Sunday, December 26, 2010
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 Bass, in her book, A Poeple's History of Christianity, says that with Constantine, Christians no longer had to be "resident aliens," but they could hold dual citizenship in Rome and in the kingdom of God.
In fact, Christians had already conflated the two allegiances into one, fully identifying Roman interests with Jesus' way.
As I walked down Michigan Avenue, the miracle mile in Chicago, the two kingdoms as one was clearly still in evidence.
Empire then, empire now. We Christians must make a choice. I have a sense the choice will be even clearer in 2011.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
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 50% of electricity in the United States is still provided by coal.
Mennonites came to this valley after the floods of 1977. MDS organized disaster relief, but some of the volunteers realized challenges were much deeper than the floods and stayed to help. Other churches in the community are also trying to respond to the widespread economic poverty in this community.
"Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God," the prophet Micah reminds us. One of the SWAP coordinators says she puts it this way to the volunteers who come to work and learn - Give us your eyes and your heart.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Make every effort to be fruitful and effective... (I Peter 1: 5 and 8)
The Gulf region
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 south of New Orleans, MDS is helping a Native community on the bayou near Triumph, Louisiana restore its homes. These homes are outside the levee system and so they are not eligible for any governmental assistance.
MDS is also working with George and Ruby Renno who have provided a long-time pastoral presence in this community through the Lighthouse Church. Geoerge remembers using insurance money to buy another shrimp boat which provided income for seven people for the first three years after Katrina.
Both Bayou communities have suffered through a more recent storm of another nature called the BP oil spill. George Renno says the oil is thick in some parts of the marsh in the southern tip of Louisiana. Back in Bayou La Batre in Alabama, though no oil has yet appeared, it still has made its presence known. Though Gulf seafood has been tested to be safe, no one wants to eat it and prices have tumbled. The oil spill has prolonged economic hardship in both bayou communities.
Back in New Orleans where there are still 900 blocks of mostly empty lots and houses five years after Katrina, MDS is still rebuilding homes here, too. It works with Churches Supporting Churches to help rebuild the spiritual fabric of the communities.
MDS is also wondering whether its New Orleans unit facility might eventually become a peace center or connected in some other way to the ministry of its supporting churches.
One person we talked to in New Orleans recalls somebody asking him who Mennonites are. All he could think to respond was that Mennonites believe in Jesus and they believe in helping poor people.
All the more reason, in responding to Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill, to start with the churches who are making every effort to be fruitful.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
I am the way, the truth and the life. - John 14:6
October 1-2, 2010
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 Ernie Wiens still remembers the stories of his grandmother in the Ukraine where an MCC soup kitchen helped provide needed nourishment for her children.
Bishop David Wiebe of the Sommerfelder church remembers his call to service as a Sunday school teacher, wanting to say no, but standing in front of the children and realizing he was being called to a lifetime of ministry.
Bishop Frank Unrau of the Chortitzer church remembers a life changing experience with MCC when he visited Nicaragua and experienced first hand how much stuff we have as North Americans and how few material resources some have in other parts of the world.
Our actions are always understood but not always our words, said Herman Bontrager. And that's why we were here this evening. We shared stories and fellowshipped together, but because of our words, or in some cases the lack of them, these brothers were not sure they could trust our actions.
"I am the way, the truth and the life," says Jesus. "On that there can be no compromise," said Bishop David Wiebe. We all believe that Jesus is the way, but MCC's work to build bridges with Muslims and our words of support for them have caused the Chortitzer and Sommerfelder leaders to wonder if MCC is compromising on the truth. They wonder if MCC believes the God of Muslims and the God of Christians is the same God.
How do we find a balance between humility and confidence in our message wondered an MCC board member. What does it mean to give an account for our faith when it is asked for, wondered one of the church leaders.
This evening, sitting side by side, we still found ourselves far apart in our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Our heartfelt words to each other were not enough. "MCC wants to be rooted in the church and do our work in response to Christ," said Ernie Wiebe in closing. Our words and deeds must come together, on that we all can agree.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
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 came through the material resources center in North Newton wanting to know how they could help. Irma said one need is the shoestrings that are used to tie together the school and health kits. She needs 1600 pairs of shoe laces each month which cost MCC about $800. Beginning shortly thereafter, this couple began their monthly contribution of $800 to cover this cost.
MCC Central States has learned to treat each donor with care, not just those who provide a financial contribution, but also those who also volunteer their time or donate material resources. Each one now receives a postcard of thanks.
