Prairie View

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Fragments, Fallout, and Freedom--Part 8

Mary's Challenge

On this day marking the beginning of Lent, my friend and former neighbor Mary posted this on Facebook:

I have a challenge I would like to present to everyone.  Whether you observe Lent or not, would you consider committing to this challenge and sharing it to be practiced by as many possible? There is strength in numbers and God hears and answers prayer.

Regardless of your political, religious or philosophical leanings: would you commit to forty days of praying for the upcoming election? Would you pray that despite any divisiveness over our fears, convictions, beliefs...we would pray that the best person to lead this country for the next four years will be brought forward?This means not asking God to bless your candidate, not feeling in our hearts that we already know who that would be, but rather praying earnestly that despite our human frailties, we will trust and ask God to bring the right person to this position. And further opening our hearts to God asking Him to give us an open mind, a humble spirit and a receiving attitude that allows Him to lead us rather than our own desires? Pray each and every day that God will give each one of us the ability to be wise about who we vote for, that He will honor our desire for peace and unity in this country and that we will be unbiased and open to hearing His words to us. My trust is in the Lord, not in any man or woman. But I do desire that this country not be divided any more and that God will bring us unity not only because of who our president is but rather despite it, if needed.This will be a true fasting of our pride, our need to be right and our trust in any political powers. If you are bold enough to join me, to commit to this, please share this post. God Bless.

I'm passing this on, in hopes that others will join this prayer challenge.  Mary says she would love to see many others join the effort and pass on the prayer challenge.  So would I.

Observing what is coming out of the oval office or what is observable in the current trajectory in presidential campaigns, I personally don't see reasons for hope.  Although common sense occasionally makes a cameo appearance, righteousness seems to be in short supply all around.  Truly our hope is in God alone.

In 2016 and following, I believed this hope-only-in-God idea would become clear to all my fellow-Anabaptists.  That optimism was apparently misplaced, but the current situation offers another opportunity.


One of the motivations for writing this series is a response to the helplessness I've felt from being completely misunderstood.  Never was this more clear than when I was asked in a private message from a friend if I really want "this?"  "This" was a link to an article promoting abortion--or more likely (can't remember for sure), warning that abortion is being promoted by leftist political figures or policies.

My response began with "Of course not."  I went on to say that I have no desire to promote any political candidate or party. By the end of the conversation, I believe some level of understanding was restored.  More importantly, I hope the friendship was salvaged.

That has not always been the case.  One such private conversation was followed by a public comment on one of my posts saying "Mariam, why do you keep posting such hateful . . . "  The misspelling of my name wasn't the biggest problem here.  This time I searched for and found the "unfriend" button. I had attempted several "containment" measures prior to this.  First I merely unfollowed him to avoid seeing his "triggering" posts and being tempted to comment.  Then I deleted a two-word condemnation he posted in a comment on one of my posts.  Then when I deleted a subsequent offensive comment, he resubmitted it, this time having apparently found a way to prevent my deleting it.   I took down the entire post.  That's when I sent him a private message that I intended as an invitation to a truce, or at least further private dialog.  No response--until the "Mariam" comment above on a public post.

I do give this person credit for showing me one thing:  Not all self-identified non-voting Anabaptists "get" what I'm about to spell out in excruciating detail below.  In this case, entrenched conservative political loyalties--to the point of running for and winning public office in the past in his case--seems to have survived into his present non-voting stance.  I wish for this person to have forsaken political loyalties entirely.  Such is apparently not the case.

I believe the "false dilemma" logical fallacy is revealed in the thinking behind both of the above exchanges.   In other words, this error in logic assumes that there are only two possible options, and if opposition is expressed to one of the options, support of the "only" remaining option can be assumed.

Certainly, opposites do exist, but they're difficult for most of us to identify and define in real life, outside of God, electricity, and mathematics.

When people are used to thinking in terms of two political parties, for example, it looks like protesting what one sees in an individual of one party means that all that is part of the "opposite" party is being advocated.  If one sees only two options--love and hate--not showing love for one candidate or position means that what you are showing is hate instead.  No.  Just no.  A world of nuance between two opposites is possible.

Also, it's possible that one perspective can be applied to two matters at the same time.  In order to be perfectly clear, let me spell it out now:  Calling out Trump's ungodliness or imperfections does not mean that I'm advocating for Bernie Sanders. Imperfections and ungodliness no doubt are found in both of them.

