The march toward positive peace


By Susuyu Lassa, associate of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Brethren Volunteer Service worker

Peacebuilding has always been a passion of mine. I’ve known from a young age that I am called to a life of volunteerism and service; I remember spending a number of my weekends throughout middle and high school volunteering however I could, be it spending the majority of a day painting the walls of a recently erected building at a mission compound, or spending just a few hours holding newborn babies at an orphanage.

(Continue reading the original blog post featured by
the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.)

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Set free to love and serve

Chains broken
Photo by Elias Sch

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. … You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-15, 24-25).

These are not easy words for the church in Galatia to hear, nor for us today. Paul wrote this letter to Jewish believers who were teaching Gentile believers that they needed to follow the letter of the law in order to follow Jesus. In addition to correcting them, Paul was also calling them to find freedom in Christ. Since the Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah struggled with a split identity—growing up with strict adherence to the Torah and, now, celebrating their freedom in Christ—it’s no surprise that they also struggled with how a Gentile could now become a part of the family of God.

This tension divided the early church, and Paul wrote to urge them that their faith was no longer centered around the law but, rather, Jesus, who fulfilled it. Their former directive was now simplified to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Earlier in the letter, Paul shared about a time he rebuked Peter and other church leaders, and in chapter 5, he built a case for liberty and stated plainly that all believers were saved by faith, not by keeping the law. Their salvation through faith alone freed them to love and serve one another, carry each other’s burdens, and share kindness with everyone (chapter 6).

What does this mean for us today? The church in Galatia struggled to find loving unity and experienced bouts of dissension—an atmosphere that, unfortunately, can feel too close to home.  Don’t we also struggle to live in loving unity? Experience disagreement with each other? Can our discord also lead into destructive postures? And can’t all of this harm our life together and our testimony?

While the Church of the Brethren may seem like an easy target for these questions, this can also be true for any church regardless of denominational affiliation. Many churches have struggled with one issue or another, and it has led to ugly feuding. When we are not motivated by love, we become more critical of others. We stop looking for good in them and see only their faults. Soon the unity of believers is broken.

According to Paul, there is a way to counteract division. He proclaimed repeatedly what it means to have freedom through Christ Jesus. He kept sharing the message that faith in Jesus Christ equals salvation, that salvation equals freedom, and that freedom leads us to love and serve every person made in God’s image without prejudice. The message is for every person. Salvation is offered to every person. Loving and serving are for every person. Freedom from selfish desire. Freedom from Satan’s agenda. Freedom from being overcome by the ways of the world. This is what transformation through faith in Christ looks like and this empowers us to bear a spirit of freedom with joy and confidence. It transforms us to serve the least of these without reservation, so that they may catch a glimpse of God through us.

As the Church of the Brethren, through the financial support of congregations and individuals, we reach to the corners of our country and the world, and we proclaim the message of freedom through faith in Jesus. We bear witness to the love that God has for all people through the ways we are present with and serve others. This happens through ministries like Global Mission and Service, Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Volunteer Service, Discipleship Ministries, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, and the Global Food Initiative.  Through our shared work, we continue the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.

Even through seasons of tension and sharp disagreement, doubt and uncertainty, may we be Brethren who seek to find light and hope. May we find God’s presence within us and around us in our life together.  And may we continue to focus on the work we are called to do as the body of Christ, doing it in love and in service to others.

Support our shared work of love and service today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

MLK Day Reflection

As a historic peace church, how do we understand the meaning of “true” peace? As we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we can see how our understanding of peace amidst race relations has changed over the years.

If we look back to the time of slavery, we can see that Brethren were ahead of their time. Before the civil war, Brethren had already decided that slavery was against their beliefs and went counter to Scripture. Even in the 1700s, Brethren were holding yearly meetings, now known as Annual Conference. Statements against slavery can be found in minutes from these yearly meetings as early as 1782 when the Brethren unanimously decided that members of the denomination could not purchase or keep slaves. As a denomination, the Brethren “outlawed” slavery 80 years before the end of the Civil War, well before the Civil War was even a thought. As the years progressed, they also decided that those joining the denomination had to release their slaves, and members of the denomination could not accept labor from other people’s slaves. The statements were expanded on and reaffirmed throughout the 1800s.

There is no true peace without justice.

