Archive for the ‘non-violence’ Category

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is putting out a campaign called “Fear Not, Seek Peace”.  As part of that campaign there’s a learning tool to help people understand how much we actually spend on our military compared to what most of us think the government actually does.

I’ve adapted some of this information using something called Prezi.

Unfortunately, WordPress.com doesn’t really allow for flash animation to be embeded right here in this post, so you’re going to have to actually click through on the link.




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Today Congressman Bobby Rush was removed from the floor of the house for wearing a hoodie (hooded sweatshirt) in support of Trayvon Martin, the young black man who was gunned down by George Zimmerman. (video below)

What’s made the news is mainly his being removed, but I don’t actually think that’s the most important part of this.  I’m most drawn to the fact that as he was being removed he was quoting scripture as he was doing it.  Specifically he was quoting two core Biblical texts on justice.

Micah 6:8 ” He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.”

Luke 4:18-19 “18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As a pastor this wanted me to stand up and cheer because, finally, someone is actually quoting scripture in the way that it was meant to be quoted.  Yes, I do think that a massive injustice is/was being done to Trayvon and yes, race plays a factor (but not the only factor) in this situation.  It has exposed some deep systemic problems in our culture, problems that result in peoples deaths.

This is bigger than Trayvon’s death.

This matters.

Pay attention.

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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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Is Gandhi in hell?  What’s more, what is hell?  Or heaven, for that matter?

These are some of the questions that have sparked a bit of a firestorm around Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: a book about heaven hell and the fate of everyone who ever lived.  This first came across my radar screen when I read a post on Tony Jones’s blog late last week about the growing attention and criticism about this book.  Then I did some searching and saw that it has even made a splash on the national news scene from CNN to ABC.

Controversy in and of itself isn’t surprising with Rob Bell.  That’s happened before.  What is striking is that judgment has been leveled by a number of people who haven’t even read the book yet because it has not yet been released!

Ultimately the controversy stems from the fact that Bell is raising core questions about issues that are central to the Christian faith.  He has posed the questions in ways that have led some to conclude that Bell is promoting something called Universalism; a doctrine where everyone gets saved, no matter what.  Again, these are all assumptions because none of his critics have actually read the book yet.  The only worthwhile critique I’ve read so far is Greg Boyd’s, namely because he actually has read the book.  (As a side note, as an Anabaptist, it’s worth paying attention to Boyd partly because he’s grown very close to Mennonites in recent years, even flirting with the idea of joining MCUSA.)

What is most intriguing and frustrating to me is not the discussion about universalism, but rather the controversy itself and the way this has been discussed and argued about in the last couple of weeks.

It has been astounding to see the speed with which he has been denounced as a heretic and the forceful unwillingness to even raise the questions he poses.  For me this is a red flag.  Why are so many vigorously defending a relatively specific doctrine of hell?

When you look at the Bible, there is no one consistent understanding of hell.  For that matter, the concept of an afterlife in much of the Old Testament was non-existent.  God blesses and curses you through your descendants, not in an afterlife (See the 10 commandments).  There is no consistent version of hell in the Bible, and what is there most certainly doesn’t look like what most people today envision.  The image of a red guy with a pitchfork and horns comes from Dante’s Inferno, not the Bible.

I think that the reason that many have had such a knee jerk reaction is because the doctrine of hell is a powerful weapon.  Hell scares the…well..hell out of people.  Combined with a select few leaders who determine who’s in and who’s out, this fear fuels enormous power and control.  Even raising the question, as Bell has done, challenges the enormous power that many have enjoyed for centuries.

To be clear, I’m not defending Bell.  I haven’t read his book so I can’t say one way or another.  What I do know is that these questions are deeply important to an enormous number of people, both inside and outside the church.  It is critical for the church to pay attention to this.  It’s time that we learned to have these discussions, openly and honestly and in front of the watching eyes of the world.  Because as Bell says “what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”

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Last night we took the youth group to big Christian rock concert in Wichita called Winter Jam.  After a very long day I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the event.

