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New print issue is out – February 24, 2013 issue of The Mennonite Worker

February 24, 2013 (Vol. XX, No. 1) (PDF Download)

image of front page of The Mennonite Worker, Vol XX, No. 1, February 24, 2013 issue 

In this issue…

  • Is a picture really worth a thousand words?
  • 20 Years of The Mennonite Worker?
  • From Missio Dei to Mennonite Worker
  • Joy Mennonite Community News
  • Cooking Corner
  • JMC member arrested in protest of Keystone XL
  • Apocalypse Christmas
  • Baby Shower Pictures!
  • Community Directory Questionnaire

 

Story: Apocalypse Christmas

For those of you who couldn’t be at the special Sunday Christmas worship at Joy Mennonite on December 23rd, here is the story that was read as part of the service…


by Rebecca Branum (reprinted with permission from Our Last Homely House

“Karen, I’m headed back to my pile of charts.  Can you make sure a note gets left for the cleaners about the floor in room 3.  Thanks.”  The doctor headed to her office where only the faintest smudge of orange-gold through the window could attest to the crisp, bright day that was now passing.  Sighing at the large stack of paperwork left to be completed before the last full working day before Christmas could be considered over, she knew that tiny glimmer of daylight would be long gone when she finally walked out the door.

“So, the world didn’t end today I guess!”  The round smiling face of the nurse Karen popped in the door frame.  ”Day’s not over yet, at least not in South America.” Dr Rose shot back with a smile, making Karen laugh and sigh.  ”I guess that’s true.  I sure had trouble writing the date all day though.  My brain just didn’t want to keep 12/21/12 straight.  If you see something in there dated wrong, please correct it for me.  Well, if you don’t mind, I was thinking of locking up now and finishing the day’s totals first thing on Monday, since it will probably be a slow half-day.”

“No problem.” said the doctor, already back bending over her work, pausing only to call down the hall as the nurse scurried away. ”Hope the Christmas concert goes great!”

Soon enough minutes had passed that the doctor was sure she must have long had the dark building to herself, when the sudden sound of a door opening and shutting and the fluorescent hall lights buzzing into a glaring brightness outside of the office door, brought her immediately to her feet with a quickened pulse.

“Karen?”  she called hesitantly, reaching for her phone.  Just because everyone in town knew the little free mission clinic kept no cash or narcotics didn’t mean some desperate person might not think something of value could be found there after dark.  She had the number for the local police almost dialed when she heard a reassuring voice call back, “It’s me, Dr Rose, everything’s OK, but you better come quick though.”

Trotting up the hall, following the lights, she rounded the corner to the front lobby, and saw the good nurse kneeling next to a snow-covered figure hunched in one of the padded chairs.   It was a dark haired girl, dressed in a far-too-thin woolen coat whose rough surface held snowflakes clinging in moist clumps and whose buttons could never have closed over the girl’s bulging pregnant belly.  By her side was a anxious looking teen, not nearly old enough to be called a man, dressed in nothing warmer than a sweater.  Neither of them could have been far past sixteen.  The doctor could sum the general story up in the beads of sweat on the girl’s forehead and the white knuckles gripping the nurse’s hand.

The nurse started chattering in a low but cheerful voice.  ”I had locked up the front door and gone to my desk to make notes on a couple things that I didn’t want to forget on Monday, when I remembered I hadn’t checked the specimen deposit box.  You know the last time it snowed the box iced shut and the driver couldn’t get specimen’s out. So I went out the front to make sure today’s blood had been picked up, when I found these two out in the parking lot.  No car.  Looks like they walked a ways to get here.”

“Contracciones?” the doctor asked no one in particular. “Sí, sí, para one hour,” answered the young man hesitantly.

As the girl’s knuckles began to soften and relax, everyone in the room seemed less tense as well.  ”Me llamo Doctora Rosa. Let’s see if we can move you to an exam room so I can check you out.  Examinarse?”

The girl spoke not a word, throughout, but the young man sought her eyes before every word he said as if mutely asking her permission before answering any questions. In a series of questions and answers back and forth in broken English and Spanish on both sides, the story slowly expanded from the bare facts to a bigger picture.  No matter the language, patients from all backgrounds just had a tendency to tell Doctora Rosa more than they really intended.

Juan Martín and Maria were from a village near the Rio Conchos, north and east of Chihuahua, Mexico.  Life had been hard in this impoverished area increasingly under the control of the Sinaloa Federation, whose clashes with the Juarez cartel for power and influence were taking lives on a daily basis. These two saw no peace in the future for their homeland, and when they had found out about the baby, they knew their future was now only nine months away.  They couldn’t stay.  Under cover of darkness, they had set out with hope of finding their way to Lincoln, Nebraska, where his cousin had a room and a job for him.  Juan never mentioned the crossing, but he did say that after arriving in the states they had been delayed some months in the far south working as day laborers saving all their pennies, and though the statements were vague and clipped, it seems that they may have barely escaped arrest more than once.  A week ago, they finally scraped together enough to buy parts to make a clunker car Juan had earned in exchange for work actually run.  It was missing a window, but it had gotten them as far as this northern Colorado town, when it had finally died at a rest stop.  The only prenatal care Maria had to speak of was a time in early summer, before the baby even started showing, when they had worked for a wise elderly woman, they called “Senora Betty,” who had known immediately that Maria was pregnant and had said the baby would likely be born before the year came to an end and had given them a few gifts and advice.  It seemed like she was the only person along their way who had been excited about their baby.