I am talking mostly about Trump right now because he is president, where who he is personally is on display at every turn.  In this position he enjoys the adulation of many Christians who should not be defending him or his actions (while overlooking glaringly sinful words, attitudes, and actions), much less advocating for him or adoring him.

Note that I have never said that Trump should not be president.  I am happy to leave the determination of who should be president to a sovereign God. I am happy to pray for him.  I will never, however, advocate for him, vote for him, or adore him publicly or privately.  The judgement of God rests on sin--always, and this president not only commits sin egregiously, but he flaunts his sins. Many Christians seem blind to the sins because he finds ways to ingratiate himself to them.  God forbid that we should ever excuse sin, defend it, or justify it, even if it's present in the leader of our favorite political party or country.

I'm mentioning the next issue preemptively, in hopes of avoiding potential confusion:  Sanders' Democratic Socialism. I'm sure that nearly all my readers will be happy to know that I am not here to defend Bernie Sanders or Democratic Socialism.  Just for the record, I believe that some of what Sanders is advocating would be disastrous for all of us.  What I hope is also understood is that I will never defend Capitalism as being wholly righteous.  I believe that Trump's record and policies reveal part of what goes wrong when this is held as a "righteous" economic system.  While I am not confident that all my readers will be happy to know my position on this, I maintain that Scripture does not confer "righteous" status on Capitalism and neither should we.  Scripture and the life of Christ show a third way.

Elaboration on this will need to wait, but suffice it to say that the third way is not accurately represented in the platform of any political party or individual.  Neither is it routinely represented in non-Anabaptist Christian school curriculum.  I believe this is where some Anabaptists have found the "off ramp" leading to a departure from traditional Anabaptist ideals on economics that do--more closely at least--align with the third way.  For whatever reason, I believe that Anbaptists have increasingly lost sight of the third way, in favor of full-on support for capitalism and reflexive demonization of socialism.  The reality is that the life of Christ and a study of the Biblical record includes elements of both.

Forty days of turning to God in prayer has the potential for aligning our hearts more perfectly with the will of God.  I can't imagine anything more needful for all of us--not only because we're in a political mess and need help, but because we need hope.  God is our hope.


If you are willing to accept Mary's challenge, I'd love to know about it--either in the comments or by some other means.

I hope to write out these prayers, both to keep myself accountable to follow through and to stay attuned to whatever is happening currently that should be brought to the Lord.   


Sunday, February 23, 2020

Fragments, Fallout, and Freedom--Part 7

Here I Stand

I always begin the posts in this series with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension.  I feel anticipation because I never begin until I have a clear sense that God is directing me to write, and I'm eager to see what he intends to do with this writing.  The apprehension comes from not knowing exactly what I'm supposed to write or what the fallout might be from writing.  Often, I begin with little more clarity than having identified a starting point.  In other words, I spy one fragment on top of the pile of "papers" that have been stuffed into my soul over the past handful of years, and I see that this is the fragment to pick up now for further examination.  This is not fast, happy, or comfortable writing.  Yet I find great freedom in letting the Lord set the pace and direct the content.

I hope to clarify today one reason why I believe that Christians do well to avoid investing heavily in political activism or in developing political loyalties.  The words of a commentary I read this morning nicely sum up my main idea:  "What . . . we should learn . . . is not to confuse the gospel's liberation with political revolution. The Lord Jesus and his kingdom present a more radical challenge than that."  I might choose a different word than "revolution," but I absolutely believe that political involvement is at best a second-rate approach to bringing about positive societal change.  For that, what is called for is regeneration (i.e. the gospel's liberation)--not revolution or even redirection of political loyalties, activism, or participation.  At its worst, I believe that political involvement actually compromises the work of building the kingdom of God.  When it seems to me that Christian friends have lost sight of this, I feel compelled to speak up.

The way that the political world and the Christian world have become entangled--I would say inappropriately entangled--elevates the urgency of bringing truth to bear on political discussions.  First of all, that truth should be a positive declaration of what we learn from Scripture, from other godly people, and from the guidance of the Holy Spirit within.  Secondly, it should involve an effort to get at the truth of what is happening right now, and to respond appropriately to it. These are my aims.

