Top Brethren things to do on a snow day

snowy day from a window6. Watch a video recording of a webinar or event you missed. It’s free! What could be more Brethren than that?

5. Sew on buttons. Sure, your winter coat still works with one button and a belt (speaking from personal experience), but maybe you will be warmer being able to close all those holes.

4. Plan your garden. Order seeds or plants after you make a few decisions. Will you clear a new spot? Rotate what grows where? Create raised beds? Put in a rain barrel or drip hose? (How did simple living get so complicated?!)

3. Lay out a small four square court with masking tape on a countertop. If you can’t find a little rubber bouncy ball, try making a ball. You had to be saving those rubber bands from the newspaper—and the broccoli—for something!

2. Make snow ice cream:  canned milk, vanilla and sugar mixed with a bowl of the cleanest snow you can find. Yes, we Brethren believe in a land flowing with milk and honey… it’s just that the milk and honey have to be below the freezing point.

1. Shovel for a neighbor… or a stranger… or even your dog. You know, whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Jesus!

What would you add to this list?

–Jan Fischer Bachman

What is Fasting?

As Lent nears we encounter a number of people taking on a fast- from giving up chocolate to not eating meat on Friday. This short reflection first appeared in the Congregational Life Ministries publication Basin and Towel. To subscribe download this form.

“‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’” Matthew 6:16-18 NRSv

It is interesting to encounter fasting in the Sermon on the Mount.  Right after Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for “our daily bread” in the Lord ’s Prayer (6:11) he shifts to talking about not eating it.  Yet, the connection is clear- Fasting, like prayer, is an assumed spiritual discipline that demands a particular mode of practice.  In more clear words, it’s what people of faith do and Jesus wants to make sure they do it right and for the right reasons.

So what is fasting?  In its most simple form, fasting is the act of going some time without food.  Earlier in the book of Matthew we read of Jesus taking 40 days to go without food (4:2). Now that is one long fast!  Fortunately for us, the expectation is not for such grand heroics on our part.  In fact, there are many types of fasts, all of which can be done in any length of time.  Some drink only juice for a few days, some may not eat during the daylight hours, and still others might fast from a particular thing like chocolate during lent.

But why fast?  There are two ways to approach the question, one by saying what it is and the other by describing what it’s not.  In the reading from Matthew 6 above, it’s clear what fasting is not: It is not about a show for others. It’s not meant to be manipulative or political in nature but rather assumes it is a spiritual matter between God and the faithful one.  In other words, fasting is not about drawing attention to yourself. Actually, as we see in the temptations of Jesus in chapter 4 we see that fasting is not about us at all- not our hunger, not our pride, and not our vanity.  In today’s terms, this means that fasting is not about out weight, not about our desire for great political outcomes, and not about drawing the attention of others to our beliefs or our bodies.

Yet, as a spiritual practice it is in some ways about you- you and the creator to be more specific.  Religious and non-religious persons alike speak of fasting as a way of getting our minds and bodies out a rut.  For the non-religious the time of intentional hunger allows the body to clean itself and gain a clearer mind.  But for the person of faith the reframing of the mind is about shifting ones attention to God.  Just like the temptations of Jesus following his time of fasting in Matthew 4, we start to ask questions of how we are and are not connected to God. How am I distracted from listening to God by everyday life?  How do I look for the extraordinary as a way to test God rather than see God’s care in the food that I eat?  Those questions asked in the place of eating a meal help us gain perspective on the state of our faith and our relationship to God and the world.

The short answer to this question though goes something like this: We fast from food or drink in order to reorient ourselves to God, and by looking first to God we change our relationship to the things of this world. What we do after the fast is the fruit of our spiritual discipline and our renewed relationship to God.

Hourly Prayers for Peace

Brothers and sisters, my apologies for not getting these on the blog in a more timely manner. Below are the first set of hourly prayer updates on this International Day of Prayer for Peace. May the peace of Christ be with you.

