Christians: Stand up for Jesus

As readers know by now, I am shocked and disheartened by recent world events, particularly the violence we see. I’ve said before that we need to work on our own lives to end acceptance of violence. It is all around us; it is the go-to solution when demanding doesn’t work. It happens on the large-scale when 93 people are killed in one day in Oslo, Norway by a man with homemade bombs and some guns. It happens on a small scale everyday whenever a teenager is beaten for being gay, or a parent hits a child in the name of discipline. It happens quietly with racial slurs and jokes. It happens loudly when a political rally is shouted into an angry frenzy over the issues of immigration and second languages.

I would like to see a large scale dayof peace. This would be a demonstration of unity among Christians, in fellowship with those who are not Christians, for the right to live in peace. We Christians need to step forward as world leaders in the matter of peace. We are the people of Peace; we have the promise of Jesus Christ. “My peace I leave with you.” It’s been done, effectively before. The Civil Rights movement in the USA succeeded with peaceful demonstrations and nonviolent resistance. It has happened elsewhere.

I asked friends on facebook if they would support organizing a worldwide Day of Peace. One said, “Only if it isn’t religious.” Another one said, “Demonstrations don’t do any good. We just have to live lives of peace.” The problem with the first statement is that Christians can’t leave their faith out of things. If we do, we are blocking the Holy Spirit from working through us. After all, our Faith is not a philosophy of doing good and living quietly. It is a belief that God Himself is working to change us utterly and thoroughly, and no part of ourselves or our lives can be set aside from that. The problem with the second is that while people may admire it, they have no motivation to try it themselves, because we make it look as if it is entirely personal, a matter of choosing between equal goods. But Christians, if they read the Bible, can see that that is not the case. We aren’t here to fit in. We are here to stand out.

The apostles stood up in the middle of cities and towns and told the people about Jesus, the Christ, the One who saves humanity from itself. They got arrested and beaten for it, often, but they also, in that witness as well as the witness of Christian life, changed people’s hearts. Following Jesus, they opened the path to God for many. Thousands were moved and joined the people of Jesus. And not once did they say to the people that war would work, that might equals right. Early witnesses in the church (Justin, Origen) emphasize the pacifism – the peace witness – of Christians, who would not even fight against those who would take their lives.

So sitting back and living lives of quiet righteousness may not be enough. My fear is that all Christians will be dumped into the category of people who advocate war and violence; the Norwegian who proclaims himself Christian and then kills innocent government employees, passers-by on the street, and most horribly, teenagers trapped at a youth camp; hawks who hold a Bible in one hand and a bundle of cash in the other, simultaneously quoting Deutoronomy and showering so-called defense contractors with money. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are what Christians look like in the public eye. We stand there mute as stones while this goes on.

If you believe that the way of Jesus Christ is the way of Peace, that we need to beat our swords into plowshares, that we need to send our public funds to those who are suffering rather than filling the bank vaults of very wealthy war profiteers, then now is the time. Who would get behind the initiative to have a Day of Peace, initiated by Christians?

It has to be the start of a new movement, to bring the Peace of Christ into the world, as He told us to do. It won’t be a one-time only thing and we get to go back to watching “Die Hard” movies and eating corn chips. It has to be the public proclamation that Christians are here to spread the peace that passes all understanding, the Peace that Jesus Christ left with us.

 

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Life in Christ: the Witness of Peace

A day like this

It’s a beautiful day here. The sky is a mild blue, with streaks of white cloud afloat. The breeze comes and goes; the air temperature is mild. The rain yesterday left everything as bright green as an emerald. The garden, after its heartbreaking start in destruction, is recovering. We have baby tomatoes and tiny, ruby-like radishes. The raspberries are hanging heavy on the wild canes; I will be hanging the wash out and then picking some for dessert tonight.

It’s a quiet, bucolic life. I can see the goats outside the window, resting in the grass, enjoying the wind. Nicholas was out early to get their tethers set, and they were incredibly cooperative today in going where they were wanted.

It’s hard to believe that so many families, in a  country much like this, are grieving. And it’s not the proper grieving of those seeing off an elderly friend who lived a good and purposeful life. It is the soul-mutilating, life-changing grief of families who have lost children. So many of them, too. All at once, in a nightmare out of a horror film one would not want their children to see on the screen.

