Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are some of the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus. But those concepts didn’t originate with Jesus.
He found them tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the Torah. Almost every saying in the Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. The genius of Jesus was the way in which he put his own “spin” on the Scriptures, highlighting and elevating the positive aspects of God’s personality, while ignoring and rejecting the negative aspects.
The ideals of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity weren’t the unique property of the Judaic tradition, however. They could also be found earlier, and further east, in what is now India, Nepal, Bhutan. In the Fifth Century before Jesus, a man named Gotoma developed a body of teachings based on what are called “The Four Immeasurables”: (more…)
On the great day of judgment, all of humanity was gathered in a celestial banquet hall. It was a huge space, with a massive round table in the middle. The table was so big that it accommodated what seemed to be hundreds of thousands of people, probably more. As one looked to the left or the right, there were people as far as the eye could see. Yet somehow, by some supernatural optical phenomenon, one had no trouble seeing clearly everyone seated directly across the table. In a position of prominence was the Almighty herself, who interestingly had an appearance not unlike the way God was portrayed in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” yet whose Voice was unmistakably feminine. After a while, some grumbling was to be heard, as people began to take notice of who was present. Finally, a lone voice cried out, a voice with a thick Brooklyn accent, saying, “Hey God, I’m happy to be here, of course, but I see my old neighbor Moshe sitting over there and I know that rotten sonofabitch rascal ought to be in the other place. What gives?” (more…)
The Sermon on the Mount is defined as the 40+ sayings of Jesus found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. About half of those sayings are considered by scholars to be non-authentic (meaning they were likely created by the early church rather than originating with Jesus). Non-authentic sayings are not included here. Most Sermon sayings have parallels in other gospels (Mark, Luke & Thomas). Sometimes the parallels are in simpler form, and thus probably closer to what Jesus actually said. Listed below are 21 of the most authentic Sermon sayings, along with Torah passages that Jesus probably had in mind when formulating them. Similar sayings from other traditions are offered as well.
Luke 6:20: “Congratulations, you poor! God’s kingdom belongs to you.”
Matthew 5:3: “Congratulations to the poor in spirit! Heaven’s domain belongs to them.”
We are Marginal Mennonites, and we are not ashamed.
We are marginal because no self-respecting Mennonite organization would have us. (Not that we care about no stinkin’ respect anyway.)
We reject all creeds, doctrines, dogmas and rituals, because they’re man-made and were created for the purpose of excluding people. Their primary function is to determine who’s in (those who accept the creeds) and who’s out (those who don’t). The earliest anabaptists were also non-creedal.
We are inclusive. There are no dues or fees for membership. The only requirement is the desire to identify oneself as a Marginal Mennonite. We have no protocol for exclusion.
We are universalists. We believe every person who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. No questions asked! Mystic-humanist (and anabaptist) Hans Denck was quoted saying that “even demons in the end will be saved.”
We reject missionary activity. Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural extermination. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic campaigns and mission boards, no matter how innocuous or charitable they claim to be.
We like Jesus. A lot. The real Jesus, not the supernatural one. We like the one who was 100% human, who moved around in space and time. The one who enjoyed the company of women and was obsessed with the kingdom of God. The one who said “Become passersby!” (Gospel of Thomas 42), which we interpret as an anti-automobile sentiment.(more…)
I was a senior in high school in September 2001. I was to have a cross-country meet that Tuesday evening, the 11th, and the boy’s soccer team at my school was to play its archrival. I remember not being surprised that we were attacked. Previous visits to Africa and Latin American revealed to me glimpses of negative psychological and environmental impact of some US American foreign military and development policy. I saw why people could be very angry. I was coming into consciousness about the injustices in our national system, and I was not particularly happy with the USA either, at that point in my life.
But being raised Mennonite taught me that no matter how mad I was, I was not to use violence as a means to address conflict. So I was frustrated that others had mobilized power in a destructive way…and I was even more sad to hear the US government and many people’s reaction. The healing and clarifying line that emerged for me throughout the next years was that of the families of many of the victims who formed a group to make it clear in the saber-rattling days afterwards: “Our Grief is Not A Cry for War.” This line told a powerful story.
One of the most significant impacts that 9/11/01 has had on my ministry is that I have been challenged to tell more stories instead of making factual, theological, or ideological points. So, I would like to take the opportunity of this post to share a story about a Muslim young man who was a victim of a post-9/11 hate crime. Don Teague, from CBS News, wrote about it (18Jul11) and I quote his article at length: (more…)
There’s a building boom on the Bowery these days. It’s been happening for a while, but the last couple years have witnessed an escalation in development, turning the neighborhood into a hip destination point.