Unfortunately, people are far more likely to have opinions on what is happening right now than to be interested in positive declarations of truth from others--even when those "others" might be trustworthy people like John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, Michael Sattler, David L. Miller, and others.  On getting at the truth of what is happening now, the odds of convincing others of any specific "truth" are formidable, especially when presented by someone like me who has no positional authority.

Confirmation bias* is rampant on social media, and other media venues facilitate staying securely inside a nearly-impenetrable bubble of make-believe.  So why try to get at or speak truth--against formidable odds?  Back to the commentary for another quote:  "What would cause him [Paul] to want to address a crowd that had slandered him . . . ? It is a total commitment to his Lord and his calling. . . .  This perspective gives the gospel its integrity. It's a stance we must all adopt."  Commitment to the Lord requires obedience to Him.  Embracing that truth is foundational to living with integrity.

Many of us have heard this:  "Christ is Lord of All, or He is not Lord at all."  None of my Christian friends would argue with this, at least when applied personally.  We all know that the fundamental change from being "lost" to being "saved" occurs when one lays aside his or her right to rule one's own life, in favor of accepting Christ's right to rule.  Hiromi describes his coming to Christ in exactly these terms.  "I knew that this guy [Jesus] wants to be the boss of my life.  Stubborn Hiromi didn't want to let him do that."  Very soon, however, Hiromi's interest in Christianity shifted from curiosity about religion to a life-changing commitment to let Jesus be Lord. 

My sense is that the implications of letting Jesus be Lord in how we individually and collectively relate to civil government and political affairs have too often not been tried and found wanting, but have been found wanting and left untried.  (Credit for idea to G. K. Chesterton?)  In other words, among Christians the shallowest of pleasant-sounding, wealth-generating, and conveniently-untainted-by-sacrifice-and-suffering Christian values are too often being zealously pursued in the name of "civic duty,"  "virtuous" activity and family values.  This can happen utterly without regard to prioritizing the building of a heavenly kingdom over gaining power through earthly-kingdom means.  While some caveats are in order here, in general, when earthly-kingdom building becomes the priority,  Jesus is not being honored as Lord of All.  I see too much of this in evangelical, fundamentalist, and Anabaptist Christian circles.

This morning I've just come from studying Acts 21:27-40, since that's the passage the adult Sunday School classes will be based on tomorrow.  These studies in the book of Acts have been a key element in keeping me grounded, encouraged, and enlightened during the past number of months.

The InterVarsity Press Commentary (to which I've referred several times in this post) can be consulted free of charge online at the Bible Gateway site.  This commentary has been enormously helpful in bridging the gap between the account of first century Christianity and twenty-first century Christianity.   While I recognize that the narrative in Acts is not necessarily prescriptive, the story of Christianity's establishment after Jesus went back to heaven is profoundly instructive.  Key areas I've taken special notice of are these:  1.  The activity of the Holy Spirit  2.  Women in the early church 3.  Effective prophetic ministry  4.  Embracing both unity and diversity in the church  5.  Christianity "invading" both religious and secular settings  6.  Christians and civil government. 7.  Christianity as societal change agent  8.  Controversy within a Christian brotherhood  8.  Willingness to suffer

Since January 1, I've been following a plan for reading the New Testament in three months.   Zonya Gingrich created the plan.  I'm using the alternate plan, which features at least one of the gospels at the beginning of each month.  This concentrated Bible reading has been a pleasure.

These readings in Matthew and Luke (the gospels I've read so far) show Jesus literally ushering in a new kingdom.  He describes it ("My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.").  He shows mercy, kindness, and love while establishing it (usually extending these to those whom society has rejected, or those who have no other recourse--e. g. making water into wine, healing the sick and handicapped, raising the dead),  He shows firmness to those who are unjust or greedy or dishonest (driving out the merchants at the temple with whips and overturning their tables).  He shows meekness before his accusers (at the trial leading to his death sentence).  Jesus teaches big crowds (the Sermon on the Mount), provides nurture and instruction for a select group of 12 disciples, and gives private and specific instruction (to Nicodemus).  Finally, he suffers an unimaginably cruel death to bring others into the kingdom He is establishing.