However, were the Brethren advocating for justice? Were the Brethren abolitionists advocating for the end of all slavery? In short, the answer is no. While the Brethren were against having slaves of their own or using slave labor, very few Brethren participated in actions to free others’ slaves. They did not pursue the freedom of all slaves. They simply restricted their own use of slaves, seeing slavery as sinful, which was still revolutionary in their time. But should they have done more? Should the Brethren have participated in anti-slavery efforts for the whole country, in addition to their own personal choice of not holding slaves? The Brethren’s stance worked toward the absence of tension between the Brethren and people of color, but was it true peace if it wasn’t advocating for justice of all?

As we move forward in history to the Civil Rights Movement, the Brethren’s story shifts. Many Brethren participated in various anti-racist efforts, working toward justice for all Black Americans, including 200 Brethren who participated in the March on Washington. Below are several stories of Brethren during the Civil Rights Movement:

Lunch Counter Sit-ins
While a student at Fisk University, Paul Laprad participated in nonviolent, peaceful sit-ins at the lunch counter. However, those sit-ins were often marred by violence and beatings in response to their protests. As a young white man, Paul received some of the most severe beatings because he was standing—well sitting—in solidarity with his fellow Black Americans.

MLK in Chicago
Tom Wilson was a pastor in Chicago, Illinois. During his pastorate, he worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. for two years. Jim Poling, the assistant pastor of First Church in Chicago gives the account of walking into the church, and there was Martin Luther King Jr. standing in the office at his desk. Tom Wilson and Dr. King worked toward open housing and eliminating the slums of Chicago.

Selma, Alabama
A group of Brethren including Ralph Smetzler and Juniata College faculty and students went down to Selma, Alabama following Bloody Sunday, a march where civil rights activists were attacked during a march. The Brethren went to Selma trying to promote peace between the white and black communities. During one of the following marches, there was so much violence in a counter protest that two of the faculty from Juniata were injured.

Each of these stories is about peaceful action promoting justice for Black Americans. Instead of simply trying to work toward an absence of tension between Brethren and Black Americans, many Brethren worked alongside Black Americans and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for equality —for justice.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

The irony is that justice is found through the tension. If we only seek the absence of tension as peace, we avoid tension and see the lack of tension in our own lives as peace. True peace is not the absence of tension. True peace is found working through the tension as we advocate for justice.

So as we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a few questions to ponder in our current day and work toward anti-racism:

(1) Which efforts from the Brethren were more in line with seeking true peace for Black Americans?
(2) Which efforts align more with how we are currently seeking peace as individuals and as a denomination?
(3) And regardless of our answer above, is there more we could do?

This post was written by Alexandra Toms

Patience, persistence, and peacemaking

Nathan Hosler, front right, talking with community leaders
on delegation with Churches for Middle East Peace
in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Photo by Weldon Nisly of Christian Peacemaker Teams

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

We live in a time of great urgency. Turmoil grips our communities and the communities of our sisters and brothers around the world. This isn’t news nor is it new. However, the persistence of injustice is not a reason to despair but to recognize that our calling to be peacemakers is all the more essential.

I grew up in Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., and my grandfather and his brothers were conscientious objectors. I grew up believing that to follow Jesus meant serving others and being against war. In college, as my vocational call to ministry took shape, I realized that, even beyond opposing war, I needed to work for peace. Through experiences of tutoring Somali refugees in English and building relationships with homeless people on the streets of Chicago and Baltimore, I learned about systemic violence and racism. Through this education, the call to peacemaking began to sprout. 

In Washington, D.C., “peacemaking” is an odd word. Even for organizations whose work would be considered peacemaking, the term is unusual. “Peacebuilding” is much more common, and while I use the terms interchangeably, peacemaking comes from the biblical text, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

In Luke’s gospel, the prophecy of Zechariah proclaims the coming of Christ our savior and how we will continue his mission: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

Guide our feet into the way of peace. We know that the awaited Jesus became the teacher who declared that peacemakers are the children of God and said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This Lord guides our feet into the way of peace.

The peace of Christ cannot be forced. We cannot impose a peace that is both global and personal, of inward reconciliation and outward wellbeing, and that brings reconciliation with God and neighbor and even our enemy. We cannot—nor should we try to—force peace. We bear witness to it and proclaim it. We must struggle for it and dedicate ourselves to it. While peace is a gift of God, it is also a process built.