Another cloud of witnesses was the board members and staff who gathered together around the board table. Guidelines for discussion from Ruth Yellowhawk's Indigenous Issues Forum framed the board's discussion. These guidelines include weighing our words before speaking, listening to each other attentively and with respect, speaking from the heart, focusing on the question at hand and respecting one another.
The board considered whether to increase its investment in migration issues in the Houston and Borderlands programs. And it engaged in the various design models presented as part of MCC's reorganization by visually mapping its relationships with the other parts of MCC.
In all of its work this past weekend, the MCC Central States board and staff demonstrated that each one is important, each contribution worthy of acknowledgement, a visual testimony of that cloud of witnesses.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
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, water and agricultural coordinator for MCC, told the crowd that there are over one billion people in the world who live on less than a dollar a day and who suffer because of lack of food and water. He shared creative solutions like sand dams and conservation agriculture, ideas surfaced by the communities in need themselves that MCC is helping bring to fruition.
The following day, the MCC BC staff introduced us to an array of programs serving the people of Abbotsford, Vancouver and beyond. One innovative program is a for-profit landscaping business that employs 30 homeless people and youth at risk. Another program partners with a local credit union to help people save money (and get it matched) for downpayments on housing, starting small businesses or for education and training.
In an opening devotional, Rachelle Lyndacher Schlabach told the West Coast MCC board that Christians are called to hospitality, peacemaking and generosity rather than suspicion, selfishness and accumulation.
In visiting Eugene and Abbotsford the West Coast MCC board is modeling for us how to be a learning community. They are dreaming about a world in which people hunger and thirst no more.
Tuesday, August 31, 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 around the world.
Who would have thought that being served biscuits could lead to serving so many people?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
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 about believing that God can change things.
The preacher's words were sobering to the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ leaders who had gathered in Addis Ababa for a service consultation to talk about how we can better serve the church and serve the world. Service is not just a concept, it's the way we are called to live.
Glen Lapp's death is a reminder to all of us that following Christ, serving others, can be costly. But that is what we are called to do. God can change things, in that we have hope, and we are called to serve.
In one of his last reports to MCC about his work in Afghanistan, Glen said that his hope was that he could treat people with respect and with love and try to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world. In his life and in his death Glen demonstrated his love for others.
May our worship please you, the choir sang on Sunday morning. "Your mercy is so big and your love draws us to you," the choir sang.
Later in the church service, an elder told us that we owe God everything. Glen Lapp showed us that sometimes that includes our lives. Glen's death gave meaning to the banner which hung above the sanctuary on this Sunday morning - "I do it all for the sake of the gospel."
"I will not give up!"
August 1, 2010
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 are children whose parents have already died. Mennonite Central Committee has partnered with Imara for more than 20 years.
Mary Tumbo, now called Mama Benja, is responsible for home-based care. Each day, she travels many kilometers to visit women and children who are not able to come to the clinic.
On a Sunday afternoon in early August, I traveled with Mama Benja and Imara executive director Micenzo to meet some of the families she works with. The first woman we visited, Neema, who is also HIV positive, now cares for five children alone after her husband died of AIDS a number of years ago.
Neema is also a volunteer who visits other women like her who need help. Neema says she'd have died years ago without Imara's help of healthcare, medicine, food and more. She says she wants to continue to be healthy for as long as possible so she can care for her children.
Neema says the stigma and discrimination of HIV/AIDS is not as great as it once was. "People no longer point at me," she tells us.
Both Mary and Neema are part of a group of women at Imara who are called Group of Hope. Each week about 150 women gather together for Bible study, conversation and a meal.
Imara is the only health clinic in the region providing care for people with HIV/AIDS. Imara, say Micenzo and Mary, is like one small light in a very large area of darkness.
The incidents of HIV/AIDS in this part of Tanzania are decreasing faster than in other parts of the country. The work of Imara is certainly a contributing factor.
"I will not give up," Mary Tumbo declared when it would have been very easy for her to do so. Mary, Neema and many others like them are women of strength, showing us what it means to follow Jesus.
Friday, July 23, 2010
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 peoples' lives is not possible.
Pastor Darryl Wallace (right above) says MCC's tagline "...in the name of Christ," says it well. Meeting social needs is important, he says, but we also need to declare Christ. Pastor Darryl urges MCC to keep connected to the church.
Because of MCC, says Juan, Crossroads is better connected to resources and to the broader church. That's the stance MCC East Coast has taken in all of its ministries. "We're going to work primarily through the churches," says MCC East Coast program coordinator Fred Kauffman.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
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 Family Services to provide case management for Haitians arriving in this country following the January 12 earthquake in Haiti.