Under the gentle care of Karen, who replaced a cold coat with warm blankets and soft pillows and filled both their hands with warm instant cocoa and left over cookies, the contractions began to subside.  Dr Rose explained that this was probably an early false labor brought on by cold and stress, but Maria was already dilated some and the baby was good size, head down, probably due any day now.

“You need to find a warm place tonight to rest,” she urged them, explaining that if the contractions came back they should time them and when they were less than two minutes apart for more than an hour they should go to the hospital.  At which they both locked eyes with each other and then dropped their heads. “You know the hospital won’t refuse treatment even if you can’t pay,” the doctor mentioned casually. Juan Martín’s eyes, however, were full of suspicion, clearly speaking of his wariness to be involved with any sort of authorities.  ”Mañana, I will work to make the car go.  We will be safe with our familia.”  The determination in his face made it suddenly seem much older, and touched the doctor’s heart. “Well, in that case, please take my cell phone number, if you have any problems while you are in town, you could call me directly.”

As they gathered up to go, Karen supplied them both with better coats from the lost-and-found box and made plans for them to return tomorrow for a recheck and to spend an hour doing prenatal teaching.  As Doctor Rose stood staring at the desk still full of paperwork but also with a clock blaring an incredibly late time, Karen’s face appeared again, “Poor things, eh?  Babies having babies.  I’m glad we checked her out; I just hope it doesn’t make us both late to church.  I just want to let you know I’m going to drop them off at that cheap motor inn near where their car is so that they don’t have to walk.  They should be able to get a room there for the night.” The doctor nodded. “OK, thanks for telling me.  Be safe, Karen.  I think I’m walking out now too.  There’s no way I can finish this all and make it home in time to get my little angels ready.”

A few hours later, after a hasty supper and a rush to the church, the doctor was still mindful enough of the day’s last encounter to keep an eye out for her colleague.  As soon as she walked into the concert, she was relieved to see Karen safe and well in the choir.  Most of the town seemed to have turned out for the celebration, and the church was overheated and overcrowded enough to make an escape into the frosty night feel good after the long cookie and cider after-party was finally over.

“I’m so proud of you girls! Stop right here. I want to get a quick picture of you all in your angel wings in the snow.  The lights on the church are making you shine like real angels!”  A couple of takes were required to get just the right shot of the squirmy little ones, then off came the wings and on went the coats to the sound of whiny complaints.  ”No, you can’t fit in your car seat with angel wings on, they’d get squished!”  When suddenly the cell phone rang.

“This is Dr Rose.” “How close are the contractions?”  ”Well, I really doubt the baby is coming this quickly, lets go over the things that could be bringing the contractions…..is Maria warm, has she been resting, how much fluids has she drank so far uh.. quantos liquidos.   I see.  Have you thought more about going to the hospital.  Yes, I can hear what you mean, I understand how that could be scary for you.”

As she talked, the doctor’s hands were plugging in safety straps and her eyes were on the two little girls faces.  ”Mommy, is it a baby!  A baby gonna be borned tonight?!” shouted the youngest one.  The older girl’s face lit up as well as she took the cue to proudly recite her line from the concert., “And you will find the baby wrapped in swabbling clothes and lying in a manger!” The littlest giggled with glee, ”Mommy gets to help born the baby Jesus!” and they both broke into a jumbled up chorus of Glorias.

The doctor suddenly found tears in her eyes and a glance to her husband let her know that all was well.  ”Juan, are you at the Motor Inn? Oh, well tell me the address where you are staying.  Ok, I’ll be there to check on Maria in just a few minutes.”  She turned to her husband, “Thanks, babe.  It shouldn’t take long, just a scared couple of teen parents.  I see Officer Mitchell’s patrol car here in front, he must be on duty.  I’ll ask if he can drive me over, that way you can take the girls straight home and you’ll know I’ll be safe.”

A few minutes later they were cruising along in the patrol car. “Are you sure you got everything you need, Doc?”  ”Well, I’ve got the emergency bag I keep in my car which has gloves. I’m sure you’ve got emergency supplies too. I really think gloves are all I actually will need.  This is most likely just a quick check for reassurance sake.  It’s her first baby, and her contractions faded quickly this evening.  It would be a miracle for her if she was ready to deliver this quickly.  You remember what first labor is like, right?”

“You better believe it.  My Marcy was so glad you were there to help her out.  Twenty five hours of labor, I still don’t know how women do it?” the ruddy faced young officer smiled and shook his head.  ”How is little Billy doing these days? I haven’t seen him since his last check-up.”  The smile got even wider, “Oh he’ll be walking any day now!  He’s outgrown his first carseat and is going through clothes sizes like crazy… Say, I thought that address you read was a bit fishy.  Are you sure you got the number right?”

They were both staring at the sign for Save-a-Lot Storage when they saw a figure struggling up the block through the thick snow.  ”That’s him!  Wait here and let me talk to him” said Dr Rose, jumping out of the car. “Hello! Juan!  It’s Doctora Rosa,” She said cheerfully as she trudged up to him.  ”Look, I brought my friend, Officer Mitchell, with me to help drive me, just in case there was any kind of emergency.  I don’t want you to worry.  He’s not here to ask you any questions or get involved, he’s just here to give me a ride.”

It was a subtle warning sign to her that something was different this time when Juan Martín didn’t even blink an eye.  ”Vamos! Hurry!” was all he said as he led the way into the rows of storage units to a small one somewhere in the middle where he yanked open the heavy sliding door.

On a makeshift pallet on the floor of the half-empty metal-walled square was poor Maria, still quiet, but in obvious distress.  The doctor was on the floor by her side in an instant feeling the strength of the contractions through the girl’s thread-bare but still clean shirt when the Officer’s car came rolling up through the snow.