8pm EST – As you close the day, pray that the peace that started in these prayers today is only the start, laying the foundation for a peaceful world.

7pm EST – Pray for our mission workers around the world, that they might carry the peace of Christ w/ them, helping build a world of peace.

6pm EST – Pray for the peace of the church-for your church, for your communion, for the body of Christ-that we might walk in the way of Christ.

5pm EST – Pray for all of those who have been impacted by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as by terrorism and the war on terrorism globally.

4pm EST – Pray for the influence of violence on our children and youth. Be an example for them, that they might know another way of living.

3pm EST – In this hour, pray for those who continue to suffer from domestic violence and the violence of sexual exploitation.

2pm EST – As millions are impacted by disaster-man made & natural-pray & act to seek sustainable living w/ God’s creation. http://t.co/BkLNxtt4

1pm EST – As millions go jobless & live in a life of systematic poverty & hunger, pray that we might transform systems of injustice around us.

12pm EST – This hour, say a prayer for #TroyDavis, all of those on death row, & this country that continues to seek vengeance through violence.

11am EST – Pray for #Obama, as he speaks at the UN & meets w/ Israeli and Palestinian leadership. And seek mid-east peace – http://t.co/CTB79IiJ

10am EST – This hour, pray for the peace of your family-whoever that is. Pray that they may find the peace they each need, and peace with one another.

9am EST – Move from the peace within, to extend it to your immediate surroundings. Pray for the peace of the person standing next to you.

8am EST – Start this #IDOPP by seeking your own peace. Begin by praying for the peace you need within. Loving your enemies begins with loving yourself.

Theological Basis of Personal Ethics

In the report from the Congregational Ethics Study Committee it was suggested that consideration be given to updating and revising the 1966 Theological Basis of Personal Ethics.

That document can be downloaded here.

What do you think of its content?

Do you think it still speaks to our current understanding and living of Christianity in a Brethren Accent?

What do we do now?

I want to start this by thanking so many of you – for your words of support, whether it be through comments on here, twitter, or facebook. This was an action I only took knowing the church was with me – from leadership in Elgin to local pastors in the Washington, DC area. And to hear from so many of you … it is when we speak with each other, through one another, and together that we have a voice that makes a difference.

It was a powerful experience – to kneel in prayer in the Rotunda of the Capitol building, and pray that the decisions made in that building would reflect the values of the faith that so many hold dear. That the Holy Spirit would fill that place, and move our decision makers to seek to make this world more in accordance with the will of God – and to stand where God stands, caring for the poor and feeding the hungry. And then to be arrested for doing that very thing – with 10 other persons of faith.

Many have asked me whether or not I think the arrests yesterday of 11 people of faith made a difference. There has certainly been a lot of press attention to the actions taken. From the Huffington Post, to the New York Times, to ABC News, and many, many more – the word certainly got out about the actions. Combine that with the attention building around the daily prayer vigils, which continued today, and will continue next week, and it would seem that our country is certainly paying attention to what the church is saying.

But this still leaves the question of whether or not this will shift the debate in Washington – one that seems to only want to ask communities that have no more to give to sacrifice to get our fiscal house in order (which does need to happen). Whether it be the hungry through cuts to SNAP, God’s Creation by stripping funding for the Clean Water Act, or those in poverty around the world by slashing food aid – these seem to be the only communities actually being asked to give.

The reality is the action I took yesterday will only have an impact if it has your backing. Your words of support to me have meant so much – but your Senators and Representatives need to hear them, too. There are so many ways you can weigh in. Send them an email, call their offices in DC, or, and this one would have the most impact, visit their local offices (they are listed on their websites). No matter where you go, the message is that we cannot bring our fiscal house in order as a nation on the backs of the poor and vulnerable around the world. We need to consider increasing revenue and cutting security and military spending, too. The poor and vulnerable have no more to give. Or, just let them know that you are holding them in prayer as they consider what God would have them do.  Check out the NCC Poverty Initiative for more resources. BUT THEY NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU. It is time for all people of faith to speak up, and to take action, and seek to live in a nation that reflects our values. What we spend our money on goes a long way toward determining what those values are.

