Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed is the spirit that the poor possess

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Living 10 years in Latin America, where one inevitably encounters poverty and is therefore affected by it, has shaped my life, my priorities, and my thinking.

What’s more, I was lucky enough not to live at arms length from those who were poor. Our family and the work of my parents had us building relationships with those who were poor. I got to listen to, had friendships with, and walked side-by-side with those who were struggling with poverty. These experiences and relationships have changed my life. Now, being formed by these relationships, I find myself continuing to walk with those who are poor. This has led me to work in prisons, homeless shelters, and in communities in South Africa where my hope is that I can be in solidarity with those whose lives are spent struggling against that which systemically causes, creates, or keeps people in poverty. This is, after all, a struggle for justice.

One reality, however, that continues to cause confusion, especially among Christians, is the question of whether the gospel message deals with economic or material realities. One verse that has caused much confusion is Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This verse begins one of the most powerful and revolutionary “sermons” or teachings ever articulated. The Sermon on the Mount, as it has become known, flipped many assumptions, expectations, and understandings of the day upside down. In fact it continues to do so. It articulates a seeming foolishness that we are called to trust, follow, and embody. In our world it seems to make no sense to love our enemies, go the second mile for those who are willing to exploit, forgive and pray for those who persecute us. Yet this is the upside down logic Jesus provides.

This sermon’s revolutionary nature is noteworthy. When we moved to Bolivia in 1980, the dictator Garcia Mesa had just come to office. Mesa made a list of books that were banned to Bolivian people. Included in this list were Matthew chapters 5-7! Why would a ruler ban these chapters? Because he recognized the danger they posed to his power, authority, and rulership. Mesa recognized that if his citizens were actually to practice what is taught in these three chapters, he would have a difficult time achieving his political goals. These chapters are revolutionary!

Unfortunately, we often interpret these passages (and even Jesus’ life and teachings in general) in ways that dilute its revolutionary character. We mold and interpret these passages in ways that are easier and safer to grasp, both politically and economically, so that, if we are in a position of power, we don’t have to feel too threatened by its message. We alter its good-news message so that it does not have to affect our positions of power and status.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is one such example. Sometimes it seems that North Americans gravitate towards Matthew’s rendition of the Sermon on the Mount as opposed to Luke’s version, perhaps in part because Matthew seems to “spiritualize” the situation—“Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew) as opposed to “Blessed are the poor” (Luke). Surely, it is thought, the good news is not just for the poor. For this reason we tend to understand that those who are spiritually poor are also somehow blessed. Surely, one might say, the gospel message isn’t making an economic statement. Matthew’s rendition provides more ambiguity than Luke’s, making its message easier to swallow, especially if we are not in a position of poverty.

Matthew 5:3 has been variously interpreted, with the hope that its ambiguity can be clarified. Several elements in this verse affect how it is interpreted. Let me identify some of these:

o Some translations include the verb “to know”: “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor…” (Good News Bible). The Greek text does not include the verb meaning “to know”.

o Matthew’s version, as opposed to Luke’s, includes “in spirit.” The Good News Bible states, “spiritually poor”. These versions seem to reduce poverty to a form of spiritual poverty.

o In the Greek text, “spirit” is a noun not an adjective. The noun appears with a definite article “the”. The impact of this article is not present in many translations. In English this changes the meaning drastically. Instead of “Blessed are the poor in the spirit” (the poor who walk in the spirit), it is “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (those who have a poor spirit or who are spiritually poor). If the sustantive character is maintained, it points to a spirit that exists within poverty that is also foundational to the character of the kingdom of God. In other words, there is a particular spirit that the poor possess that is blessed. Author R. J. Suderman in Calloused Hands, Courageous Souls: Holistic Spirituality of Development and Mission states “…The poor recognize their dependence on others, understand human interdependence, see the evil of oppression, comprehend that their situation is unjust and struggle for the change they deserve. In other words, the spirit of the poor is a blessed spirituality.”

o The Greek text could also be translated: “Blessed are the poor through the spirit.” This translation puts the poor in a favored position. The word “with” could also be an option (“Blessed are the poor with the spirit”).

o “Blessed” is often used in a passive tense. In We Belong to this Land author and scholar Elias Chacour suggests that Jesus used the word ashray from the verb yashar. Both very active words that mean to act, move, turn around, repent or put oneself on the road.