Bernard serves 23 families and helps them navigate the system in this country for legal and social services. He says this job has given him the possibility of learning to know many Haitians in the Philadelphia community he would not otherwise have met.
"The way Mennonites have received me, I feel I belong," Bernard reflects. His work and his love for Jesus are paying dividends in the Solidarity and Harmony Church in Philadelphia.
For me, Bernard, shows us once again, as our Anabaptist forbears did so many years ago, that our words and deeds are integrally related. "In the name of Christ," we say in MCC. Its an apt accompaniment for our work in relief, development and peace.
Monday, July 12, 2010
- Jesus in Matthew 17:20
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 past decades to illustrate where the work of the Washington office with U.S. public policy has made a difference. Rachelle said there are times such as these, like with the mustard seed, where a seed has sprouted and grown.
In 1968, the Washington Office program was formed in response to Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement and other issues. From that small seed, many sprouts have grown on behalf of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. As I listened to the staff in D.C. (pictured above) today, I am grateful for their faithful witness and for their belief in Jesus' words that, with faith, nothing is impossible.
Monday, July 5, 2010
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 gift of grace.
The photo above is of a small church in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, near the ruins of the chapel of St. Non, who was the mother of the patron saint of Wales, St. David. The image serves as a symbol of my five months in a number of ways:
- Its location on the rocky coast of Wales serves as a reminder of the rest for my soul I have found in so many "water" places, from the Colorado and Rhine rivers, to the beaches of Negril and the rocky coasts of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
- Close to the chapel is a retreat house of the Sisters of Mercy, a place of hospitality for sanctuary and reflection. The chapel marks an historical spot but also houses a modern day ministry of welcome for all people. I remember the hospitality of the Benedictine fathers at St. John's Abbey, the open arms of the circle of condo owners who welcomed Mim and me in Negril, the Mennonite World Conference staff in Strasbourg and our pilgrim experiences with so many folks in U.K. who opened their hearts to us.
- The chapel also stands as a symbol of the many ways in which my expereinces these months have opened my eyes and my ears so that "the senses of my soul may be born again." It is a chapel, yes, but it is also a doorway to a deeper understanding of who God is and of the moments of grace in my life.
One final messenger of grace came today in the form of an email from one of my fellow pilgrims in Scotland and Ireland who writes to thank me for my "laughter and humor throughout, and for the details, depth and soulful sharing, both on the journey and in the blog."
How can I tell Beverly that it was I who gained from her presence on the trip, she who in her quiet way always pointed to the deeper meaning beyond what was evident on the surface? Her depth of character and insight providing a foundation for the rest of us?
This evening, Mim and I are hosting Larry and Eleanor Miller, from Mennonite World Conference in our home. This seems a fitting way to bring these months to a close. Thanks to all who have helped me on my journey and will continue to do so in the days ahead.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
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)
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 with Mennonites in northern Ireland. He says part of the theology of reconciliation is a commitment to justice. David noted John Paul Lederach's help in the peace process in northern Ireland in supporting the efforts of local leaders in building peace.
David said the world has come to Coventry and it has one of the most diverse populations in England. Immigrant groups seem to find their way here. It has given Coventry Cathedral many opportunities to pick up the mantle of reconciliation.
Having just come from a celebration of armed forces day at the cathedral before he talked to us, David shared his struggle to be both pastorally present in the community and prophetically challenging to the people. He observed that Jesus was silently embedded in his community for 30 years before being actively prophetic for three years and wondered whether this might be about the right proportion.
As Christians, we are set apart from the world around us but we also belong to the community, nation and world in which we serve. The Coventry Cathedral community offers us a reflection of hope for how that can be possible.
On Sunday afternoon, I embedded byself in the community by watching the Germans demolish England in the World Cup. Later in the day, most of the group participated in an inspiring 400th anniversary performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary composed in 1610.
We gathered in the parish hall after the performance to reflect on our pilgrimage and to say our good byes to each other. This has truly been a remarkable journey together, not the least of which has been forging new friendships.
Calm me, Lord, as you calmed the storm, we sang, enfold me, Lord, in your peace.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
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)
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 thought you were going," he says, "But you will most certainly get to where you are supposed to go."
R.S. Thomas, a well-known Welsh poet, was vicar at St. Hywyn's in the 60s and 70s. Thomas is said to have burnt all his robes on the beach in a great bonfire on the day he retired. Some say he would have like to burn most of his poems as well!
