If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Art Gish: Christian Peacemaker, 1939-2010

Finished a drawing of Art Gish, peace activist who died this week in a farming accident (Read the stoty at:http://www.athensnews.com/ohio/article-31680-prominent-local-activist-dies-in-farming-accident.html). I read Art's book The New Left and Christian Radicalism back in the late 70s, when I was looking for anything that was Christian and radical. I met Art at a regional peace gathering I helped organize in Columbus, Ohio around 2004. We were at a table with a Christian Zionist who had a totally different perspective on Israel/Palestine than Art and the rest of us at the table! And yet, Art treated him with respect, even though he has been on the ground in Israel/Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams and knows well the real situation there and not just some idealogy.

Art became recognized internationally through an Associated Press photo of him confronting an Israeli tank ready to destroy a Palestinian marketplace (See picture above and read the story at :http://mideastchristians.virtualactivism.net/articles/amongapples.htm)

May his wife, Peggy, find comfort in her loss and the world weep upon the loss of one of her prophets.

Video of Art and Peggy Gish, Old Radicals:

Old Radicals from matthew leahy on Vimeo.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Serving Others: Philippians 2:1-13

*This lesson can also be found at: http://www.faithandliferesources.org/Curriculum/abs/abs100808.html

Servanthood has been an unquestioned metaphor for the core of the Christian discipleship. It has been a dominant metaphor for Anabaptist-Mennonites. The image of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet is at the heart and art of our identity. Among the many New Testament texts on servanthood we love this text in Philippians about having the mind of Christ. We had that mind in us as we created numerous organizations around serving others. Servanthood is in our minds and hearts.

Having been shaped by Anabaptist theology, even before I knew who Anabaptists were, I believed that servanthood was the key to Christianity. It is one of the essential elements of the Anabaptist tradition that drew me into the Mennonite Church. So, I could never imagine anyone daring to question the idea of servanthood.

That is, until I started reading womanist theology, which is theology from the perspective of black women. I discovered that servanthood was being questioned as a key metaphor for Christian discipleship. My view of servanthood was turned on its head when I came across Jacquelyn Grant’s essay “The Sin of Servanthood: And the Deliverance of Discipleship.” She argues that servanthood in our country has been more exactly servitude. Given the nature of Black women’s servitude Grant questions the use of the metaphor of servanthood as helpful in their relationship to God and others. How does one justify teaching a people that they are called to a life of service when they have been imprisoned by the most exploitive forms of service?

Grant offers an important critique of servanthood as a model for our relationship to God and others, particularly among those who have had little power and have been the actual, not metaphorical, servants of those in the dominant white culture. The text in Philippians might better serve those of us with more power and privilege in society. To have the mind of Christ would be for us to empty ourselves of our power and privilege, value others above ourselves, and take on the form of a servant to those who have been the real servants among us.

• In what ways is “servanthood” a meaningful metaphor for understanding our relationship to God and others?
• How can “servanthood” be a limited or unhelpful metaphor for Christian discipleship?
• How are you or your church practicing the truths from this Philippian text?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Overcoming Obstacles: Philippians 1:18b-30

*This lesson can also be found at: http://www.faithandliferesources.org/Curriculum/abs/abs100801.html

Citizens of Heaven. A whole lot of theology is packed into that short phrase. It proclaims where our primary allegiance lies. It paints the landscape of our true home. It places the seal on our final destiny as sojourners in this world.

16th century Anabaptists lived as pilgrims in this world and citizens of heaven. Their primary allegiance was not to the countries in which they lived, but to God, the Ruler of the cosmos, and the realm of heaven. So, they made a clear distinction between their loyalties to the church and the state. Since their true country was not bounded by borders with walls or defended by armies and was ruled by a crucified Lord, they need not take up carnal weapons to defend the countries where they lived as resident aliens. And because their permanent citizenship was in a land that was no land, an immaterial realm of truth and light, they could face hardship, imprisonment, suffering, and martyrdom with the assurance and hope of a place beyond this mortal world.

Paul the apostle, a prisoner of the Roman Empire and a citizen of heaven, writes to the Philippian church. His citizenship in heaven keeps him from despair and he can even speak of rejoicing in the face of death. Because the believers at Philippi share the same citizenship they can face any obstacle life throws in their path. Their feet are firmly planted, not on this passing world and its transitory power, but in the Spirit.

One thing that growing older gives you is….perspective. I have seen many national leaders come and go. Trends and fashions change with the wind and circle back again. I have faced steep hills, roadblocks, and dead ends and have made it through them all. Everything changes and passes away, even this life. As my dear mother, a faithful Christian now passed, used to say as she faced her many difficulties in life, “This too shall pass”

My mother had perspective. It wasn’t that she simply saw life to be forever changing and ephemeral, but she stood solid on the landscape of the Spirit with feet firmly planted in the eternal realm. She lived a life worthy of the gospel to the end. She could face life….and death….with confidence as a citizen of heaven. Everything on earth may pass, but the realm of God is eternal. This is the confidence and assurance that Paul seeks to instill in the Philippian believers. As citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ….stand firm in the one Spirit.