What are we to say?- Reflections on Annual Conference 2011

During the Special Response process, as I participated in Bible study, hearing, readings, and discussions, what I noticed was that our hearts were cracking open.  Some were cracking in pain, some in anger, and some were simply opening to new light.  At least one person said it this way:  ‘I dared to ask God to show me if I was wrong.’

“If nothing else, this year has caused members of the Church of the Brethren to pray.  When we pray God comes into all the cracks in our hearts and begins working.  So when I go back home, what I’m going to tell people is:  ‘God is working, but God’s Spirit is not finished with us yet.'”

-Linda Alley, spiritual director and ordained minister


These words from Linda Alley, shared at the close of Annual Conference by her husband and moderator Robert Alley, gave beautiful words to the painful work of this year’s Annual Conference. In the days and weeks after Grand Rapids, we may find that the Spirit of God is indeed at work – yet, for now, there are many who are asking whether God was even present in our decisions.

In recent days I have found that the way author and speaker Peter Rollins works with the last words of Christ gives us a way to discern God’s activity.  He simply says that in a single breath Jesus holds together both God’s absence and presence. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46).” By addressing God, Jesus affirms that God is active and present yet his words describe a sense of divine withdraw. God is both there and not there, the rich paradox of our human life of faith in one single sentence.

The Church of the Brethren now holds within it that same paradox– a confession of God’s presence and absence. Some mourn the actions of the gathering, still others proclaim victory, and all decry the violence done to another through a threat of death.

In between lamenting absence and celebrating presence, is the question of the ages: What is God working within us in these days? That is the question of a sage to seeker, or a spiritual director to companion. That is the question for us as we consider being the church in the wake of Grand Rapids.

What if the absence and presence paradox is asking us a whole other question? What if the real issue in our life together is actually about trust?

Rowan Williams, in his book Tokens of Trust, helpfully describes our societal lack of trust saying that we “assume that things aren’t arranged for our benefit.” This powerless feeling, he goes on to say, “isn’t healthy” and leads to mistrust. “I feel mistrustful when I suspect that someone else’s agenda and purpose has nothing to do either with my agenda or with what that someone else is claiming. They have a hidden advantage; I am being undermined” (4).

All this may sound like a political phenomenon, but the wisdom of Williams’ work points to it as a spiritual issue. When we all entered the waters of our baptism a series of questions was asked, beginning with “Do you believe in God?” Williams is right to frame this statement of belief as a matter of trust. We are not asked if we believe in God like we believe it will rain tomorrow, or if we believe UFO’s exist. Rather, we are proclaiming our trust in God.

Unfortunately, we can betray that trust in God with our very actions. It is possible to say we have faith and then act as though all the power in the world is in our hands– power for ill or for good. So we maneuver, politic, and caucus to ensure our advantage. As Williams highlighted earlier, this is more a sign of our mistrust than it is of our faith. In our actions we plainly say to one another, even as sisters and brothers in Christ, “I do not trust you.” Even more to the point, we say to one another that we do not even trust God to speak to them. What does this say of our faith and ways of being the church?

Our work together and our natural desire for an orderly process provide us a release valve so that we need not encounter our feelings of mistrust.  In constructing a process and coming together with plans for voting, caucusing with one another, and wrangling over procedure, we avoid the deep spiritual work of trusting God to work among us. We let off the natural energy by taking matters into our own hands, and in so doing avoid living out the very things we claim to believe. As Peter Rollins has said, our actions are a “lie that allows us to cope with the unbearable truth of our situation” (Church in the Present Tense, 94).