John the Baptist boldly called out Herod for his immorality in putting away his wife and appropriating the wife of his brother Philip.  Herod apparently took the message with more grace than did his wife Herodias.  After Herod had made an effort to appease her by imprisoning John the Baptist (whom Herod actually admired), Herodias got the last word when Herod made a foolish promise to  his daughter--a promise to give her anything she asked.  Upon her mother's advice, she asked for John the Baptist's severed head to be presented on a large platter at Herod's birthday party.

John the Baptist is often spoken of as the "prophet-bridge" between the Old and New Testaments.  His act of speaking truth to power both echoed the manner and motivation of the Old Testament prophets and fore-shadowed the prophetic activity of both Jesus and Paul, as well as others. While I don't believe that I necessarily have a charge to do the same as John the Baptist did, and I certainly hope to avoid his fate, I see his courage and how Jesus himself honored him, and know from this that speaking up when a monarch does wrong is acceptable with God, and can even be orchestrated by God. 

The Apostle Paul is the central human character in the second half of the book of Acts.  After weeks of reading and studying about events surrounding his life, I stand in awe of this man.  Over and over he walked a narrow and treacherous line between competing loyalties and truths, and he "nailed it" masterfully every time.  He persevered in the face of certain suffering ahead.  He knew about the suffering because the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him directly, and many others had confirmed it by also having heard it directly from the Holy Spirit.  One more commentary quote will illustrate something I admire about Paul:   "Paul is committed at one and the same time to the unity of all through their identity in Christ, no matter racial and ethnic background, and to the respect of cultural diversity in the body of Christ. Any Christian who insists on standing in such a tension will probably be similarly misunderstood as both too free in associations and too strict in ethnic loyalties." 

On a number of occasions, Paul was able to speak directly to rulers.  He did not appear before them as a colleague or as a diplomat.  Conditions varied, but, almost always, he was a prisoner, usually brought into a courtroom for trial.  Repeatedly, Paul used these imprisonment and trial opportunities to proclaim truth to his audience, whether it consisted of a mob or a monarch or a prison guard.  Sometimes he was taken into protective custody by Roman authorities to keep a Jewish mob from killing him, so his relationship to rulers was not always adversarial. He finally reached Rome, courtesy of the Roman army that guarded him and transported him.  A great many of Paul's life experiences demonstrate that out-sized influence can originate, not in people with positional or political power, but in those who live faithfully and courageously in humble and even painful circumstances.  Seeing this gives me hope.

I'm still working at understanding exactly how building the kingdom of Christ happens.  So far, the best way I know to think of it is for Christians to live as Christ lived, always in tune with the will of the Heavenly Father.  In short, "Jesus is Lord" will not be a cliched expression, but will be expressed in our lives with all the variety and winsomeness that Jesus himself demonstrated.  For that, all of us need--not civic power, but regenerational power, obedience to the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit within, and the blessing of God.


*Confirmation bias:  the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories

Note:  This was begun on a Saturday and finished on a Sunday, so some of the references to time might seem confusing.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Fragments, Fallout, and Freedom--Part 6

Bloomberg on Farmers

This is not the post I thought I would be writing next, but here goes.  Unless you read the information at each of the links, you won't learn much.  I will be commenting only in a limited way on the individual articles except to introduce them.

I presume that Bloomberg's recent entrance into the already-crowded Democratic presidential campaign is well-known.  He is the former mayor of New York City and is financing his own campaign.

The first is an article from the Washington Times.  The main thing I know about this newspaper is that it was owned from its beginning by the Unification Church founded by Sun Myung Moon.  I learned more from Wikipedia.  Earlier this morning I began to see on Facebook links to this or similar articles with lots of indignant defense of farmers--which Bloomberg had allegedly spoken dismissively of.  Here's the article.

Later this morning I saw a link posted by a local farmer about the same news item.  He made this comment: A good example of how partial truth is weaponized.  Here's a link to that article.  It's from a Wisconsin newspaper that I'm not familiar with.

Two other sources that are often consulted for verification or discrediting of news reports have more information.  I'll list them here so that you can get acquainted with these sites if you're not already familiar with them.  Factcheck.    Snopes.

You may have decided to skip the Factcheck and Snopes articles.  If you did, I don't blame you. Although I expected them to roughly parallel the second article above, the Snopes site was a little different than I expected, and both were longer than I expected.

