The Bible

A Platform for MCUSA

I have been involved in some pretty strange things—a church planter of an all-homeless/mentally ill congregation; encouraging leaders of a mosque in Bangladesh to re-think Jesus; dumpster diving for Jesus, and so recently becoming the poster child for dumpster diving in Portland (Check out http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/issues/archives/articles/0409-holy-diver/ and read a recent article about me—heck, just look at the pics!). Stuff like that. But when I got a call from MCUSA a week ago, that took the cake.

Someone nominated me to be the Executive Director of MCUSA.

At first I figured it must be a joke. Who would, in their right mind, think that I—radical pastor who has to bite his tongue every time he speaks to a middle class person—would make a good Executive Director? Someone just did it for a lark, I thought. Or perhaps I was recommended by someone who just wanted to shake things up. Well, that would do it. Me as taking Jim Schrag’s place? Just unthinkable. (more…)

Search for next Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA

Given all that we’ve talked about here, maybe there are some opinions on what the next Executive Director should do? Who it should be? How they should act? What salary (if any) they should be paid?

This is a chance to weigh in to the process. The search committee is consulting far and wide across the Mennonite church. Feel free to add your voice in the comment section below. (more…)

Recession Revolution

This is part of a discussion on the PNMC Peace And Justice Forum:

I think it is time for the church to reconsider its politics.. I’m not advocating that we all try to get elected or take over the government necessarily. But I do think we might be entering a 1930’s scenario where if we think things have been bad for the middle-class and poor through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I know I’m going to hear it from those who like to keep Jesus out of politics (and I do still harbor many healthy anabaptist political hesitations myself) but I’m becoming equally angry with a church that seems more interested in building new administrative centers and benefiting from our MMA retirement portfolios (well, up until 6mo. ago at least), but seems less interested in walking the neighborhood, asking how people are doing and searching for real ways to bring hope and healing to those who know first hand what it feels like to search for scraps beneath the “master’s” table. I’ve recently been inspired by reading about church leaders of the 1930s who searched for ways to move beyond insular spiritualism to both care for the poor AND passionately advocate for significant social change. I wonder if the coming revolt might need some committed nonviolent Mennonites who can help keep it nonviolent.
-Matt F.

I think, Matt, that you’re barking up the wrong tree. I feel I can say this as a person who is deeply involved in my communities here in Portland. I personally think that the governments and corporations and banks are so full of their own self interest, especially in maintaining whatever status quo there is, that the system itself is unreliable. I believe that if we as Christians took over the system, then we would do no better than those who hold it now (or previously). Part of the problem is the structure of the system itself, whether that be the U.S. government, capitalism, the banking system, or modern labor being controlled by large corporations. What is needed is a complete breakdown of the systems– which we will get when Jesus returns. (more…)

The Trouble with Thanksgiving: A Reflection by Nekeisha

Thanksgiving makes me nervous.

For years, I’ve gotten a sinking feeling in my stomach as the month of November draws to a close and this day looms. On the one hand, Thanksgiving is about joy and gratitude. It is a time when I travel to see family and friends, welcome a few days of rest and look forward to the holiday season. In my mind, I know it is a good thing to have a day where the sole emphasis is to give thanks to God for all God has done. I also appreciate the opportunity to celebrate all my loved ones do and are to one another.

And yet Thanksgiving reminds me of a beautiful but altogether itchy sweater. Sure it looks good on the rack in my closet. It is slimming, well-made, gorgeous color—everything you could hope for in a sweater. But if I put it on I’m guaranteed to spend the whole day tugging, scratching and feeling downright uncomfortable. Try as I might, I can’t shake that weird feeling about that good ole holiday. It gets to the point where weeks in advance I’m trying to come up with other things to say besides “Happy Thanksgiving.” And since “Happy Day Off” doesn’t cut it I go ahead and mutter the greeting anyway, wheels still turning for a suitable substitute. (more…)

Bible Verses of the Day: The Seduction of Civilization

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

This week I had the opportunity to be part of a conversation looking at the bible through the lens of civilization skepticism. Theologian Ched Myers took us through the first 11 books of Genesis looking at the way that much of the sinfulness in this story is caught up with the rise of civilization, from the Garden of Eden to the Tower of Babel.

This morning my friend Kristin preached on 2 Kings 17:7-23, a passage that lays out the sins that led the children of Israel into exile. As Kristin spoke, I began to notice things about the passage through the lens of civilization skepticism. I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you here:

7 All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

The sin of the Israelites is specifically against the God who brought them out of the Egyptian domination system in which they were slaves. It is a sin of forgetting. They have forgotten that they were liberated from the story of Pharaoh which told them the only way to survive was service to the Egyptian project. The rest of the passages goes on to detail the form their forgetting took.