Fifty years ago the Bowery was the largest skid row in the world. There were gin joints and flophouses on every block. That’s all gone now, thanks to the forces of gentrification. In their place are condos, art galleries and upscale eateries. Only one skid-row relic remains: the Bowery Mission.
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind the Mission’s pulpit in the 1960s, looking onto a sea of expectant faces while my father preached. In retrospect I realize the men behind those faces were awaiting the sermon’s conclusion so they could get their grub. (more…)
Three weeks ago I was at Freakstock, the annual Festival of Jesus Freaks, a German protestant church made up primarily by punks, hippies and other subcultural types. It was a great experience and I’m a bit sad I didn’t go there before. It is exactly this community of alternative and happy Christians my age I’ve been looking for. All the other people I could relate to were either my parents’ generation, non-Christian, or people who lived elsewhere – like the readers of YAR. (more…)
Isaac Villegas, a regular contributor to Young Anabaptist Radicals, has a new book out from Cascade Books called Presence: Giving and Receiving God. Here’s an excerpt from the book blurb:
Through a variety of sermons and meditations, Sider and Villegas bear witness to a grace that disarms our guardedness and makes room for us to fall into the love of God. Preaching becomes a dispossessive practice, as each person is invited to give and receive God’s transforming power.
The proclamation of the gospel, Villegas and Sider say, should display the priesthood of all believers. us, the call to preach belongs to the whole congregation and its conversation rather than to the lone preacher and her (or his) sermon. Presence: Giving and Receiving God draws on the Mennonite tradition of the Zeugnis (“conversation”) to explore how the preached Word echoes through all of our voices.
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…)
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…)
I just got back from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Our church took a group of 10 high schoolers on a week and a half long service trip. Our primary work was on the Samuelito Daycare building, a project of the Mennonite Churches in Bolivia. Our church here in Harper, Ks has had a relationship with the Bolivian Mennonites for going on 20 years. For a fairly typical rural Mennonite church, it’s a partnership that is pretty special and really quite amazing.
One thing to know about our group is that the majority of the kids that we took aren’t particularly involved in church. Also, most of them haven’t really been out of the state or even our county, let alone to another country. That to say that this trip was the first profound experience of the working of God on a global scale for most of our kids. As with most service trips, yes we did do some amount of good work on the building project. However, we certainly received more than we gave and were changed in some profound ways.
As part of our reporting back to the congregation, I offered the sermon below. Hopefully it’s a helpful reflection. It’s specific to this trip and to Bolivia, but I think it really should to many cross-cultural situations.
I went to the Grand Canyon with my family when I was in High School. As my family toured various parts of the canyon and different times of the day it felt as though I was seeing new things about every 10 minutes. And of course, I felt compelled to take picture of every new thing that I saw. When we got back home and had our pictures developed I remember looking at all of the pictures and thinking, “yep, that’s a hole in the ground. Yep, another hole in the ground.” What had been so vivid when I was experiencing it lost it’s uniqueness when I tried to put it on film. (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…)
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
– Francis Scott Key, Start Spangled Banner, 1814
Last week my alma mater, Goshen College, announced that it would begin playing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events. Their press release frames the decision as an exciting new theological and socio-political adventure for the college. Make sure to read the press release especially the quotes from GC president James Breneman and the GC Presidential Council.
I should say up front that this issue is fairly new to me. I wasn’t much of an athlete, so the playing of the national anthem was not an issue for me growing up. For a thoughtful perspective on GC’s decision from someone who has thought about this all their life, read a Open Letter to GC from Britt Kaufmann, longtime Mennonite athlete, coach and GC alum.
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…)
New Heaven, New Earth: Anarchism and Christianity Beyond Empire
August 14 & 15, 2009
2509 Harvard Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38112
This year’s anarchism and Christianity conference, hosted by Jesus Radicals, will look squarely at the economic and ecological crisis facing the globe, and point to signs of hope for creativity, for alternative living, for radical sharing, for faithfulness, for a new way of being. We are living in a karios moment that will either break us or compel us to finally strive for a new, sane way of life. The question we face at this pivotal time is not if our empires will fall apart, but when they will fall–and how will we face it? We hope you will join the conversation. (more…)