These elements provide a potentially different way of translating this verse. If we were to incorporate these insights, it could read:

“May the poor get up, move, walk, and act in-with-through the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Put this way, the phrase sounds familiar and is in line with other teachings of Jesus:

o It affirms that the Spirit is with the poor.

o It suggests that the Spirit of the poor fits very well within the coming kingdom of God.

o It encourages the poor to move in the direction of the kingdom that has arrived.

o It suggests that as the poor move toward the kingdom, the kingdom will also be revealed in the world.

The situation of the poor will change with the presence of the kingdom. The poor are both the principle subject of the inauguration of the new kingdom and the necessary objects of its benefits. It is the poor and their situation that will be drastically transformed with the coming of the kingdom. R. J. Suderman writes, “Their situation will be transformed because the lack of equality, the oppression and the hunger and mistreatment that we understand as part of the situation of the poor in our world do not coincide with the character of this kingdom.”

R.J. Suderman suggests that this highlights the preferential option of the poor in God’s plan: “God opposes the oppressors, the wealthy and the powerful, who struggle to keep the situation as it is.” What’s more is that the spirituality found in poverty aligns with the spirituality required by God to enter the kingdom. Suderman continues, “To recognize the injustice that surrounds us, to discern the roots of oppression, to depend on the direction of the Holy Spirit, to share what little one has with the needy, to open oneself to new revelations of God and to recognize one’s dependence on God and our human interdependence are only some of the characteristics already present in the world of the poor and in the purpose of the kingdom of God.”

Such an alternative understanding moves us away from the ambiguous translation that somehow blesses a poor spirit. Poverty itself is not blessed. This understanding does not advocate that those who are poor should remain poor. This verse does not speak about poverty: it speaks about the poor. This alternate reading highlights that the spirit that the poor possess aligns better with what the kingdom of God is about, and with the economic, political, and social realities that are associated with the kingdom.

Blessed indeed is the spirit that the poor possess for it is a revolutionary spirit that challenges the political and economic assumptions that do not match with God’s alternative kingdom.

This article leans heavily on Calloused Hands, Courageous Souls: Holistic Spirituality of Development and Mission (R.J. Suderman, Monrovia, California: MARC books, 1998).

Andrew Suderman is a Mennonite Church Canada worker in South Africa and is the Director of the Anabaptist Network in South Africa. Check out this and other columns in their Alternative News.

Have we lost our way?

(Repost from http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/)

