Guantanamo Bay

Two days ago, the President signed an Executive Order confirming that he will keep Guantanamo, the U.S. military prison in Cuba, open. In Guantanamo, prisoners are detained without trial and often mistreated psychologically and physically.
The Church of the Brethren is committed to speaking out against torture, which has consistently been a concern with this facility. Detainees are confined indefinitely without a trial, and denied basic legal human rights that should be afforded to all persons. A lack of transparency in the facility compounds the ethical problems, as the public is often not aware of the interrogation techniques and torture performed on their behalf.
The 2010 Church of the Brethren Resolution on Torture says that “torture is a blatant violation of the tenets of our faith. It injects into our character the sense that we are better than others and dehumanizes people. It seeks to break the human spirit. In reality it devastates both the one who is tortured and the one who tortures.”
Jesus makes it clear that the way we interact with others is of utmost importance. In Matthew 25:40, he says that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The “least of these” certainly applies to those imprisoned without trial in our military prisons, and our treatment of these prisoners is a far cry from how we would treat Jesus.
The indefinite detention of prisoners by our government in Guantanamo is inconsistent with an ethic of peace and justice. As we seek to live in right relationship with others, we must hold the U.S. government accountable for it’s treatment of detainees. We condemn the decision to keep the Guantanamo Bay facility open, and urge the U.S. government to commit itself to the transparent, ethical treatment of all prisoners.
For more information about how you can get involved in seeking justice, visit the website of our partner, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. 

Response to the National Security Strategy

 
As a church committed to peace, we should find the National Security Strategy (NSS) released by the Trump Administration today deeply concerning. This strategy, typically released every four years, addresses the priorities of the president as they relate to security issues- including the military, humanitarian aid, and any other facet of public policy that is deemed to have an impact on the security of the nation. 
 
The concerning elements of the NSS are not unique to the current presidential administration. With each new President and each new security strategy, we see values and worldviews that are inconsistent with an ethic of peacebuilding. While this blog post is in reference to the most recent iteration of our nation’s strategy, we remain opposed to all of the military-focused strategies that have made up our national security policies in the past.
 
One of the concerning elements of this National Security Strategy is that it positions other nations as competitors. While unveiling the plan, President Trump noted that “America is in the game, and America is going to win.” The text of the NSS itself suggested that the United States must start viewing conflict as “an arena of continuous competition.” Viewing national security as a zero-sum game and pitting the U.S. against other countries is not conducive to the peaceful existence we desire for all of humanity.  Adversarial relationships with China, Russia and other increasingly powerful nations will only fuel unnecessary economic and military conflict that will impact both Americans and communities around the world.
 
The strategy also focuses heavily on increasing military might and coercive strength, rather than relying on the preventative and peacebuilding measures long espoused by the Church of the Brethren. On this point, President Trump claimed that “unrivaled power is the most certain path to success.” In the text of the strategy itself, the administration calls for the modernization of the United States’ nuclear arsenal and the growth of our military’s size and funding. The 1996 Church of the Brethren Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention affirms the church’s commitment to a peace-oriented approach to national security, saying:
 
“Out of love toward victims of poverty, oppression, and violence, we are called to earlier, more profound, and more lasting efforts to address the conditions that gives rise to violence. Our church should press for more effective preventive diplomacy to defuse rising tensions before they erupt into war, more serious economic development to avert desperate conditions, and more concerted peacebuilding to weave new strong social fabrics that cross boundaries of race, class, religion, ethnicity, and nationality. We have abundant though underused evidence that where socio-economic cooperation occurs, former adversaries study war no more. We believe our church, nation, and the UN, should focus on such measures to achieve equity and justice. As equity and justice increase, new social stability and deepening commitment to community can reduce the occasions for military interventions.”
 
We appreciate the NSS’s inclusion of language surrounding the importance of empowering women and youth, but are disappointed that they have emphasized military might and defense spending over the programs and policies that can address root causes of violence.
 
The National Security Strategy views the success and influence of the United States as more desirable than peace and stability facilitated through cooperation with the rest of the world. In his speech, President Trump articulated his belief that the United States has “surrendered sovereignty” to international organizations and foreign diplomats.  The 1996 Church of the Brethren statement also addresses the concerns churches should have with this paradigm, saying:
 
The Church of the Brethren believes that, although national sovereignty may serve good purposes, it may also tempt us to idolatry, in which we serve the gods of national power and wealth rather than the God of love calling us to care for “the least of these” throughout the world. Nationalism wedded to militarism is a particularly harmful idol because it obstructs genuine respect for others and the growth of world community among all of God’s creation. If we do not bow down to today’s idols, we can through the grace of God be loving without killing.
 
As Christians, and especially as members of a historic Peace Church that has consistently opposed violence, it is essential that we hold our government to high standards as it sets out the national security agenda. National security should not be our highest priority- instead, our highest priority should be following the call of Jesus. The tone of this National Security Strategy contrasts starkly with the principles laid out in the Sermon on the Mount.
 
Matthew 5:1-12
He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 
  As an alternative to the priorities set out in the National Security Strategy, we suggest increased attention to diplomacy, civilian protection, conflict mitigation, and development assistance instead of increased militarization of our approach to national security threats. We urge the United States government to adopt a peace-focused worldview, and to consider the important role of the United States in modeling such a worldview as it carries out its national security duties.

