Welcome to the October issue of PeaceSigns! We've got a full boat for you this month, lots of great writing about peace that covers a wide variety of issues and perspectives. I want to say thanks to our contributors who make PeaceSigns possible every month. Their thoughtful voices and reflections challenge and nourish us in ways of peace that aren't always easy to find in the vast sea of websites, blogs and other media available today.
And thanks to you as well, for taking time to read these articles in the midst of busy lives. It's easy to think about peace--tomorrow! But for peace to take hold and transform our world, it has to happen moment to moment, interaction to interaction. The space in your life you make to read PeaceSigns is a space where peace grows. That's a wonderful thing.
Dwelling in the Word
by Sherah-Leigh Gerber
"For Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier,the dividing wall of hostility." Ephesians 2:14
Nearly a year ago I was sitting in a beautiful room, glorious fall sunlight illuminated the space; leaves in aflame in reds and golds hung from trees and littered the deck and ground just below the windows. I was with a group of new friends-Kingdom co-workers-at the Constituency Leaders Council meeting.
During our Dwelling in the Word time, we were focused on the passage for Convention 2013 from Ephesians 2:14-22. I found the exchange of ideas-what stands out, what strikes you as new-to be so invigorating. We really do each bring our own context and bias to a passage. Hearing what was significant for these fellow believers at different stages of life (an empty-nester, a new retiree, a seasoned pastor), triggered interesting discussions and new flashes of insight. I was bubbling over with ideas and applications; something within was coming alive while studying scripture in this way.
In between sessions, I snuck back to my retreat room to check on my precious four-month-old daughter (who was spending time with her grandmother). I would scroll through my emails and facebook updates with one hand while I snuggled with my little bundle of joy. That afternoon, waiting in my inbox, was an invitation to preach at church during Advent. What might seem ordinary to you, was one of those moments where time stands still for me. Personally, preaching is a big stretch and in this congregation, it would also be a big risk.
As I scanned the particulars, I noted that the Sunday I was being asked to speak would be focused on the word "peace" and the suggested text was the exact passage we had been dwelling with during the meetings. For me, it was a moment of clarity-as if the Spirit were speaking right to me-not only was there an opportunity, God had already laid the message on my heart. It was exciting and terrifying, but I have found that's just the way of things that God calls us to.
Our Advent theme for 2011 was "Accepting the Gift," and the message of peace that I shared on a cold December Sunday at Kidron Mennonite Church was based around the image of a wall. In the passage, what had been pointed out to me in our dwelling together in October, was that the wall was not differences, but the wall was hostility. It was the emotion that differences had built up.
In my sermon, I shared about times I had allowed walls of hostility to build up in my own life, and how, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I had worked to break them down. I invited people to reflect on walls in their own lives. Was there a wall between them and God? Between them and a family member? A church member? The invitation was simple-begin to break down the wall of hostility in your own life.
The other profound thing (in my mind) that I had discovered in my October dwelling session was that Christ is our peace. The call in this passage was not to somehow create peace, but it was to accept Christ for it is through him that we find peace.
Too often when we find ourselves in disagreement with others we are quick to put up a wall. Life is easier when we deal in neat categories, black-and-white, tidy little boxes for each idea. But, when we read and live into the biblical story we notice that faith is mystery and mess. As we embrace mystery, as we accept Christ, making Jesus Lord of all of life, we are able to find our way through the mess.
It seems that Convention at Phoenix is a invitation to embrace mystery and mess. It's acknowledging that faith and relationships take hard work. Participating in the learning tours, discussions and discernment is part of breaking down the hostility. Worshiping together will help us turn our eyes to Christ who is our peace.
This article originally appeared at <http://www.mennocon.com/>
Church leaders and grassroots action
by Andre Gingerich Stoner
After years resisting the draft, witnessing at nuclear weapons sites, and engaged in local peace witness as a pastor, I now find myself in a denominational staff and leadership role. This has led me to reflect on the important roles that both grassroots initiatives and church leaders play as we follow Jesus and pray and work for his kingdom of justice and peace.