<div xmlns=’http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml’>A new issue of the online version of “The Mennonite” church publication has been released.  I just got my e-mail today.  I enjoy getting this weekly dose of information from the primary publication of my denomination.  It keeps me informed as to what’s going on at the denominational level and gives me some different insights on modern issues from a Mennonite perspective.<br/><br/>However, I must say that this morning’s issue disappointed me.  Not because of the lack of content, nor because it somehow didn’t meet the professional standards of the publication.  It disappointed me because of the content itself.  The lead article in today’s e-mail found <a href=’http://www.themennonite.org/issues/12-14/articles/Healing_hope_and_healthcare_reform’>here</a> discusses how the health-care reform bills currently being worked on by the US federal government coincide with Jesus’ inaugural sermon from <a href=’http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%204:16-20;&amp;version=72;’>Luke 4</a>.<br/><br/>On one level, I agree with this article.  The Kingdom of God is a kingdom in which there is no more poverty, no more disadvantaged, no more illness, no more pain, where everyone can come to the table of the Lord with equal stature and be blessed by God.  Amen.  Preach it.  Come Lord Jesus.<br/><br/>What disappoints me about this article goes towards the roots of what the Anabaptist movement and the Mennonite denomination has been about for centuries.  The foundations of our denomination are not in advocating programs in the government, having the state dictate the ethics of the church, giving power to the secular human institutions to carry out God’s kingdom.  Quite the contrary.  As I read the stories of faith from our denominational past, both the general as well as the ones more close to my personal story, I hear stories of a people who have a faith in their God that acts out in personal witness and activity.  I hear of people who, when the secular organizations are insufficient, step up to the plate and sacrificially give of themselves to meet the needs.  Organizations like MCC with their meat canning project, Mennonite Disaster Service when FEMA fell through, educational programs in third world countries, advocacy for peace in Palestine when the UN fails to save lives… the list goes on.   One instance after another where a denomination, when a need is seen, gets out of the pews and goes into the world to carry out the mission of the Kingdom that Jesus read about in the writings of Isaiah.<br/><br/>Don’t get me wrong.  I do feel that it is the responsibility of the members of the Kingdom of God to act as God’s ambassadors to this world, calling our governments and secular institutions to repent and come into line with God’s plan.  However, the article in the Mennonite, along with many discussions with other Mennonite church members, advocates giving this power to the government.  One reasoning I heard was that “It’s such a big job, there’s no way the church can do it.”  This has been the primary argument for a number of things, from this current health-care reform debate to debates on welfare reform to conversations about marriage.  The church does not have the power or the resource, therefore we must advocate the government’s role.<br/><br/>I’ve got one word for that argument: BUNK.  Here’s why.  The suppositiion seems to be that the human ability of the Christian church is insufficient to meet the immense needs of the poor around us.  Listen to that again.  God’s church does not have the power to do it.  Okay, one more time.  The body of Christ is unable to change the world.  You hear that?  You hear what is being said?  The argument seems to be that there is a limit to what a people, who call themselves the body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in this world, blessed by God with talents, abilities and gifts…there is a limit to what God’s people can do.  The power of God, acted out through his people, is limited.  We can’t do it.  God is not big enough to help us do what needs to be done.  The same God who, as the God-Man Jesus, raised Lazerus from the dead, healed countless people, cast out demons, fed 5,000 men with a few loaves of bread and some dried fish…  Nope.  Can’t do it.  The church cannot do it.  God does not have the ability to give us any power to make these changes.  It costs too much, takes too many people, takes up too much time, there are too many obstacles.  Nope.  God cannot help us do this.  We’ve gotta have the government do it.<br/><br/>This is the same God who Paul wrote, as a reason why he was able to surmount many obstacles, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13).  Or how about the same Paul who wrote that, when faced with the power of sin, is able to say “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).  What about the many stories in the book of Acts where the church stepped up to the plate and, through their own sacrifice and generousity, were able to meet the needs of hundreds of people without having to ask the Roman emporer to do so?  Paul alludes to this in his letters to the churches, how Macedonian Christians gave out of even their poverty and, because of this act of sacrifice, were able to bless many.<br/><br/>Again, please understand, I do believe that we need to call our government to justice and mercy.  We need to ask our government to step in on the part of the poor and disenfranchised, to act justly, to live mercifully.  But we CANNOT.. I repeat, we CANNOT expect the government to do it.  It is a human institution and subject, especially in an institution that is constitutionally not a spiritual organization, to the failings of all such human institutions.  Our own church <a href=’http://www.mennolink.org/doc/cof/art.23.html’>confession of faith</a>, concerning government says, “Even at its best, a government cannot act completely according to the justice of God because no nation, except the church, confesses Christ’s rule as its foundation.” (Article 23).<br/><br/>As I said, I agree with the article in The Mennonite and the resolution in Columbus that the Mennonite church “asks members to urge their legislators to support legislation extending access to all Americans, especially the poor and disadvantaged”.  That is EXACTLY what the Mennonite Church has done over the centuries.  But what is MOST important to our traditions of the church, is that it doesn’t stop there.  It is the church (meaning the body of believers characterized by faith in Christ) living out the mission of God that ultimately bears the responsibility for the Kingdom.  To sit back and expect the government to do so I would argue is going along with the idolatry of the government (also stated in Article 23 of our confession of faith).  To say that the government has more power than the church to effect change in our society, I believe, is a wrong statement.<br/><br/>Let’s write to our legislators.  Let’s tell them what we want.  Let’s be that voice the cries out in the darkness.  Let’s be the light on the hill.  But let’s also be salt and light in the world.  Once we’ve raised our voices to the secular powers, let’s grab hold of the power given us by God, as joint heirs with Christ, and step out into the world, confident that God will bless us with everything that we need to be able to do the work of His kingdom in this world.  Peter Dyck used to tell the story of the Berlin Exodus.  He always introduced the story by stating a German phrase: “Gott Kann”.  Obama’s supporters used a particular chant during the campaign.  “We can do it, yes we can.”  As the Christian church, I would say we can borrow this, with a slight edit:<br/><br/>”We can do it!”<br/>”Yes, God can!”<br/><br/><div class=’zemanta-pixie’><img src=’http://img.zemanta.com/pixy.gif?x-id=728d0eda-de2a-818b-a271-7554395e2019′ alt=” class=’zemanta-pixie-img’/></div></div>

Introducing myself

Greetings, everyone. Some of you I know, either in person or from online discussion, others I do not but I look forward to getting to know you.