In The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Mennonite Alan Kreider writes of the prominent role of patience in the writing and thinking of the early church. Specifically, he asks why is it that, with no documented focus on church expansion, the church grew in remarkable ways. He highlights the virtue of patience and trusting that God is in control, and a recurring theme of bearing witness through how one lives. Patience makes way for the freedom to do the slow work of peacemaking and not force an outcome.

This work is slow. Preaching the gospel of peace in a war-torn world is difficult. It is only through patience that we may persist in the slow and difficult work of nonviolent resistance to all oppression, injustice, and violence. We cannot impose peace but it is urgent that we work for it, train for it, prepare our youth for it, and build up institutions and organizations that add heft to our words.

Thank you for the ways you proclaim the gospel of peace and for your support of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Though we live in a time of great urgency and the work before us is slow, the Lord is faithful and will surely guide our feet into the way of peace.

Learn more about the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Introductions + OPP Work Update

Hello! My name is Susuyu Lassa, and I am excited to join Nathan Hosler at the COB Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. I am glad to be here, because peacebuilding has always been a passion of mine, though it has gone by various names in my short 23 years of life. I’ve known from a young age that I am called to a life of volunteerism and service; I remember spending a number of my weekends throughout middle and high school volunteering however I could, be it spending the majority of a day painting the outer walls of a recently erected building at a mission compound, or spending just a few hours holding new born babies at an orphanage.

After graduating from Hillcrest School in Jos, Nigeria, I seamlessly transitioned into being a political science major on a pre-law track at Manchester University. I knew that I wanted to go into human rights and advocacy, and my passion for working with the disenfranchised and marginalized was born out of seeing my people suffer massive displacement and death at the hands of radical insurgency and ethno-religious conflict. I was convinced that if I went to school and became a lawyer, I would be equipped to move back to Nigeria and positively apply myself in the march towards the betterment of the lives of those affected by displacement and violent conflict. Then I spent a summer shadowing a slew of lawyers and realized law was not for me.

Back to the drawing board. I was devastated, not because of the realization that law would not be a good fit -in fact I was quite glad to have figured that out sooner than later- but because I found myself with no objective path to my goals. Law had been the plan since I was in middle school, and I found myself at the dreaded ‘what now?’ impasse. In the throes of the closest thing I had ever had to an existential crisis, my guardian angel, in the form of a few members of the Manchester Church of the Brethren, whispered to me, “what about policy advocacy?” That was my breakthrough. Halfway through the first semester of my last year of college, I began looking into how I could positively influence policy so as to better the lives of those in whom I had an active interest. I learned of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, about the work done specifically on Nigeria, and with marginalized groups within the U.S. such as people of color, and more recently refugees and immigrants. I spent three weeks of my January term unofficially interning at the office, and I became more and more curious about BVS.

Fast forward a few months later, and here I am, a BVSer serving as the associate in the OPP office this year. This is about the last place freshman-year Susu would have envisioned ending up, but therein lies the beauty of the organic nature of life; that we are constantly becoming. I am excited to plug in to the work being done on immigration and to join the various discussions being had on the hill surrounding the multi-faceted nature of conflict in Nigeria. In my short time here, I have been able to delve into immigration work by joining the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, and I have been blessed to have conversations and brainstorm ideas with folks from various Brethren churches who would like to plug into these issues and be a force for change within their local communities. Through the Nigeria Working Group, I have had the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives on pertinent issues such as the Farmer-Herder conflict, and am looking forward to the working group’s fall congressional briefing, during which the role of the U.S. foreign policy and humanitarian aid will be highlighted.

Recently, OPP director Nathan Hosler met with the in-going ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, to brief her on the scope of OPP and the Nigeria Working Group’s work on Nigeria. He also attended the International Religious Panel roundtable meeting with Sam Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious freedom.

Nathan Hosler speaking at the International Religious Panel Roundtable

The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, while small, is engaged in such important work. The need is vast, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to try to nip away slowly at the vast injustices that plague our world by working in this office and using this platform to bear witness to the words of the Bible, which in Proverbs 31:8 calls us to “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.”

Black History Month: Future

If you haven’t read the first two posts in this series, you can find them here and here.