First, those who killed and injured in an explosion at the heart of the government, in Oslo, Norway. I think of the many times, when I lived in Washington, DC, that I walked into my own office building, a block from the White House, a building that housed government offices, too. My roommates worked as interns in various agencies and congressional liaisons. We think of terrorists and violent anarchists targeting the White House, or the Pentagon, or Congress. But there are literally hundreds of agencies and support offices tucked into privately owned buildings, where other people work who have nothing to do with the government. So many US government employees are really just clerks, secretaries, office managers, who have nothing to do with policy. Those were the people targeted by bombs in Oslo. People just like us, going to work, stopping for a cup of coffee, planning their weekends.

As frightening and horrifying as the bombings were, what happened next was unimaginable.

My husband, when he was a parish priest, was a big supporter and fundraiser for our nearby church camp. We all sent children from our parishes there for a week of fun and Christian fellowship. My own children had attended Scout camps in the States, always a week of relaxation and silly pranks, and learning. Nicholas’s children went as campers, and the middle child was a counselor for several summers. We all spent time there, chaperoning or teaching or leading worship. And I think of our children – Roland, Alex, David, Matthew, Kaitlin -as if they had been caught in a nightmare scenario there in the quiet woods of New Brunswick, as happened on a peaceful island outside Oslo. I think of all the other children and young adults who might have been there – Brittany, Claire, James, Nick, Zach, Kendra, Andrew, and many, many others. Because you must realize – all these young  people knew each other. They were friends, siblings, cousins. Their parents knew each other. They went to the same schools and churches.  I will not tell you to imagine what it would be like to lose them all at once. You probably already have today. I can empathize with the pastors, teachers and police who now are helping the families and communities of those lost.

I am not going to lamely excuse this terrible tragedy as “the senseless action of one deranged man.” He may have a serious mental illness that went unrecognized, or he may have hidden it well from those who know him. But those who will rouse both the unbalanced and the sane to hatred of others, who will manipulate with lies and exaggerations to enhance their own power and cravings for control, and those who capitalize on fear and xenophobia for a profit, bear the brunt of responsibility for this outrageous act. Those who call themselves Christians while spewing vituperative words and encouraging violence need to cower in dread when they think of the Great Day, the Dread Day, when the Lord will call them to stand before Him. They had best repent now and change their ways and work for God’s peace, not against it. The blood is on their hands, as well.

As it is on politicians who promote war and violence, who take campaign money and gifts from the gun lobby and the “defense industry”, which would be better termed “war factories.” No Christian should hold a weapon to use it against another human being. Each person is an image of the Creator; to harm that person is to desecrate the One who made the person, and who made the assailant, as well. To sin by violence is to destroy the Divine, both in the victim and in the perpetrator.

“All who take the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus, the Christ who went to His own violent death meekly and abhorring violence, calls for the witness of peace.  All Christians, everywhere, need to put down their swords. We need to stop letting “defense” and the right of might be excuses for death. There is no just war. In every war, the innocent die. People going about their business, shopping for groceries, cooking a meal, repairing a fence, looking for a lost sheep, walking to school, hurrying home from work, die because of politics. Bombs. Guns. They don’t change politics; they kill people.

Cut armaments out of national budgets. Stop making weapons to kill people.  Don’t glorify violence in literature, on television, in films and in video games.

Study war no more.

Witness: To Peace

Quaker, 1866

As we discussed Plain dress recently, I think a number of us offered all the usual reasons for it – conformity to Biblical precepts, practicality, denial of self. These are all good personal reasons for Plain dress; I say it is my Christian witness. When people look at me, they know they have seen a Christian. But couldn’t I do that with a cross necklace, a modest skirt and blouse, a kerchief instead of a prayer cap? I could wear a t-shirt even, with Bible verses and great fish graphics. Christian. I could wear my clerics – Christian.

But as I thought about it I was inspired: my Plain witness is a Witness to Peace. I am a Peacemaker.

The Quakers are, throughout their whole Plain history, notable Peacemakers. The Anabaptists who followed Menno Simons were pacifists. that white prayer kapp, apron and long blue dress say “Peace be with thee.”

My husband’s beard and long hair, as well as his Plain coat and hat, are symbols of Peace. The early priests in the apostolic church grew out their beards and hair as a way to disassociate themselves from the Roman Empire, whose male citizens were shaven and shorn, a symbol that they were eligible to join the army.