I have commented occasionally and long been a lurker, but this is my first foray into actually posting on YAR. God willing, I hope to do so on an occasional-to-semi-regular basis.

Let me get the necessary personal information out of the way first. I just turned 30 and am about to enter my second year in the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program, concentration in theology and ethics, at AMBS. Along with Gretchen, my wife, I co-direct a nascent ecological mission in South Bend, Indiana. I also do freelance web development and related tasks, though work has been a bit sparse lately. Last but not least, I am the facilitator for Christarchy! and the editor of Absolution Revolution, which is just beginning its second life as a group blog and (I hope) Christian radical knowledge base. Before all of these things, though, I strive to be a faithful disciple of Jesus, walking in the ways of peace. To be honest, I’m not very good at it most of the time.

I’m very good at the academic thing. I have a head for arguments and keeping together complex matters that might not at first glance seem to be related. I navigate the abstractions of philosophy and critical theory like a duck glides through water. I’m exceedingly humble as well, if you couldn’t tell. I’m not, however, nearly as good at making truths about justice, equality, love, and peace evident and concrete in my life. I’m not a very good peacemaker, and it’s very easy for me to get so wrapped up in the philosophical minutiae of an issue that I lose track of how the issue affects real people in actual life situations. It’s one thing, for example, to note the facts of racism as it expresses itself in my city through profiling and codes that, while “colorblind” in letter are in practice tools of oppression. It’s quite another to move beyond mere analysis and put flesh on the truths exposed. My hope is that y’all here can help me find ways to move beyond “just” doing theology to integrating theology into a lived existence where the way of Jesus is visible to those around me.

Peace be with you.

MCUSA, what keeps us together? (part 2)

“During this period they began to read the Bible with the eyes of the powerless; and a person without power reads it differently from someone with power” (16).

The significance of Schleitheim: “They wanted to make it clear that their own Reformation was neither one ‘from above’, supported by magisterial authority, nor a Reformation ‘from below’, achieved with the help of revolutionary violence” (14).

Instead of going the route of the essentialists, I would rather think through the work of the historian Hans-Jurgen Goertz, especially his book The Anabaptists (London, UK: Routledge, 1996). According to Goertz, there was no “original form, an ‘Ur-Anabaptism’, which evolved while almost always preserving its essential qualities, despite the odd transformation or corruption. There was no ‘real’ Anabaptism in this sense” (34). Instead of looking for “bare essentials” (as Murray would have us do), Goertz doesn’t seem to believe that there is an Anabaptist scratch to which we can find our way back. Part of the problem with the essentialist approach is that it assumes a homogeneous theological point of origin for Anabaptism, and proceeds to manufacture a single strand of Anabaptist tradition purified of variety and difference. For Goertz, this approach fails to take seriously the theological heterogeneity of Anabaptists.

Part 2 is here: http://young.anabaptistradicals.org/2011/08/13/mcusa-what-keeps-us-together/

Four Streams of Anabaptism


This is a cross-posting of a piece first posted eight years ago on my blog for The Mennonite. Since then we organized a series here on YAR looking at some of the historical groups that Sawatsky highlights. You can read the articles in that series here.

What if rather than one unified view of Anabaptist we instead looked at our tradition as containing many different streams, in the same way that Richard Foster finds different streams of Christian spiritual practice in Streams of Living Water.

Last week on Young Anabaptist Radicals I wrote about Gregory Boyd’s discovery of Mennonites as well as his dismay at our falling away from our roots. It provoked a lively discussion about percieved divisions in the Mennonite church and deviation by Mennonites from core Anabaptist values. One of the things that became clear in the discussion is that there are many different views of what the core Anabaptist values are and how they should be lived out.