Insights from Peacebuilders Around the World

The following blog post is based on the report “Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism: Key insights and lessons from a global consultation convened by Peace Direct.”  You can find the report here.
 
As the convener of a working group on Nigeria, the Office of Public Witness works with a number of peace-focused organizations. One of these organizations is PeaceDirect, an “international charity that works with local people to stop violence and build sustainable peace.” In 2017, PeaceDirect convened experts from 36 different countries in a series of peacebuilding discussions focused on violent extremism. The result was a report entitled “Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism.” The collection of insights and expertise from local peacebuilders around the world is incredibly helpful as we develop a peace-focused worldview.
 
One insight from the discussion is the necessity of local engagement in peacebuilding processes. Too often, the international community is quick to step into violent conflict situations with ready-made solutions and top-down approaches to resolving problems. To build a lasting, sustainable peace, however, requires a much deeper engagement from the local communities.
 
One practical way to engage local communities, especially youth and women’s organizations, is to allow them to design their own peacebuilding programs rather than funding them to carry out programs that have been already designed. Rather than serving as contracting organizations, then, these international organizations would be directly empowering local communities to find and sustain their own long-term peacebuilding initiatives.
 
Another key takeaway from the report was the importance of working towards an ideal version of the world, rather than a pragmatic one. As peacebuilders- and especially as people of faith- it is our job to guide the world closer to the best that it can be, rather than making the kinds of compromises common in the policy world.
 
An overarching theme to the discussion was the importance of language, and how the ways that we frame conflict with our words has real-world implications for the way conflict situations are perceived globally. Nora Lester Murad articulated this most clearly when she said, “Those who control the discourse are able to frame certain questions in or out, to make certain ideas normal or extreme, and can use the legitimacy they gain from controlling discourse to marginalize certain voices.” One example of the power of language can be seen even in the term “Countering Violent Extremism,” which has been used primarily for actions against Islamic actors and not in reference to other extremist groups- for example, right wing hate groups.
 
Peacebuilding is important to the Church of the Brethren. We are called to be a living Peace Church, and to “facilitate dialogue among those committed to Biblical non-resistance, those committed to conscientious objection to armed conflict, and those committed to military action, to give expression to the Brethren Witness to Jesus’ way of making peace.” (2003 Call for a Living Peace Church:http://www.brethren.org/ac/statements/2003livingpeace.html)
 
The Office of Public Witness is grateful to wonderful peacebuilding partners like PeaceDirect for their work around the world. Insight from local, grassroots peacebuilders is essential to forming a peace-based worldview that takes into consideration multiple perspectives. As we seek to “live the peace of Jesus publicly,” we will continue to collaborate with and listen to the grassroots peacebuilders actively working to make the world a better place.

Justice is coming! It is Jesus.

by Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

Christian and Muslim Peace Initiative (CAMPI) inauguration in Maiduguri. Photo credit: Silas Ishaya

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Isaiah 40:1-11

Anticipation. Waiting. Agonizing? Uncertain. Advent—waiting for the promised One. On Thursday, while I was in northeast Nigeria, we rose early for our 3-4 hour drive and hit the road. Rutted. Through dry, mostly flat land with low trees except for the palms. Security checkpoints with men with big guns and barricades. Road blocks of barrels or tires or logs at checkpoints which jut, maybe half way, into the road. These alternate—one from the left, right, left, right—which slows traffic. This traffic slowing strategy is also used through villages which are lined with market stands. This works-sort of- but at times it generates a certain careening as cars coming opposing directions navigate as quickly as possible. While we barreled through one such obstacle course a gas tanker kept pace with us leading our way, weaving wildly, looking a little like the Joker in Batman driving the tractor trailer. Then, passing Gombi, we tighten a bad sounding wheel before engaging the long smoother straightaways (regularly hanging at 85 miles an hour) to Yola and the airport. As a mere passenger rather than driver, I wait. Bracing myself, observing, talking—but waiting.

My last 5 in-country flights have been delayed but just in case this one isn’t we get there early enough. They aren’t boarding yet and aren’t even checking us in. So, I wait. It’d be nice to be productive, but the uncertain waiting is distracting. Once the check-in begins, it will be a scramble. Anticipation. Sort of poised, ready. No word on the delay, but that the harmattan dust in the air from the Sahara is too thick. Another flight arrives…hope is sparked. The airport assistant guy, Abdul, suggests I might want to get a seat on this flight. Wasn’t sure, but they were filled anyway when he checks. Maybe an hour or so later it is starting to get uncertain if we will get out before they shut down flights. I text him and ask for my paper ticket print-out so that I have it if he leaves. Not minutes later, they begin checking in. He makes a mad dash towards me across the empty room to retrieve the paper and dives into line. Our hope is restored. Anticipation. Checked in. Through security. Waiting. One hour. Maybe another. Text the Ambassador to say I’ll probably miss our meeting.

Then high above, through a strangely garbled PA system, something is announced. Through deciphering or sleuthing we learn that the flight will arrive from Abuja by 5:50 pm (flight was to depart by 12:15). Relief. Hope at the first bit of information passed on to us in 6 hours—the masses who wait. 5:45. 5:50. This is the story of Advent. Of the waiting and expectation of the coming Messiah who will free the captive, heal the blind, cast off the oppressor, and proclaim reconciliation with God.