Cotter gave our band of pilgrims a book of Thomas' poems and sent us out to read them in the church's graveyard or along the beach. Later that evening as I walked the beach in the moonlight and again the next morning as I walked through the fog that covered the beach I kept thinking about one of R.S. Thomas' poems that I had read:
Prompt me God,
But not yet. When I speak,
though it be you who speaks
through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.
This church is a place of welcome. May I be a person of welcome here and in the days ahead.
Friday, June 25, 2010
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 breathtaking panorama of the sea.
Now I had another decision. Would I press on to the sea or would I turn back? I had no money and no identity information with me and I couldn't have even said what the name of the retreat center was where I was staying, but I kept on going, now, down through a winding road to the sea, making turn after turn, wondering whether I could ever retrace my steps.
Many bends later, I was sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Several hours later, I reluctantly started to retrace my steps back up the country roads and then down the other side through the sheep pastures, stopping several times to talk to others enjoying the same sun and scenary that I was. One couple happened along just as I needed assurance I was headed back in the right direction.
Earlier that morning, I had read a chapter in Margaret Silf's book, Sacred Spaces, on "hilltops." She says our spiritual journeys are much like those hilltop climbs: "There are moments of vision making all the climbing worthwhile, but wherever we stand still to take stock, there is always something more beyond our range, drawing us onward, attracting us in spite of the rocky journey that seems to separate us from our heart's desire."
The world looks different from the top of the hill. I learned that twice in one morning. You gain more perspective. Silf says our lives tend to have cycles in them and if we pay attention to the connecting points of these cycles we have a better vantage of where we've come from and where we are going. This is something to think about as I make the transition into a new work role in the next couple of weeks.
In the words of a Celtic prayer:
Glory be to you, O God,
for the grace of new beginnings
placed before me in every moment and encounter of life.
Glory, glory, glory
for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.
- 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 beyond the lighthouse and then kept walking some more, finally stopping halfway down the craggy cliffs with no one else in sight. I had the ocean to myself as far as I could see, enjoying the sun and the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks.
This is as good as it gets. I'm never happier than when I'm close to the ocean. Later, I shared afternoon tea with others from the group before heading back to Tenby by boat, but it will be the hour along the sea by myself that I'll remember most about the day.
Monday, June 21, 2010
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 heart. It is important for us to sit and be silent and listen for the God who is within us. "Compassion is the only way to God and Christ is buried there," Father Michael told us.
St. Kevin came to the valley of the lakes to find solitude and lived here in a cave in the hills that surround the two lakes. Later, he came back with a small group of monks to found a monastery. A number of the buildings from this monastery city still remain today.
Like St. Kevin, we are each called to this cycle of solitude and community. We need individual space to be close to God, but we are always called back to community, to love this world more fully.
We are people of God and we care for each other. As a small part of the two billion Christians in this world, we have a great potential to be a powerful force for good. The spirit of Jesus lives within us.
We sang, up on the hill on our pilgrimage around the lakes and then again later in the afternoon inside the roofless walls of a monastery church. These roofless walls may only be a house, then and now, but we are definitely a body and God is definitely near.
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 northern Ireland.
In hindsight, Michael says, maybe it is even a blessing that a Mennonite congregation did not emerge here. "We don't need more churches in Ireland, but simply more faithful ones," he says. Our role here and elsewhere is not to perpetuate ourselves but simply be an agent of transformation, a modern day version of dying in order to bring life.
Come and fill our hearts with your peace.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
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 sight of all people. A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel," we prayed.
In her book, Sacred Space, Stations on a Celtic Way, Margaret Silf says these standing Celtic crosses were the village's library, its pulpit and its art gallery, just as they were the sentinels of the high places, watching over the community, focusing the peoples' gaze always to something beyond themselves.
I imagine the crosses also helped the wandering find welcome. They were "eternal bookmarks on the hilltops," says Silf, reminding "all travelers that their own small journeys were a part of the eternal journey of the whole human family."
Later that evening, in downtown Dublin, I wandered into an old church as its community was celebrating mass. "For you, my soul is thirsting," we sang. "May this be a house of prayer, a church for all people," the priest prayed.
A house of prayer for all people is becoming a recurring theme for me on this pilgrimage. I pray that can be true not only in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but also in my home congregation in Goshen and among the community I am joining as a new staff person for Mennonite Central Committee.
Jesus comes to seek out the lost like me. May we provide a place of welcome for all who are wandering.