“Sorry Doc, it took me a bit to find the emergency key that Old Marcus has us keep so we could check on any trouble here at night.  Whoa,” he said as he sized up the situation. “I thought you said they were gonna be staying at the motor inn, you gonna tell me there literally was no room in the inn?!”

“I’d rather think it was a matter of no money for the room.  We’ll sort it all out in a minute, right now I need you to bring me my bag, I left it in the seat.”  From there it was a matter of only moments for gloves to go on and the whole situation laid bare.  ”Wow, she’s really progressed,” the doctor said with eyes towards the Officer in slight dismay.  ”Her water has broke and she’s fully dilated; the head is nearly crowing with this contraction.”

“Uhh…What does that mean?” was the shocked reply. “It means this baby is coming now. I need all the emergency supplies from your car including a flashlight,” said the doctor calmly.  ”Well, maybe that won’t be necessary.  I’ll just call dispatch for an ambulance first.  They could be here in less than five minutes and they’d have all their supplies ready,” he turned in purpose to go. “Wait, Bill, wait!” said the doctor struggling to her feet. “Look at them.  They can’t afford an ambulance.  They can’t even afford a $39 hotel room.”  He turned back, “Well you can’t just deliver a baby in a storage locker when there’s a perfectly good hospital right here in town!  It’s just too risky.”  The doctor stepped close, her voice firm but pleading, “These two can’t afford a hospital, and most likely they weren’t born in one themselves.  Babies are born at home all the time.  Anyway, hospital could be the death of these two.  You know when the hospital finds out they are undocumented and unable to pay someone will end up whispering it in the sheriff’s ear and he just won re-election on anti-immigration.  He’s been down to the clinic board meeting complaining that we shouldn’t care for undocumented patients since we have a small grant from the county. You want to talk risky, if they get sent back to where they came from everyone will know they were able to successfully make the crossing, the cartels will target them.  They’ll be sitting ducks.”  Bill’s eyes were now on the young man, holding the girl’s head up so that it didn’t have to lay in the dingy matted blankets.  ”Come on, Bill, it’s nearly Christmas.  If there’s any time we should remember that some kids could even be born in a barn and still turn out OK its at Christmas.  Just bring me everything you’ve got.”

Only a short space of time later, with a metallic emergency blanket for a bed, the little Martín baby girl made her entrance into the world the same way all babies do.  Dried and warmed and wrapped, with both parents arm’s around her, the doctor finally was able to step back and the officer shut off his bright torch.  The dim, naked bulb overhead cast a weak orange beam down on the little family, and the reflected sparkles off the shiny blankets made the threesome seem to faintly glow.

And at just that moment, the church bells down the street began to chime.  Twelve long peals rang out through the brisk night air, but the little family didn’t seem to notice.

“You know my neighbor has a little mother-in-law house in his yard empty.  He and his wife are really generous.  I’ll call and see if they’ll let the mom and baby stay for a few days, and Marcy would be glad to have someone to give Billy’s clothes and carseat to.”  The Officer lifted the heavy metal door and glanced around and chuckled. “Well, I guess those Mayan’s got it wrong.  World still seems to be here.  Nothing’s changed.”

For a moment Doctor Rose joined in his relieved laugh.  It felt good to laugh in the moonlight and relax now knowing the baby was healthy and safe, but she rather quickly sunk her voice into an almost whisper. “Maybe, maybe, but who knows, really.  What’s that song say, ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end’?  For these two, this is the end of life as they knew it.  Everything will be changed for them now.  And so in a distant way, everything will be a little changed for all of us.  It’s the end of a world without this baby.  She’s here now, and the world will be different for it.  Heaven knows with the week our country has had, maybe we should regret that nothing much has happened to change the world today.  Maybe we should feel ashamed that we all waste time looking to some apocalyptic comet to change our course because we all feel too small and weak to do it ourselves”  Her voice grew stronger as she laughed at her own seriousness.  ”Boy, listen to me, I must be tired now! I guess all I’m trying to say is maybe if we all don’t wake up to the world utterly changed, we shouldn’t blame it on the Mayans.”

“Maya. Te amo este nombre.”  The doctor quickly looked over to the face of the new mother to catch the first words she had heard the girl say.  Patting her baby and smiling, the girl said clear and strong, “Maya Rose Martín.”  The doctor and the Officer looked at each other in wonder, and then each smiled back, a world-changing kind of smile, and with tears in her eyes the good doctor simply said “I love this name too!”

September 2012 Issue 9 (PDF download)

September 2012 Issue (PDF Download)

image of front page of The Mennonite Worker, September 2012 issue 

In this issue…

  • An Intro to The Mennonite Worker
  • What is a Mennonite Worker?
  • Voting
  • The beginning of the end of AIDS
  • Mennonite Worker Seminary
  • Joy Mennonite Community News
  • Church Garden Report
  • In Memory of Martha Shoemaker
  • Cooking Corner
  • Congregational Life Committee

 

A little way of Justice and Peace

by Bob Waldrop

(reprinted with permission from Justpeace.org)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and gave humanity the stewardship of Creation. It is evident that we have not done well with that responsibility. The great need of this time is for Christians to take personal responsibility for the proper stewardship of Creation. The Lord does not need people to go along to get along with the culture of death. God calls us to act boldly & decisively against the culture of death which promotes greed, mindless material consumerism, lust, and violence.

