has been around for about 30 years, but it has intensified recent years across all political lines.

While I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind in the grand scheme of things, let me offer one example of government doing something right, at least ethically and morally.

Our local hospital is designated a “Critical Access” hospital.  This is a medicare designation and program that is to meant to help rural under served populations have access to some amount of health care.  One of the things that this means is that we are a partially government funded hospital which means that we have access to the same health care plans that the other State of Kansas employees have access to.  Now, we can cuss and moan all we want about the finer points of health care these days, but there was one thing about this plan that has really stuck out to me.

The premiums are on a sliding scale in relation to your income.

Translation: the lowest income employees at the hospital are able to afford health insurance.  This means that my wife and I pay higher premiums but it also means that when the hospital went onto this plan a few years ago, for some people it was the first time that they’ve ever been able to get health insurance.

The reason that this is on my mind today is because last night the hospital board met to decide whether or not to stick with the state plan or to switch to a private insurance company plan that was similar, but not the same.  They decided that, for now, they’ll continue with the state plan.

For this I simply want to say thank you.  From a Biblical and Christian perspective, it is imperative that we take care of the most vulnerable around us.  And, for the record, when it comes to health insurance, available but not affordable doesn’t count.

To my local hospital board members, thanks and keep up the good work.

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This video says, pretty succinctly, some key things to understanding the world of teens looks like.  Especially from the perspective of parents and the church, this should be some pretty good motivation to renew our efforts of living out and articulating our faith in a meaningful way.

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A “lede” is the first line of an article or new story.  It’s meant to grab your attention and to communicate the most important part of the story.

To “Bury the lede” is a phrase used in journalism when someone has written a news story where the truly important fact is way at the end of the story, or buried in the middle where someone won’t actually catch it.  NPR did just that the other day.

In this story on “All Things Considered” they had a story about how President Obama signed an extension of the PATRIOT Act using a device called an autopen.  The device allowed him to be in France and sign the paper in Washington, DC.  The story was ultimately about whether or not it was constitutionally legal to sign a bill this way.

My problem is this: there was zero discussion on whether or not the PATRIOT Act itself is legal or justified.

The important story here is that a president who ran on platform of revolutionizing open government has just extended a set of laws that are the most covert and secretive in the history of the country.  He extended a law that he ran his whole campaign against and everyone is upset about the pen!?

I’m not afraid that he signed the bill using an autopen, I’m afraid that the bill that he signed means that people could very well be spying on me because I’m a Mennonite and a threat to national security.

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In January I saw an article in the Wichita Eagle about a woman who was thoroughly convinced that the rapture and the end of the world would be on May 21, 2011.  At 6pm to be exact.  Well, this Saturday is the fateful day and, as one would expect, the story has been picked up by various news outlets.

Now forgive me if I sound a little cynical, but I know my history.  From the very first moments that Jesus walked the earth people have been predicting his return, and thus the end of the world with it.  So far, no one has been right.

What’s more, I know what happened at Münster.  To recap, a group of Anabaptists violently took over the town of Münster and swiftly began killing people, running around naked and doing a whole bunch of other things all because they were certain that Jesus was coming back right then and there.

That was 477 years ago.

What disturbs me most is how people who believe the end of the world is at hand have actually begun to act in the mean time.  When people believe the end of the world in nigh, their true selves seem to come out and they begin to live out what they really believe.

The people in Münster quickly turned into wild, violent and disturbing versions of themselves.

Many people awaiting May 21st have also sold their cars and homes, refused get married, gone on spending sprees, and a host of other things that seem to be essentially selfish in nature.

All of this misses the point of what Jesus was trying to say.  In Matthew 24 Jesus paints a very vivid vision of the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world.  While many have spent time trying to analyze this description to see the signs in our world today, they have completely missed the main point of what Jesus was trying to say.

In verse 36 and then 42-44 Jesus says,

36 But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[f] but only the Father….  42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Whenever someone in the Bible says “Therefore” it means that what they are about to say is going to be their main point.  The main point that Jesus was trying to get across is that you don’t know when the end of the world is coming so you should live every day as if it was the end of the world.  We are supposed to live in a constant state of readiness and holiness, and always be following the will of God.  The main point of Jesus’ talking about the apocalypse is not to give you a set of clues to figure out the date of the end of the world, but rather to inspire holy behavior.  In fact, I would say that to predict the end is actually blasphemy because you are attempting to figure something out that is reserved for God alone.