Future

  1. The Universe is a House Party,” by Tracy K. Smith (video)
  2. The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack,” by Tracy K. Smith
  3. what the cathedral said to the black boy,” by Clint Smith III

The final installment of this series dwells on “future,” likely the least considered time frame when thinking of black history. Afrofuturism is a term that has grown in public awareness, mostly used in arts and academic circles, and centers on this very idea.

Afrofuturism is a bit of a complex concept, but it’s explained well in an episode of This American Life. One of the hosts, Neil Drumming, says: “What I like about Afrofuturism, it just seems very—it’s like this way of talking about black people in a way that’s really hopeful.” Ira Glass follows up later, saying, “[a]nd for so long, in so many imaginings of the future, in so much science fiction, there were no black people at all—which, as Neil points out, makes no sense. He says, you can tell black people are going to make it into the future because they’ve survived so much already over the centuries.” It’s a way of thinking about the future that takes into account the lived history of black people while also being creative and positive about what’s to come.  These themes can be seen in pop culture in blockbuster movies like Black Panther and the work of musicians like Janelle Monae, whose albums often feature characters and narratives set in futuristic, spacey worlds.

This is the definition I will be using for the sake of this reflection—Afrofuturism as a hopeful, imaginative way of thinking about the future for black people. It’s an approach that is not only important for changing the way we as non-black people can think about black futures, but it also challenges us as the church to change how we think about our own future.

Tracy K. Smith is a poet whose work is thoroughly imbued with this imaginative, galaxy-strewn setting. Both poems I’ve included here explore human themes in universal language. In “The Universe is a House Party,” she says:

“We grind lenses to an impossible strength,

Point them toward the future, and dream of beings

We’ll welcome with indefatigable hospitality:

How marvelous you’ve come! We won’t flinch

At the pinprick mouths, the nubbin limbs. We’ll rise,

Gracile, robust. Mi casa es su casa. Never more sincere.

Seeing us, they’ll know exactly what we mean.

Of course, it’s ours. If it’s anyone’s, it’s ours.”

In this poem, she paints a future in which we are of course hospitable to aliens, to those who come from far reaches of the universe, and we are sincere in our welcome of these other beings. In describing this scene, she reveals the stark contrast to today, in which we find it difficult to welcome other humans with distinct differences from our own communities. She imagines a brilliant future in which we aren’t burdened by prejudice and hate, and it challenges us to do the work now so we can reach that starry future.

She is not deluded in this fantastical future—she tells of incredibly strong telescopes built for no other reason than a deep human curiosity of what is out there. Maybe from here, we can get to a place of equally deep hospitality.

Tracy K. Smith said at an event, “Imagining, for me, is an act that allows for a different kind of engaging with things.” As we look toward the future of the Church of the Brethren, we must accept the challenge to engage with issues differently, creatively, and imaginatively.

Smith said in an interview about one of the poems in her book, Life on Mars, “Part of what I’ve been trying to ask myself to do is think, OK, we belong to the history of the centuries that we span, but we’re also part of something enormous. What if we think about our actions as having some bearing upon the history of eternity? What would we change if those were the stakes that we were cognizant of?

This is the way the church needs to think about our future. We need to be cognizant of the stakes—if there’s anything that our faith tells us, is that our actions have bearing on the history of eternity. We need to take our commitment to racial justice, to true hospitality, to telling black stories, to lamenting our broken past, very seriously, because there are high stakes.

Clint Smith’s poem, “what the cathedral said to the black boy,” stands as a goal for the church in the future. The cathedral that he describes is, unfortunately, not what our church has always been for people of color. We want to be a refuge, but we must recognize the ways we have at times caused pain instead. His words should be a call to action for us all: “ain’t we all just trying to be / some type of sanctuary for someone? for every year we are not destroyed / do they not remind us what a miracle / it is to have lasted this long?” As the church, it should be our primary goal to be “some type of sanctuary” for populations that have long been targeted and oppressed.