High sounding ideals are great – but we must also ask – what do they mean in actual practice? How can we praise God while demanding that the government kill little kids in foreign countries to satiate our greed for gasoline? Are we like the Church in Laodicea, to whom our Lord in the book of Revelations in the Bible said, “I know your works, I know that you are neither hot nor cold. . . so, because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelations 3)

Are we ready to speak truth to power not only with our words, but with the way we live our lives? Can we reach for holiness and sanctity and not have that manifest in our lifestyle? How can we live a life that calls the government to peace, not war? Everyone must examine his or her own life with spiritual eyes wide open, and make choices about their ways and manners of living. Here are some ideas for discernment by people interested in Christian orthopraxis- right living – an orthopraxis that is rooted in orthodoxy. If you want a sign of contradiction to this modern world of violence, greed, lust, and gluttony, this is it. (See also the Works of Justice and Peace, page 20)

1. “The Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” Nurture blessings & hope in your own life & in the life of your community. Promote solidarity & cooperation. Don’t leave the poor behind for the wolves to devour. Pray without ceasing.

2. “Where your treasure is, there will also be your heart.” Spend less money in the unsustainable and unjust corporate globalized economy. Spend more money in the local just and sustainable grassroots economy. Where practical, spend your money with cooperative, worker owned enterprises and locally owned sole proprietorships. Avoid the franchises and glomart big box chain stores. When you buy from the glomart economy, you may also be financing ecological devastation, destruction of local cultures, dispossession of traditional peoples, authoritarian regimes, energy waste, corruption, violence against women and children, political repression, war, and animal cruelty. Give generously to help those in need.

3. “Faith without works is dead.” Accept responsibility for your own life, but understand your interdependence with others and the importance of community. Be aware of your ecological environment and how your lifestyle impacts the community and the world you live in and other people. “What I do doesn’t matter” is a lie we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better about doing wrong.

4. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Consider carefully how and where you earn your money; aim for a “right livelihood”. Work with an inner understanding that you are following an hon-orable vocation that supports yourself and your house-hold, be your job mopping floors or composing sym-phonies. Help the enterprise you work for or own, whether it is for profit or not, to learn and implement just and sustainable principles that help you do your jobs using less energy and producing less pollution, while being a good and honest neighbor. If your job involves building nuclear bombs or raping the environment, find less deadly and destructive ways to make a living. Consider creating a job in the grassroots local economy. This could be starting a business or forming a cooperative business. Don’t be afraid to start small, we often start small or we don’t start at all. Earning less money, consistent with your circumstances (the size of the family and debts), is generally a good ascetical discipline to follow. Do not despise manual labor. In fact, make sure that manual labor is part of your lifestyle.

5. “The borrower is the slave of the lender.” Flee the bondage of debt. If you must borrow money for education or housing, pay it off as quickly as you can, always make extra principle payments on loans. Never finance frivolous consumption with borrowed money on credit cards. If you must borrow money, borrow from a credit union. Use a credit union for savings and checking accounts.

6. “Jacob journeyed and built for himself a house.” Find a congenial place and put down roots. Living in a building that you own (by yourself or in cooperation with others) and that is debt free is a very great blessing. If you have a mortgage (literally “death grip” in Latin), make extra principle payments every month. To achieve this goal, it may be necessary for you to think outside of the box and be creative to make the most of your circumstances. For example, two families with limited income might not be able to afford a single family house, each on its own resources. But they could buy a duplex together. Or a half dozen young people could join together as a housing cooperative and buy a large older house.

7. “Waste not, want not.” Minimize your energy consumption. Invest in energy conservation and alternative, renewable energies. Super insulate your housing consistent with your climate. Walk, take public transportation, or ride a bicycle, wherever possible. Organize your life so you can live car free or alternatively, to minimize use of a personal vehicle. If you do drive a car, be economical in its operation. Think twice about vacations that consume large amounts of energy, look for ways to travel lightly on the land when you leave your home community for business or pleasure. Go to local and regional conferences and meetings that don’t require much travel, not to national and international gatherings unless there is a necessary reason for doing so. Be wary of travel to ecologically sensitive areas. When you consider the amount of space you need to live in, remember that “more space” generally translates into “more money and more energy expense”. Remember that “stuff” has energy embodied in its manufacture and distribution, so the more new stuff you buy, the more energy you are consuming.

8. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Practice personal detachment from material goods. Live simply that others may simply live. Remember that you are NOT your stuff. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, make do, do without, use less stuff. Patronize the aftermarket in places like swap meets, thrift stores, and flea markets. Avoid new stuff as much as possible. Don’t buy clothing made in sweatshops. Limit your consumption of resources, including water. If you buy something new, buy it from a locally owned business or directly from a local producer. Don’t buy imported merchandise from Third World countries unless it is certified as “Fair Trade”.

9. “Invest in root stock.” Grow some of your own food. Plant fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and other perennial food crops. Preserve heirloom varieties of plants and animals. Buy food from local growers or processors. Encourage schools and churches to start gardens. Don’t buy any meats, eggs, or poultry that originate in Confined Animal Feeding Operations, buy meats from farmers who treat their free-ranging flocks and herds humanely and naturally. Cook meals from basic ingredients; don’t buy junk food, make your own snacks and beverages or buy locally grown and made foods and drinks from neighborhood stores, bakeries, or brewers. Eat with the season, don’t buy fresh produce in the winter unless it was grown in your area. Learn home food processing skills and depend less on international commercial food corporations. Stop buying and eating fish from the sea.

10. You are not your wardrobe. Clothing is one of the easiest necessaries to find in thrift stores and flea markets. If you must have new clothes, make them yourself or have a local tailor or seamstress make them for you, or at least only buy clothes with union or cooperative labels. Minimize your purchases of clothes that require dry cleaning; air and sun dry your clothes after they’re washed instead of using a clothes dryer. Don’t buy clothing that has been produced in sweatshops.