Another slightly less garbled but still incomprehensible announcement. A young messenger of doom walks around and confirms. The flight has been canceled. Which means I also miss my flight home.

At the time of writing parts of this I remain in the anticipation of both Advent and getting a flight home. Though we are still weeks from the coming of Jesus, we may remember from last year that we will not be disappointed. The messengers will not be my young airport messenger of doom but the angels to the shepherds. But that is getting ahead of where we are today. Today we wait.

Our passage is 2 Peter 3:8-15a.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 

The passage begins by challenging our notions of God’s time and patience. If 1000 years = a day for God, then what does that break down to per minute? Per second? However, if a day is like a thousand years then what does that mean as the reverse? This sounds less like a common math problem (unless of course this is what one learns if one majors in math) and more like the Matrix or Inception, movies in which time and space bend in unusual ways. This is not simply asserting that God experiences time in a very accelerated or very slow manner.

Photo Credit: Nathan Hosler

This number 1000 came back to me this week while I was at the daily—that is every day at 5:00 at the Unity Fountain next to the Transcorp Hotel in Abuja—vigil marking the abduction of the school girls from Chibok. This past Monday was 1330th day. Today, Sunday December 10th, is 1336 days. How has God experienced these days? There is some old-timey philosophy that Christians have occasionally been influenced by that states that the divine must be above change and above being influenced by the merely human. Our God, however, (which is most scandalous), becomes incarnate and joins us in our existence and joy and pain.

That Jesus is coming (since we are in advent we refer to it in the future) and will show up in this world as God incarnate—God having taken on flesh and blood and pain and joy—that this is our God then means that God has not been distant from us nor the school girls of Chibok these 1336 days. Jesus came healing and serving and feeling and calls us to the same—or should I say, will call us to do the same once he is born.

Jesus, and thus God, is not above pain and the agony of the kidnapped and their families but with them. God is with us. God is with you. This is a type of hope. The passage continues on, expounding on the timeliness of God.

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you,[a] not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 

The Lord is not patient out of lack of concern but as an act of mercy. The act of mercy which allows for repentance. This call to repentance is both urgent and marked by delay. Delay for repentance and turning. There are many horrible things in this world. I noted the Chibok Girls. There have been many others. Dr. Rebecca Dali has, during her work of humanitarian relief, collected some 4,000 names, dates, and locations of people abducted.

On my flight back from Maiduguri I was wearing my Office of Public Witness t-shirt. On the back is our tag line—“Seeking to live the peace of Jesus publicly.” The man sitting beside me said he liked it…it turned out that he was EYN. We talked for the whole flight to Abuja about his research in public health and how people cannot access it. Towards the end I learned he has 4 children. The youngest is a boy and named after his father. Even later in the flight he revealed that his father had been kidnapped and killed. Not by Boko Haram but by the Nigerian military.

So, when the Office of Public Witness works with the Nigerian Working Group which we convene on military accountability and human rights, raising concerns about the sale of weapons by the US, it is not an abstract thought. It is not a sterile appeal to theoretical legal frameworks, which are useful and regularly used, but it is because we follow a God who feels the pain of people and calls us to a ministry feeling this pain—and then acting in response. God’s patience is for repentance. God’s patience is for repentance. Jesus, the one whose birth we anticipate in advent, is the embodiment of this justice.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Note that this dissolving is not simply destruction but a process of revealing. It is a disclosing of acts done. Because of this we should live accordingly. Because of this we can also trust that acts of injustice will be brought to light.

11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening[c] the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Where righteousness is at home. Righteousness can also be translated justice. “We wait for a new heavens and a new earth, where justice dwells”

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Because of this being made known—this revealing work—we recognize that that this is good news for those on the side of justice. However, it is concerning for those who are not. Advent is the marking of the coming of Jesus—the justice of God. This is the good news that the angels will proclaim. While this is concerning for some—which may be us—we should consider the patience of the Lord as our salvation. So, this coming and revealing is good news for both the just and unjust for both the righteous and unrighteous.

The patience of God leaves room for repentance. This is not the same as those clergy whom Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rebukes. It is not patience in the face of wrong. There is both a patience leading towards repentance and an impatience with abuse. “everything with be disclosed” in the last day–God reveals what is hidden and brings to justice.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God….

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed..

Mist-like: Reflecting on James in the Middle East

By Nathan Hosler, Director of the Office of Public Witness

The permanently closed Shuhada Street in Hebron. Photo credit: Nathan Hosler

James 4:13-5:6

Writing this, I was sitting on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Below me, closer to the water, on my left and right are spots that mark many significant points in Jesus’ ministry. The ancient village of Capernaum, a chapel marking the Primacy of Peter, and a chapel with the famous mosaic of two fishes and five loaves from the year 480- marking the spot where Jesus multiplied these meager foods and fed the crowds. In Capernaum there is a house that then became the site of a church in 5th century. The house is thought to be that of the mother-in-law of Peter where Jesus would stay and where the mother was healed. It was also the site of one of the earliest house churches. Maybe 50 yards away there is the remains of a synagogue for the Byzantine period. This synagogue is built with stone imported from Jerusalem but built on an earlier foundation of local basalt stone—Some archaeologists assert that this earlier synagogue is from the time of Jesus.

