A Challenge for Us

Last night, we had a 2nd gathering of the Historic Peace Churches here in Kingston – to talk about what we had heard, what we were taking back, and what our next steps were as people following the Prince of Peace.

There was lots of affirmation for our acceptance and large presence within this ecumenical gathering. In fact, I don’t think a day passed without a member of the Historic Peace Churches on the plenary stage – bringing our voice of pacifism and active nonviolence. It was a powerful thing to witness and see.  It was also named that we are a voice that has often been on the side of the ecumenical movement – speaking to it, but not often being heard. It has certainly felt good to be heard.

However, it is more than that for us now. For this ecumenical gathering marks not only an acceptance of the message the peace churches have been preaching, but 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?

I certainly hope so. It is the way of peace. It is the work of following Jesus. It is the embodiment of another way of living.

Unity for Peace Sake

This is a phrase I will be taking home from this place. I have heard it a couple of times, and then got into a couple of good conversations around it yesterday, as we considered the concept of peace among the peoples, and how that plays out in our global community of nations.

For so long, the ecumenical movement has been about making manifest the unity we find in Christ. We have been about unity for, well, unity’s sake. But the question was raised here, what exactly are we seeking to live out our given unity for? And the reminder that we have been given is that it is so that the world will know.

We are called to be one in Christ, to seek our given unity as a Christian community, to offer a different example of life to the world, a different model of community and living with one another. We are called to seek unity for peace’s sake. That we can show to the world what it means like to live “God’s Security Strategy”. That is what is truly at the heart of the ecumenical movement. To be a body seeking to live out our unity so that we are a witness to the world of the vision God has.

And this gets made manifest in a number of different ways that we heard here yesterday. It is made manifest in the church serving as an early warning mechanism in places where violence is beginning – being connected to the community in ways the government just isn’t. It is made manifest through delegations of church leaders speaking to our governments, and laying out the alternative vision of security that we find in Christ.

But it is also in being willing to ask tough questions, like the one I am going to leave you with here. What does relying on the ability to kill millions of others for our security do to our souls?

Lets seek to live out our unity for the sake of peace in our world.

Household of God

Our theme for today is Peace Among the Peoples, and we once again started with bible study and worship.  For bible study, we focused on Ephesians 2:11-22. Below are some excerpts:

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace  […] so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God […] in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; into whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

Bible study this morning offered the church an interesting challenge – why do we always carry ministry to those on the margins of society – when often it is those who have, who are deeply  imbedded in our society the most, who need the voice of the gospel the most.  As we think the church as an example of the alternative community –  a beacon of the world God desires  and united in our common citizenship in the household of God – how do we witness in the different places in which we find ourselves?

In the United States, and for the Church of the Brethren, this strikes me as meaning that the mission fields are not in the global south, or with those communities are struggling (mission field in the sense of conversion – doing service in partnership with them is still vital), but rather with those around us who are so deeply embedded in a society that keeps people hungry and in poverty, which perpetuates the structures of economic colonialism, and which has so much while so many have so little. Brothers and sisters – how do we witness to them? To our neighbors? It is harder to do this work when the mission field, the people needing conversion, might be those who live right next door, instead of an “other” halfway around the world.

Peace in the Marketplace

“While refugees go homless
and die before they live,
while children have no future –
our apathy forgive!
Where hope fades to drperession,
despair erodes the soul,
restore in us a passion
to make the broken whole.”

– From Great God of Earth and Heaven

Those words were part of a hymn we sang during closing prayers yesterday – marking the end of a day that may see the most difficult conversations for US participants – peace in the marketplace. To hear stories of what our economic vitality has brought to the rest of the world – environmental degradation, exploitation of workers, and colonialist economics … it is hard to hear that the way in which we live, the products which we choose to buy, the stocks our pension funds invest in – pretty much everything which economically sustains our lives – wreaks havoc on the rest of the world.

If we are to be a church that seeks peace, we must address the way in which we interact with the world in the marketplace. And not just our governments – it is about the individual decisions we all make. It might be a little more expensive, it might take a little more time and research, but we can make good decisions in the consumer marketplace that support fair wages and treatment of workers around the world, that support not exploiting resources, and more. And when we start to speak through our decisions, the government will start to take notice.

We prayed these words last night:

“This evening we remember before God the people of the world who hunger and thirst for justice and peace, for bread and dignity. And we hold up before God the peacemakers who build harmony and right relationships after the pattern of The One who has made peace by the blood of His cross, even Jesus our Liberator and Redeemer.”