11. “Gather your community.” Connect with your local neighbors and friends. Be a good neighbor. Help your neighbors and friends and work with them to make your community more sustainable and resilient. Be active with civil society organizations or informal associations that are working for good causes and goals. If you vote, do so intelligently and with thought about the consequences. If you have no community, find one or create one.

12. “Be alert and aware.” Know what’s going on. Search out “side-stream” media for news and useful information. Tell others what is happening in your area and be generous in sharing knowledge and skills. Ignore government and corporation propaganda. Don’t buy the lie that “what you do doesn’t matter”. Kill your television, or at least grievously wound it. Beware of and resist media messages that encourage gluttony, waste, and instant gratification, which are often the source of the excuses you make to yourself that keep you from doing what you need to do. Procrastination is deadly.

13. “Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.” Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Select small, easy projects at first (“pick the low hanging fruit”) and as you get better at those, adopt bigger and more challenging goals. If you can’t do the best, it’s OK to be simply better, or at least good, even “fair to middling.” Be willing to start small, or it is likely you will never start at all. But beware of procrastination. Learn many things. Practice many skills. Teach others. Be ready to adapt to major changes that may come your way. To avoid fools, take steps.

14. “Think globally, act locally. “ When the going gets rough, nobody gets thrown to the wolves. This is a basic principle of a civilization of life and love; we ignore it to our peril. Our first concern is naturally for those who are closest to us, but that can’t be the extent of our involvement. Our families, friends, and neighborhoods are impacted directly by world events. Our response to the globalization of greed and gluttony, and to the rise of violence in this world, is the globalization of solidarity, which must manifest itself in practical actions, not just rhetorical flourishes. An injury to one indeed is an injury to all: we must make injustice visible and protect the poor and the powerless. The more solidarity and cooperation that is present in a society, the more resilient, just, and sustainable it is

15. ”Remember the time of hunger in the day of plenty.” Watch out for dangers that may be ahead, and act in advance to mitigate the impact of such events. The time to build the cellar is before the tornado hits.

16. Support political & voluntary initiatives that promote sustainability and resilience, such as public transportation, energy efficiency, renewable energy resources, small farms, decentralized econo-mics, balanced government budgets, & local markets.

17. “Love life as it is.” Be present to each moment as you go through time and place. Be open to the wonder of grace that abounds, and be wary of the demons which prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Do everything with a heart of generosity and gratitude and with joy and celebration. Pray without ceasing.

Opinion: John 3:16 in Context

by Moses Mast

(previously published in the January 20012 issue of the Joy Mennonite Church newsletter)

John 3:16 may be the most quoted verse of scripture. It seems it is usually used as a one verse message, sort of like all you need to know to avoid eternal damnation and get to heaven is found in this verse. This verse is understood as a teaching of Jesus, however our interpretation does not fit the pattern of Jesus teachings. Jesus teachings were primarily concerned with how you live on this earth and God will take care of eternity. The common understanding of this verse was a recipe of getting to heaven.

The way I used to perceive this verse, if I could persuade people to accept Jesus as a sacrifice for their sins and do this in a prescribed ritual they would be saved from eternal damnation and be assured they will get to heaven. However , how can we ask people to
believe in Jesus if they have no idea what Jesus taught?

The story begins with a spiritual leader of the Jews named Nicodemus who came to visit Jesus by night. Nicodemus said, we know you are a teacher come from God because no one can perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him. From other passages we learn that Jesus was not eager for people to believe in him because of the miracles he performed. Jesus seemed to understand that those who come to believe by seeing the spectacular will be slow to accept the kingdom values and way of life he was
teaching. Jesus would have preferred for Nicodemus to say, we believe because we have seen you minister to the forgotten ones, the neglected one, with a message of hope for the sinners.

Jesus gave an answer whose meaning has been debated ever since, ”you must be born again.” This was a stroke of genius on Jesus part. If Jesus would have given Nicodemus a direct answer of what he meant by that statement he would have lost him. Instead Nicodemus was puzzled but also curious. The Jews believed, as Nicodemus said because of the miracles but they also had doubts. The Jews had two traditions they were passionate about, keeping of the Sabbath and their laws of purity forbidding them to relate to disreputable people and especially emphasized one should not eat with such people. Jesus was accused of violating both of these laws. Nicodemus must have been aware of this and so was Jesus. In spite of the miracles the Jews still found it difficult to believe in one who violated their most treasured beliefs.

So what did Jesus mean by this unexpected reply to Nicodemus. Whatever I will suggest will probably only be a partial answer. I would suggest Jesus meant something like this: You Jews have too much baggage with all your traditions to comprehend the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God no one is to be excluded from the love of God.There is a starting point and you cannot get to the starting point
because of your deep seated beliefs and traditions. You believe you can name those who should be excluded from the love of God. The starting point is to be born again of the spirit.

Perhaps we will understand it better if we first attempt to understand what Jesus meant by being born of the flesh. The religious tradition you are born into, no matter how passionate you are about observing these traditions, is not as reliable as teachers of absolute truth. The spirit is like the wind, you cannot see the wind but you can see what the wind does. So it is with the spirit, you can see what the spirit does, and anything less then understanding that no one shall be excluded from the love of God is not of the spirit.