Growing up as a Mennonite, I learned that the way we live our faith is tied to the experience of our predecessors in 16th Century Europe. Though I didn’t study it until college, Harold S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision informed much of what I viewed as Mennonite. Writing in 1944, Bender defined the Swiss Brethren tradition as “the original evangelical and constructive Anabaptism” as opposed to the other streams of Anabaptism “which came and went like the flowers of the field.”

And so it was the story of the Swiss Brethren re-baptizing one another in 1525 in Zurich that I learned at the Mennonite high school I attended. Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock were the founding fathers of our faith. As Mennonites today we should look to their example.

This summer at the Mennonite convention in San Jose, I heard an alternative to this model. At a workshop I attended, Dale Schrag introduced four different types of Anabaptism first proposed in 1992 by Rodney Sawatsky “The One and the Many: The Recovery of Mennonite Pluralism” published in Anabaptism Revisited; Essays on Anabaptist/Mennonite Studies in Honor of C. J. Dyck.

In the essay, Sawatsky acknowledges the dominance of Bender’s vision, but offers an alternative model for contemporary Anabaptism based on more than just the story of the Swiss Brethren. He identifies the emphasis of each stream and connects it with a different leader or group of 16th century Anabaptists.

Here’s what it looks like:

Anabaptist Stream
16th Century Corollary
Social/cultural non-conformity to the world
Swiss Brethren with Schleitheim Confession
Biblical nonresistance/personal holiness
Menno Simons
Discipleship of Christ/service to the world
Pilgram Marpeck
Political/ideological nonconformity to the political powers
Hans Hut and apocalyptic Anabaptists


“Mennonite Women’s Posse”: How feminists organized for accountability for John Howard Yoder

Green plant and Tree trunk

In the new issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review, five essays look at John Howard Yoder’s systematic project of sexual harassment and abuse of women. Unless otherwise noted, the articles named below are part of the issue.

Rachel Waltner Goossen’s essay “‘Defanging the Beast': Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” is the most extensive of these pieces. It is the result of an in-depth year-long study using previously inaccessible files. Her piece makes clearer then ever institutional complicity with Yoder’s abuse, starting in the late 1970s through the four year attempt to rehabilitate him that ended in 1996:

“As Marlin Miller and other Mennonite leaders learned of Yoder’s behavior, the tendency to protect institutional interests—rather than seeking redress for women reporting sexual violation—was amplified because of Yoder’s status as the foremost Mennonite theologian and because he conceptualized his behavior as an experimental form of sexual ethics.”

I’ve argued previously that this complicity continued up through the summer of 2013. At the time I asked “How do we develop a theology of power that give us ears to hear the voices of those marginalized and eyes to see the way we participate in their marginalization?”


Local Justice

“What I want to know is, “ Mark asked pleadingly, “why has God forsaken us?”

Mark and his wife Diane, a homeless couple, has just been forced to move from the camp that they had peacefully dwelt in for years. They have nowhere to go. A summer storm blew through Portland the last couple days and because they had nowhere to legally set up their tent, they were soaked the other night, hiding for cover, and now they have no dry blankets or clothes.

They came into our church’s day shelter yesterday freezing. We were able to give them a warm meal and a change of clothes and some dry bedding… but Mark’s question lingered. He said, “I’ve been praying. I’ve been seeking God for help. Why won’t he help us?”

Honestly, I gave some pious answer about waiting and God’s timing isn’t our timing. But I wasn’t really being honest to him. I woke up at 6 this morning with his question haunting me. I couldn’t get any more sleep, so I want to be honest with you today:

The reason Mark isn’t being helped by God is because God has already given the power to help him to His people, the church, and the church isn’t interested. (more…)

The Swiss Brethren, Part 3: Contemporary Separatism

It is my desire in the closing segments of my contribution to this series to address an issue that is controversial in nature. That subject being Christian separatism. When the average person that shows interests in Anabaptistica surveys the writings and beliefs of the Swiss Brethren they will pause at article IV of the Schleitheim Confession and immediately find some difference of opinion with it’s content. It reads:

We have been united concerning the separation that shall take place from the evil and the wickedness which the devil has planted in the world, simply in this; that we have no fellowship with them, and do not run with them in the confusion of their abominations. So it is; since all who have not entered into the obedience of faith and have not united themselves with God so that they will to do His will, are a great abomination before God, therefore nothing else can or really will grow or spring forth from them than abominable things. Now there is nothing else in the world and all creation than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are [come] out of the world, God’s temple and idols. Christ and Belial, and none will have part with the other.