What are our congregations not saying to the black boy, and how can we better say to them:

“come inside child

rest yourself

it’s okay to want to be held”

Black History Month: Present

If you haven’t read the first post in this series, please read it here first.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Present

  1. Your National Anthem” (2018), by Clint Smith III
  2. litany” (2016), by Mahogany L. Browne

“Your National Anthem,” by Clint Smith III

Both Clint Smith’s and Mahogany Browne’s poems begin with “today.” They immediately place us in the current day, the present, such as the start of a news story that has just occurred. Whether they actually happened today or not, the situations described in each poem still circle around us daily, asking what we as a church can do for justice in this very moment.

For Smith:

“Today, a black man who was once a black boy

like you got down on one of his knees & laid

his helmet on the grass as this country sang

its ode to the promise it never kept”

For Browne:

“today i am a black woman in america

& i am singing a melody ridden lullaby…”

They were written two years apart but, in many ways, coexist in the same space. Smith is thinking about what it means to be a father raising a black child today, and yet, the question of tomorrow is factored into each thought. He says about this poem: “This is part of a series of poems […] thinking through what it means to watch my son discover the world for the first time [and] what it means to watch the world discover him. How [people] who call him adorable now might very well call him dangerous when he’s older.”

Smith spoke at a performance in 2016 about how, when he was in college, he was looking for “work that spoke to the urgency of now,” and how he found this in spoken word poetry. Now as a poet himself, his work definitely speaks to the urgency of now. In “Your National Anthem,” which acts as a letter to his very young son, Smith speaks to this in his reference to Colin Kaepernick’s protest while also speaking to the impending future that presses on his mind as a father.

“I know that you will not always

be a black boy but one day you may be a black man

& you may decide your country hasn’t kept

its promise to you either”

In “litany,” Browne is reflecting on what it looks like to live as “a brown and black & / bew woman dreaming of freedom.” She says, “today, i am a mother, & my country is burning/ and i forget how to flee.” Browne wrote this poem as a response to “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” as sung by Nina Simone.

“I sat with what that meant, years later—when I am still wishing for a certain type of freedom. To think of the time passing but of senseless deaths of black and brown bodies remaining. The poem is mulling all that has changed and all that has not,” Browne says of her work.

This is truly what it means to reflect on the present, today, the current state in which we live. All that has changed and all that has not. The urgency of now.

Today’s movements for racial justice and equity are not separate from the civil rights and abolition movements of the past that we now honor. Yes, today’s movements are tied to politics, but, most fundamentally, they are made up of everyday people who are yearning for freedom, for safety for their children, for trust that their country values their lives.

The 1991 Report of the Committee on Brethren and Black Americans says: “Because racism is built into our way of life, it is extremely difficult to unmask it and honestly face the radical changes that need to be made in ourselves and our institutions if it is to be eradicated. […] Many of us benefit from racist practices, without being direct participants, because of decisions and policies already in place in our religious, economic, and political institutions. The Church of the Brethren has affirmed that war is sin. It is time we acknowledged racism as sin—sin against God and against our neighbors—and mount a concerted effort to combat it.”

What does it mean for the church to speak to the urgency of now, keeping in mind what has and has not changed in all these years?

I don’t have an easy answer, but I do know that if we pat ourselves on the back for holding up lauded figures in black history such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman, perhaps we should also ask about lesser-known black history that is being written as we speak and what we can do to add our voices to the call for justice in this very moment.

This is not about simply remembering heroes of the past or imagining some potential day in the future that calls us to action. This is about looking at the world around us and asking ourselves how we can support our brothers and sisters—who right now are afraid for their families, yearning for freedom, and demanding justice—in such a time as this.

Black History Month: Past

For the end of Black History Month, I have curated three small collections of poetry, each with an accompanying reflection. The three reflections will dwell on the ideas of “past,” “present,” and “future.” Too often, it seems people and events must be decades old to be documented by the mainstream as “black history.” We must remember that black history is being created today, shaped by the past and informing the future. Looking at black stories from our past, present, and future requires us to think critically about how the church tells its own stories, as well as which stories we deem to be “our own.”

Langston Hughes, April 1942. By Jack Delano.

Past

  1. Frederick Douglass,” by Robert Hayden (1913-1980)
  2. Let America Be America Again,” Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
  3. I saw Emmett Till this week at the grocery store,” Eve L. Ewing (1986-)

We begin with past—the time with the clearest tie to the concept of history—and with Robert Hayden’s “Frederick Douglass.” Hayden’s words are a perfect framing for the way we should approach the past. He asserts that this incredible man, a former slave turned renowned abolitionist, will be honored not by the typical trappings of American remembrance, but instead by “the lives grown out of this life, the lives / fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.”

