Showing posts from 2010

A choice in the year ahead

In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. - Luke 1:78, 79

Christmas in Chicago brings side by side signs of the power of this world and the power of another. A child will go before them, we hear in Zechariah's song in the Gospel of Luke, "to guide our feet into the way of peace." Then, as now, we are in need of this voice.

An early Christian text from the second century or so, the Epistle to Diognetus, suggests that being a Christian is neither an ethnicity or an earthly citizenship but a way of life that is somehow at odds with the the societies in which Christians live. Christians may look like everyone else, but our practices of hospitality, charity and nonviolence should make us different.

But all this changed by the end of Constantine's reign, the emperor who Christianized Rome, in the fourth century A.D. Diana Butler B…

Making Room

Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (God with us). -Isaiah 7:14

Last night, I slept overnight at my church. One week each quarter, our church hosts the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), a local organization that works with churches to provide overnight transitional housing for people in our community who find themselves homeless.

Usually, I'm grumpy when it's our turn to sleep at the church. I don't sleep very well. And it interrupts my morning routine. But usually, the stark reality of the situation breaks in pretty quickly.

Last night at the church, a young woman in her early 20s had two young children with her, the youngest just a few weeks old. Two more children were staying elsewhere. She had hoped to move in with a friend this week, but even the shared rent and utilities seemed too daunting.

The second woman had two older children with her. The youngest was celebrating his eleventh birthday and was looking forward to …

Give us your eyes and your heart

Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

October 2010
Harlan, Kentucky

Harlan County, Kentucky. Coal is still king here. And while coal still provides a lot of jobs in this community, the unemployment rate is more than 20%. More than one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Just over half graduate from high school.

When I was in this town for the MCC Great Lakes board meeting, I got to meet with several homeowners that have been assisted by the SWAP program (Sharing With Appalachian People). During a typical summer, 1200 youth and adults spend a week working on dozens of home repair projects and learning to know the folks who live here and in three other communities.

Most of the homeowners are white, but coal has brought a rainbow of people of other colors into this community, too. Though some folks are critical of the current strip mining practices, they're also grateful for meaningful work and are quick to point out that almost…

Start with the churches

Make every effort to be fruitful and effective... (I Peter 1: 5 and 8)

The Gulf region
October 4-7

The week after Hurrican Katrina hit with a vengeance on the Gulf Coast, Mennonite Disaster Service director Kevin King remembers a call that came his way while he was on an exploratory trip in Alabama. A woman calling from Bayou La Batre south of Mobile in the Gulf said "the world has forgotten us."

So MDS, with the help of MCC canned meat, blankets and health kits, first began its Katrina response in this shrimper community. Its a response that has involved a dozen locations in the Gulf region and hundreds of volunteers to help rebuild homes and peoples' lives.

Kevin remembers asking local Mobile pastor JD Landis where to start and JD told him, "Start with the churches." From the beginning, Katrina response in this community has encouraged the Way of Life Mennnonite Fellowship's outreach to the Asian community.

Two states away and several hours s…

When our words fail us

I am the way, the truth and the life. - John 14:6

October 1-2, 2010
Winnipeg, Manitoba

We met in the material resources warehouse, a symbol of what we can do together. Because of the generosity of our people, health kits and blankets and much more are shipped from this place to people who need them all over the world.

When the binational and Canada MCC boards met in Winnipeg this weekend, we took time to meet with leaders of the Chortitzer and Sommerfelder Mennonite churches because they don't believe MCC is always clear and true to the Biblical faith we say we believe.

MCC Binational chair Herman Bontrager remembered when he was an MCCer in Latin America. A Lutheran bishop's life was in danger because he worked with the poor so the MCCers decided they would be a presence with him by staying with the bishop in his house.

MCC Canada chair Neil Janzen remembers being called to a life of service through MCC terms in the Teachers Abroad Program in Africa and in India.