A mosaic of the two fishes and five loaves. Photo Credit: Nathan Hosler

Byzantine Synagogue with the “Jesus Synagogue” beneath. Photo Credit: Nathan Hosler

To my left (to the north) 20 miles is Syria whose civil war and refugee crisis require no introduction. Back south is the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. Most of the week to this point has been hearing from an assortment of political, religious, NGO, and peacebuilding workers struggling in a situation of conflict that feels rather intractable. The significance of the land both present and past is of incomparable magnitude.

Along the way I have been reading and meditating on our passage in James.

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Narrowly, this and the following verses are about wealth. I think, however, that money stands in for the assumption that we are in control or our desire to be in control. Though God (and the world with its histories and cultures) are big, you are misty—mist-like, ephemeral. This assertion is not negative, not an insult, it is simply honest. Though those of us who are at least relatively well-off may forget this, our lives are indeed contingent. Our lives are dependent. They are based in God. James addresses the one who confidently says they will do this or that. The hearers of the letter of James were likely not the well off—or the overly wealthy. So, it may not be that this or the next portion are as directly applicable to the immediate crowd. The general assertion, however, is very applicable, hence its inclusion. To those who are well confident that their plans will succeed, James asserts—you are mist—misty—mist-like in the fleeting quality of your life. Because you cannot know what will happen you should always acknowledge that even the best laid plans rest in God. The habit and practice that James exhorts is to, in all things, acknowledge that one’s life is held in God.

Your existence is in God.

As I’ve been reading James I have also been thinking about a similar passage in the Sermon on the Mount. Given my writing location if felt particularly relevant to note this. In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus teaches: Why worry about your life?—about what you will eat or drink or wear. Are not the flowers of the field more splendid than Solomon, the most extravagantly dressed of all kings?

A sign outside the Tent of Nations that reads, “We refuse to be enemies.” Photo credit: Nathan Hosler

The sign by the entrance says, “We refuse to be enemies.” The Tent of Nations (http://www.tentofnations.org/ ) is a Palestinian farm on a hill top in area C. Area C is part of the West Bank, the land of the future Palestinian State. It is also the site of many settlements, which are illegal under international law, undermining the possibility of a future state, and more like towns or cities than anything makeshift that is indicated by the term “settlement.” To get to the Tent of Nations we left our van and climbed over boulders that have been placed on their road a few hundred meters from their farm in order to impede access. The farm is on a hill top. Every other hill top surrounding has a massive settlement.

We met with Daoud Nasser whose family has lived there for generations. Unlike most Palestinians whose land is at risk they have a clear line of documentation of land ownership going back to the Ottoman Period in the early 1900s. Since the land is documented but still deemed very desirable, they have been fighting in courts since the early 1990s. The case keeps getting passed back and forth between the Supreme Court and Military courts. They must keep fighting and filing because if they don’t they will be forced out. They can’t build any new structures and the structures they have—even the tent like structures—have demolition orders on them. Daoud Nasser, though, seems to be full of joy. He told of their struggle just to keep their family’s land. He demonstrates a trust in God and in others to continue on.

Again, your existence is in God. You are mist-like but God is steadfast.

Unsurprisingly, the rich also have this problem. They also easily forget that their existence is in God.

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

James doesn’t discuss if there are righteous ways to be rich. Certainly, our congregation isn’t rich compared to much of Capitol Hill. Because of this and certain prophetic inclinations we may find it easy to speak critically—to speak “prophetically.” However, though we are not that rich we are comparatively rich in relation to much of the world. And as such may be indicted.

The rich people that James addresses have built their riches on the backs of others. For white America the legacy of slavery of Africans and genocide of Indigenous communities is a clear example. But also, immigration, trade, and foreign policy often continue this pattern.

What we don’t know is if James has certain rich folks in mind or assumes that all those who are rich have earned it through injustice. It is also unclear if the “rich” are those who meet a certain income bracket (which seems unlikely) or if it is short-hand for those in power. This call is a call to repentance. It is a call towards being rightly oriented toward God and others. The call to repentance and to acknowledging that one’s existence is based in God rather than in one’s own might or smarts or good looks or cunning is not against but for the one being challenged. Only when you care about that person or entity can you fully embrace the uncomfortable confrontation. Repenting of this is in the interest of both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Let’s suppose that riches and power are somewhat interchangeable. During the past two weeks the question of power and who is criticized in what manner has been close at hand for me. For Palestinians living under Israeli occupation the restricted rights, living under military law, limited ability to move freely, and lagging infrastructure is clearly unjust. For many Israelis their existence as a small country surrounded by the much bigger and often hostile Arab world, history of the Holocaust, and repeated abuses throughout history lead to a strong emphasis on “security” at any cost. Many wars in the past decades as well as an enforced separation which does not allow interaction with Palestinians in normal life keeps these fears alive and well.