It was really quite a spectacle to behold.  The day started by camping out in line for about 3 hours, and then being in the arena for another 6.  There were 7 different bands that were very good and polished.  The theatrics of the event was impressive.  Everything was produced and orchestrated to an unbelievably high degree.  The set design was top notch, creating impressive and unique visuals for each band.  I was also impressed at the variety of bands that they had.  There were hard rock, pop, indi, and even the David Crowder band which is mainly a worship band but even threw in a bit of bluegrass.  Overall, the music was enjoyable and the show was breathtaking.

That being said, I was fairly overwhelmed by many other elements of the show.  And I do mean “show”.  The fact that it most certainly was a show including all of the “ministry times”, might be my first issue.  What’s more, I don’t go to many rock concerts, mainly because they exist to sell me stuff.  From minute one, it was obvious that the reason they were there was to sell me stuff at Winter Jam.  The only difference was that they heaped on Jesus-guilt along with the product pitch.  These things however, were relatively superficial issues.

After the warm up band, the next sequence of events begins to describe where my difficulties really began.  After the warm up band, one of the artists came out and promoted a cruise where there would be a whole number of Christian musicians performing.  Next, he brought up people from the three local Christian radio stations to promote them.  Then he brought up the tour pastor.  The pastor began by saying,  “Before we start by reading some scripture I want to recognize that there are a lot of armed forces personnel here and I want to remind us to thank them for defending our freedoms and bringing peace.”  Then, finally, he read the psalm 149, which has to do with making music to God with various instruments.  It also include a bit about God taking out some enemies, which he also mentioned with the note that this is about God making peace through war.   His main point with this scripture, however, was that we were justified in being at the concert because God commanded us to worship this way.

If I hadn’t been with 30 youth group kids I would have walked out then and there.

The rest of the concert had a quasi-generic Christian, but distinctly conservative feel.  It was a mix of patriotism, evangelism and commercialism.  Perhaps the point at which I was most offended was when the pastor, at several different points, appealed to people to either sponsor a child from an overseas orphanage or to give money in the freewill offering.  What was offensive was not that he appealed for these things in the first place.  What was offensive was when he said, “now some of you are hearing this and thinking, ‘oh I don’t have the money or I don’t think I can or I’d rather not’.  That’s the devil talking in your ear because the devil would like nothing more than for you to walk out of here without giving.”  I don’t think I even have to explain how theologically manipulative that is.

What I will give the pastor credit for was his pro-life rant.  To promote the orphanage project he asked the crowd if they were pro-life.  The place went wild with cheers.  Then he quoted James 1:27 which talks about pure and faultless religion is one that takes care of widow and orphans.  He flat out said that you’re really pro-life then you need to be there to care for a baby when a mother chooses to have the child instead of abort the child.  He even said that you’re not really a Christian if you don’t care for widows and orphans, and called out many Christians for only saying that they’re pro-life and not backing it up.  Needless to say, the crowd was considerably more quiet in their response to this part of his speech.  I was a little shocked, because this was the first time that I’ve heard someone at a very conservative event basically say that being pro-life means more than being pro-birth.  Now, that would have held more water for me if he hadn’t started the concert by elevating the military.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the event.  On one hand, the kids loved it and had a great time.  It’s not often that they get a chance to go to that big of an event.  I have no doubt that it hit a number of the kids very well and strengthened many of them in their faith.  Personally I enjoyed most of the music and even found a couple of bands I need to (re)discover.  On the other hand, there were key elements of this event that were the total embodiment of everything that I hate about American pop-Christianity.  Would I condone my youth group going in the future?  Probably.  Would I ever intentionally go again if it was just me?  Depends on who was playing and what my tolerance for bad theology was at that moment.  Will I wind up going again as a leader of a youth group? Probably.  But that’s the nature of the beast.

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Is nonviolence a realistic solution to big problems in the world?

On Sunday the lectionary text was Matthew 5:38-48.  This is the section where Jesus talks about turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and turning the other cheek.  For many, this is text is written off because they hear Jesus saying that we should just let people walk all over us.  Walter Wink would have the interpretation that, in reality, this section is a call to creative non-violent resistance.  (I talked about this a little bit here)

While there was a lot that I could talk about, I mainly choose to give an example of what this might look like on an individual level by using the story of Julio Diaz. While Julio’s story is quite compelling, it does leave the question open, “is nonviolence realistic when talking about big international problems?”