MCC Manitoba chair …

It takes each one

We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1)

September 24-25
North Newton, Kansas

When the board of MCC Central States met in North Newton this week, it began by remembering who was now missing. Ruth Yellowhawk, co-founder of the Indigenous Issues Forum and friend of MCC in so many ways, had passed recently from cancer. Ruth often worked with Harley Eagle on restorative justic workshops. She helped reclaim indigenous understandings and life ways that allow people to walk in balance today and in future generations.

Board and staff successively shared their memories of one whose life had mattered to them and so many more. Paul's image of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses came to our minds. It is a cloud of witnesses so visible to us and yet so far from our minds so much of the time. Each one makes a difference in the world.

Material Resources staff person Irma Gonzales illustrated another way one person can make a difference. She remembers a couple who …

We are a learning community

They shall hunger and thirst no more. (Rev. 7:16)

September 10-14, 2010
Oregon and British Columbia

"We know the economy of our country is not going to change," Susan Ban told us. "So we have to do things differently in smaller strategies that don't feel too huge and that can help our county be caring and compassionate."

Susan, the executive director of Shelter Care, a church-based ministry for responding to situational and chronic homelessness in Eugene, Oregon, told the West Coast MCC board that Shelter Care is finding creative ways for the church to partner with the public sector to respond to problems facing her community.

A day later, the West Coast MCC board and staff headed north of the border to Abbotsford, British Columbia to learn from the MCC programs there. They joined a Sunday celebration for the relief sale the day before that raised over $600,000 to help meet human needs and work for peace and justice all over the world.

Dan Wiens, …

From being served to serving

August 2010

In 1958, Mennonite Central Committee reopened an office in Hong Kong to respond to the growing number of refugees there. In less than a year and a half, MCC distributed food and clothing worth almost $1.5 million.

Jeremiah Choi Wing Kau was a young child who benefitted from MCC's food distribution in Hong Kong during these years. He says he remembers going to a car park near his school for milk and biscuits several times each week.

Later on, after he joined the Lok Fu Mennonite Church in Hong Kong (now called Agape Mennonite Church), he found out it was MCC who gave these gifts and provided nourishment for him. Jeremiah is now the pastor of this congregation and has been a Mennonite pastor for more than 20 years.

I met Jeremiah recently at the executive committee meetings for Mennonite World Conference in Addis, Ababa. Jeremiah was representing the entire continent of Asia and helping to provide connection for the more than 1.5 million Anabaptists arou…

On a mission for God

"Who are you, Lord?" And the reply came, "I am Jesus." - Acts 9:5

Wednesday, August 18 Akron, PA We gathered in the Akron (PA) Mennonite Church to celebrate. More than a 100 young people from all over the world had completed their orientation for short-term service and would be headed soon to locations in North America and all over the world. Global Service Learning director Chris Landes told participants that we gather together to express our oneness in Christ. Later, he told the youth that he had heard alot about transformation during the week and he recalled the story of the Apostle Paul. Saul's world was turned upside down on the road to Damascus when Jesus met him on the way. Chris said it would be like that for these youth, too, on their journey. They will be transformed and will have opportunities to help transform others as they gain a fuller understanding of God's perspective of the world. Priscila from Brazil is going to Mozambique…

Serving others can be costly

" I do it all for the sake of the gospel." - I Corinthians 9:23

Sunday, August 8, 2010
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia is the largest body of Mennonites in the world. Years ago, when the former govenment restricted the Christian church, the church went underground and grew by leaps and bounds. Now, the government is more open and the church continues to grow.Sunday morning, I visited the largest Meserete Kristos church in Addis Ababa with about 50 others who were in the city for a service consultation. Arli Klassen, Mennonite Central Committee executive director, shared with the congregation of 2,000 that MCC service worker in Afghanistan Glen Lapp had been killed along with others who worked for International Assistance Missions (AIM). Even though we can't see, we have hope, the preacher told the congregation. Glen's faith in God gave him the courage to sacrifice himself for others. Faith is not denying things, the pastor told us, it is ab…

Woman of strength

"I will not give up!"

August 1, 2010
Mugumu, Tanzania

In the Imara health clinic in Mugumu Tanzania, there is a painting of the John 8 gospel story of the woman caught in adultery.