One morning on this trip we met with Defense for Children International. They explained that there are 500-700 cases of Palestinian children being convicted in Israeli military courts. Many times, the kids (usually but not always boys) are arrested from their beds at night. Regularly they are beaten on the way. Harshly interrogated. And sign confessions written in a language which they can’t read in order to get out sooner. Rarely can they see their parents or actually meet with a lawyer to know their rights. Because of this work of documentation and exposure DCI is declared an enemy and traitor of the state of Israel because it highlights these abuses. Many Christians in the US would harshly criticize me for repeating these things—claiming that the Old Testament commands me to “Bless Israel.” However, as noted earlier, criticism is not the opposite of blessing. Criticism may be part of blessing.

Even as I recount these few notes from an hour long meeting I think back and begin to feel overwhelmed. And this was only one meeting out of the whole week. It is easy to feel the mist-like character of my life when held up against the enormity of the world. The enormity of the ancient stones and places of Jesus. The enormity of Syria just down the road. The enormity of the so-called Israeli and Palestinian conflict. I’m not sure that this is what James intends, but getting to the point of realizing our mistiness—our mist-like nature—is half the struggle. The second half is recognizing that our existence is in God. We are mist but our existence is sustained by the God who has mysteriously created us and called us. Our existence is in the God that has created and called us beyond ourselves.

Reflections on Simplify: A Simple Living Weekend

The commitment of the Church of the Brethren to living simply is evidenced in our slogan- “Peacefully. Simply. Together.”  It is often easy to visualize the “peaceful” and “together” aspects of Christian life, but “simply” is discussed less frequently. To address this Brethren value more fully, Brethren Woods hosted “Simplify: A Simple Living Weekend,” in November. The conference brought together Christians interested in discussion about what this commitment to simplicity looks like in a world that values consumption, status, and material possessions.

Over the course of the weekend, the keynote speakers and panelists shared their personal experiences with living simply. Sam Funkhouser, a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, New Conference, made the case for a radical change to a non-conformist lifestyle, in which we live out the theological calls for simple living. If we do it correctly, he argued, a desire to live simply would be seen as the “natural end to a life of repentance.”  In workshops, he shared practical advice for increasing a car’s fuel efficiency and making ethical, sustainable, and simple clothes at home.

Jenn Hosler, co-pastor at Washington City Church of the Brethren, presented on the theological basis for a simple lifestyle. Citing Biblical passages calling for creation care, fair social practices and good stewardship, she drew connecting lines between Biblical teachings and the call for simplicity.

Other workshop leaders included Nancy Heisey, who shared about simple living as it relates to technology, and Yakubu and Diana Bakfwash, who presented on what servant leadership looks like in today’s world.  While each speaker had a different approach to simple living, they all believed strongly that Christians are called by their faith to live out a commitment to simplicity.

In our culture, which values status and material possessions, it is not uncommon to feel as though we must hoard earthly wealth for security, respect and well-being. The Bible challenges this notion. The Parable of the Rich Fool was brought up many times in small group conversations. In this parable, a rich man tears down his existing barns and builds bigger ones, in order to store the excesses of his harvest. In doing this, he hoards his own excessive wealth at the expense of the hungry in his community. Jesus reminds his audience in this chapter  to “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15).

A Gandhi quote that has become popular in our churches in recent years is, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” This call reflects the disparate living standards around the world, and the unsustainable nature of our own consumer culture. The earth does not have enough resources to support a humanity in which every person lives the type of lifestyle that most Americans enjoy.

View entire statement at: http://www.brethren.org/ac/statements/1996simplelife.html

The theological call to live simply is one that must be lived out in daily live, as a constant public witness. The way in which we live tells others a lot about our faith and worldview. One of the ways in which the Office of Public Witness works to encourage this simplicity in the ecumenical community is by supporting Creation Justice Ministries (CJM). Efforts to reduce the impact we have on the environment, and to reduce our excessive consumption, are key to working towards a simpler lifestyle.

The 1980 Annual Conference Statement on “Christian Lifestyle” says that “we cannot sit easily in the seats of wealth and power of an oppressive status quo.” As members of a society that uses more than our fair share of resources, our consumption directly impacts poor and marginalized people around the world. We push the cost of our cheap consumer goods off onto the underpaid factory workers that produce them, the children who breathe polluted air, and the communities burdened by the landfills and incinerators built to dispose of our trash. We must be intentional about confronting ourselves about the ways in which we are not faithful stewards, and work to reflect our commitment to simple living with real lifestyle changes.

Reflections on Land and Columbus Day

By Nathan Hosler

Navajo activist Mark Charles’ lecture on “A Native Perspective on Columbus Day” is a valuable accompanying piece to this blog post. You can view it here. 

“The arrival of Europeans was experienced by Native Americans as nothing less than an invasion. This invasion was not just of the land; it was an assault on the humanity of the native people and their holistic way of living. Europeans tended to regard anyone different from themselves as inferior subjects to be conquered and destroyed.”

-1994 Church of the Brethren Statement, “Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers”

 

Psalm 104

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
    wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
    you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.

You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;                                     the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams[e] the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15     and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.