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Leviticus 3:16b “All fat is the Lord’s.”

Hi Friends!
It is time for the 2nd preach-off between Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Goshen College. The first one was in 2006 (organized by some YARs) and it was very successful.

For the preach-off, folks will give three-minute sermons on scriptures they’ve received 24 hours prior. People can vote with their donations, and a panel judges will give humorous feedback.

The donations benefit up and coming young adult leaders from the Global South by giving them a full scholarship to attend the Global Youth Summit (July 10-12 in Asunción, Paraguay).

In addition to the fun of preach-off, we realize that the lives of many people in Northern Indiana have been enriched by connections with the global church. So this event will be interspersed with short testimonies from people in the area, celebrating these ties as we raise funds to support the next generation of Anabaptist leaders from around the globe.

So, YARs…we’re collecting crazy passages. If you know of one, please write the reference as a comment. Your help is appreciated…and if you’re in Northern Indiana at 6pm on Dec. 6 you are warmly invited to materialize and participate!

Bible Verses of the Day: Acts 19:23-29

23 About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. 24A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. 25These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. 26You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.”

28 When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29The city was filled with the confusion; and peoplec rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions.    – Acts 19:23-29 (NRSV)

(my version of Acts 19…don’t get huffy I’m not translating from the Greek)

A man named Henry Paulson, a secretary who made decisions about currencies, brought no little business to the Senate. These he gathered together, with other wealthy men, and said “Listen everyone, I don’t like to mix in the market anymore than you do. De-regulation has served us well for some time. But you see, we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a mess. This market, it has served us well for some time and made us all rich and powerful. But, the market needs more – it’s hurting. And we can’t lose the business. Now, a number of so-called “progressives” are concerned about the mortgage crisis – remember those mortgages? Ah, they were good for us weren’t they? Well, now they’ve gone sour. And a number of folks are concerned that everyone is going to lose their homes and be out on the street. But, really gentlemen, I’m much more concerned that, if we don’t act quickly, they’ll not only lose their homes, but we’ll lose lots, and lots, and lots of money. And we don’t want to upset the market – it gives us all that power remember? So, I need you guys to help me out: tell all those bleeding hearts to shut up for a while, scare the nation into thinking that all will be lost, and pass this bill giving me a lot more power to make you and all our friends alot more rich. I know you are concerned now, but you’ll thank me in the long run.”

When they heard all this, they agreed and said “Great are the fudamentals of our economy!” The country was filled with confusion, and bills were hastily past, and many were left wondering what protection was out there for them.

A week later, everyone forgot and Paul went to Macedonia (Acts 20:1).

Ministry to the Outcast

In every society there are the rejected that Jesus is intensely interested in assisting. But the church often is in the place of judging the outcast at the side of the rest of society. Below is my vision, based on Jesus’ ministry, of how the church should look when they are responding to the outcast as they should. These are also the principles on which my ministry is based:
All true ministry has the goal of leading a people to faith in Jesus as Lord and living that out in their lives.

Identification—I Cor. 9:19-23
Some within a congregation that will take on the role of an outcast in order to reach them. Get rid of the separation between the “server” and the “served”.

Offer to be Family—Mark 2:15-17; Luke 15.
Total love of the “sinner”, and an offer to partake in acceptance. This is the major felt need of the outcast—social acceptability. To offer acceptance is not to have the outcast feel that acceptance—this only comes with an acceptance of forgiveness and inclusion in the community. This sense of family cannot be created by a program, but one can use a program as a base-point to increase this acceptance.

Listening—James 1:19
You cannot meet anyone’s needs until you know what they are. Get past the first hurdles in order to discover their real needs (e.g. no one needs money, money is a means to meet the real need)

Benevolence
Trying to meet their needs, but doing so with dependence on God. Those with resources, give what you have (Luke 12:33); those without, pray for healing (Matt 10). To give what we have, may be to offer what God alone has to give, instead of the petty resources we have (Acts 3:1-8). (more…)

“We Must Look at the Context”

I want to start by saying that I understand that a number of you have an extensive Christian education. By this I mean you have some background in Christian philosophy and theology. I, however, do not. I am mostly self-educated on these matters, bringing my experience and my studies to bear on the issues I’m about to discuss.

So, if this is something you have heard before or there is some technical term for what I am describing, then just bear with me.

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Jeremiah Wright and Black Liberation Theology

I was surprised to see that there was little discussion about the Jeremiah Wright controversy on this blog; perhaps because it is being discussed in every other forum available.