As a pastor, from time to time I would meet people who thought if I just said or did the right thing, the whole congregation would suddenly become a hotbed of social justice and peacemaking. The pastor certainly plays a vital role in the congregation, but pushing a cause rarely gets anywhere. My experience was that I was most effective when I watched carefully for kingdom sparks, and then fanned the flames and fueled the fire. I was most effective not when I tried to make something happen, but when I found ways to support the vision and calling of people in the congregation. This involved helping them connect their concern to their walk with Jesus, coaching folks on how to share their concern well with others in the congregation and find allies and partners, finding ways to bless and encourage the effort, dreaming, praying and strategizing for how it could be more effective, and celebrating small and large ways we saw God at work.
In my denominational role, from time to time, I meet someone who believes that "if the people at the top" just say or do the right thing, everything will change. While denominational leaders have remarkable opportunity and responsibility, there is no magic lever they can pull.
Leaders get tired and frustrated pushing on their own. And grassroots groups get tired and frustrated when they work hard and feel nobody notices or supports them, or worse yet when they face resistance. But when grassroots efforts and denominational leaders work together, each playing their unique role - and when pastors and area conferences are engaged too, remarkable things can happen.
The recent work to deepen allegiance to Jesus during this election season offers one example. It started when Berry Friesen wrote a challenging article in PeaceSigns, the monthly e-zine of the Peace and Justice Support Network. Several Executive Board members read it and decided the Executive Board needed to respond. They asked Jason Boone, coordinating minister for PJSN, to draft a call to prayer and fasting to deepen allegiance to Jesus and his alternative politics. As this was happening two Mennonite pastors, Mark Schloneger and Kevin Gasser, developed the idea of an election day communion. This was incorporated into the Executive Board call. Staff also helped share the idea ecumenically. Area conference leaders forwarded information and many congregations used a bulletin insert to invite people to prayer and fasting. More than 600 congregations in all 50 states are now planning for an election day communion. Jason and other staff also developed an on-line dialogue with Berry and two other thoughtful voices.
In short, here's what happened: Members and pastors kicked off grassroots efforts. In response, denominational leaders gave leadership to a church-wide initiative. More congregations picked up the ideas. And now many people are considering what it means during this election season not to trust in princes but to pledge our allegiance to Jesus.
This is one experience of a fruitful collaboration between grassroots efforts and denominational leaders. Other examples on a whole host of concerns could be cited - or are still waiting to unfold!
As we are rooted and grounded in the love of Jesus our passion for justice, peace and God's kingdom will grow. I hope and pray that grassroots initiatives in and around our churches will flourish and do good organizing and networking. I pray that pastors, area conferences and denominational leaders will watch for the sparks of the Spirit and fan the flames. And I am confident that if we move together in this way, we will witness God's power among us accomplishing far more than all we could ask or imagine.
St. Stephen and nonviolent communication
by Berry Friesen
Google "nonviolent communication" and nearly 500,000 internet references appear at your fingertips. Google "compassionate communication" and you'll find 150,000 more.
As most readers of PeaceSigns may already know, these phrases refer to a manner of speaking designed to elicit compassion and minimize conflict between individuals and groups. It involves four basic practices:
- Describe what you observed happening;
- Name what you feel as a result of what you observed;
- Name the underlying wants, needs and values that produce
those feelings; and- Make a specific request that addresses your underlying
wants, needs or values.
A core principle of nonviolent communication is the avoidance of analysis, interpretation and evaluation. Needless to say, generalizations and moral judgments are avoided.
My introduction to this communication technique occurred in the early '80s at an in-service training day hosted by the law firm that employed me. The training was meant to make us more effective advocates for our clients by learning how not to elicit animosity from opposing attorneys. Since then, I've also heard nonviolent communications taught in Mennonite church settings as one of the tools of peacemaking.
I don't claim to be accomplished practitioner of nonviolent communication, but I have found it helpful. Yet I also confess a curious ambivalence that I am trying to understand. If I am ready to claim the identity of a peace activist, why wouldn't I enthusiastically embrace nonviolent communication?