 

The Doctrine of Discovery required that the land be empty of its indigenous inhabitants and made it morally good for Europeans to take and cultivate the land. By raising consciousness of how this continues to sustain and support the national myth and legal system, the church may repudiate its participation and propagation of this sin and seek ways to repent. Psalm 104 proclaims that the land is the Lord’s and that it is sustained and created through God. This psalm aligns more closely with Indigenous people’s understanding of the land as lived upon rather than owned by individuals. Chief Lawrence Hart (Southern Cheyenne) writes, “The earth is for the circle of people. And since the earth is for the whole, no one individual can own any part of it. The earth belongs to the Creator, and is gifted to peoples” (“The Earth is a Song Made Visible: A Cheyenne Christian Perspective,” Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry, 155). By attending to both the Doctrine of Discovery and Psalm 104 we can recognize our rootedness in the land, as well as the fact that our understandings of ownership must be changed. Palestinian theologian Munther Isaac, in a biblical theology of land writes, “Human beings are only tenants in the land, and as such must share the blessings of the land with their neighbors….the land is something to share, not possess” (Munther Isaac, From Land to Lands, from Eden to the Renewed Earth, 370).

While geography encompasses all and should include all peoples as co-inhabitants, it has often been seen as a possession and its inhabitants as objects of conquest. The relationship to the land and its inhabitants is both affected by and has shaped understanding of race and ethnicity.  Willie James Jennings in The Christian Imagination: Theology and Origins of Race writes, “The question of how one should imagine space is by far one of the most complex questions facing the world today. Space continues to be ever further enclosed inside the economic and political calculations of nation-states and corporations. Yet one imagines space as inseparably bound to how one imagines peoples and their places in the world. Although the history of Christians in the colonial West shows the difficulty of people imagining space and peoples together, Christianity itself offers hope of their joining…If space and race go together in the making of modern peoples, then what would be involved in the spatial and racial unmaking of modern peoples, that is, the remaking that should be the constitution of Christian people? This question poses a seeming impossibility, the transformation of social imaginations shaped in the fragmenting of place as private property and the slicing of human existence in racial vision” (Jennings, Christian Imagination, 250).

Getting wrong the relationship to land and other people is challenged first by Psalm 104 in recognition that the land is the Lords and in James 2:1-9. In the book of James unequal treatment is serious enough to call into question one’s connection to Jesus. We read,

 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ ?For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

James condemns favoritism. Simply seeking to give up favoritism still, however, allows us to retain for ourselves in the role of power. By imagining that it ours to welcome, we perpetuate the assumption of ownership and dominance. Of course, changing this does not mean that privilege simply disappears. While understanding power and privilege is critical to undoing oppression, theologically we are all in need of God’s grace, mercy, and justice. Jennings writes, “The colonialist moment helped solidify a form of Christian existence that read this text [Jesus healing the Canaanite woman] as though we were standing with Jesus looking down on the woman in her desperation, when in fact we, the Gentiles, are the woman…”(Jennings, 262).

Divisions within humanity (caused by the oppression of some over others) and between humanity and the land may be healed through the biblical understanding of shalom. Cherokee theologian, Randy Woodley, in Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision though maintaining a strong critique more explicitly reflects on peacemaking through a comparative reading of the biblical idea of shalom and what he terms the Harmony Way. He writes, “In their nature as constructs, shalom and the Native American Harmony Way have much in common. Shalom, like Harmony Way, is made up of numerous notions and values, with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Both are meant to be a way of living life in concrete ways that include more than all the terms found within the construct” (Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, x). This biblical vision of shalom, is acted out through a vocation of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18, Romans 12-16-21, Matthew 5:9) which is defined by justice and seeking the well-being of all. (Mark Charles, a Navajo theologian and activist, uses the term conciliation rather than reconciliation since there was not a previous state of unity between European-American Christians and Native American communities. http://wirelesshogan.blogspot.com/2014/12/doctrine-of-discovery.html).

Along with the vocation of peacemaking the church is rooted in the land. Isaac writes, “A church in a particular land exists for the sake of that land and takes her mission agenda from it. The church, in other words, derives much of its purpose from its locale” (Isaac, From Land to Lands, 368). For Christians in the U.S. this rootedness and connection to the land requires a recognition of whose land this was and how it came to be possessed. The church’s misappropriation of biblical “Promised Land” imagery was wrongly used to claim theological warrant to clear the land of Indigenous inhabitants. By following Isaac’s urge to understand that land is now universal but still connected to geography we begin to understand the call of the church in a particular land, in this case a land that has been stolen from others. In this context the vocation of reconciliation requires repentance, concrete action, and relationships based on listening and mutuality.

Statement on Iran Deal

The media is reporting that the Trump Administration has decided to de-certify Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. The deal, negotiated by the UN Security Council, put restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment abilities and gave the international community access to the country to verify their compliance with the restrictions.

The Church of the Brethren has a long history of outspoken opposition to nuclear weapon development, use, and proliferation. In 1982, the denomination issued “A Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” which said:

Since its inception the church has understood the biblical message as contrary to the destructive, life denying, realities of war. The position of the Church of the Brethren is that all war is sin and contrary to the will of God and we confirm that position. We seek to work with other Christians and all persons who desire to abolish war as a means of resolving difference. The church has consistently spoken and continues to speak against the production and use of nuclear weapons. We have called upon our government to “dismantle its nuclear arsenal, pledge not to use nuclear weapons, refuse to sell nuclear fuels and technology to any state not agreeing to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, work tirelessly for a comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, take unilateral disarmament initiatives as a way of breaking the current stalemate, and strengthen global institutions that facilitate nonviolent means of conflict resolution and the process of disarmament.”

