One thing that I find so inspiring in South Africa are the countless people who do and participate in miraculous activities day-in-and-day-out as they strive to make their community better. In working for the Anabaptist Network in South Africa, my wife and I have the honour of meeting different people all around the country and listen to the different ways these people, these normal people, do extraordinary things; often risking their own comfort, their own well-being, and their own security in order to help others. They demonstrate day-in-and-day-out an alternative way of being; a way of being that seeks the well-fair of someone else over their own; a way of being that serves others rather than themselves; a way of being that strives towards peace and justice, not just for themselves but for everyone. It is a different way of living.
Why do I say that this is a different way to live or a different way of being? I say this partly because we are regularly encouraged to focus on ourselves, our own well being, and our own happiness, rather than on someone else. We see this regularly portrayed in T.V. commercials where happiness and success is depicted as getting the keys to the car we always wanted, growing one’s business in order to afford the luxurious life, where bigger is better, where success means power, where power means influence, and where influence means progress. The focus tends to be on the self: securing one’s own success, power, and influence.
Throughout the Bible, however, we find God embodying and asking us to embody a different method, one that challenges the assumption that success, influence, and power is gained by focusing on oneself. In fact, God’s method often turns these assumptions upside-down.
God created us without us;
but God did not will to save us without us.
~ Augustine of Hippo
I have always found good company with the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans when he writes about the groaning inside all of us: “for we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).
Does it seem a little unholy to start a conversation about the triune nature of God by paying attention to the groaning in our gut? The Trinity doesn’t belong there, right? Shouldn’t we start up in heaven? Isn’t it a bit self-centered to turn a sermon on the Trinity into a sermon about us? Isn’t God supposed to be way over there, or way up there? As the prophet Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty” (Isa 6:1a).
Now, to be fair to Isaiah’s vision, God isn’t completely distant: “The hem of God’s robe filled the temple” (v. 1b). There is a point of connection between heaven and earth, and that is the Temple. But in Romans, Paul seems to think that God’s presence is even more intimate than that: God is in us, in our groaning, in our sighs, in our prayers, God’s Spirit is a companion with our spirit. Here’s what Paul says: “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:15b-16). Through the Spirit, God becomes intimate with us, interior to us, completely familiar, a companion. The Holy Spirit is present in our spirit, groaning with us, crying out with us. And with the groaning we begin to get a sense for the Trinity; we become the site of the work of all three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. Our bodies become God’s home. God rests with us, and in us, not as some outside power, not as some cosmic clockmaker, not as some bearded old king on a throne in heaven. God isn’t an outsider to our lives. God isn’t like a king or a president who might choose to save us by sending his troops. God doesn’t send others to do the dirty work. God sends God. That’s why we confess that Jesus is God. If Jesus is not God, then we worship a God who refuses to jump into our mess, then we serve a God who doesn’t like to get dirty. If Jesus is not God, then we praise a God who doesn’t want to get too close—a God who refuses intimacy, who refuses the risks that come along with becoming our friend, our companion.
This is why the language of God’s sovereignty sometimes leads us astray. (more…)
In January I saw an article in the Wichita Eagle about a woman who was thoroughly convinced that the rapture and the end of the world would be on May 21, 2011. At 6pm to be exact. Well, this Saturday is the fateful day and, as one would expect, the story has been picked up by various news outlets.
Now forgive me if I sound a little cynical, but I know my history. From the very first moments that Jesus walked the earth people have been predicting his return, and thus the end of the world with it. So far, no one has been right.
What’s more, I know what happened at Münster. To recap, a group of Anabaptists violently took over the town of Münster and swiftly began killing people, running around naked and doing a whole bunch of other things all because they were certain that Jesus was coming back right then and there.
In speaking of two kingdom theology, Professor Weaver emphasizes the passive inaction of the theology. That it has nothing to say to oppression, that God is the God who empowers violence and the non-resistant have nothing to respond to injustice. Perhaps this is the form of two-kingdom theology that Professor Weaver learned, and I can see with a title like “non-resistance”, a theology might be prone to inaction. Certainly passivity is a concern among many who are raised “non-resistant”.
But two-kingdom theology is not about passivity. Certainly there is a passive aspect to it, even as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting.” So there are actions that those of Jesus’ kingdom do not take. However, the foundational law of the kingdom of Jesus is active: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love isn’t passive, but active. Like the Samaritan in Jesus story, the one of Jesus’ kingdom cannot look at one hurt in the gutter and not act. (more…)
The other day we held one of our regular Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA) discussion groups. We began to tackle the book entitled Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing written by the co-directors of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke University, Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole.
We began to talk about the title of the book. What is reconciliation? Do we need to reconcile all things? Is this realistic within the South African context? Is it realistic in general?
Is reconciliation realistic? A story that was told about a group that came together for a training event to explore themes of ecology and faith. As part of the process, this group underwent an intensive time together, working to build trust with one another so that they would be able and ready to delve into topics that waited to be explored. Building trust in this group was, at first, particularly difficult. The group was racially mixed, bringing together people who had particular assumptions about the other racial groups. This group, however, ended up coming together like no other group had as they broke down the barriers and assumptions that had been constructed and learnt about one another, about each other’s story, and ultimately gained a level of trust for one another.