In this particular painting, all of the characters are African, and unlike my preconception, the woman's head is held high. She is a woman of strength, forgiven by Jesus.

There is another woman of strength in the Imara health clinic and her name is Mary Tumbo. Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the mid-90s, Mary was abandoned by her husband.

But sitting under a tree one way, Mary and two other women decided they could help other women in their community who were dying of HIV/AIDS. They began visiting with these women and doing what needed to be done to help them die with dignity.

Not too much later, both of Mary's friends also died of AIDS, but Mary was not deterred. "I will not give up," she said.

Today, the Imara health clinic serves more than 600 clients who are living with HIV/AIDS or who ar…

Word and deed

July 21, 2010
Philadelphia PA

In Northeast Philadelphia, Second Mennonite Church founded Crossroad Ministries in 1965. Its purpose is to evangelize, disciple and demonstrate the Gospel in word and deed to the people of Fairhill community and beyond.

The day I was there, Miss Laura told me about the grocery bags of produce that help feed the hungry in the Fairhill community. Ron Muse, an MCC service worker serving as a prison chaplain in six local prisons, told me about his work to help transform people. He says he tells the men, "See, God put you there, now what are you going to do?"

Ron says he needs to continually preach the Good News to himself, too. As a juvenile, he was in and out of prison. He says if God can change him, God can change anybody!

Juan Marrero (left above), executive director, says Crossroads Community wants to provide tutoring, meals and other services to anyone who needs them, but these deeds need to be accompanied by words about Jesus or real change in peo…

I feel I belong

"You have something I don't. What is a Mennonite?"
July 21, 2010 Philadelphia, PABernard Sejour, a Haitian, says he always wanted to make a difference in his country. He thought about being a news reporter or a lawyer but eventually became a human rights worker. In October 2000, he was forced to leave his country.

Bernard says he remembers Anna, a Mennonite Central Committee worker who worked for the same human rights organization he did. He noticed something different about Anna and learned she was a Mennonite.

Years later, in the United States, after he was forced out of Haiti, he tracked down Mennonites and was drawn to Anabaptist theology. After a couple of years of training at Hesston College, he has now begun a new church for Haitians in Philadelphia.

Through a Haitian Relief Fund grant from Mennonite Central Committee, Bernard works with Lutheran …

Nothing is impossible

"I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed...nothing will be impossible for you."
- Jesus in Matthew 17:20

Washington D.C.
Monday, July 12

For 42 years, the Washington office of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. has been a presence on Capitol Hill providing and encouraging prophetic witness to the way of Christ on matters of U.S. public policy. The work of the office is guided by the Biblical vision of being restored to right relationship with God, each other and all of creation.

I spent today in D.C. getting acquainted with the work of this small but mighty staff. Its staff monitors legislation on global economic justice, militarism, Middle East, HIV/AIDS, economic justice, gun violence, immigration and from every region of the world.

With perpetual issues like Middle East policy and the military budget, said director Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, its sometimes difficult to see short-term results.

Rachelle told us stories from Uganda, Argentina and Mozambique in pas…

Angels of grace

As rest can heal the sores of a body and sleep restore its strength,
so may your angels of grace visit me in the night
that the senses of my soul may be born afresh.
Visit my dreams with messengers of grace, O God,
that the senses of my soul may be born again. (from Celtic Benedictions by Philip Newell)

My self-imposed five-month sabbatical ends today as I begin a new job this week as the transitional executive director for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. The time away from work has healed the sores of my body and restored my strength as surely as rest and sleep do for each of us on a daily basis.

My experiences of the last five months have been visited by many messengers of grace. I think of Weldon at St. John's Abbey, Joel and Barth in Arizona and Nevada, Lloyd and Bernie in Jamaica, Larry and Eleanor in Strasboug and a rag tag band of merry pilgrims in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. And, of course, Mim who has given me this space without one word of anxiety. This time has truly been…

A reflection of hope

Eternal God, comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope;
teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your son Jesus Christ our Lord.
(prayer after communion at Coventry Cathedral)

Coventry, England
June 26 and 27, 2010

In World War II, Coventry, England was a center for weapons manufacturing. On November 14, 1940, the city was a target for one of the worst air raids of the war. Hundreds died and the historic St. Michael's Cathedral, where St. Mary's Benedictine monastery was built in 1043, was destroyed.