The United Nations’ work on the Iran Deal is exactly the sort of “global institution” process that facilitates nonviolent conflict resolution, and the deal has been largely successful. It has allowed international monitoring of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and allowed for the lifting of sanctions and increased economic integration between Iran and Western nations like France and Germany. These are important steps in the right direction.

The rhetoric surrounding the upcoming Iran Deal decision brings to mind the Church of the Brethren’s 1984 statement, “Terrible Belligerence,” written in response to Cold War tensions.

“Our nation has contributed to a world situation in which few serious negotiations are taking place to reduce the danger of nuclear annihilation. We assume that all liberation movements are “communist” inspired and controlled. We reduce international relationships to a conflict between “the free world” and “an evil empire.”We replace diplomacy with military confrontation as a means to world stability.”

Nuclear negotiations are difficult, imperfect and too little, too late. However, the deal with Iran represents a meaningful step forward for the global community in using diplomacy to prevent nuclear conflict. It is essential that, as it says in the 1980 COB statement, “The Time is so Urgent: Threats to Peace,”  

“To break this mad cycle we call for bold and creative initiatives such as a unilateral decision by our government to terminate all nuclear tests and the production of all nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.”

We continue to call for an end to the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons, and urge the United States government to do everything within its power to ensure the success of nuclear negotiations that bring the world closer to peaceful, stable coexistence without the threat of nuclear annihilation.

David Young: Thoughts on Washington DC

The following blog is a guest post from David Young, the founder of Capstone Community Gardens in New Orleans. You can learn more about his work at www.capstone118.org

I had the opportunity to be in Washington D.C. from September 20 through 23, 2017. This was made possible by the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness and the Global Food Initiative. The main purpose was to do a presentation with Nathan Hosler of the Office of Public Witness, at the University of D.C. during their Urban Agriculture Symposium and Association of Vertical Farmers Summit. Our presentation topic was: Food and Faith; The New Orleans Story of the Church of the Brethren. It ended up being so much more than that.

One of the things the Office of Public Witness does is look at policy and how they effect Brethren and projects of the Brethren.

Having had previous meetings and discussions with Nathan he was familiar with some of the challenges Capstone faces as an urban farm. One of those is being in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Orleans Parish (county in other states) has a 100% urban designation by USDA which prevent us from using many of the benefits USDA makes available to those with rural designation.

Nathan and Tori from the Office of Public Witness arranged for me to meet with staff of the three legislators from Louisiana. Within a few hours of arriving I found myself on Capitol Hill, spending about 30 minutes with each staff person, explaining how federal, state, and local policy effect how we can operate with our mission to grow food and share it with those in need.

One of the most pleasant surprises was a World Day of Peace service at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Multiple churches of different denominations worked together to coordinate the service on the evening of September 20th, a day early, since Nathan and I would be occupied at the symposium on the 21st. The garden theme was included as part of the service. It was a nice gathering with a handful of denominations represented as one worshiping and praying for peace.

The Urban Ag Symposium started with Nathan and I doing a brief TV interview about what the Office of Public Witness provides and the community mission of Capstone. Since the mid 70’s I have understood the important role our land grant colleges play with agriculture. The University of D.C. is the only Urban Land Grant College. I also found it surprising to hear the Dean of the University talk about the faith based involvement the university has.

Later that afternoon Nathan and I completed our presentation at the symposium which was well received. The symposium partnered with the Association of Vertical Farmers. There were presentations that talked about some of the various vertical farming systems. Capstone has a combination of in -ground farming, elevated farming (raised beds), as well as some vertical farming with the aquaculture systems.

The second day started the Association for Vertical Farming Summit. The make-up of those in attendance changed from the previous day. The Vertical Farmcing Summit included more people who held titles of Scientist, PhD, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

There was dialogue and presentations on controlled environment, high capacity, 6 to 30-foot-high vertical growing systems. Complete grow systems self-contained in shipping containers. There was also an emphasis on using technology and Artificial Intelligence to analyze and evaluate plant needs. This ranged from mini drones gathering samples in mid-air to leaf mounted cameras and scopes.

Going back to when I was part of commercial agriculture in the late 70 and 80’s and currently doing urban farming I ask, what are you testing for? Most people I know now typically do more harm to their crops by overreacting to the test results. The group agreed with me. I’ve never tested much, I look at the plant and figure out what if any corrections I should take. The group said we don’t have that experience or knowledge to do that.

It comes very close to feeling like I’m watching a movie that was made a long time ago and this would have been considered sci-fi. I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I ask myself are these scientists, PhDs, and Artificial Intelligence people our next generation of farmers even though they admit they don’t have any experience in growing food. One representative from USDA said this type of farming will never replace conventional farming.

One three story vertical system in Jackson Wyoming cost 4.5 Million dollars to build. While they are at the other end of the spectrum of production and a for profit business I think back to my first two seasons with the gardens at Capstone. 4’x14’ and I spent $100 each growing season. If someone wanted to help I asked them to bring the plants or seeds they wanted to have grown. We’ve grown considerably since then. Going to the Garden Grants and Global Food Initiative grants have been beneficial to our success. Even as we continue to grow I feel we maintain a solid well-grounded relationship between the food we grow and our community we share it with.