Is this relationship, this trust, sustainable? This is a valid question. After such a workshop the participants will head back to their different contexts and re-integrate into the community they left; the same community that continues to hold the assumptions that they too held before coming together for this training. Is reconciliation realistic given that people will return and reintegrate into the contexts that continue the life inherited within an unjust context and system, which continues to be socially, racially, and economically segregated? Will the participants of this training event, where racial barriers were broken down, continue to feel part of the reconciled community when they head back to their given context?
This Sunday, I just couldn’t bear church service any longer.
These last days, I followed the horrible news from Japan closely: First, the strongest earth quake, in recorded history causing a tsunami that swept away half a city. Together these two disasters already took at least ten thousand lives. Then comes the nuclear melt down, or not melt down, the news and officials contradict each other, but even the most harmless descriptions of what happens in Fukushima sound horrible.
And then there’s also still Gaddaffi, who slaughters his own people and injustices we don’t even see anymore because we’ve become so used to them. Oh, and I have my Abitur (final German high school exams) coming, which doesn’t really scare me, but should actually have all my attention right now.
So this Sunday morning I’m watching the news and again I’m praying for Japan, praying for the nuclear plant not to melt down but I’m also just f*&%ing afraid of what the speaker is saying next, because all he’s saying conjures a worse and worse picture in my mind. The speaker of the German government talks about how we can’t have a tsunami in Germany and that nuclear power is only a „bridge technology“ meant to be replaced by alternative energies in a few years, but does not say how we ever get passed nuclear energy if we allow the owners of these plants to take all the profits while the state pays for the damages and for the development of alternative energies. The opposition is being critized as „lacking sympathy for the dead and politicising this catastrophe because of the near election“ for demanding we finally shut down our own nuclear plants.
Devastated and looking for solace I went to church – where we sang praise. Songs glorifying God for his awesomeness. (more…)
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.) (more…)
Brian McLaren recently published an article addressing the question, “Is God Violent?” In it he makes a case for God’s nonviolent nature that merits a response—both internal and external—from those of us who desire to follow Jesus.
To read McLaren’s article, click here (NOTE: you will be prompted to register in order to view it).
I’ve wanted to respond to McLaren’s essay for a while.
So when the March 2011 issue of Sojourners showed up in my mailbox, I determined it was time to slow down and reflect on his propositions and the nature of God as I understand it.
McLaren frames his essay in response to the notion that God is violent, as is reflected in the Old Testament narrative and which culminates in Christ’s crucifixion at Calvary.
It’s an idea that many Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) hold true, but McLaren identifies how this profoundly impacts how we interact with one another on multiple levels.
Just read this article. I feel misunderstood; but in a way they do call us out on some stuff. It’s called “Mennonite Takeover?.” What do you think?
All these neo-Anabaptists denounce traditional American Christianity for its supposed seduction by American civil religion and ostensible support for the “empire.” They reject and identify America with the reputed fatal accommodation between Christianity and the Roman Emperor Constantine capturing the Church as a supposed instrument of state power. Conservative Christians are neo-Anabaptists’ favorite targets for their alleged usurpation by Republican Party politics. But the neo-Anabaptists increasingly offer their own fairly aggressive politics aligned with the Democratic Party, in a way that should trouble traditional Mennonites. Although the neo-Anabaptists sort of subscribe to a tradition that rejects or, at most, passively abides state power, they now demand a greatly expanded and more coercive state commandeering health care, regulating the environment, and punishing wicked industries.
Even more strangely, though maybe unsurprisingly, mainstream religious liberals now echo the Anabaptist message, especially its pacifism. The Evangelical Left especially appreciates that the neo-Anabaptist claim to offer the very simple “politics of Jesus” appeals to young evangelicals disenchanted with old-style conservatives but reluctant to align directly with the Left. Most famously, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, once a clear-cut old style Religious Left activist who championed Students for a Democratic Society and Marxist liberationist movements like the Sandinistas, now speaks in neo-Anabaptist tones.
To be honest, in reading this article, there’s not a whole lot that needs to be added. I think the framers of the confession did a remarkable job of wrapping up a lot in a very short piece.
However, what I would like to comment on is something that seems to have received lesser emphasis in our current culture. This article talks a lot about Jesus’ acts and what he did and achieved as a human among us. It deliberately talks about him as someone other than God the Father. He’s a prophet, a high priest, a king, a servant, a Savior, the Son of God, the incarnate Word, the Lord and final judge. But there is something that gets passing mention that I think is important to re-emphasize.
See, in today’s pluralistic society, people like Jesus are a dime a dozen. There are so many religious figures that people can point to as a “good person” or a “prophet like no others” or an “inspiring figure”. People can be disciples of almost anyone, any great teacher. What sets Jesus apart from all the others?