The striking Coventry Cathedral was rebuilt beside the ruins of the blitzed St. Michael's in 1962. In the photo above, a remnant of the old wall is reflected through the glass of one of the new walls. The new cathedral a powerful symbol of rebirth and reconciliation.

We talked to Canon David Porter, minister of reconciliation for the cathedral. David has a long history of working…

A place of welcome

May those without shelter be under your guarding this day, O Christ,
May the wandering find places of welcome.
O son of the tears, of the wounds, of the piercings,
May your cross this day be shielding them. (excerpt from Celtic prayer)

June 25
Aberdaron, Wales

St. Hywyn's Church in Aberdaron, on the northwest coast of Wales, is a place for pilgrims. Vicar Jim Cotter said this has been a Christian place of worship on the edge of the sea since the fifth century.

Pilgrims have been coming to this church for centuries, many on their way to Bardsey Island. The winds, tides and currents make the three mile crossing risky, but people came to this place, between one world and another, seeking and searching, on a journey but not knowing what they would find.

Unlike the Romans who built straight roads across this region, having predetermined the direction and the destination, it is better for pilgrims, says Cotter, to hoist their sails and go where the wind blows. "You may not get to where you…

One more hill to climb

It started out as a morning stroll. We were at the Ffald-y-Brenin retreat centre near Fishguard, Wales. The centre was perched high above the valley below. And it seemed like we were far from everywhere. In fact, our 40 foot bus had inched along the back roads to get here. Sometimes we had to stop for someone to get out to help guide the bus through some particularly narrow parts of the road.

Today was a retreat day and as I strolled across the retreat property, I happened to notice that we weren't quite at the top of the mountain as I thought. So, I took off over the sheep paths only to find that when I got to the top of hill, there was yet another hill to climb, and then another after that and then another.

It wasn't long until I found myself a number of miles from where I had started and many turns in the trail. I wondered whether I could find my way home by myself. But I had a suspicion what I would see when I finally got to the top so I kept on going.

And then there it was -…

A day at sea

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me fast.
- Psalm 139:9-10

We took the wings of the morning by bus to Tenby in the southwest corner of Wales, a coastal town. From the bus park, we walked single file down the long embankment into town and to the docks and boarded a small boat for Caldey Island. The tide was out and many boats lay on the muddy bottom of the sea. Later, I learned that the tide rises by eight meters daily.

Caldey Island was first settled by monks in the sixth century. In 1925, Anglican Benedictines sold the island and the abbey to Catholic Cistercians, a group of monks from Belgium.

We walked up the hill to the abbey, an imposing set of white, red-tiled roof buildings that look more like the southern Mediteranean. After prayers in the chapel and lunch on the lawn we all enjoyed an afternoon in the sun.

I headed past the chocolate factory to the rocky cliffs out bey…

Of light and darkness on a midsummer's day

What is this place where we are meeting? Only a house, the earth its floor...
Yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here, and know our God is near.
Glendalough, the valley of the two lakes, is known for its early Medieval monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century. A simply gorgeous location, Glendalough became our home for a day of retreat with Father Michael Rodgers. On midsummer's day, the meeting of light and darkness, we gathered to celebrate the light and shadows in our own lives. We began by walking a labyrinth and recognizing that our lives are not straight journeys but filled with many unexpected turns. But all of the steps of our lives, said Father Michael, lead us toward home.At the lower lake, we learned that St. Kevin met a monster, but instead of running away, Kevin befriended it. We all have monsters to tame, said Father Michael, and we need to name and bless our shadows.He told us that the contemplative heart is a compassionate hear…

Fill our hearts with your peace

Come and fill our hearts with your peace, you alone are holy.
Come and fill our hearts with your peace, alleluia.
- Celtic pilgrimage songbook

On Sunday morning, along with several others, I worshiped with the Quakers in downtown Dublin. Most of the others on the pilgrimage worshiped in the Church of Ireland cathedrals but, after a lot of talk about Protestants and Catholics the last several weeks, I needed a mooring with the Historic Peace Churches.