This all came to mind recently as my Sunday school class focused on the story of Stephen, the first follower of Messiah Jesus to die for his faith. St. Stephen's final communication - a public speech before the Jewish Sanhedrin -- is recounted in chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Acts. It was in many ways a remarkable speech, vivid, passionate and powerful. But it most certainly was not nonviolent communication. And as we know, it led directly to the escalation of the conflict and the murder of Stephen by stoning.
What do we make of this? Do we regard it as another example of violence begetting violence, the first in the form of speech and the second in the form of stones? Or as a moment of courage and prophetic clarity that changed hearts (perhaps even the militant Saul's) and bent the arc of history toward God?
Perhaps a couple of contemporary examples can help us think this through.
In September of last year, a local group I am part of - 1040 for Peace <http://1040forpeace.org/1040-for-peace/>- sponsored a public meeting in a downtown Lancaster park to remember 9/11 and the actions of the U.S. government since that day. A planning team of eight people met throughout the summer in preparation for the event. In addition to the logistical planning, we spent time debating the message we wanted the event to communicate to the audience. Two points of view framed the debate. The first asked us to name the post-9/11 distortions and deceptions that had been used to foment fear in the U.S. and rationalize wars of aggression against Muslim peoples. The second asked us to create a space for the exchange of perspectives by avoiding the use of words that would polarize and divide.
Three years ago, I approached the leadership of my congregation and asked that it sponsor a community education course about the relevance of Jesus of Nazareth in today's world. A nationally-known Bible teacher, John Stoner, was available to teach the class, for which we suggested the title "Another way to run the world: What Jesus has to say about our lives and our times." As part of the rationale for the class, I stated that faith in Messiah Jesus was being co-opted by an imperial agenda that included "the seizing control of world resources." I went on to say:
"Implementation of this goal is ugly to behold because it requires constant war, often against civilians, and the loss of civil liberties at home. . . . We must find a way to resist this lie, certainly in private settings with our children and Sunday school classes but also in public settings with laypersons and seekers from our community."
My congregation's leadership declined the offer. It said my language was "confrontational, not invitational," reflected "assumptions which limit dialogue, rather than invite," and did not honor "Jesus' way of engaging people."
My sense is that across Mennonite Church USA, people are struggling with practical dilemmas like the two I've recounted. Many are asking, "How can we be peacemakers if our communications make people angry?" It's a good question, one that can prompt us to avoid rhetoric that serves to alienate and divide. But it also can lead us to water down our message by framing it within assumptions acceptable to FOX News and NPR. When we do that, the gospel of Messiah Jesus loses it prophetic clarity and power.
St. Stephen knew much was at stake and that it required his contemporaries to make a choice. So he took pains to paint that choice in stark terms. Can we afford to do any less?
October marks the unfortunate second anniversary of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, a disease that had not been seen in the country for a century. While the people of Haiti continue to recover from the January 2010 earthquake, the outbreak of cholera represented another blow to Haiti's long term development.
Increasing and mounting evidence <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-20024400> has revealed that cholera was introduced to Haiti by a contingent of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping troops as a result of sewage entering a river that serves as an important water source. Due to poor water and sanitation infrastructure, the disease spread across the country. In the past two years, at least 600,000 people have been infected by the virus and more than 7,564 people have died.
While there have been some efforts to stem the epidemic, not enough has been done to assist the Haitian government to build the necessary infrastructure. A coalition of organizations that include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, along with the government of Haiti, is in the process of developing a plan to build a water and sanitation infrastructure. The plan will cost $2.2 billion and needs to be funded by responsible parties. The UN bears the primary responsibility for alleviating the epidemic. The UN currently spends $1.95 billion a year for a peacekeeping force that many Haitians do not want, while cholera continues to spread.
The United States can take a leadership role through its membership at the UN and encourage the international body to take action. Although congressional members have pressured Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, little action has taken place.
When I reflect on the cholera epidemic in Haiti, I am often reminded of Jesus' ministry of healing. Throughout his work, Jesus healed all kinds of sickness without hesitation. The gospel of Matthew states that Jesus "cured all who were sick" (8:16). All people deserve to live healthy and dignified lives. Government institutions must take responsibility and action to stop the cholera epidemic in Haiti. God's desire for healing can become a reality in Haiti.