I think the COF points this out when it says
As fully divine, he is the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. During his earthly life, Jesus had an intimate relationship with his heavenly Abba and taught his disciples to pray “Abba, Father.” He is the image of the invisible God, and “all things have been created through him and for him, for he is before all things.
But I think that something brought out in the commentary needs to be brought fore-front in our theology discussions in the church. The commentary points out a passage from Colossians 1 as specifically discussing Jesus divinity. We recognize one God. We recognize one creator. With one God and one Creator and Paul being a VERY Jewish man also steeped in Monotheism, these statements in Colossians bring us pause. (more…)
Crossposted from Ekklesia, UK by ST with permission of Tim Siedel
Experiencing the Lenten season in Palestine is unique. It carries with it incredible feelings of closeness and concreteness as one visits sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem — the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected. Yet, those feelings of closeness are easily swallowed up by a sense of separation and forsakenness as one considers the current situation.
In the recently released Kairos Palestine Document, Palestinian Christians take this situation as their starting point in challenging theological interpretations of those “who use the Bible to threaten our existence as Christian and Muslim Palestinians,” trying to “attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights.”
Though Easter and its celebration of resurrection and new life defines Christianity, in a place like Palestine the season of Lent always seems more appropriate. (more…)
As part of the conversation that often occurred in response to Mennonites in Northern Ghana, who were asking me “what does it mean to be Mennonite?” I would quote a snippet from Menno’s document. (I mean, only sometimes, when they asked specifically about Simons, because “church founders” are a BIG deal there). But the language was such that I always found myself changing the words. These folks loved Jesus, and they weren’t necessarily asking me about what Jesus had to say about discipleship and prayer, but they wanted to know what Menno had to say. They had only relative familiarity with British English and most are distanced from the written word. I wonder if I translated the following accurately? I wonder if it matters? How would you translate/summarize this part of Menno Simon’s Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (1539)
“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto the flesh and blood; it destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; it seeks and serves and fears God; (more…)
Anawim theology is the biblical theology of God’s salvation of the poor and outcast. It is strongly linked to anabaptist theology. “Anawim” is a Hebrew term that means “the poor seeking the Lord for deliverance”, is used in the Psalms extensively and is referred to in the Magnificat and the Beatitudes. If you are interested in reading a popular theology of it you can read the book Unexpected News: Reading The Bible Through Third World Eyes or check out this website: http://www.nowheretolayhishead.org/teachings.html
But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about Avatar.
I understand that some feel that there is some racism in Avatar, and I can see their point, but it would be deeply embedded and certainly not obvious to the masses throughout the world watching it. However, I believe that part of the reason that Avatar is so popular is because of the open Anawim-like theology involved. There is a general morality throughout the world that the underdog should be supported and that God is on the side of the oppressed. Avatar not only supports this, but has a pretty strong morality/spirituality. As I sat and watched it a couple times, I wrote the following principles down that I think describes Avatar’s basic support of Anawim theology:
There is a empire, ruling the world, and its focus is to increase the wealth of a limited few, even if that hurts others. Everyone within the empire is a part of this system of greed, even if they superficially attempt to oppose it. (more…)
So I’ve recently run across the Catholic Rosary. While I’m drawn to it’s structure and it’s ability to help people pray, as a good Anabaptist, I take issue with some of it’s theology. So here is my initial thoughts and proposal for an Anabaptist Rosary.
First- An orientation to the actual Rosary.
How to pray the Rosary
1. Make the Sign of the Cross and say the “Apostles Creed.”
2. Say the “Our Father.”
3. Say three “Hail Marys.”
4. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
5. Announce the First Mystery; then say
the “Our Father.”
6. Say ten “Hail Marys,” while meditating on the Mystery.
7. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
8. Announce the Second Mystery: then say the “Our Father.” Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Mysteries in the same manner.
9. Say the ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ on the medal after the five decades are completed.
As a general rule, depending on the season, the Joyful Mysteries are said on Monday and Saturday; the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday and Friday; the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday and Sunday; and the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday. (more…)
Last evening I sat around our living room with 22 other Living Water Community Church folks and had a frank conversation about racism. The conversation was passionate and open. It ranged from personal stories to talk of definitions of racism and even touched on the practical. It was a new conversation to have with so many people in our congregation. My hope is that our sharing together will the start of a serious process that will include our whole church and not just a one Sunday event in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As most of you well know, the vision of Martin Luther King was not simply dreams of black and white children playing together. It was not just about sitting down and being friends. Some of us have heard of his radical critique of the triple evils of poverty, racism and war. But in Malcolm & Martin & America: a Dream or a Nightmare?, James Cone goes far beyond the quotes and the sound bites to look at the grain of King’s life and shows how his life path and vision was and is inextricably linked with that of Malcolm X.
I highly recommend Malcolm & Martin & America for Christian who recognizes that the problem of racism in the United States did not go away with the election of Barack Obama. It is a surprisingly readable history that tells the story of both men in the context of the history of black nationalism and integration struggles. I’m not qualified to write an overall review of the book, but I will share a few quotes from the book that stood out for me along with a few of my own thoughts.