There was once a fledging Mennonite congregation in this city, too, but it did not survive the formation years. One of the persons involved in that church plant, Michael Gaarde, has been spending a few days with us.

Michael said the influence of John Howard Yoder's theology has been great in this region of the world even though a Mennonite congregation did not flourish. He says Mennonite workers and their focus on conflict resolution and mediation, played an important role in bringing peace in Ireland and no…

A place of welcome for those who are wandering

May those without shelter be under your guarding this day, O Christ,
May the wandering find places of welcome.
(excerpted from Celtic Prayers by Philip Newell)

In Luke 19, Zacchaeus found an unexpected place of welcome with Jesus. "Today, salvation has come to this house," says Jesus, "because Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham." Jesus says he has come to seek out and save the lost.

That Jesus is meant for the lost is a lesson we have needed to learn over and over through the ages. Brother Eoin (Owen) illustrates this on the High Cross at Castledermot southwest of Dublin.

On this cross from about 1000 A.D. are a myriad of symbols illustrating the life of Christ and the way of Jesus. Brother Eion says the main purpose of the cross was to celebrate the evening liturgy, much as the early church has done since 400 A.D. We gathered around the cross in the neighboring community of Moone to worship in a similar manner.

"For my eyes have seen your salvation prepared in the s…

Mary of the Irish, pray for us

Pilgrim, in your journey you may travel far,
For pilgrim, its a long way to find out who you are.
- Enya, "Pilgrim" on her album, A Day Without Rain
In her book, Rekindling the Flame, Rita Minehaw says that "At the heart of all pilgrims lies the hope and dream that, by traveling to a special place associated with the divine, they might somehow be changed and renewed." She says that to be a pilgrim is to invite change, conversion, new perspectives and a deeper life. And then the key - she concludes that the journey to a sacred place is just as important as the arrival. Today the journey included visits to sites related to St. Brigid of Kildare. We visited St. Brigid's Cathedral where it is said she established her abbey and church in 480 A.D. She was the leader for a double monastery for men and women and it was the center for education, culture, worhsip and and hospitality in Ireland. Brigid's fire, a perpetual flame, burned in Kildare for more than a thousand…

Christ when I arise

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise, Christ to shield me.
These words are often attributed to St. Patrick who grew up in Britain but who was sent to Ireland and sold into slavery. He escapd to France, but in a dream, he heard the voice of the Irish calling him back to Ireland. He answered that call and is attributed to bringing Christianity to Ireland.The stained glass above is from a church built on the site where St. Patrick is said to have built the first church in Ireland in 432 A.D. As we visited this site, we indeed felt Christ above us and beneath us.

A house of prayer for all people

About halfway between Belfast and Dublin in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland is a Benedictine community called Holy Cross Monastery. Begun by the Abbey of Le Bec in France just over 10 years ago, its hope is to follow the vision of Isaiah 56:7, "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people."

These brothers want to contribute to reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants "in a land marked by reciprocal violence and stained by the blood of Christian brothers and sisters."

Our group spent a day at the monastery attending prayers, working in the gardens and visiting with the brothers. Brother Thierry said the monastery was established here when the abbot in Le Bec said it was time to try something painful.

So, in 2004, the new monastery was dedicated on the ecumenical day of prayer with a prayer of forgiveness. But forgiveness, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the world, is not easy.

Brother Thierry observed that both Protestants and Catholics in this co…

The path of peace

Bless to us, O God, the earth beneath our feet.
Bless to us, O God, the path whereon we go.
Bless to us, O God, the people whom we meet.

Outside the abbey on Iona, St. Martin's cross has stood for more than one thousand years. St. Martin was a fourth century Roman soldier who had a vision of Christ after sharing his cloak with a poor man. After his baptism, he became a conscientious objector to serving in the Roman army. Later, he became bishop of Tours and played an important role in sharing the church's mission with the Celts.