When we continue to practice church as this release valve we will avoid the opportunities to work at the spiritual nature of our mistrust.  We will speak of peace and abuse one another. We will talk of community and betray one another through procedures and politics. We will value simplicity and construct barriers that keep us from simply seeing Christ in one another. In other words, we will release our tension by doing Church without letting the transforming Spirit of God work among us.

As we reflect back on our gathering and work in Grand Rapids, how will we tell the story of God’s work within us as the body of Christ? In this year to come, how will we imagine our gathering and leave space to proclaim “God is working, but God’s Spirit is not finished with us yet”?

Why I got arrested

I got arrested today, as the Director of Peace Witness Ministries of the Church of the Brethren. And it was something that needed to happen.

There is a long tradition of members of the Church of the Brethren participating in acts of civil disobedience – you could certainly say that the formation of our church was in itself an act of civil disobedience. And ever since, when the church has felt that steps the government was taking were forcing them to be unfaithful, we have responded – living out the values of the realm of God rather than adhering to the laws of the nations in which we reside.

Over the course of the last two and a half weeks, and really for months prior to this, the Church of the Brethren, in conjunction with the interfaith community, has been speaking out on behalf of those living in poverty, those who hunger in the United States and around the world, and those on the margins. We have stated, repeatedly, that it is the role of the government in a just and compassionate society – and the role of our government, in a democracy that claims to speak on our behalf – to offer care and opportunity to these people. People whose voice often doesn’t end up around the power tables of Washington, DC – it is this voice that the church highlights.

And so, over the last number of months, you have seen action alerts. There have been sign on letters, which General Secretary Stan Noffsinger, as well as Brethren Press director Wendy McFadden, have joined. For the last two and a half weeks, the faith community in Washington has held daily prayer vigils outside of the United Methodist Building, and met with both Administration and Congressional leadership. In fact, it was during the meetings with leadership that we realized more needed to be done.

A staff member told us that, for poor and vulnerable communities, what was going to happen was going to be bad. They couldn’t say how bad, but bad. Brothers and sisters, when we consider the priorities with which the government uses our money – and that we have a voice in how that happens – that just isn’t acceptable. It is not acceptable to turn more people toward poverty, while cutting off the support for those that are already there.

And so, I got arrested today. Not only because Members of Congress need to hear from the faith community about the sinfulness of what they are doing – but that you, members of the Church of the Brethren, need to know what your Congress is doing. And that it is time for it to stop. Brothers and sisters, it is time for a just and compassionate budget – one that reflects the values of those who live, move, and breath in this country, and one with which the church can partner to continue the inbreaking of the realm of God.

A Word on Peace and Advocacy

I shared this reflection this morning as a part of the peacemaking reports at Annual Conference, and thought it would be appropriate to share it here, too.

Sisters and brothers, it is truly a honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to address you this morning. There has been an awful lot of referencing of past Annual Conference statements throughout the course of our time together – a practice I would very much like to affirm, and add my voice to. I want you to hear these words from our 1977 Statement, “Justice and Nonviolence”:

“We cannot retreat from the world. We are to move from where we are to where God’s power and purpose have begun to define new possibilities and new necessities. We must become aware of the rampant injustice and subtle hidden violence in today’s world, examine our own involvement, and identify non-violently with the oppressed and suffering.

We must develop a theology of living here and now in the spirit of the kingdom. We look toward a future that will be more peaceful, just, and respectful of God’s creation. We who are of the body of Christ, an incarnation of God’s reconciling and redeeming love in the world; are called to be a channel of God’s loving justice. Wherever brokenness among people exists, we are called to participate in God’s work of healing; wherever people suffer from oppression, we are to work for God’s act of liberation; and wherever people are deprived of basic human needs and opportunities we are called to God’s work of humanization. We are called to live the life of God’s agape in the world because Christ is our Lord.”