• What does being a “citizen of heaven” mean to you?
• How does being a “citizen of heaven” shape your loyalties in this world?
• How does being a “citizen of heaven” help you to face obstacles and difficulties?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Finding Strength: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

*This lesson can also be found at: http://www.faithandliferesources.org/Curriculum/abs/abs100725.html

At the center of this lesson’s text the writer of Thessalonians warns the church against believers who are “idle” and “disruptive.” There are strong words for those persons. If they don’t work, they should not eat. The church should not associate with them, so they will feel ashamed. With such strong warnings we modern interpreters of this ancient text would do well not to apply them today too hastily or without clear discernment of their original intent.

Mennonites have long been a hard working, frugal people known for serving others. It would not be unusual for Mennonites to use their vacation time to volunteer for doing some work project. So, there can be a tendency among us to view people with a less of a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic as being “a bit lazy” or “idle.”

Those of us who have blessed with jobs and homes may not fully understand the various circumstances that the unemployed or homeless face. Why do these people just sit around all day doing nothing? Why don’t they go look for work? Again, our Protestant work ethic says that we can pick ourselves by our own bootstraps and be successful if we just work hard enough, when that is often not the case for many without work or homes. And isn’t it possible to consider some wealthy people who have inherited millions, own several homes, and do not have to work as being “idle”?

Then again, racism can color the lens through which we view people and see them as “idle” or “lazy.” These pergorative terms have historically been used by whites to describe other racial groups. The reality is that people of color are often the hardest working people because many have to take several low-paying jobs just to survive.

And what about those who are described as being “disruptive”? Those who support the status quo and do not like it when others propose changes in the church or seek justice through acts of radical action may view these people concerned about change and justice as being “disruptive.”

The writer of this ancient text probably had in mind believers who had given up working because they believed the Lord was coming soon. We don’t have many people today who would fit this category. So, when we read in our text of those who are “idle” or “disruptive,” let us be careful in our contemporary application. We may end up disassociating ourselves from the wrong people.

• When you hear the words “idle” or “disruptive,” what kind of people come to mind?
• Who do you think the author of Thessalonians has in mind when using these descriptions?
• How would a contemporary believer go about deciding when it was right to “disassociate” themselves from another Christian?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Standing Firm: 2 Thessalonians 2:3-17

*This lesson can also be found at: http://www.faithandliferesources.org/curriculum/abs/abs100718.html

The person who does not stand for something will fall for anything. I used to quote this old saying with a bit of theological self-assuredness and pride. If you can’t stand firm on the Bible, then you will probably end up believing whatever comes down the pike. As for “tradition,” that was particularly shaking ground upon which to stand. Though today I’m probably a lot more open to diverse perspectives on certain beliefs and have a greater appreciation for tradition, I am still convinced that there are some beliefs upon which we need to stand firm.

The writer of 2 Thessalonians admonishes believers to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us.” The traditions in this text are different from the “human traditions” that Jesus critiqued in his encounters with the Scribes in the Gospels. Jesus criticized the scribal traditions that became encrustations upon the Law encasing its life giving heart. The traditions referred to in 2 Thessalonians are basic Christian teachings handed down to the church. In the church tradition I grew up in, which was not understood as a “tradition,” traditions were human teachings as opposed to God’s inerrant teachings from the Bible. We would never stand firm on any tradition, only the Bible.

In our text “standing firm upon the tradition” was about holding fast to the basic Christian teachings that the Thessalonians had received from their teachers. There was no Bible per se at the time upon which to firmly stand. There were rather stories, traditions, core writings of the Hebrew people, the oral traditions and stories of Jesus, and the essentials of the gospel message. The writer admonishes: Stand firm on the essential message of Jesus!

We don’t have to hold fast to our particular interpretations of the End Times. We need not firmly clutch onto any one theory of the atonement. We don’t have to fight over our preferred form of worship. We can be open to other cultural expressions of the Christian faith than our own. Rather, stand firm upon the basic Christian teachings we have received and hang a little looser with the rest.

• What teachings do you “stand firm” upon?
• What teachings are you more open to viewing from different perspectives?
• What teachings do you feel the church needs to “take a stand” upon?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Finding Purpose in Life: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-12

* This lesson can also be found at: http://www.faithandliferesources.org/curriculum/abs/abs100711.html

God has a purpose for your life. I often heard that phrase repeated in the Southern Baptist church of my youth. I suspect Rick Warren, who was one of my fellow college students at California Baptist University, heard that same message in his own Southern Baptist church. He amplified that message in the most popular Christian book ever written; The Purpose-Driven Life. God has a specific purpose for our life. It is predetermined. Even traumatic events are “father-filtered” or planned by God for our growth. We may be tested as to our fidelity to God’s purpose.