Our pilgrimage day began at the cross and took us across the island to many places important in the story of Iona, including Columba's bay (the photo I used in an ealier post) and Duni, the highest point of the island where you can see for many miles in all directions.

It is beautiful here today, sunny and warm, which apparently is not often the case. Today, I'm thankful for my fellow pilgrims. This evening, at the service in the abbey, we sang, &qu…

Creation is God's first book

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork.
- Psalm 19:1

This is my view this morning from the other side of the island. No one else in sight. God's handiwork for me alone.

The Celts believed creation was God's first book and scripture was God's second book. I heard from both this morning, the first as I walked the island in the early light and the second when I participated in worship at the Abbey this Sunday morning.

The pastor shared the story from Luke 7 of the woman forgiven. And Jesus responds to the Pharisee that those who are forgiven much love much. The pastor asked us what we are ready to offer Jesus and what offerings from others, like the Pharisee, are we overlooking? And just as important, how do we respond when gifts are given to us?

And then this verse from a closing song:

Lord of all beauty, I give you my all,
If I should disown you, I'd stumble and fall,
But sworn in your service, your word I'll obey,
And walk…

Travelers on the way

What is it we hope for from this trip we ask each other as we begin the journey. I'm not sure I can ask that question except to say I'm glad I'm on the journey, seeking to know God, myself and others more fully.

There are many on this Celtic pilgrimage I already know, old comrades like Mary, Willard and Marlene, but many more I am just learning to know, some with backgrounds that intersect my own.

We are all looking forward to this first leg of the journey to Iona, traveling first by bus along the lochs to Oban and then by ferry to the island of Mull where we take another bus to the other side of the island and, finally, board another ferry for Iona.

We have come on journeys of our own,
To a place where journeys meet.

Are you with us?

Like many major cities, the downtown of Glasgow features the old and the new side by side. This old manufacturing and shipping city is reinventing itself. I admired the new and old facades alike as I walked through the city in the morning light.
Later, I toured the Glasgow Art School, a wonderful, quirky building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, clearly a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, though I'm told they never had any connection with each other. How could the same spirit be so evident in both of them? (Ah, maybe that's more of a spiritual question.)
My mid-day the Celtic Pilgrimmage folks were beginning to gather. A number of us visited the administrative offices of the Iona community in the early afternoon. We were introduced to their rule for life which includes a commitment to regular Bible study and prayer, stewardship of time and money, a commitment to work for peace and justice and the willingness to meet with each other regularly and be accountable to each ot…

It's a mystery

There's Nessie! Do you see her? Somewhere in the deep of Loch Ness, some say there's a creature. Today I took a look for myself, along with a lot of other tourists. Nothing there as far as I could see.

Earlier this morning another mystery was clearer as I read I Timothy (1:12-13). The Apostle Paul says that the "the grace of our Lord overflowed for me" even though Paul didn't think he deserved it. If Paul didn't deserve Christ's love, who of us does? Not me, I guarantee you. But Jesus, Paul says, strengthens us and judges us faithful. I'm needing that today.

Last evening the MCC U.S. board announced my appointment as the transitional executive director of MCC U.S. for the next three years. Another mystery! How could this happen?

It has been interesting watching this process play out a continent away. I'm grateful for Christ's love and the words of encouragement and promises of prayer from so many friends.

Lord help me. It's a mystery, but I k…

More safe am I within thy hand

The Tron Kirk Steeple of the Church of St. Mary in downtown Glasgow features my patron angel. Or at least I'm calling it that. Lots happening back home that affects my future but here I am on the eve of a three week Celtic pilgrimage in Glasgow. I claim St. Colomba's prayer as I start this journey . . . Alone, with none but thee, my God, I journey on my way; What need I fear when thou are near, O king of night and day, More safe am I within thy hand, Than if a host did round me stand. Keep me safe, Lord, and all of the merry pilgrims who are arriving in Glasgow from various points in North America. Bless us with a clearer knowledge of who you are and your purpose for us.