I start with these words because in my mind, they are the foundation of the work that comes out of the Peace Witness Ministry office in Washington, DC. Sisters and brothers, we have heard, particularly yesterday, of the witness that we as the Church of the Brethren bring to the ecumenical community on issues relating to peace – in the affirmation of our witness by the World Council of Churches in calling violence contrary to the will of God, in the National Council of Churches seeking our guidance on the issuance of a statement on the war in Afghanistan, and in Sister Ruth’s report in our deep input in the Decade to Overcome Violence.

But I also start with these words because they represent the challenge that the ecumenical community’s witness brings before us – a new challenge for us in how we approach the gospel of peace – a push and a challenge to not only witness against war and violence, but to better preach what we are for.Are we willing to hear not only the acceptance of our message of peace by the ecumenical community, but the challenge they bring to us in the midst of their acceptance? Are we ready to more actively seek a just peace – even when it might make us a bit uncomfortable? When it might challenge the standards and the reality that we have gotten used to?

We are indeed a historic peace church, and a living peace church. One that has effectively, and continually, provided a witness against war – both in general and in the specific. Often, this has taken the form of a witness of conscientious objection – standing before our fellow citizens and publically saying, no. We will not fight. It is not the way of Christ or the will of God. It has been a powerful witness to the world – especially as we have engaged in alternative forms of service, a practice that continues today.

But what I believe our 1977 statement, and the witness of the ecumenical community is pushing us toward is to reconsider what it means to be a conscientious objector to war and violence, publically, in our world today. What does it really mean to be a living, breathing, just peace church? I think we see this in the 4 areas that the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation addressed.  Peace in the community, peace with the earth, peace with the marketplace, and peace among the peoples. This is also why our presence in Washington, DC, is called Peace Witness Ministry.

Because, sisters and brothers, when we speak on issues pertaining to justice, we are being conscientious objectors to the violence in our world today, and doing the work of peace. When we engage in the federal budget conversation currently going on, as we did recently in a letter that read, in part, “The unprecedented and dangerous cuts to discretionary domestic programs and poverty-focused foreign assistance will jeopardize the lives and well-being of millions now and into the future. These deep and unwise spending cuts are a betrayal of our call to love our neighbor. Our faith points our nation to “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31) that bears one another’s burdens, acknowledges our interdependence, and compels sacrifice and love for our neighbors in need. We therefore urge you to reject proposed cuts that would undermine domestic and international efforts to help those who are struggling to overcome poverty”, we are conscientiously speaking words of peace in the community and the marketplace.

When we address issues relating to crises in Creation – such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as we did in a letter that read in part, “Communities of faith will continue to work to fulfill the commitment we made following Katrina: to stand with others for the common good, to engage in acts of philanthropic justice and loving kindness, and to embody the belief that we share a responsibility for ensuring we leave our nation and our world better for our children. We urge you to follow through on your commitment to the Gulf Coast by doing all you can to guarantee that the oil spill response effort is comprehensive, effective, and just, meeting the needs of those suffering today while laying a foundation for long-term restoration and renewal”, we are speaking words of peace to the entirety of Creation.

When we speak out on issues relating to the Middle East, as we did in both a visit to the White House, and a letter to the Obama Administration that read, “Like Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow who kept on demanding justice over and again until justice was received (Luke 18:1-8), we hope that you will keep insisting over and again that all parties keep up the hard work of reconciliation until a just and lasting peace is achieved”, we are speaking words of peace among the peoples.

However, this is not just a challenge for our broad, public statements as a denomination to members of Congress or the Administration. Both myself and Brother Stan have taken meetings with Members of Congress and the Administration, and signed letters on behalf of the Church of the Brethren. However, those words, meetings, and letters bear only as much weight as our collective body is willing to put behind it. To be frank, no member of Congress cares what I have to say when I step into their office unless you are also willing to contact them. Sisters and brothers, this is the challenge that is before us as we consider what it means to be a body that actively seeks to publically live peace in our world today. Are we willing to take stands together against violence as it is perpetuated around us?