Friday, June 18, 2010
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 years and was relit by Sister Mary, whom we visited, in 1993. We also visited Brigid's well where a sign hangs, "St. Brigid, Mary of the Irish, pray for us."
Somehow St. Brigid has sparked a flame throughout the generations - her faith, healing powers, love for the natural order and her hospitality, generosity and concern for the poor stand as a testament for Christians in all ages.
I'm honored to be a part of the merry band of pilgrims pictured above. Today, I am thankful for St. Brigid and for her dedication to the God of the poor who welcomes all people into fellowship.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
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.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
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 community are too narrow in their perspectives. He said they need to be challenged, but with humbleness, because "we did not suffer as they did." There are many ways to shoot at people, he told us, "and the people here are deeply wounded."
The words of Paul's epistle, "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism," greeted us each time we walked through the doors of the chapel. And as the priest prayed, he prayed for all people who call on Christ's name, and he specifically prayed for Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic churches.
Brother Thierry said the community wants to serve both the Protestants and Catholics in the community. A majority of the people who come through the monastery doors are Protestant.
"It's important to provide a space to listen to people who can come without hiding or wearing their masks. That is enough," he said.
"My house shall be a house of prayer for all people," we hear in Isaiah. As I walked through the grounds of the monastery and reflected on what I had heard, I wondered what would happen if churches in my country began to pray and live that vision.
Monday, June 14, 2010
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, "Your will be done on earth, O Lord." May it be so.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
- 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 in your freedom to the end of the way.
This morning I hear God's first book quite clearly, and it helps me hear the second more clearly.
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.
Friday, June 11, 2010
More than 250 members make this commitment to each other each year in a process called "Are you with us?"Though I'm not a member, this is a pledge I could easily say yes to.
Tomorrow we head for the island of Iona via mutiple buses and boats. I'm looking forward to experiencing this "thin place" for myself.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
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 know that help is available to me.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
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 says our country has invested billions of dollars to fight and win wars but has invested little to prevent conflict.
Standing in the airport, I had to wonder how this scene would be different if my country had invested differently for its encounter in Iraq. And how the situation in Iraq would be equally different.
The July 4 holiday is fast approaching. And I want to find ways to embrace the freedoms our country enjoys and celebrates and I want to help ensure these same freedoms are available to all in my community and across the nation.
But I also want to remember that, as a Christian, my first allegiance is to Jesus Christ, not to my nation. And I want to remember that God's blessing is for all people in all countries in all parts of the world.
God's blessing is available to all people - in America and Iraq, in Palestine and Israel, in Iran, North Vietnam, Colombia and Congo. Thank God!
Monday, May 24, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
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 doing it everywhere, among every one. The door is wide open.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
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 these months that satisfaction can come in smaller things, too. Daniel Taylor offers a Celtic poem as helpful in his own journey and perhaps it can be useful in my trek as well:
Help me find my happiness
in acceptance of my purpose,
in friendly eyes,
in work well done,
in quietness borne by trust,
and most of all
in the awareness of your presence
in my spirit.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
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 and alcohol in my own life experience. First forbidden and then, for many years, something hidden. And then I compare that with my experiences the last several years and certainly during my time in Strasbourg - wine has been so much a part of leisurely conversations over meals, deepening friendships and celebrations.
At Taize, we sang the well-known chorus, Eat this bread, drink this wine and again I thought of the profound meaning of wine as a symbol of Jesus' blood shed for us so that we can have life and have it more abundantly.
"Wine is divine, a gift of God," said theologian Paul Tillich.
At 58, I think I'm too old to hide this divine gift of God. As someone who also grieves the lack of sunshine for days on end in northern Indiana, I prefer to think of wine, as someone else has said, as sunshine in a bottle. With gratitude to God, I'm going to let it shine, let it shine!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The vitality of God be mine this day,
Monday, May 17, 2010
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.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
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 season.
The window is wonderfully inspiring. As I view it again, and remember the reason for this devotion, the birth of the Christ child, I am reminded of a poem from another tradition of Celtic pilgrims:
When Jesus came to earth as a baby,
He depended entirely on human love -
That of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.
When Jesus preached and healed,
He depended entirely on human love -
The alms given by those who heard him.
I too depend on human love.
The kindness of others sustains my soul.
The gifts of others sustain my body.
Every person depends on others' love.
Let no one be ashamed of their needs.
To depend on others is to imitate Christ.
Back home in Goshen in the weeks to come, remembering this window, maybe I can also remember this poem. Imitating Christ. It's a goal not possible to reach, of course, but even trying will make the window worthwhile.