I would ultimately say that while it is not a %100 guarantee, that yes, non-violence is important, practical, and a better option than war.

This morning Gene Sharp was on NPR’s Morning Edition.  He is a political scientist that has been working with non-violence for his whole life.  Early on in the Egyptian revolution, many of the activists said they used his ideas from Sharps book “From Dictatorship to Democracy“as a blueprint for their actions.  I was struck by two things that Sharp said in this interview in regards to the practicality of nonviolence.

When he was asked why people should use nonviolence, Sharp replied, “Because it’s wise.  Why should you choose to fight with your enemies best weapons.  nonviolence is a kind of power, people mobilizing power, which dictators are not very well equipped to deal with.”

The other thing that struck me was when he talked about the three essential things that you need to know or do in order to really have a revolution.

1) Know the dictatorship system really well. – You have to know that any dictator is nowhere near as strong as they tell you and you have to know what the weaknesses are so you can exploit them.

2) Understand non-violence well. – You have to understand non-violence theory and what it’s main principles actually are.

3)  Think strategically. – Successful non-violent resistance doesn’t just happen.  These are things that are carefully planned and organized and that require a great amount of discipline and strategy.

Is this a guarantee of success?  No.  Of course not.  But I would remind you that neither is war.  Are there questions about how pure any non-violent action is?  Sure.  Sam Voth-Schrag has some interesting thoughts on the role of the military in non-violent actions here.  Overall, I still have to say that using non-violence is an all around better option than killing people and blowing things up.

Listening to Sharp this morning, it was refreshing to be reminded that working through non-violence is realistic, practical and possible.  The mythical lie that war brings peace was, once again, challenge with the truth of the Gospel.

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Last week was Pastor’s Week at AMBS.  I found myself inspired and convicted in a number of ways.  Below is the reflection that I shared with my church this morning.  This is something of a follow up to my previous post here.

Reflection on Pastors week 2011

This week I made the trip up to Elkhart, Indiana to Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary for an annual gathering of pastors.  The keynote speaker was Dr. Rev. Cleophus LaRue who spoke to us about preaching with imagination.  It was inspiring to both learn from his expertise and to listen to him preach.

It was also a great time to get together with some other peers that I haven’t seen for a while.  It was refreshing to hear how others were doing and to support each other in our ministry and work.

One of the other significant things that I’ve been involved with this past week is an ongoing discussion about the national convention for our denomination that is scheduled to be held in Phoenix in 2013.  Some of you are aware of the ongoing discussion about this convention, but others might not be, so let me try to bring you up to speed.  Every two years our denomination gathers together in a different city for both a youth convention and an adult convention.  In 2009 the convention planners decided to hold the 2013 convention in Phoenix.  Later that year the state of Arizona passed a new immigration law.  Many support this law while many others see it as unconstitutional.  Many people in the Mennonite church have said that it goes directly against the Biblical mandate to take care of the foreigner and the immigrant.  Still others have pointed to our official denominational position as a call to action.  This statement was adopted in 2003 and says, “We reject our country’s mistreatment of immigrants, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, regardless of their legal status.”  After the Arizona law was passed there were numerous people throughout the church, led by the Hispanic Mennonite Churches, who called for the convention to be cancelled partly because they do not feel that it is safe for people of color to even go to the state of Arizona in order to attend the convention.

As a result the executive board of the denomination spent the better part of 2010 listening to a wide variety of people throughout the denomination as they seriously weighed the possibility of cancelling the convention, even considering that to do so would mean the loss of the down payment that we had put on the convention facilities.  About three weeks ago the board met to make a final decision.  They decided to continue with the plans and to have the convention in Phoenix.  In addition plans will also be made to have a satellite location so that people who are not able to attend because of safety or conscience can still participate in the work of the church.