So now we come back to John 3:16. Now “for God so loved the world” sounds like a defense for associating with publicans and sinners that Jesus was accused of. If God loves the world, so should we. If there are no exclusions on Gods part there should be no exclusions on our part. Permit me to make a comparison of Jesus experience and a current issue. Jesus broke their law by associating and eating with sinners. Jesus did not deny these were sinners but said just like it is not those who are well that need a doctor but those who are sick. So instead of saying we have a law that forbids my association with sinners Jesus went and heard their stories and offered love and acceptance. A current issue people feel passionate about is the issue of homosexuality. Do not think you know where I stand on this
issue. I am still in the learning process. Instead of saying we have a rule in the confession faith I would suggest we follow the example of Jesus and go sit with them and hear their stories without judging them and permit the spirit to lead us.

Opinion: Nations, Not Just Individuals Must be Held Accountable for War Crimes

by Moses Mast

(This was previously published in the April 22, 2012 issue of the Joy Mennonite Church newsletter)

The incident of the soldier from the U.S. army leaving the military base in Afghanistan and murdering sixteen Afghanistan citizens, nine of them children, is shocking news to the American people. This is just not American. We might say we could understand this from our enemies, Muslims or North Korea, but that this, we insist, does not represent America. Indeed it may not represent mainstream America but if we look at history it does represent a nation at war, all nations, and America is no exception. Stories of wartime massacres abound. We even have atrocities in the Bible, acts that we would not expect from the Hebrew people. It would
seem that any nation that becomes more powerful then their neighbors can easily fall into the trap of committing an atrocity.
There is a certain progression of events in these atrocities. First, there is the act of violence, then comes the cover up, and then comes a person who exposes the truth (sometimes called a prophet or a news reporter), and then finally comes the outcry accusing the truth
teller of being a traitor.

This particular atrocity in Afghanistan could not be hidden, so the outcry seeks to put the blame on one person so that we as a nation could be absolved from all responsibility for this horrendous act. The United States has a history of war crimes that we should be able to learn from, especially in Vietnam where we committed numerous atrocities of war. The one the news media focused on was the My Lai massacre. where a whole village was murdered. There were several news reporters who tried to look beneath the surface to try and
understand how such a crime could be committed. One wrote, “It takes a nation to make a massacre.” His analysis concluded that it was more then the soldiers who did the killing, or even their superiors who gave the orders. The nation that seeks the reason to go to war and wins support for the war, the army that trains its citizens to fight, the congress that funds the war, and the citizens who elected that congress… all these bear a responsibility for what happens in the stress of war itself. This reporter said, “There is no justice if the only people accused of murder are the people we send off to war.”
In the story of the My Lai massacre there is also the story of three helicopter pilots who tried to halt the massacre and protect the wounded. They were able to fly some out to safety. They did this at great risk to their own lives. Later they were recognized and decorated for this heroic deed, but being recognized brought them more trouble from angry citizens and several congressmen who denounced them as traitors.

Stories like this seem to repeat themselves. We see the pattern in the case of Bradley Manning who exposed the war crimes in Iraq. The public reaction should not surprise us; it is exactly as one would expect. We can be hopeful that, just as in Vietnam, the truth will be acknowledged some day. In the meantime what is expected of those who protest the war and support the truth teller? We must still
acknowledge that if we live in the United States and experience the economic benefits that we as a nation fight for, then we must do more then protest. It is difficult to know how I as one person can effect any change worth mentioning but I will try and name a few ways we can act.
1) Be truthful and honest about what I contribute to an excuse for war.

2) Take the risk of supporting the truth tellers who expose war crimes.

3) Follow the global standard of living and eliminate the need to take from others to enrich myself.

4) Share the earths resources.

5) Support just immigration laws
There must be more one could say. I hope this will stimulate others to say more. We all need to be a part of the conversation.

Opinion: Voting

by Zach Gleason

Some of you know I was recently interviewed for the Smiley and West radio program. The issue was electoral participation. Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornell West have been critical of many of the president’s policies, notably his acceptance of super-PAC money after his famous denunciation of it before the Supreme Court justices at the State of the Union address. The president opposes this money on principle, yet he accepts it in reality because of its practical usefulness.

I shared this criticism. The president is being hypocritical. Our actions should match our words. While we all agreed on this point, we disagreed about what to do on Election Day. Despite their intense criticism of the president on this issue and many others (drone attacks, record support for Israel’s oppression of Palestine, record levels of deportations which separate parents from children, increased attacks on whistleblowers, and an overall neglect of the poor), Smiley and West still intend to vote for the president’s re-election. I do not.

The show’s hosts are critical of the president’s hypocrisy, yet they choose to vote for him. This choice is itself hypocritical. They say the president is wrong to set aside his principles for practical political considerations, yet at the election they will set aside their own principles for practical political considerations.

But I shouldn’t be too hard on Tavis Smiley and Dr. West. They are doing what it seems everyone is doing. Everyone seems to mourn the practice of politicians who sacrifice their principles in order to get elected, and yet millions of these same people reinforce that behavior when they cast their votes for these same politicians.

I can understand that decision. We’ve been indoctrinated to vote. Voting and democratic participation are all good things that all good boys and girls will do when they grow up. The American myth is an appealing one. Everybody gets a vote, so that we can all work together and resolve our differences peacefully. Peace equals compromise, and compromise equals voting for the lesser of two evils. Even if the lesser of two evils uses his power to kill and oppress innocent people, we should still support that candidate. There are only two choices after all. If the choice is between evil and more-evil, we must choose evil.

No. Not as Christians. Not as Mennonites. We have already committed ourselves to something else. As followers of Christ we are followers of the one who refused to side with the lesser of two evils – the one who refused the default options presented to him and forged a new path.