The next article is the one that I especially hope everyone reads, even though it's longer than the others.  It's from a magazine rather than a newspaper or an internet-only site.  The magazine has been published since 1857, and specializes in in-depth reporting.  This article is a particularly fine piece of journalistic writing.  The writer does very well what all media sources should do when reporting the news--give the facts in a balanced way, without adding spin or intentionally biased content.  Link to the Atlantic article.   Note that it was written before any of the above articles.


In other news, today we got something in a nice envelope from Donald Trump.  It went into the recycling unopened.

On Sunday evening when Joel's family was here, we got a phone call and someone asked for Joel.  Hiromi thought it must be one of his friends who knew that he was visiting at our house so he handed Joel the phone.  "I'm calling on behalf of Donald Trump . . . " (or something like that) were the first words we all heard (Hiromi always turns on the speaker).  Joel could hardly get to the "off" button fast enough.

How do these "misfires" happen?

I also got an email today from Kansas Senator Jerry Moran, in response to one I had sent him before the Senate impeachment vote.  I did read that email carefully and then responded to it briefly.  I think Moran is basically a decent man and a responsible public servant. His letter was mature-sounding and courteous.  I also meant to use a courteous tone, but my reply nevertheless reflected the disappointment I felt: Thank you for this courteous reply.  I regret to say though that I find the logic unconvincing and remain disappointed in your vote.  A few more lines of explanation and then some appreciative remarks and assurance of my continued prayers finished it off.

I also read a column/report by Ed Berger in our daily newspaper.  He is a state legislator with whom I had an email exchange last week on the matter of raw milk sales.  I'm pleased that Berger "gets" it.  I don't claim to know him well, but I've known both him and his wife since I sold flowers at the farmer's market.  They were occasional customers. I learned to know Carol better during LRC classes when she served as one of three local facilitators.  (I have a feeling I've written some of this before, but I'm too lazy to go back and check.  Sorry.)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Fragments, Fallout, and Freedom--Part 5

Dad and Trump

Dad died suddenly exactly two weeks after President Trump was elected.  I was in Asia on election day and did not return to the US until the following weekend.  Probably partly because of these logistical realities and our limited time together in November 2016, I don't think I ever heard Dad say anything about the election results. Of necessity, this post is as much about what Dad did not do or say as what he did and said.  Although reasoning from silence has its hazards, I will use tidbits from Dad's record to clarify my own position and motivation.  In general, my positions and motivations align with his.  In a later post, I will probably refer more specifically to questions I've been asked or challenges that I've encountered.

Posting my recollections and thoughts here involves some risk of disavowal from readers, since Dad did a lot of writing, and spoke to many audiences and individuals.  In other words, people could consult their own memories, and research past "Observations" columns in Calvary Messenger and come up with information that counters what I write here.  I invite this kind of evaluation, and hope that if you do it, you share it with me or with the entire reading audience by way of a comment.  Affirmations are welcome too, of course, if your evidence or recollections mirror mine.  I aimed to read all of Dad's Observations columns (almost always on some current event or issue) as they were published.  Occasionally I typed some of those columns before they were submitted.  On some occasions he asked me to critique them. 

I regret that I have a poor memory for details of the kind that I read in Dad's columns, and I don't have ready access to the back issues of Calvary Messenger that contain the columns.  I believe that another reason these columns were "forgettable" to me was that they usually did not contain anything that struck me as being new or novel--the kind of information that my brain soaks up most readily.  I often already knew something about the topic he was writing about, and I already knew how he would be most likely to comment on the information.  Nevertheless I'm sure that what I read in those columns swiftly entered the stew of ideas already bubbling in my brain.  They probably became so thoroughly cooked into the mix that their origin soon became indiscernible.


When Trump's candidacy was still new, I do remember Dad commenting on Trump.  We were sharing a meal in our home, with my brother Marcus and my sister Linda present also.  I don't remember exact words, but I remember that Dad lamented what he saw in Trump (crassness, immorality, poor thinking and communication skills, pride, greed, dishonesty, etc.) and didn't think he had a chance of becoming the top Republican candidate or of winning the election because he couldn't imagine that such a man would appeal to anyone.  I feel sure that he could. not. believe. the results of the election.  He would have been incredulous at the support he garnered from ordinary Americans and deeply distressed that any Christians supported him.  He would have been concerned about the future of this country.