Most people know about the Amish mostly from popular fiction like the movie “Witness.” The witness is a young Amish boy, but the “Witness” is the Amish witness to Peace throughout the movie, over against the kill-or-be-killed ethic of the corrupt police force that the protagonist works within.

The white kapp and the black bonnet, the beard and the broad-brimmed hat, are symbols that we, Nicholas and I, are dedicated to that same Witness. We live that non-violence, and we let people know that. We are witnesses – and hostages – to Peace.

Quaker woman with bonnet, ca. 1890

Plain Dress November

Plain is as Plain does

I’ve been Plain since 2006, along with my husband. He was naturally plain, I think; even as a child, when his mother, a very good seamstress, would make him fashionable shirts and clothes, he would only wear them to please her, preferring jeans and dark shirts. He was a natural for clergy garb – black pants, black shirt with the funny white plastic tab in the collar. (I absolutely despise those tabs.) He’ll wear the same shirts now, without the insert. Oddly, he always hated belts – the buckles were never plain enough for him, and he’s not shaped well for a belt, anyway. When I switched his trousers to braces buttons, he was well-pleased.

He hates suits. When he’s had to wear one, especially if it means a tie, he looks like a dressed-up bear. He rolls his arms forward and leans out of the tie. He no longer has either.

My journey to Plain is well-documented here; I don’t need to recapitulate. I’ve survived the hostility from friends and family, and in some cases, I’m still waiting for some people to come mend their side of the fence. Those that don’t like it can go on not liking it; I’m done defending myself because for Heaven’s sake, I have done nothing wrong in this.

Should others become Plain? Only if called. When the call is felt, it is inescapable. I was probably called from childhood. I loved Plain people, Quakers and Amish. I loved nuns in traditional habits. I thought our Baptist ministers in their suits and coloured ties were real peacocks compared to the Catholic and Anglican priests! (I’ve since met some really flamboyant dressers, and have toned down my opinions.)

We do need to think about Plain when we are called. It will be a long, hard meditation, with a lot of wavering. It isn’t vanity to take pains with Plain when we start. It took me a couple of years to refine what I needed to do. Some of it is pragmatic – the stiff caps instead of soft caps, the length of skirts, the choices of colours. (My husband is partially blind for the last year and more; I’ve switched to brighter colours so he can see me more easily.)

Dressing in the morning is now more than undies, jeans and a pullover. I have to consciously think of how the clothes go on, and remember why I am doing it. Long dresses, some of them cotton, require shifts and such underneath, and an apron (or some such) over for modesty. (I have a lot to be modest about,which I used to flaunt, or at least emphasize. I’m not ashamed of it, but it isn’t what I need to present first to the world.) Priests of the high church party used to have cards outlining the prayers they were to say as they put on their ecclesial garments, a practice derived late in the 19th century from the vesting prayers of the Orthodox Church, which are ancient. I have used both, although when alone my vesting prayers were along the lines of “Please, God, don’t let me say anything stupid out there, and keep me from tripping over my cassock again.”

In the church, I was plain at the altar. I wore cassock and surplice (a really long one that looked like a nightie; it subbed as an angel costume) and black stole, known as a tippet. This is also called a preaching stole. I very rarely wore coloured stoles, an alb or a chasuble – the round garment that signifies the prist who is celebrating the communion. Some priests wear their university hood with cassock and surplice and stole. I was taught to wear one or the other, hood or stole. I’ve lost my hood, and I doubt if I will replace it. It says to the people, I think, “I’m smarter than you.” There were times I would get called out of the vestry, not get back in, and start the service in just cassock. I sometimes said the service in street clothes. Everyone there knew who I was and what I did, why did I need special clothes?

Things I like about Plain: I don’t send mixed messages. I don’t look rich, or sexy, or trying to look younger than I am. People ask me questions in a friendly way. Sometimes I have amusing encounters with people who guess all the wrong things about me (except that I am rich, sexy or young.) I can make my own clothes and ear them for years without anyone wodnering why I’m out of style. My shoes are comfortable. I get to wear aprons.

It is an easy vocation, now that I’ve done it for quite a while. It is a blessing.

“Victory in Jesus” Gardens

We have a yard that is mostly walnut and maple trees. My garden was a washtub with tomato plants and herbs in it.