At pastors week there was a special time where two of the board members shared about the process and took questions from a variety of concerned people.  At this meeting I quickly realized that while the specifics at this time might have to do with Arizona and a particular law, the real issues for our church and our country are much larger and much deeper.  In this meeting I realized that what really matters is not some intellectual argument about a law, or an abstract discussion about what might or might not happen.  What matters the most are the stories of the people that were in that circle.  I found that I was sitting next to people who not only had a variety of views on this issue but who are also personally affected by this issue.  I listened to the pastors from Colombia who were on sabbatical at the seminary and spoke of their close friends in the United States who fear for their safety on a daily basis and who simply could not understand why the denomination would possibly consider still going to Phoenix.  I also listened to the pastor from Ohio whose congregation couldn’t understand why we would not go to Phoenix because they see that the Biblical call is to go to the places of injustice and to speak the truth of God.  I listened to the black woman who is my age who, with tears in her eyes, said that she has always felt like a second class citizen in the Mennonite Church and is just plain tired of fighting for basic rights.  I also listened to the pastor who shared that while many in his congregation are committed to working for justice, many still see no problem with the immigration law at all and can’t understand what the fuss is about.  And, finally, I listened to the pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Tuscon, Arizona who shared that, on one hand, he would love to be a host and have the denomination gather in his state.  But on the other hand he said that he has a member of his congregation who recently came to him and said, ‘when I get deported this is where my children are to go’ and that he can’t ask others to voluntarily place themselves in that kind of danger.

As I sat listening to the stories of the people gathered there I began to realize how deeply divided and broken our church really is.  I don’t think that this issue has actually created divisions but rather has exposed what has already existed for an incredibly long time.  The discussion at pastor’s week really opened my eyes, not only to the divisions and difficulties on a national level, but also the ones closer to home.  In our local conference, South Central Conference, while we can say that we have a strong group of Hispanic churches in South Texas the reality is that because of the distance between the Kansas churches and the South Texas churches, we very rarely spend any time together we are quickly loosing our connections with each other.  In our town of Harper I think of an entire group of people who are invisible to most of us.  I think of the boy in the grade school whose mother told him that if he ever got in trouble he was never to call 911 but to rather to call his uncle instead.  I have to think of our own church and the fact that our brothers and sisters from Bolivia cannot come here to Harper to be with us because of my countries immigration policy.  I even think of the division within myself.  While I think of myself as committed to peace and justice I am painfully aware that I live in such a way that I don’t really ever come into contact with anyone who doesn’t already look or think like me.  What’s worse I confess that I have failed to even raise this deeply important issue in our church because I know that we have people who have who have very different views and I am simply afraid of how this church will respond.

As I have thought about this past week and the state of the church I have come to realize that the true issue is not about a particular law, whether we go to Phoenix as a church or the politics that we each hold.  The true issue comes down to what it means to be the church.  This week I have come back to the book of Ephesians chapter 4 which says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  This week, as I have thought about how our denomination is dealing with the decision to go to the convention in Phoenix and the overall state of the church I have found myself questioning whether we still believe that this verse is true.  Do we really believe that we are one church?  Do we really believe in one God who is over all and through all?  Do we really believe that being a Christian abolishes the boundaries of race, class, and nationality?  Do we really believe that we are called to stand with our fellow Christians who are suffering, whether they are across the street or around the world?

Lest you think that I’ve lost all hope let me assure you that I haven’t.  I do see signs that give me hope that with the power of God, we can go through our brokenness to become the people that God wants us to be.  I have hope when I see those in our denomination who work tirelessly for justice.  I have hope when I see the teacher in Harper stand up for the children who are picked on and rejected.  I have hope when I see the hard work and commitment of this church to maintain our relationships with the Bolivian church.  I have hope when I see our community come together at Pancake Day to raise thousands of dollars that will go to easing the difficulty in our community.  I have hope when I see people break down the walls that separate us simply by making a new friend with someone who is different than they are.  We are in a difficult spot as a church.  Our brokenness is exposed.  But as we learned in our series on Henri Nouwen, it is through our brokenness that the grace of God can truly shine.  After a long and intense week, I have now come to lay my hope in the power of God to work through our brokenness, nothing more, nothing less.  So may the God who is above all and through all and in all take our lives and now work through us so that the light of God’s healing love may be felt throughout our broken land.


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