On the last day, we took a tour of two urban gardens that were operated by Cultivate the City. These two gardens have a combination of raised and vertical farming and are doing some aquaculture. Even though both were rooftop gardens these gardens had a more familiar feel to them. At one farm the founder said we have people water the plants with a watering can. I feel it makes them more attuned with what they are growing. Quite a contrast to having micro drones collect samples.

Here is where I share my lack of following sports or having TV coverage. While I was in Washington I kept seeing a large cursive “W”. I kept thinking a certain large drug store chain was doing a lot of advertising. It was only when we went to the baseball stadium to see their roof top garden and the “W” was more prominent that I realized the “W” was for the Washington sports teams.

In D.C. there are many rooftop gardens because there is a storm water fee. If you allow storm water to openly drain away from a building or hard surface such as a parking lot you pay a fee on that. The roof top gardens make flat roof areas green space for growing plants or food which in turn offers relief from the storm water fee.

The University of D.C has a large green roof including a greenhouse. They grow succulents as well as produce. At the baseball stadium, the roof top gardens are on top of the concession stands. You open a gate on an upper level in the parking garage, climb up a ladder, down the other side of a wall, and onto the roof. It’s covered with hundreds of milk crates. Each milk crate contains a 5-gallon bag made of recycled material. This holds soil or compost and the plants.

One benefit to this type of garden is if you have to relocate the garden due to turning over ownership of the site or other factors you simply pick up the milk crate with the soil and plants, load them and move them to their new location. When we harvest honey, we put the 5 gallons buckets containing honey in a milk crate to make them more stable for transport and easier to handle.

While the material expense may be above our budget I think the concept in an urban setting is great. Having rehabbed a total of 40 lots in the Lower 9th Ward and returning many of them to families or organizations who decided it was time to develop that property it would have made things much easier in some cases to be able to just load the entire garden on a trailer and move it to another site.

I don’t know that my visit to D.C. is going to change anything or even influence any of the policy decisions. I do know the response from several of the smaller urban farms has been positive as we look to continue the discussion and enhance our relationships and collaboration.

 

Reflection on Christian Peacemaker Teams Trip

The Office of Public Witness has been meeting with U.S. government agencies to advocate for the use of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP). Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is one organization that uses UCP methods to nonviolently work towards justice. In this guest blog post, Tim Heishman reflects on his experience with a CPT delegation.

By: Tim Heishman

This past August I was privileged to take part in Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Delegation to Manitoba and Ontario with my wife Katie. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an organization founded by the historic peace churches and based on the notion that Christians should be as willing to put their lives on the line for peace as soldiers are for war. During my time on the CPT delegation I heard many stories about the effectiveness of unarmed civilian protection and peaceful efforts to bring about solutions to injustice.

We learned about the story of the Shoal Lake 40 indigenous community in western Ontario. About 100 years ago the city of Winnipeg decided to build an aqueduct from the lake next to the indigenous community to carry water to the city. The problem was that the lake was split during construction, half of it was then contaminated, and half of it was clean. The clean water was reserved for the city of Winnipeg and the contaminated water was left for the indigenous tribe. Contaminated water is a huge problem for indigenous people because so much of their life and culture revolves around water. For example, the fish that made up a significant part of their diet now made them very sick. The way the city of Winnipeg divided the water when constructing the aqueduct also cut the community off from the rest of the world. They could get out during the summer by boat and in the winter by driving across the ice, but in the fall and spring they were stuck. Fast forward nearly 100 years and Winnipeg built the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A successful campaign organized by indigenous leaders and settler allies highlighted the fact that the human rights museum was getting its water by oppressing an indigenous tribe. It was a bit of an embarrassing public relations issue, to say the least! The organizers even came up with their own Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations! A peaceful campaign worked to call out and transform structural violence committed by the city of Winnipeg over a period of 100 years.

We met with leaders from the Grassy Narrows indigenous tribe in Ontario and they told us the story of how they successfully organized a blockade to stop illegal logging by corporations on their land. It began when a teenager cut down a tree to block the road so the logging trucks could not get through and complete their work. Soon others from the tribe joined in and a protest camp was established next to the road. Christian Peacemaker Team members joined to stand in solidarity with the tribe. For four months, from December to March, indigenous and settler allies stood together to stop illegal logging on indigenous land. They were ready to stand peacefully against the violence of the corporations and the state. The corporation eventually decided to do their logging in another place and for now the tribe has been successful in peacefully defending their right to the land that belongs to them.

Christian Peacemaker Teams does work like this all over the world. They believe that Christians should put as much energy into working for peace as militaries do for war. Working against injustices and violence with peaceful methods allows us to retain the moral high ground and expose the injustices of the perpetrator in a way that a violent response would not. Sometimes violence is physical and other times it is structural. It can be stopped with unarmed civilian protection.

Sometimes governments and militaries choose to lay down their weapons and protect a place peacefully. The peninsula on which Common Ground is located is one such place. Common Ground is located in Kenora, Ontario. Many years ago several indigenous tribes and settlers fought over this piece of land. The opposing sides came together, they decided to hold it mutually, and they called it Common Ground. Today it is surrounded by several miles of beautiful hiking trails and it is still a place where all people can come together and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. May all people come together to embrace God’s call to model our lives after the Prince of Peace and settle our conflicts nonviolently.