When I express my opinion on this issue, the answer is almost always that I should look at the consequences. If I don’t vote for this candidate, the other one might win. I try to be charitable. I try to put aside the reality that in Oklahoma my vote does not matter (which would be true even if my vote could affect thousands of other votes). The president has already effectively conceded
this state. Rather than deal with reality that courts usually end up deciding close elections, I try to focus on the hypothetical scenario where my vote might affect the outcome.

In that wild fantasy, it’s still a choice between two candidates with remarkably similar policies. Both candidates would surround themselves with advisers picked from the wealthy elite. (We saw how quickly the Obama administration threw its most notable exception to that rule, Shirley Sherrod, under the bus). Both candidates would continue obscene military spending. Both would decide questions of international relations on the basis of political expediency rather than siding consistently with justice. Both candidates will continue the historical bipartisan policies of deregulation and environmental apathy. And both candidates will change their positions whenever it is personally advantageous.

I’m personally more comfortable discussing things theoretically; there’s less arguing over the facts if we just define our terms clearly up front. There are reasons to take the lordship of Jesus seriously – as opposed to the lordship of Obama or Romney. There are church-centered theological reasons for abstaining from worldly elections. But it seems like the particularities of this election are the overwhelming focus in the minds of most. If we are unwilling to look beyond the lesser of two evils, I fear we are setting the bar too low.

When we decide that Obama’s suspension of principles, increased deportations, and killing of the innocent in drone attacks are acceptable sacrifices (or if we decide in favor of Romney’s inevitable equivalent missteps), we might do well to consider the history of so called “acceptable sacrifices.” Howard Zinn put it this way:

“If there are necessary sacrifices to be made for human progress, is it not essential to hold to the principle that those to be sacrificed must make the decision themselves? We can all decide to give up something of ours, but do we have the right to throw into the pyre the children of others, or even our own children, for a progress which is not nearly as clear or present as sickness or health, life or death?”

 

Opinion: It’s time to take a stand for LGBT Inclusion in the Mennonite Church

by James M. Branum

NOTE: This opinion piece represents the views of the author and does not represent the official stance of Joy Mennonite Church.

Introductory Note: I wrote this op-ed for our church newsletter. I’ve decided to publish it here as well.

We have a long tradition in our church of being willing to discuss difficult issues. This essay is written as part of that tradition.

I believe it is time for our congregation to take a proactive, public stance in affirmation of our gay brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’ve been a member of this congregation for seven years. During this time the issue of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) equality has been formally raised on at least two occasions. In both instances, we agreed that while church membership was open to all, we would not state this publicly out of concern of how our decision might affect unity in the Mennonite Church.

I don’t think we can hold to this stance in good conscience anymore.

The issue of Scripture

The Mennonite tradition is a Christian tradition that uses a Christ-centered method of Biblical interpretation; this is important since the canonical Gospel accounts do not show Jesus ever discussing homosexuality.

(more…)

Opinion: Why am I a Mennonite?

by James M. Branum

I’m a Mennonite by choice1, meaning that I’m not an ethnic Mennonite but rather one that chose the faith. There is of course a long history of “Mennonites by Choice,” especially since the heart of the Anabaptist tradition (which the Mennonites are a part of) is rooted firmly in the ideals of voluntary faith and adult commitment to that faith by baptism.

Recently I’ve been told that by some well-meaning Mennonites that I’m not a “real Mennonite.” The concern for them wasn’t my ethnicity or my religious heritage, but rather the fact that my beliefs are not what they consider to be within the boundaries of Mennonite orthodoxy.

In light of this, I’ve decided to write this essay of explanation.

I started attending Joy Mennonite Church in November 2003 after having spent my prior years bouncing back and forth between the Churches of Christ (from birth through 1997, and again from about 2002-2003) and non-denominational charismatic churches (where I spent 1997-2002). Before I came to Joy, I was already convinced that many of the Anabaptist teachings were true. And this wasn’t just a head knowledge but a deep resonance in my heart with the values of peace, social justice, simple living, and a radical loyalty to Jesus over that of one’s nation.

Over the coming months, I learned a great deal more. I remember Moses (our pastor at the time) telling me that Mennonites are different because we don’t use force or power to try to make people do the right thing, but rather respect the free will of others. This revelatory thought changed how I saw my faith and how I related to others.

By the Spring of 2004 I was ready to join the church, however, there was one looming question for me. Would the church accept me because of what I believed about hell?

I had grappled with the idea of a literal hell for the previous few years and had become convinced that there was no way that a truly loving God would feel the need to torture sinners for eternity simply because they believed the wrong thing. Or to say it another way, I could no longer believe that a righteous Buddhist or Muslim was condemned forever simply because they didn’t have the right understanding about who Jesus was.

So one Sunday, while eating lunch with Moses & Sadie (his wife), I asked them, “I’m not sure I believe in hell anymore. Is that a problem?”

Moses’ answer was to the point, “I’m not sure I do either.”

This was when I knew I had found the right church.

Of course, not everyone at Joy agreed then or now on this issue. And we disagree about other issues too. While we’ve mostly agreed on the importance of the core Anabaptist beliefs, we’ve disagreed on how these beliefs are best lived out. And we’ve certainly disagreed on other theological issues. But we’ve still found ways to get along and work together.

A few years later, Moses retired from the pastorate. Another member of the church (a former Baptist pastor who left the denomination, in part because of its tilt towards fundamentalism) was called to be our pastor, while I was called to be our new Minister of Peace & Justice, a new position which consisted of me preaching once a month and coordinating our congregation’s peace & justice ministries. Along with this, the new position was seen as a way to support my pro-bono work as a lawyer in defending soldiers seeking an early discharge from the military.