So, am I worried about Saturday? Not really.  Although it would really mess up the wedding that I’m performing for my friends.

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I have yet to respond in any public way with my thoughts on the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  For the last week and a half I have simply been taking in others responses and trying to sort out my own thoughts.  So here’s what I’ve been able to process for myself.  Perhaps it will be of some value for you as well.

At first my reaction to the story was rather ambivalent.  I heard the news after we finished up a fundraiser for Camp Mennoscah at Bethel College.  I had just cleaned up and was starting to drive home when I turned on the Radio and KFDI was all a buzz with a forthcoming announcement from the president.  For the hour and a half that I was driving home I heard the live ABC radio feed including reporters with little to say, commentators with their two cents, and finally the full announcement from the president.

After uttering the obligatory “holy crap” I mainly listened in stunned silence.  My mind did wander back to that day in college when I woke up to the news of the twin towers exploding in flames and I thought how this was something of a bookend to that saga.  But I also thought of all of the lives that were lost in the last 10 years, not just at the hands of “terrorists” but also at the hands of the U.S. and it’s allies.

The part that got me though, was when the reporter  started talking about the crowd that was quickly gathering in front of the White House cheering and chanting U-S-A, U-S-A.  As they turned on the live sound feed my heart cringed.  While the chant was U-S-A the image in my mind was the countless protests on the other side of the world that looked exactly the same except in a different language chanting a different slogan.

Now, granted, I’m a pacifist who has intellectually ripped apart the justifications for U.S. superiority, military power and the use of the myth of redemptive violence.  However, emotionally, up until the point where I heard the chanting, there was a part of me that actually thought that I could say that no, this war wasn’t about East vs. West, Islam vs. Christianity, Native vs. Imperialist.  Some part of me wanted to believe the rhetoric of justified causes.  But at the moment the chanting came over the radio I realized that, no, we are no better than those we claim are our enemies.

In the following days one commentator said that we should go easy on the young people of our nation who were out cheering and chanting.  That this was the closest thing that we were ever going to have to a VJ day or a VE day in the War on Terror.  What’s more, the expressions of celebration were not celebrations of someones death but rather collective relief of a decade of living in fear.

There may be some truth to this, but there’s one key difference between the killing of Bin Laden and VJ or VE day.  On those day’s the celebration was because fighting had stopped and peace had broken out.  On that Sunday, the celebration was over someones death.  Those are very different things.  One is to celebrate the cessation of killing human life, and the other is to celebrate the death of a symbolic figure that will ultimately not result in less killing.

Now, being that I’m a pastor, part of me thinks that I should have a response that is more Biblically based and less social commentary.

So, Biblically speaking, I have my standard bag of tricks.

Matthew 5:43-48  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Not only is there the “love your enemies” part, but there’s also a great commentary to be had in verses 46 and 47.  I would translate it into this context like this “If you party in the streets over the death of your enemies, what reward will you get?  Do not even the terrorists to that?”

Proverbs 24:17-18  Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
18 or the LORD will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them.

Verse 17 is fairly obvious.  Verse 18 makes me a bit uncomfortable but ultimately falls in line with in line with Romans 12:19

 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord

That being said, I have found more resonance with Ezekiel 33:11

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

Am I glad that Bin Laden is no longer in a position to kill other people.  Yes.  But that change doesn’t require that he be killed.  As Ezekiel says, I would rather that he turns from his ways and live.  For that matter, this is the same wish that I have for everyone who takes human life.  For the state that carries out executions.  For the governments that carry out “shock and awe” bombing campaigns.  For the gang members carrying out revenge killings.  For those who make people disappear into secret prisons.  For people who carry out systematic rape and torture.  For those who oppress others in a plethora of ways around the world.  I wish the same thing for all of them that I wish for Bin Laden: that they turn from their ways and live.

Ultimately, I’m saddened more than anything else.  Mainly, I’m disappointed in the response of my country and many Christians who have been celebrating this event.

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