God's blessing for all people in all countries in all parts of the world

It was definitely a festive atmosphere this week in the lobby of the Harrisburg (Pa.) International Airport. Brian was returning home from Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq and more than 100 military personnel and family members were there to greet him. Flags and red, white and blue balloons were everywhere.

There were signs, too. Along with the "Welcome Home" signs was one that said "God bless the USA" and another that simply said "Thank God."

Thank God? For Brian's save return, surely, but I had a sense the crowd was saying more than that, invoking God's blessing on America's war in Iraq and the success of our military.

Emotion filled the room as Brian strode through the gate. I was moved by this homecoming, too, but I found myself also thinking about the Iraqis Brian had left behind, equally loved by their families and friends but unable to "go home" and leave behind the violence and killing.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation …

Many rivers to cross...

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

How would you receive these words? Would you hear the message of hope or would you be angry for being told you had a heart of stone? No doubt the people of Israel, exiled in Babylon, had difficulty hearing these words, too, from the prophet Ezekiel.

Ezekiel went on to say that God would save the people, not because of what they had done, but because of who God is.

When I am willing to admit it, I know that I, too, have a heart of stone. And I'm desperately in need of a new heart, a heart of flesh, a heart that cares about all of God's children.

These are God's words, says Ezekiel: "...and the nations shall know that I am God...when through you I display my holiness before their eyes (v.23)." Our actions are not about us but about the God revealed in what we do. "In the name of Christ," Mennonite…

The door is wide open

Can you imagine? A military captain comes to Peter and Peter lets him (and his entire family) in on the good news of Jesus Christ. Next thing you know, the Holy Spirit gets in on the act, too and, hearing no objections, Peter welcomes these outsiders in by baptizing them.

Of course, this gets back to other leaders in Jerusalem and Peter has to go and explain himself. And then comes one of my favorite lines in all of scripture. Says Peter: "So I ask you, if God gave the same exact gift to them as to us when we believed in the Master Jesus Christ, how could I object to God?"

Or as it says in the NRSV, "...who was I that I could hinder God?"

But we do, don't we? At least I do, over and over again, protecting God for me and mine and refusing to believe that God is in the other, even when the spirit is clearly evident.

On the coming Pentecost Sunday, I want to remember the Acts 10 message - through Jesus Christ, everything is being put back together again..and he's…

Pursuing happiness

The trek continues for me. Since I ended my employment with Mennonite Church USA on February 1, I have spent a month on the beach in Jamaica, six weeks volunteering for Mennonite World Conference in Strasbourg, France, and shorter times in Collegeville, Minn., Arirzona and Nevada and in Norfolk and Harrisonburg, Virginia.

In the coming months, I'll spend three weeks in June in Scotland and Ireland and two weeks in late July and early August in Ethiopia.

I just told a friend this evening that life is different for me now. I no longer go to bed each evening with "left to do" lists spinning through my head. Daniel Taylor, in his book, In Search of Sacred Places, encourages us to live our lives with a sense of blessing and gratitude. But he says that's hard to do in a culture that multiplies our desires and then calls them needs and rights. Somehow, he says, we need to break free from the tyrannyof insatiable wanting.

My "wants" are broad, but I'm learning in …

I am the true vine

Feasts are made for laughter. Wine...gladdens life (Ecclesiastes 10:19)

I found a wonderful book while I was in Strasbourg - The Spirituality of Wine, by Tom Harpur, a Canadian. This beautiful picture book was given to Larry Miller by Mennonite World Conference staff and volunteers.

As he talks about the process of wine making, Harpur lifts up an ample number of texts from Scripture that talk about wine and winemaking. Jesus, of course, uses the metaphor of the vine and branches to talk about how we are connected to God and to each other.

Harpur includes a number of wonderful quotes from others, including this one from John Calvin, not necessarily one of my favorite people: "Wine is God's special drink. The purpose of good wine is to inspire us to a livlier sense of gratitude to God." And this one from the Talmud: "Wine is the foremost of medicines...wherever wine is lacking, medicines become necessary."