The past is not some dusty relic to be pulled out of a dark cabinet for a few days each year. It is something that we tell and retell every day, choosing which stories we highlight and the language we use to tell them. The people who make up today’s movements are the “lives grown out of this life,” the flesh on the bones of an idea that was once only a dream.

In Langston Hughes’s famous poem, “Let America Be America Again,” he challenges the narratives America tells about itself—narratives of freedom for all, where dreams are lived out and opportunities are ripe for the taking, if only one does the hard work to snatch them up. Hughes instead repeats the refrain, (America never was America to me.) He not only refers to his own identity as a black man, but also dons the identities of other oppressed peoples, such as Native Americans, farmers, immigrants, and poor. He rewrites the story, not saying that he doesn’t belong in America, but rather that America first and foremost belongs to those who built it.

Brethren openly condemn this dangerous type of American nationalism that ignores injustice and calls for blind obedience. In the 1967 statement “The Church, the State and Christian Citizenship,” Annual Conference asserted: “The church must warn against idolatrous nationalism in foreign affairs and call people to broader horizons of concern. In relation to domestic policy the church will try to help and to protect those who have been deprived of their rightful voice and are neglected or injured in some way.”

Eve Ewing takes a different approach to the past. In her quiet poem set in an ordinary grocery store, she imagines an alternate past in which 14-year-old Emmett Till was not brutally murdered. Instead, he has grown old, become a familiar face in the community, lived a long life. This is a moment of peace for a story that is only one of extreme violence and tragedy.

“How are things going for you,” she asks.

“Oh, it goes, it goes.”

By telling this story, one which was never allowed to happen, she manages to tell Till’s story all the same. His story is one of a young life brutally cut short by men so deeply entrenched in racism that they took the life of an innocent boy. It is the false memory of this ordinary moment in the grocery store, a brief glimpse of warmth, that brings the harsh reality of the past rushing in. She references everything Till’s life and death represent without saying it. “It goes, it goes” suggests the echo that, in fact, it does not.

As Christians, and as people in community, we use stories from the past to help us define who we are. We tell and retell the stories from the Bible to provide the foundation for understanding our identities and the world around us. All three of these poems by black writers ask us questions about which stories from the past we tell and how they inform us now. As we remember black history, perhaps we need to be creative about imagining new ways for the church to tell its stories and grapple with its past.

Shout and sing for joy!

A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement,
for Giving Tuesday 2018 on 11/27

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where?
Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart!
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart to stay!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!”
– Verse 1 and chorus of “Joy in my heart” by George W. Cooke

Admit it! If you went to a summer Vacation Bible School as a child, you either started to hum the tune in your head as you read or even found yourself singing it by the end. I confess, my feet were tapping, and the tune of this song flooded my mind. It puts a smile on my face and reminds me of a time when summers were long, and you attended every Vacation Bible School in the area.

As I get older, each summer flies by faster than the last, and there seems to be less to smile about when I look at the world around us. Humanity continues to find ways to taunt and jab at each other, hurt one another, and in the extreme cases, take lives. It saddens the heart to hear how our children are bullied and the very institutions where we received education are no longer safe spaces, but instead are more like prison wards where padlocks and “visitor” badges are required. Our young adults grapple with body image issues and the pressures of having a “perfect” life because of the Pinterest-perfect, Instagram-ing, Facebook posting world in which we now live. Many of us are dodging and weaving the political rhetoric being spat at us from the very people for whom we prayerfully voted, and we now watch in amazement as grown, well-educated adults hurl accusations at one another at every level. Meanwhile the hungry grow hungrier and the poor become poorer, and the joy down in my heart seems like it could be snuffed out at any moment.

Thankfully, scripture can always provide hope:

“And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
– Isaiah 12:4-6

My joy is deeper in my heart now than it was when I was younger—in part because of the things I’ve seen and heard while serving the denomination. I give thanks to the Lord because of what God has done among us and through us, and what God continues to do. These past two years have given me opportunities to talk with pastors, visit with congregations, attend district conferences, and go to special events in the life of our districts, and I sing praises to the Lord, for he has done great things.