By way of explanation for my non-Mennonite readers, in Mennonite Church USA, the church polity is that the congregation calls its ministers but the regional conference effectively approves the call through a credentialing process. In this process, I was given a choice between two paths, either to be ordained (a longer process, where one receives a credential that is good for life and transferable between different ministries) or to be commissioned (a shorter process, where one receives a credential that is only valid for a specific area of ministry). I chose the commissioning process.

As part of his process, I was given a series of questions to answer in writing. On one of the questions, I was asked to examine the Mennonite Confession of Faith, and to indicate which parts I strongly agreed with and which parts I strongly disagreed with. As I recall my only major issue of disagreement was over the Confession’s stance on homosexuality. Interestingly, I don’t think I mentioned the issue of a literal hell in my response (Article 24 of the Mennonite Confession of Faith does briefly mention hell, but there is no discussion of it being a literal place of eternal torment), but I think this was because I honestly didn’t think it was that controversial of an issue in Mennonite circles.

After responding to the conference’s written questions (both about theology as well as my own personal faith journey), I traveled to Newton, Kansas to be questioned in-person by our regional conference’s pastoral leadership commission (a board composed of our conference minister as well as some of the other ministers and pastors from our conference). As I recall, there was some tension between myself and some members of the panel on some issues (notably the homosexual controversy and my Jesus-centric way of reading scripture), but it seemed that most of the panel members were ok with me and my views. In the end, the panel voted to accept me.

I knew that not all of the members of the commission agreed with my theological perspective, but I think they did believe that my beliefs fit within the spectrum of beliefs accepted by the conference and our denomination. And this same commission accepted the man who would be come our pastor as well, despite the significant theological differences that he and I had. (the new pastor was a moderate Evangelical Mennonite while I was a very liberal Mennonite)

This acceptance of diversity extended to our congregation as well. While most of our members believe, as I do, in the morality of absolute resistance to war and military service, we also have a minority who believe that military service could be a moral act that is rooted in a desire to make the world more peaceful. The key is that we have found ways to continue to engage in dialogue with each other and still accept each other as brothers and sisters.

# # #

The next few years were challenging ones for us as a congregation. The new pastor and I (and other church members too) sometimes butted heads – especially during that first year, but in time, we found ways to get along and to work together on areas of common concern.

Recently the environment of inclusion changed. A few members of the church felt that certain areas of theological orthodoxy were essential in determining who may serve in church ministry roles, while others have continued to argue for a more inclusive approach. (There were of course other issues at play too, but they go beyond the scope of this essay) These debates have made others question whether people like me really belong in this church or not. And I’ve asked the question myself, do I really belong?

The conclusion I came to is that I am very much a Mennonite, the reason being that I try to follow the teachings of Jesus and that I still want to continue to be part of the community of those who seek to follow his core radical teachings.

The challenge of course is to define what are the “core radical teachings of Jesus.” I think a good summation of these beliefs is found in the book, The Naked Anabaptist (FYI, the book title refers to an attempt to define the tradition not as something bound in German/Swiss/Russian-based Anabaptist culture of the 18th century, but rather to get to the “naked truth” of what the tradition might look like without the cultural baggage).

A recent issue of the Mennonite Weekly Review did a review of the book and pulled out a good summary of what the book claims are seven core beliefs of the Anabaptist tradition today. I want to share them again here:

  1. Jesus is our example, friend, redeemer and Lord.
  2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation.
  3. Western Culture is emerging from the Christendom era.
  4. Associations of the church status, wealth and force and inappropriate and damage our witness.
  5. Churches are to be communities of discipleship and mission, friendship, mutual accountability and multivoiced worship.
  6. Spirituality and economics are interconnected.
  7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel.

These 7 points do a good job of summing it all up and our points that I can strongly affirm.

And I think these are points we can and should agree on. They serve as a good summary of the core teaching that Joy Mennonite (and the broader Mennonite tradition) affirms. Outside of these points, we will of course disagree. And even within these points, we will likely disagree on how these values are best lived out.

And let’s not pretend otherwise. There are many points of potential disagreement outside and even within our limited points of unity. A few points where we won’t agree include:

  1. Does hell exist as a literal place of eternal torment?
  2. Are non-Christians our brothers and sisters too?
  3. What are the boundaries of moral sexual conduct for consenting adults?
  4. How exactly scripture is inspired?
  5. Is it moral to drink alcohol in moderation?
  6. Should Mennonites pay taxes?
  7. Should Mennonites vote?
  8. Is it moral to drive a car?
  9. Is it moral to eat meat?
  10. What should our worship services look like?

There are a lot of other things we could disagree about. The key is that these are all things that we can disagree on in good conscience.

Even the big question of exactly how atonement works is something that Mennonites can disagree about in good faith. (see commentary on Article 8 of the Mennonite Confession of Faith and its discussion of three of the major atonement theories)

As to the points of agreement, we must be realistic. Even the limited points of unity are not easy things to unite behind. We are swimming against the current. To oppose the values of the American empire, to reject “status, wealth and force,” to refuse to isolate our economics from our faith — all of these things are counter-cultural values. It is tough to live out these values and because of that we will often fall short. But I think these values are worth striving for, and worth praying for. We should be persistent in seeking after these things.

In short, the Mennonite tradition embraces the revolutionary ideal of the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is a shalom vision that dares to imagine and work for a world that exists in peace, harmony, justice and completeness.

This vision, and the loving community I’ve found at Joy Mennonite (imperfect as it is) is why I am still a Mennonite.

1I’m also an Associate/Dual member of the Oklahoma City Friends Meeting (the Quakers). I joined after receiving the blessing of my Mennonite Church. An explanation of why I’m both a Mennonite and a Quaker will have to be saved for another day.