At any rate, if nothing else, the whole charade has produced a number of interesting responses; I was particularly struck by the series that NPR did on black liberation theology. I think it was a thoughtful way to approach the Jeremiah Wright scandal: they asked the question “where is he coming from?”, and set out to find the answer. If you are interested, I have linked below a number of radio pieces on black liberation theology, particularly interesting is the interview with James Cone, a founding thinker in the black liberation theology movement.

Black Liberation Theology, in its Founder’s Words

The Roots of Black Liberation Theology***

Religious Scholars Discuss Liberation Theology

Understanding Rev. Jeremiah Wright

And here is a great video of a Catholic priest who was stopped on the street by a Fox News team to question him about why he was having Rev. Wright speak at his parish. This priest then goes on to basically own the Fox News reporter and give one of the better interviews I’ve ever seen on Fox News.

Fox News Owned by Catholic Priest
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Biblical Commands For the Privileged

Who are the privileged?
Those who have greater resources than anyone around them, whether through birth or fate or labor. Resources could include opportunities in wealth, education, prestige, relationship, and esteem through race, sex, social class, or any other level of status as determined by society. We should remember that we are all privileged in some ways, so these commands apply to all of us in some areas of our lives.

a. Do not boast about your privilege.
“Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24

b. Do not use your privilege for your own benefit.
But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way. Luke 6:24-26 (more…)

Top Ten Heresies of the American Church

I wasn’t going to post this here, but after reading Conrad Kanagy’s insightful book, “Road Signs for the Journey”, it seems that us Mennonites need a few reminders of who we really are.

You see, a “heresy” is, according to I Timothy 6, a teaching that is in opposition to the teaching which Jesus gave. So we need to examine our own churches and see where we stand in realtion to Jesus, as opposed to in relation to the Confession of Faith.

So here’s my top ten:
1. Prejudice against the lower class
When Jesus says “blessed are you who are poor.”

2. Thinking salvation = comfort
When Jesus says, “Woe to you who are wealthy, for you have already received your comfort

3. That the only good leaders are seminary-educated leaders
When Jesus says, “The greatest among you shall be your slaves.” (more…)

Something to Remember this Advent

A young man called out to Jesus from the crowd and said, “Teacher, command the trustee of my father’s will to give me my share of the inheritance!” Jesus replied, “I am not a lawyer or a judge—why should I get involved?” Then Jesus told everyone, “Guard yourself from every form of trying to get more in the world. When you finally get everything you want and more, then you finally realize too late that stuff is not what life is about.”

“There was an entrepreneur who ran his own business. One year, he did exceptionally well, and found that his business had outgrown his little store. So he was contemplating what he would do with his surplus profit, so, talking to himself, he said, ‘I know! I will rent a larger store, hire a couple of employees and the business will practically run itself! Then, over a few years I will have a tidy nest egg stored up and I’ll say to myself, “You have found the good life. Now it’s time to relax, and enjoy your retirement.”’ In that instant, however, God’s voice spoke to the man, ‘You are such an idiot. This very night your life is to be taken from you. So who will enjoy what you are planning?’ This is what happens to a person who works for himself and his family, but who never gives to God by giving to the poor.”…

“Don’t be afraid to surrender your possessions, my dear students. You Father has happily determined that you are to have the whole kingdom of God—what do you need of useless trinkets? Go ahead and sell your stuff and give freely to those in need. Then you will have a savings that you can never use up, and is much safer than a bank, a mattress or your penny-pinching aunt. God will preserve it for you. But take this proposal seriously, and don’t blow it off—because what you use your money on is what you are devoting yourself to. (more…)

Biblical Message for the Day

Feeding the Hungry

I serve as a full-time volunteer with an agency that coordinates homeless services. I thought a reflection on poverty would be apt, particularly given that we don’t have a “poverty” category yet on this blog.
Nehemiah 5 (NIrV)

1 Some men and their wives cried out against their Jewish brothers and sisters. 2 Some of them were saying, “We and our sons and daughters have increased our numbers. Now there are many of us. We have to get some grain so we can eat and stay alive.”

3 Others were saying, “We’re being forced to sell our fields, vineyards and homes. We have to do it to buy grain. There isn’t enough food for everyone.”

4 Still others were saying, “We’ve had to borrow money. We needed it to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 We belong to the same family lines as the rest of our people. Our sons and daughters are as good as theirs. But we’ve had to sell them off as slaves. Some of our daughters have already been made slaves. But we can’t do anything about it. That’s because our fields and vineyards now belong to others.” (more…)

Bible Verse of the Day

I find it sort of interesting how the ten commandments have been so fully absorbed by Christianity, and yet we pay so little attention–for better or for worse–to other Old Testament writings.

From Exodus 23, verses 2-9 (NRSV)

“You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of the one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress the resident alien; you know the heart of an alien for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”