Take action and sign a petition to the United Nations urging them to take action. <http://www.undeny.com/>
Read the most recent issue of the Washington Memo newsletter on Haiti.
His name is called Emanuel
God with us, revealed in us
His name is called Emanuel
In March, God came to visit our family disguised as a two-day old baby. This child's eyes and smile and laughter offer all of us a glimpse of grace in the midst of unspeakable heartbreak. His name is Emanuel which means "God is with us;" we call him Manny. The circumstances surrounding his arrival in our home are a sobering reminder as to why Alterna is called to offer acts of mercy, compassion, and hospitality in what are heart-wrenching realities that are now confronting vulnerable children.
Manny's story begins in prison where he was born, his mother caught up in a senseless tragedy. Upon birth, Manny was immediately taken from her. In addition, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began deportation proceedings. Manny's mother's greatest fear is that, if deported, she might never be reunited with her child. However, by taking Manny into our home and hearts, we at Alterna have ensured that her fear is never actualized and that this mother and son will one day be together again.
Manny's story is one that is being repeated all across the country as undocumented parents and their U.S. born children are separated by deportation. Even in our small community, Manny's story is not unique. Before he came to us, we provided refuge to five siblings whose mother was arrested for alleged identity fraud.
Leydi and her children were living in a hotel, but she longed for stability and safety for her kids. She found a roommate and an apartment. However, at LaGrange's utilities department, she ran into a roadblock. The city requires a social security number from applicants even if it's contrary to the spirit of the Privacy Act. With few options, this mother, who only wanted to give her children--all U.S. citizens--a home with running water, heat and electricity, now stands accused of felony.
Upon her arrest, the federal immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, triggered an ICE detainer for Leydi. With her partner previously deported, her detention required the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to temporarily place the five children into three separate foster homes.
Upon learning of this family's crisis, Charlotte and I immediately responded. Three days after Leydi's detention, just as the Juvenile Court judge was about to grant custody of the children to DFCS, I entered the courtroom. With the consent of the shackled and shell-shocked mother, DFCS officials and the judge agreed to allow the young children to find temporary refuge in our home without state intervention.
The children, between the ages of 4 and 10, remained with us for a week. When Leydi was transferred from the jail into ICE custody, we partnered with the DFCS case manager, and our joint advocacy efforts worked! Leydi was released from ICE custody on her own recognizance and the family was reunited. Of course, this crisis is not over. The mother remains in deportation proceedings, still faces a potential two-year sentence upon conviction, and is in an unstable housing situation.
As for Manny, he recently turned seven-months-old, and his mother is still in prison. We are waiting to find out her fate. Should she be deported, we have everything ready to reunite this U.S. born child with his mother in her native country. If she is paroled and released by ICE pending immigration court proceedings, we will offer transitional housing and support here at Alterna.
As we attempt to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly, every one of us at Alterna, from the youngest to the oldest, is being taught what it means to lead a compassionate life. For our family it has meant a lot less sleep, but a heart awakened by love for a babe named Emanuel, God with us.
"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deut. 15:11 (NIV)
According to the most recent US census report, there are 146 million Americans living in poverty. The Bible makes it clear that God is concerned for the poor and expects us, as individuals, churches, and nations to provide for the poor. This includes providing for immediate material needs as well as for developmental needs that enable individuals to provide for themselves and to make a contribution to the community and to others who are in need.