My family had large gardens when I was young. Both sets of grandparents had large gardens. Have dirt, will garden. The farm never left our souls. We grew food, we ate it fresh, we canned and froze it. We gave it away. We gleaned fields of peas and potatoes, orchards of apples, wild bushes of berries, riverbanks of fiddleheads, maple trees of sap, hedgerows of hazelnuts.

I am delighted now to think of that connection to the past.

Our parents and grandparents grew Victory Gardens during the last European war – people were encouraged and supported in digging up their yards and growing their own food, so that crops could be diverted to the support of the troops. Many European families had to wild-gather to survive during and after the war.

We were still just a few years past being an agrarian culture. People knew how to make a garden.

I don’t think any of our neighbours has a vegetable garden. This little town is proud of its shade trees, its luxurious lawns, its air of ease and privilege. When I lived in rural parishes, people left bags of corn, tomatoes, green beans, onion and zucchini on my doorstep. One parishioner dropped off a few homegrown vegetables here this year. I bought the produce I canned.

The food bank here is in constant need of donations. Industries have closed in this area; other people are chronically unemployed or underemployed. It looks like it will get worse rather than better. (And just to bring this up – local farms employ migrant workers to pick apples, tobacco, ginseng and cabbage. The reason? Local people don’t want these seasonal jobs. The work is too hard, the pay too low, and if they take them, they endanger keeping their government-paid benefits. I can’t take even seasonal work until my immigration status is settled, except to work for the church. I did field work as a child and teenager. It isn’t that hard.)

In a land of plenty – in the garden region of Canada – why are people receiving boxes of dried dinner ingredients and cans of soup? Why don’t food banks have great resources of fresh food? Some do – because someone had the inspiration to solicit donations from farmers and farmers’ markets.

But we could all be doing more to feed those in need by planting a new kind of victory garden – I’ll call it a Victory in Jesus garden, from the old Baptist song.

We could be feeding ourselves and the poor, improving local nutrition levels and health. We could be reducing our reliance on transported, carbon-hungry resources. We could be getting rid of harmful lawn-maintenance practices and chemicals. (One reader wrote me earlier this year to say she had persuaded her church to plant a garden on the church lawn. That’s what I mean.)

The black walnut trees on our lawn are at the end of their growing years. The best thing to do with them would be to cut them down and sell them to a craftsman for fine furniture. This would also get rid of their messy nuts and the squirrels who live on them. Not much will grow around black walnuts, except the maple trees which are also as big as they can get, are dropping dead limbs, and hogging the arable area of the yard with roots. I love trees, but these are at the end of their lives, and they will soon be a hazard. I say take them down, use the wood as possible, and plant something like fruit trees, a little more in keeping with using the yard for a garden. (Don’t get me started on the line of overgrown cedars along the fence.)

Gardening is work, more than many people think they should have to do. But why shouldn’t we turn our hands and hearts to the earth, and share in its production? We are divorced from the natural world; we try to corner it in parks where we are comfortable with mown lawns and trimmed trees. We like the idea of wild spaces, but we don’t want to live in them. Our homes are air-conditioned and warmed so it is always perfectly temperate inside, and we never have to wear climate-suitable clothing. (I had a friend in past years who literally ran from car to building, building to car, car to home because she didn’t want to bother putting on a coat even in a mid-Atlantic winter. It took a while to persuade her to carry suitable winter clothing in her car so that if the car broke down she wouldn’t freeze to death.)

It’s autumn here in the North; most of us are done with the garden. The last of the basil came in for pesto here; the other herbs are potted and in the shed, hardening up for a possible winter indoors on a cool windowsill. (Herb plants do not like our overheated homes.) But there is next year. I want to be in a place suitable for a garden and more. I want to grow not just for ourselves, but for those who are unable to grow for themselves.

It’s one thing to receive a bag of canned goods and a loaf of plastic-wrapped bread when we are in need. But it is impersonal and industrial. It’s almost as if someone says, “Here you go – this is good enough for you.” But when we are given, in need, fresh tomatoes, a head of lettuce, a bag of sweet, long green beans that just taste of sunshine and clean water, a paper-wrapped loaf of still warm, fresh bread – we feel loved. We feel part of the community. We feel the gracious hand of God on us. Someone cared enough to grow and bake for us. We become part of the family.