Paul commends the Thessalonians for their perseverance and faith in the midst of persecutions and trials. He does not say that the tribulations they faced were God’s testing for a higher purpose. If there was any purpose through these difficulties, it would be the larger purpose of justice that God would finally enact in the end. Still, this is not to say that God instigates or even allows tribulations in order to show his ultimate purpose of justice. What gives purpose and meaning to life in the present is living faithfully for God’s glory, whatever trials may come.

If we get too specific about “finding our purpose in life,” we may miss God’s bigger picture or get frustrated when life and its difficulties thwart our expectations concerning our perceived purpose. I know this firsthand. I like what my friend Bruce Epperly, professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary, has to say in response to Rick Warren’s views on God’s purpose for our life: 1) God is adventurous and wants us to be adventurous as well; 2) The future is open for God and us; 3) In partnership with God, we create the future. God doesn't decide the future but creates the future along with us; 4) God is constantly inspiring us in every situation. This view makes life into a “holy adventure.”

If we recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is justice and peace for all humanity and for us to live fully and faithfully in the present time, we have found enough purpose and adventure for a lifetime.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Resolution on Supporting Brothers and Sisters in Christ Most Impacted by the Arizona Immigration Law

*This resolution, which I wrote with some committee revisions, was presented by the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference Peace and Justice Committee at their conference's annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska this month. Congregations will be studying the resolution and it will be acted upon later.

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:34)

Whereas, our Biblical ancestors often lived as “undocumented” aliens and strangers in foreign lands (Acts 7:6);
Whereas, God’s law commanded Israel to care for strangers and sojourners in their land, since they were once slaves and foreigners in Egypt (Exodus 22:21);
Whereas, Jesus’ parents fled as immigrants to Egypt without legal documents (Matthew 2:13-15);
Whereas, Jesus taught us that as we do to the “least of these,” we do to the Son of Humanity (Matthew 25:40);
Whereas, Jesus was sent to stand in solidarity with the poor and marginalized (Luke 4:18-19);
Whereas, the church as the body of Christ is not defined by race, national origin, or legal status (Galations 3:27-28);
Whereas, our Anabaptist faith prioritizes church over state, mutual support and accountability to our brothers and sisters in Christ over economics, and issues of faith over issues of law;

And whereas, we are all immigrants and “illegal aliens” in this land of the Native Americans;
Whereas, enforcement of Arizona’s immigration law seems likely to target people for scrutiny based upon appearance (i.e., race) and suspicions, rather than actual knowledge of their legal status;
Whereas, attending an assembly in Arizona could put “undocumented” Hispanic brothers and sisters and their families at risk personally, financially and legally;
Whereas, the church---as Christ’s body--- should be in solidarity with those most likely to be impacted negatively by Arizona’s immigration law;
Whereas, MCUSA has committed “to act with and on behalf of our immigrants brothers and sisters, regardless of their legal status”;
Whereas, none of us are truly welcome where even one of us is unwelcome;

Be it therefore resolved that Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference supports moving Mennonite Church USA’s Convention 2013 to a location that is more welcoming than Phoenix, Arizona.

Finding Hope: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

* This lesson can also be found at: http://www.faithandliferesources.org/curriculum/abs/abs100704.html

Jesus is coming soon! That was the mindset of many of the members of the fundamentalist congregation in which I grew up. Our youth and college age group even put on an elaborate musical called “It’s Getting Late!” about the End Times and Jesus’ Second Coming. I painted a huge mural of Christ returning in the clouds that was dropped down at a “rapture” point in the musical. As a young adult I got caught up in the apocalyptic fervor. At that time I had all the End Times charts and tried to figure out just when the Lord was coming. I got all tied up in worrying about the future.

Like some present day Christians the early Thessalonian believers thought Jesus was coming soon. But this belief soon began to cause questions among the early Thessalonian Christians who lived within decades of Jesus death and resurrection. It was getting late for them. Jesus had not returned. When would he return? Some Christians had died and others would soon enough. Would they miss Christ’s return? They got all tied up worrying about the future.

Since there were so many conflicting ideas about when Christ would return, I soon gave up on trying to figure it out and worrying about the future. The apostle Paul assured the Thessalonian believers that they need not worry about those who had died and did not discuss when Christ would return. After almost waiting 2,000 years the question of “when” seems irrelevant to many today. Paul did go on to describe the parousia, the coming of Christ.

But, knowing the details about Christ’s return is not what is most important in the text for this lesson. It is rather how to live in watchful readiness and hope in the “mean time.” As a soldier in basic training the Army I had to stay awake into the wee hours of the night and keep watch over those who were sleeping, though as a conscientious objector I carried no weapon for any kind of defense! Christians, like unarmed soldiers, bear the weapons of faith, hope, and love in the “mean time” in which we live watchfully waiting for the Christ who comes to us, not just a second time, not just in mean times, but at any time. So, keep watch!

• Does the delay of Christ’s return raise any questions for you?
• Are you fretful or hopeful about the future?
• How are you “keeping watch”?