These are some of the things Dad did not do:

1.  He did not vote--as a matter of principle.  He did not campaign against voting either, recognizing that people with a different Christian background might have different sensibilities on this matter than he did.
2.  He did not campaign or voice support for any of Trump's opponents, although I know that he liked what he heard from Ben Carson when he had gone to hear him speak locally before he was involved politically.
3.  He did not denounce Trump publicly.
4.  He did not denounce Obama publicly or express reservations privately, to my knowledge.
5.  He did not speak in support of the turn toward political involvement in some Christian leaders or organizations.
6.  He did not listen to the radio, watch TV, or use the internet.
7.  He did not extol the virtues of capitalism
8.  He did not rail against communism or engage in fear mongering.
9. He did not generally tell people how to think; instead he pointed to Scripture and/or shared his own thoughts.
10.  He did not expect government to solve problems in society.
11.  He did not believe that anything of lasting good was accomplished when Christians used force to try to effect change in the world.
12.  He did not believe that any party or candidate was "good."  If they were before they tried to win elections or carry out government duties, they probably risked being compromised in the process of participation in the process.   

Here are some of the things Dad felt, believed, said, or did:

1.  He was aghast when President Clinton's immorality came to light.  He was shocked at the graphic testimony given during the hearings as reported in our local daily newspaper.  Afterward he was sorry that he had not noticed the "graphic" warning at the beginning of the newspaper article.
2.  He had access to the Drudge report over the time of the Clinton impeachment saga.  I'm not sure how this happened because he did not regularly use electronic media, since I don't think it was ever distributed through print media  Probably one of his column readers shared it with him.
3.  In relation to the Clinton impeachment proceedings, I remember Dad expressing concern about what this meant for our government institutions.  I wish I could remember specifically which institutions and effects he was thinking about.  Generally, I believe he was concerned about stability.
4.  He prayed regularly for our rulers.
5.  He acknowledged the sovereignty of God in everything, including American presidential elections.
6.  He did not "major in minors" in speaking of political matters.  If it was a little thing, he left it alone.

The next items on the list are less directly related to Trump and politics in general, but part of the context out of which Dad operated.
7.  He subscribed to The Hutchinson News, Time, World, Christianity Today, and Mennonite World Review.  He sometimes contributed to the "Western Front"--the readers write section of the local daily newspaper.  He liked to deliver these contributions personally to the newspaper editor.  He did the same for Mennonite World Review.  In addition, MWR sometimes picked up parts of his "Observations" column for re-publication.
8.  He went with some of my brothers and others to a seminar featuring Francis Schaeffer, and liked much of what he heard.  Schaeffer's emphasis on civic involvement did not resonate with him, however.*
9. Dad had a strong sense of the need for good stewardship of the gifts God gives.  On at least one occasion I know of, he taught on this topic in a series of meetings in another state.
10.  Dad shared generously of his time and resources with people on the margins of society when his path and theirs crossed.**
11.  Dad loved and honored the Lord in everyday life.
12.  He loved the church and its traditions.
13.  Dad was comfortable in his own skin.
14. Dad would never have said this of himself, but others often marveled at his wisdom and his gift for articulation and diplomacy.
15. Dad's facial expression typically conveyed warmth, openness, and alertness.
16.  Dad had a great sense of humor--often expressed as droll understatement or surprising word twists, and he enjoyed nothing more than listening in on his boys' (and daughter Carol's) sharp and witty exchanges.
17.  Dad loved being around people, but also made good use of time to think while he was alone or working with his hands.
18.  He was strongly pacifist, although he much preferred the term nonresistant, believing it to be more descriptive of a non-combative, redemptive response to violence in all areas of life--not only referring to military matters.
19. Dad had a high regard for Michael Sattler and others in Reformation times who introduced by their words and actions the idea that the church could not be entangled with civic affairs (Schleitheim Confession, 1527).***
20.  Dad was quick to acknowledge the blessing of having public servants who lived with integrity and demonstrated uprightness in how they carried out their duties.

In Dad's last years, my younger brother Ronald had begun to take over the writing of "Observations."  After Dad's death, Ronald became solely responsible.  His most recent column refers to the impeachment proceedings, among other things.  Although what I will share here is unedited and still unpublished, I believe it faithfully represents how my father might have written of it.  If anything, my father might have stated things more strongly.