Several groups have pointed out that while there has been a focus on protecting the "middle class" in this year's US Presidential campaign, there has been little said about those who are most in need. The following is a quote from the blog by Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, US:
"This year, amid the presidential campaigns, we've heard a lot about the middle class...But there's one issue I've missed hearing from both candidates' campaigns: I haven't heard a word about what they propose to do for those who suffer from poverty - here in the United States or around the world."<http://blog.worldvision.org/advocacy/this-campaign-why-isnt-poverty-an-issue/>
There are several resources available from organizations such as Sojourners and World Vision to help us think through the issue of poverty and the presidential election, and opportunities for us to take action to encourage our leaders to consider the welfare of those in need. Consider visiting these links:
- Sojourners: <http://sojo.net/>
- World Vision: <http://www.worldvision.org/>
In addition, Christian leaders representing a variety of groups including the National Association of Evangelicals, Bread for the World, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Mennonite Central Committee, Food for the Hungry, and many other denominational and nondenominational Christian groups have formed the "Circle of Protection." This group "emphasizes that God holds nations accountable for how they treat those Jesus called "the least of these" (Matthew 25:45)." <http://www.circleofprotection.us/index1.html>
The Circle of Protection approached both President Obama and Governor Romney requesting that each provide a brief video speaking to the question of what he "proposes to do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world." These brief videos are available on the Circle of Protection website and at: <http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/09/12/video-obama-romney-answer-faith-leaders-call-address-poverty-election>. The latter version allows more control over buffering for those of us with slow internet speeds.
Both World Vision and Sojourners provide an opportunity for individuals to contacts leaders about the seriousness of poverty in the US and around the world.
- World Vision Blog: <http://blog.worldvision.org/advocacy/this-campaign-why-isnt-poverty-an-issue/>
Click on "Send a message to President Obama and Governor Romney" just following the main blog post.
- Sojourners: <https://secure3.convio.net/sojo/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=511>
There are many issues related to the 2012 US Presidential election and many views on how best to address these issues. Nevertheless, it is clear that we as Christians, as well as people of peace of all faiths, must be concerrned with how we provide for the poor among us. Whether you vote or not, consider what action you can take to speak up for the poor and to provide for their needs.
When I found the chest stored in an old building on the premises of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community where I lived, it was a little beat up but still in good shape. I asked the previous owner, who lived next door to me, if I could fix it up and put it to good use. I painted the hinges and metal corners gold and touched up the black exterior. I made sure I did not paint over the name and address.
Paul Peachey. Japan.
Today, so soon after his death, when I looked at this well-traveled box, I was reminded again of my appreciation for the way Paul lived his life. The chest symbolizes for me Paul's willingness to go where the Spirit led, to live a life like Abraham, driven by a faith connected to a rich history coupled with the promise of something new.
Before Japan, there was Germany. Paul was one of the many Mennonites who left their rural roots to help rebuild Europe after World War II. The quiet in the land quietly changed the world and they left a rich legacy for the rest of us.
It is a legacy that is in danger of being forgotten.
Paul was a founding member of the "Concern Group," a gathering of Mennonite thinkers who were "concerned" that the Mennonite church might be subverted by the ways of the world. After WW II, as Mennonites began to engage more with society, these men wanted to lay a foundation for how that engagement should take place - so that the salt would not lose its saltiness as it were.
It is a word we would do well to heed today. Too often I fear Mennonite churches have accepted beliefs from the mainstream church which are not Anabaptist. That is indeed a concern.
The world is crying out for the voice of the Anabaptist. Our heritage of nonviolence, not-of-this-world-ness, simplicity, community, and love of enemy, alien and stranger, exemplified over the years by people such as Paul, are the ingredients that could change the world. They should not be lost in the soup of evangelical Christianity. Or cast aside for the temporary pleasures of this consumerist society.
This belief is what keeps my fingers tapping at the keyboard late into the night. It leaves me overflowing with gratefulness for the years I knew Paul and a deep appreciation to he and others like him who led by example. But belief and gratefulness alone do not have to be my only responses. Nor should they be.
And there should be a response. This is a legacy NOT an entitlement. So then what will that response be?
Today would have been Paul's 94th birthday so it seems fitting to reflect upon his life and legacy. But how will I choose to live my life after today?
Do I have the guts to pack my Anabaptist beliefs up in that old chest and head out wherever God leads? Do I even know what those beliefs are? Do I believe them?
We run before a great cloud of witnesses. There is new one up there now, cheering us on. I for one have decided to live my life in a way that would honor the life Paul Peachey lived.
That means choosing to take his concerns to heart.
I urge you to do the same
This article originally appeared at <http://peacegrooves.wordpress.com/>