Harpur's book got me to thinking about the use of wine an…

The vitality and passion and wakefulness of God

As I complete my time in Strasbourg, this Celtic prayer comes to mind

The vitality of God be mine this day, the vitality of the God of life. The passion of Christ be mine this day, the passion of the Christ of love. The wakefulness of the Spirit be mine this day, the wakefulness of the Spirit of justice. The vitality and passion and wakefulness of God be mine that I may be fully alive this day. The vitality and passion and wakefulness of God that I may be fully alive.
My hope for this time in France was that I could be of value to Mennonite World Conference in my volunteer role and also pay attention to my body, mind and soul. Even as I eagerly head toward home tomorrow, it's clear that this has been a rich time for me, full of looking inward and full of working outward.
In John 6, Jesus gives the 12 the opportunity to leave him and Peter replies, "to whom would we go...we've already committed ourselves.
As I look to the future, that's a bit how I feel. I don't know what the…

Making the journey

Almost 300 years ago, Jacob Beiler (Beyeler), a native of Guggisberg, Switzerland, made his way to America on the ship, the Charming Nancy, with his wife, Veronica, and their five children. Veronica may not have survived the journey.

Two weeks ago, in the fog, I journeyed the other way, drove up around Lake Geneva, past Freiburg and to Guggisberg, a small village at the foot of the Alps. Nothing there much now at all that makes it stand out. Certainly no Mennonites. There is a Reformed Church at the center of town, and in fact, some would now say that Jacob was Reformed and didn't become Mennonite until he settled in Berks County in eastern Pennsylvania. He married again, shortly therafter, to Elizabeth and they had five more children.

I didn't find an old graveyard, just a new one, but it had plenty of Beyelers in it. That must mean that Jacob left many members of his extened family back in Guggisberg.

As I walked through the village, had a cup of coffee and a roll, stood and m…

Riding along the Rhine

15 push-ups. You wouldn't think it's such a big deal, but when I started several weeks ago, I couldn't even do one right. Now it's elbows out. Down and up, slow and easy. Walking and biking has been much the same experience. The more you do, the easier it becomes. For six weeks, I've been walking my 2+ miles each way from the apartment to the office and, by now, it's just part of the routine. Biking most days, too. Usually up around the canals that border the city of Strasbourg proper. Or down the canal toward Illkirch-Graffenstaden or out in the country toward Molsheim. The 15 push-ups may be coming easier now, but I found out you can still overdo it. On Sunday, I biked across the Rhine to Germany and then headed south, farmland on one side, the Rhine on the other. Got down to the lock and watched the sailboats and then headed back north and west across the bridge back to Strasbourg. Beautiful country, but by the time I got back, I was glad to get off the bike …

Sunday morning at the cathedral

I never tire of looking at it. From the inside out or from the outside in. And in Strasbourg, you can see the spires of the gothic cathredral towering over everything else. It's been my landmark for six weeks. Across town. To the office. Back to the apartment. Walking or biking. I know where I am when I can see the cathedral.

The "Big Rose" window of the Cathdral of our Lady of Strasbourg (Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg) has a diameter of almost 50 feet. Though storms and wars have damaged it, some of the stained glass, dating from 1290, is still original. It has 16 gorgeous petals.

From the mid 1600s to the mid 1800s, this cathedral was the world's tallest builidng (it's still the world's sixth tallest church). The first Christmas tree, so it is said, was displayed here. Five years ago, I was in the cathedral for a glorious Christmas eve service at midnight, and the Christmas market outside draws visitors from all over the region during the Christmas seas…

Everything that is, is holy

On the way to Molsheim from Strasbourg, just 20k by the bike path, I pass this statue of Christ. Reminds me of what I read from Thomas Merton this morning in his New Seeds for Contemplation. He says there isn't evil in anything created by God, and if we treat the good things of God as if they are evils, we're no different than Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent in Eden, woman has tempted me, wine has tempted me. And Merton says its not true that the saints never loved created things, had no understanding of the world. Says Merton, "Do you think that their love for God was compatible with hatred for things that reflected him?" Back from Molsheim, I'm agreeing with Merton as I pour myself a glass of wine...
The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open to us the gates of the kingdom
- Taize song (May 2010)