Congregations are striving to learn the needs of those who live in the communities where they worship, and they are caring for them through the way Jesus taught us:  by loving one another. This is very refreshing in a world full of hatred and division. One might say it’s another way of living!

Partnerships between congregations and denominational ministries provide a way to respond to the call of Jesus, “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and the Global Food Initiative, together and separately, provide ways for congregations to advocate for issues related to food, create sustainable community gardens, and, overall, care for the hungry in their neighborhoods.

Congregations also partner with Global Mission and Service to work alongside mission workers and international Brethren bodies as they start new church plants around the world—building churches, training pastors, and developing communities. Churches also support, in many ways, the efforts of Brethren Disaster Ministries. These ministries provide much needed humanitarian aid to those who have lived through disasters and simply need help.

Congregations are working with Discipleship Ministries to dig deeper into their relationships with God through use of deacon ministry resources, sending youth to National Youth Conference, empowering young adults through Young Adult Conference and Ministry Summer Service, and walking through the Vital Ministry Journey to discern how to more richly live into the Great Commission in their communities and circles of influence.

When I pause and think of all the stories that have been shared with me, stories that share the overwhelming effects of our ministry in the United States and globally, it sustains and renews my hope, and causes me to shout and sing for joy because of the great things God is doing among us.

As we give thanks through November and celebrate Giving Tuesday (11/27), we invite you to join us in shouting and singing for joy because of all that the Lord has done!

Join the celebration by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.

Righteous relationships

Tori Bateman, Monica McFadden, and Nathan Hosler of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

In 2007, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference delegate body adopted the “Separate No More” statement, which calls us to become the multicultural, multiracial, multinational, and multilingual church envisioned in Revelation 7:9. The vision in scripture and the one to which we committed is greater than a photogenic diverse hymn sing. It is a vision that recognizes how, as we draw closer to God, we also draw closer to one another. We become more compassionate in relationships as we see one another the way God sees us. In an effort to better express this, we changed the names of two core ministry areas.

Discipleship Ministries (formerly Congregational Life Ministries) reminds us that our faith journey is not defined by our congregational affiliation, but by our spiritual journey—both individually and collectively. This also means that having a right relationship with God is shaped and shared through building right relationships with one another. The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (formerly Public Witness) as a ministry in Washington, D.C., connects our faith with our national identity. To stand together, bridging the divides of the world, we are peacebuilders in the spirit of Christ.

The “Separate No More” statement gave us the following challenge:  “Congregations become informed about the conditions of life for ethnic and racial minorities within their neighborhoods and their congregations, so that when inequities are uncovered, they can make strong commitments of time and financial resources to local organizations working on these issues.”

In the New Testament, one Greek word used to describe the body of Christ is “dikaios,” which is translated righteousness but also justice. Since both can be used in English, we can call this work either racial justice or racial righteousness; however, scripture does not separate the two. By faith, we are called to be discipled within our church and, as a result, to work for change in systems, structures, and habits of racism in society. Not assuming that we already possess righteousness, we seek to have right relationships and to address problems in the world. The work to heal the wounds of racism is both internal and external and has the goals of justice and righteousness. To do this work means being shaped and formed by the process of discipleship.

Many congregations have been doing this work in their communities. Several members of the Mission and Ministry Board and staff have taken the Sankofa Journey. Young people attend Christian Citizenship Seminar in Washington, D.C., and New York to connect their faith with contemporary social justice work. Discipleship Ministries hosts a pre-Annual Conference training with the goal of exploring how our faith can shape our understanding of racialized hierarchies. Intercultural Ministries provide support to individuals and congregations engaged in ministry.

To increase our awareness of how government policy creates racialized experiences and discrepancies, we are testing a new Brethren Volunteer Service position in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy through a partnership with Intercultural Ministries and the Global Food Initiative. Monica McFadden, who served in our office last summer as a Ministry Summer Service intern, recently accepted the call to serve in this role.

Thank you for partnering in this work through your support of the Church of the Brethren. By working in your community and supporting these denominational ministries prayerfully and financially, this work can be expanded in the years ahead so that the church can better live into God’s vision of diversity. Through being faithful disciples—growing in righteousness and justice—all of us are engaging in the vital work of healing in our churches and communities.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)