Are we willing to speak out against the systems of economic violence that keep so many embroiled in a reality of hunger and poverty – even when it may challenge the relative comfort in which so many of us live? Are we willing to speak out against the systems of environmental violence that are wreaking havoc on God’s people and God’s Creation around the world – even if it might mean life might be a bit less convenient for all of us? I pray that we are. It is why the largest part of what Peace Witness Ministries is is not about doing ministry on your behalf – but by entering into the ministry of peace witness with you. It is why an action alert is sent out every week – encouraging you to speak to your government the vision of peace that God has for this world. It is why fact sheets, worship resources, and, well, myself (I do love to get out of DC) are being made available to make considering a new way of being a conscientious objector is integral to the life of you as a Christian and your church. And it is why opportunities to come to DC and provide personal witness are consistently being promoted.

I want to close with more words from the 1977 paper:

“Our understanding of the mind of Christ demands of us vigorous non-violent involvement and identification with the poor and the oppressed, all the while acknowledging our limitation and confessing our complicity in the evils addressed. We also recognize that these problems (evils) are massive, complex, and ambiguous and that we lack perfect knowledge. We believe, however, that Christian discipleship demands decision and action to help achieve greater justice and peace in our time.

We must face the risks and vigorously implement the love of God in our political, economic, and social relations. The consequences of our decisions and actions may be as costly as when Jesus was accused of political subversion and was executed. We need faith, moral courage, and love as revealed in Jesus Christ and lived out in the faith community.

Our own faith community cannot escape its responsibility to act for justice, liberation, and peace. It is imperative for us as a church to pursue further biblical and theological reflection and study about the meaning of God’s justice for concrete action in our homes, churches, communities, and nation. Brethren ought to assume leadership in their communities to bring concerned persons together from other churches and secular agencies for study, action, and reflection around these concerns. District boards and executives should lift up the vision and develop projects for both district and local programs. Placement of leadership should be influenced by criteria related to the commitment of candidates to justice, liberation, and peace. In order to help generate wider support for needed change in systems we should use all available communications media to expose problems, raise awareness, and suggest transforming action.”

It is my hope, and my prayer, that you will join the Peace Witness Ministry Office in this work, and with each step of conscience we take together, that we may bring God’s vision for this world into slightly better focus. Thank you, sisters and brothers.

The Church and Climate Change

There are a lot of things happening at Annual Conference this year – a lot of important conversations for our church to be having. From human sexuality, to the war in Afghanistan, to the issue of climate change – there is a lot of important business on the slate this year.

Last night I had the opportunity to co-lead a workshop with David Radcliff of New Community Project on the Query on Climate Change that will be an item of business on the floor this afternoon. It was thrilling to have a standing room only crowd in the room, and a good and robust conversation around the variety of issues surrounding climate change – is it real? what can we do? who has financial vested interests in seeing it affirmed or denied?what is actually going on?

In the midst of all of these, the one that hit home the most for me was the question – is this something the church should even be addressing? Shouldn’t we leave this to the environmentalists and scientists?

This is why, for me, talking about climate change from a faith perspective, from a position of my faith, is as much of a no-brainer as it is. Because at its root, the human struggle with climate change isn’t actually about the science – it is a reflection of our faith. Of how we live as transformed people in this world. It is, at its root, a matter of our souls. Whether or not the science is exactly right, we are living in a way that isn’t sustainable and in relationship with the rest of God’s Creation – what climate change does is put on display for us the impacts of how we have been living. And it is up to us, as the church, to lead a moral and soul searching shift in our manner of living.

And, as was noted last night, the Church of the Brethren has a message to share here. Of simple living and community. Of another way of living – with each other and with the rest of Creation around us. To some extent, we turn to the scientists and environmentalists using their God given gifts to tell us what is going on, and in what ways we can make a difference. But it is a matter of our faith and our souls that we decide to change the way we live – and live as beings created in the image of God, who declared the entirety of this Creation good.