May we be those peacemakers.

Dancing for Peace

I have to say, I was grabbed by the energy in this space – especially yesterday afternoon and evening. I attended two workshops – one was on the future of the global ecumenical peace conversation once we leave Jamaica. And, well, once the organizing structure of the Decade to Overcome Violence ends. Friends, we have work to do. We have named over the past 10 years – as a united church, the problems of various kinds of violence in different corners of our globe. We have also named what it would look like to be a church that is seeking a Just Peace. Now the question is – do we have the prophetic voice and action to actually live into it? To continue these conversations and see them produce fruitful action, that can further the inbreaking of God’s kin-dom all over this world?  From the gist of this conversation – from friends in the Mennonite Church, the ELCA, the WCC, from a Bishop in Europe and a pastor in Africa …. the energy, the passion, the drive is there. Are we ready to join that dance as the Church of the Brethren? To offer our mouths, our hands, and our feet to actually seeking to build a world of just peace?

And then last night, dance is exactly what we did. Kingston treated us to a night of live music in Emancipation Park – called a concert for peace. We had everything from soul style gospel music, to reggae, to folk, to amazing dancing. And the folks at the IEPC were dancing in the isles – for hours on end. Friends, there is an energy here – an energy that this kind of work, this kind of work seeking peace in our world, is exactly the kind of witness the church needs to bring. That the church needs to be about. That is no longer just the domain of the historic peace churches, but that the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ are dancing right along with us. So, the question that is before us – how will we join the dance?

Peace With Creation

This one seems pretty straight forward at first glance – as the IEPC moves into its day that focuses on peace with all of God’s Creation, or peace with the earth. We need to care for the creation God has blessed us with, right? We need to be caretakers of the garden.

But this gets a bit harder when it gets into the weeds, particularly for those of us from the West. This summer, the CoB will entertain an Annual Conference Resolution on Climate Change – which is a good first step. But living in partnership with creation means so much more than just installing some solar panels, recycling more, or driving a Prius. It is about the totality of the way in which we live.

Are we willing to consider that we need to radically change the way we live? That in order to really bring peace to this world, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror, and consider that the standard of living to which we are accustom is not sustainable? That we should not support companies from the United States buying water rights in India, and charging people there for access? That we shouldn’t allow companies to set up factories in the United States and around the world in poor communities, communities that have no voice, and destroy their environment – bringing them poor health?

As the handbook says for today, “violence against the earth is violence against life, the future of life.” Are we ready, as the Church of the Brethren, to own this part of our responsibility for peace?  Or, as a friend of mine once said, can you really be a pacifist and drive a Hummer?

Seeking Peace in the Community

Our day today began with prayer – and then moved into a radical bible study. Looking at 2nd Samuel 13:1-22, we considered what this text means for seeking peace in the community? What kind of example does it lay out? What is the context in which we should read it?  What does it say to us about the violence that exists within our communities today?

Our opening plenary moved to develop that question even more – as we heard from a Palestinian Christian, a woman from the Indian Dalit community, and other human rights activists about the struggles of their communities.  What does it say about us as a church that we allow these, and other, forms of discrimination to exist within our midst?

Today, from the bible study to the plenary, was a stark reminder that if we are going to be a church that seeks a Just Peace, we must address the violence that is hidden within our own walls – violence against those we label “other”, and those who are marginalized by the systems in which we exits. As the Just Peace Handbook phrased the question, “The challenge, therefore, is: what do we, as churches, peace activists, and movements, have to offer as alternative models of community? How do we encourage and ensure our communities to be open, just, and inclusive?”

For me, it starts with being willing to preach the rape of Tamar, and listen to its implications. What about you?

World Communion Sunday

“By such a supper they portray that they are members and house companions of the Lord Jesus.”  Alexander Mack, Rites and Ordinances

This weekend many Church of the Brethren communities will be taking part in World Communion Sunday, with a particular Brethren flair.  Since the early days of our movement, Brethren have taken the commandment to wash feet just as seriously as the witness of breaking bread  and drinking the cup of Christ.  In the Church of the Brethren today, nearly two thirds of our membership attends Love Feast at least once a year.

What are your memories of Love Feast?  Where will you celebrate the ordinance this weekend? What is your congregation doing for World Communion Sunday?

Brethren Press has published a thoughtful and beautifully illustrated book on Love Feast by Frank Ramirez.

“Where  can you find in the Gospel a plainer command than the words of our Savior to his disciples concerning feet washing?” Peter Nead, Theological Works