To us, then, the commandment of the Lord is also obvious, whereby He orders us to be and to become separated from the evil one, and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.

Further, He admonishes us therefore to go out from Babylon and from the earthly Egypt, that we may not be partakers in their torment and suffering, which the Lord will bring upon them.

From all this we should learn that everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated and have no part with such, for they are nothing but abominations, which cause us to be hated before our Christ Jesus, who has freed us from the servitude of the flesh and fitted us for the service of God and the Spirit whom He has given us.

Thereby shall also fall away from us the diabolical weapons of violence—such as sword, armor, and the like, and all of their use to protect friends or against enemies—by virtue of the word of Christ: “you shall not resist evil. (more…)

The Swiss Brethren, Part 2: Theological Distinctions

From its establishment, the Swiss Brethren separated themselves from Roman Catholics and Protestants. Their existential form of Christianity was something that the religious community as well as the general public could not fathom. While some aspects paralleled that of the Reformers concerning belief in other areas it was quite disturbing because of their otherness to outsiders.

The means in which they achieved their doctrinal and applied otherness was nothing new in and of itself. “They had come to their convictions like most other Protestants—through Scripture. Luther had taught that common people have a right to search the Bible for themselves” (Shelley 248). They reasoned if Luther arrived at his biblical and theological conclusions through a search of scripture there was nothing preventing them from doing the same. They began to gather and probe the Bible thoroughly trying their best not to let preconceived notions prevent them from discovering what the genuine will of God was for not just them but for every believer.

When venturing on their journey through Sacred Scripture the Swiss Brethren “discovered a different world in the pages of the New Testament. They found no state-church alliance, no Christendom. Instead they discovered that the apostolic churches were companies of committed believers, communities of men and women who had freely and personally chosen to follow Jesus. And for the sixteenth century, that was a revolutionary idea” (Ibid. 248-9).

These men and women did not seek Reformation for the Anabaptists saw the futility in trying to reform something that was beyond correction or change.

Their goal was the “restitution” of apostolic Christianity, a return to churches of true believers. In the early church, they said, men and women who had experienced personal spiritual regeneration were the only fit subjects for baptism.  The apostolic churches knew nothing of the practice of baptizing infants. That tradition was simply a convenient device for perpetuating Christendom, nominal but spiritually impotent society (Ibid. 249).

They considered the undisputable church was a community made of disciples that was pursuing holiness and embraced the reality that they were called out by God and set aside for His purpose. The Anabaptists desired to influence the world by their example of “radical discipleship” even if doing so meant martyrdom.

In due course, the group codified their beliefs in order to differentiate themselves from other groups that held to the Anabaptist designation. On February 24, 1527, a conference was held at Schleitheim (Switzerland) and the Swiss Anabaptists adopted unanimously what is known as the Schleitheim Articles or Confession. Originally, it was termed the Brüderlich Vereinigung etzlicher Kinder Gottes sieben Artikel betreffend when translated the Brotherly Union of a Number of Children of God Concerning Seven Articles with Michael Sattler presiding. These articles contained seven points that was eventually dispatched to the Swiss and South German Anabaptist collectives in the form of an epistle. The seven principles addressed the following topics: (more…)

Wanted: Stories of Women & Leadership in Mennonite Church USA (which I always think sounds like a sports team)

“I will tell you something about stories . . . They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.”
~Leslie Marmon Silko

I truly believe that sharing our stories–including the actual process of writing them out–is one of our most powerful tools–a small act that starts a transformation in ourselves and the world around us. What if sharing our stories could help future generations of both men and women? What if a story could “overturn a table” in the various Temples of our day– including in the bellies of our own communities and congregations? Social media’s given more women affiliated with Mennonite Church USA a chance to get a glimpse of the diversity and reality present in our national congregations and communities–a reality and diversity that’s not always heard or lived out, let alone celebrated.

Let’s change that. Every step and every story counts.

Wanted: Stories from any woman or girl who considers herself Mennonite or shaped by the Anabaptist-Mennonite traditions. Check out the newly launched Mennonite Monologues web site where stories can be told through essays, poems, art, songs, photographs, and other forms of creative expression. The Women and Leadership Project needs stories that speak to your truth and experience: joy and gratitude, as well as stories of lament and pain. Multiple stories are encouraged. Whatever story you wish to tell, it is welcome. All will be collected on our blog and may be submitted with a name or anonymously.

“Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”
~Adrienne Rich

Prompts to help get you started

-As a woman, what are the stories that have shaped your sense of leadership?
-What are your experiences of being called (or not called) to leadership in Mennonite Church USA?
-How have you been empowered by the church to lead?
-How have you been discouraged from taking on leadership roles?
-Do you think there is a difference in the ways women and men are cultivated to be leaders?
-Did you grow up seeing women in leadership?
-Who were your mentors?
-What is your ideal vision of church leadership in the future? Where do you fit in?

YAR, we need your awesomely radical selves! Thanks for helping to spread the word. ~Women in Leadership Project, Mennonite Monologues team

Everything Else Is Rubbish

A sermon on Isaiah 43:16-21; John 12:1-12; Philippians 3:4-14 at Bally Mennonite Church on March 17th, 2013. The audio version can be downloaded by clicking here.

A question for you:  What are some of the things we do that we consider righteous things to do?  Can you list them?

There are certainly things in this life that we consider to be righteous things to do.  Worshiping, justice issues, caring for the poor, advocating for peace, morality and purity issues, ethics of life and nation, love of neighbor, etc., are all things that we consider righteous.  I categorize them into three categories. (more…)

Mennonite justification for removing prayer from public schools

Some people find it odd that I am both a pastor and against having mandatory prayer in the public school system. After all, didn’t Jesus say things like, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation,” and “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory”? Aren’t we called to boldly proclaim the Gospel in every area of our life?

The short answer is “yes.” Unfortunately, that’s an answer to the wrong question. The real question for me as a pastor does not have to do with religious freedom but rather with religious coercion. In other words, the question is not, “Can I freely share my faith,” but rather, “Can I force others to share my faith?” As I said, the answer to the first question is “yes,” but the answer to the second is “no.” More importantly, considering that our schools and teachers are representatives of the federal government, the second question is not simply, “Can I force others to share my faith,” but rather, “Can the government force others to share my faith?”

In fact, these two questions are tied together, and the answer cannot be “yes” to both of them. If we live in a society where the answer to the second question is, “Yes, we can force others to have or express a particular faith,” then it is also true that, “No, we do not truly have the freedom to express our faith as we see fit.” (more…)

Global LGBT Sex Cop: US Christian leaders on new US foreign aid policy

In light of the recent spate of articles quoting outraged clergy in Kenya and other African countries, Lin Garber collected these quote from US Christian leaders. We’re sharing them here as a guest post by Lin.

Just wanted to remind everyone that bigotry is not confined to the continent of Africa. I didn’t include URLs because I would rather not contribute to traffic counts on some sites.

“Isn’t it appalling that the United States of America would try to force the acceptance of homosexuality on other nations but at the same time we would not force them to take care of their religious minorities and they would permit discrimination and persecution of Christians?” – Pat Robertson

or someone named Janet Mefferd, described as a radio talk show host, acknowledges that

“in Nigeria not only is gay marriage a crime punishable by a fourteen year jail term but any person who registers, operates or participates in gay organizations faces a decade in jail.” Then she adds, “Alright [sic], but they’re not killing them, are they?” [Uh -- dear Janet, yes they are, in some places.]


Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed is the spirit that the poor possess

Living 10 years in Latin America, where one inevitably encounters poverty and is therefore affected by it, has shaped my life, my priorities, and my thinking.

What’s more, I was lucky enough not to live at arms length from those who were poor. Our family and the work of my parents had us building relationships with those who were poor. I got to listen to, had friendships with, and walked side-by-side with those who were struggling with poverty. These experiences and relationships have changed my life. Now, being formed by these relationships, I find myself continuing to walk with those who are poor. This has led me to work in prisons, homeless shelters, and in communities in South Africa where my hope is that I can be in solidarity with those whose lives are spent struggling against that which systemically causes, creates, or keeps people in poverty. This is, after all, a struggle for justice.

One reality, however, that continues to cause confusion, especially among Christians, is the question of whether the gospel message deals with economic or material realities. One verse that has caused much confusion is Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This verse begins one of the most powerful and revolutionary “sermons” or teachings ever articulated. (more…)