"The ongoing impeachment saga should be receding in the rear-view mirror of the nation by the time you read this. There is a common phrase that circulates in circles where a judicial process is unfolding. I'm talking about the phrase, “innocent until proven guilty”. Oftentimes it is stated as fact that in the USA a person is indeed innocent until proven guilty. I'd like to point out that the language regarding our rights in this aspect is actually that people are “presumed” innocent until proven guilty. There is sometimes quite a difference between how people who are charged with a crime or misdeed need to be regarded and what they actually are.  Sometimes they are guilty and sometimes they aren't. However, in a 100 years or so from now, it will make very little difference what the general population or the courts have determined regarding any person's guilt or innocence. With God there are no mistakes and no presumption either of guilt or innocence.

I make no claim one way or another with regard to President Trump or his accusers. I have some opinions but they are of little consequence. However, God keeps track of what is right and wrong, and He will address all that if and when he sees fit to do so. Having stated that I make no claim one way or another should not be confused with indifference about it. The fact that people who have been elected to serve, and have accumulated a lot of birthdays, act like little children with poor manners, is not a reassuring scenario, nor one in which I care be identified with.  I hope it's not arrogant for me to understand that Christians are above that kind of behavior.  To the extent that we aren't, a bit of repentance and renewal would be appropriate."

 *I remember being at a live Schaeffer event later when someone I didn't recognize asked me during intermission what I thought about Schaeffer's teaching.  I expressed general appreciation for what I was hearing but voiced some of the same reservations I heard from my father.  Later I realized that the person who spoke to me was Franky Schaeffer, Francis' son.

Two of my brothers were present with Dad at the earlier seminar.  One of them cites exposure to Schaeffer as having sparked an interest in philosophy.  He has made teaching philosophy his career.  He is also the only one of my siblings who is politically active--but not the only one who is knowledgeable about politics.  His sympathies generally lie with Conservatives.  I note with some amusement that his sons argue with him in much the same way as my brothers used to argue with their father--in both cases, the sons pushing back against the father's conservatism.

The other brother who was present at the Schaeffer seminar regularly counters his brother's views.  He pursued a graduate degree in history and has taught in several Anabaptist post-high-school institutions.  He is a careful observer and occasional unofficial commentator, but is not politically active.  If he votes or if his sons argue with him, I've never heard about it.

I generally don't discuss politics with my siblings or anyone else.  I only listen.  If my sisters vote, I don't know about it.  One of them really hates when people she loves get into political discussions in her presence.  Another is extremely knowledgeable about such matters and is not averse to chiming in when her brothers are "having it out" with each other.  Another one lives in a household where strong conservative political views are held and voting happens.  A different sister has a son who is a strong Bernie Sanders supporter.  Suffice it to say that some diversity exists within the family.

Much of what I've written here about my family demonstrates that growing up in the same home and having been influenced by some of the same people does not guarantee identical outcomes. Personal choice is involved, and, of course, not all experiences are shared experiences.  In the case of political views, I believe the extent to which people have inhaled conservative media content and embraced capitalistic economic principles, to that extent conservative political biases are likely.

** I remember at least four occasions when such people lived with us for multiple weeks.  One of them was an immigrant who had fled violence in a Latin American country.  Others would have been called "tramps" in an earlier time.

On several occasions Dad helped pursue justice and mercy for those who were incarcerated. He grieved with the man's family when one such person died suddenly when he was apparently close to being released, after patient perseverance had uncovered a pattern of mishandling (or perhaps merely negligence) in his case.  Although he probably didn't see any point in pursuing the matter beyond his friend's death, I think he always believed that the death was, at best, very convenient for those in authority whose errors were so very close to coming to light.

***It's easy to see from this excerpt from the Schleitheim Confession why it did not set well with either Catholics or Protestants.  The words may have been the cause for the principal writer, Michael Sattler, being given a death sentence (you'll need a strong stomach if you read the details of how this was carried out). The sharp division between Christians and "the world" seems jarring to our ears.   Indeed, the force of these understandings prevailed for more than 400 years, carried from Europe forward into American Anabaptism, with departure from it happening in the arena of civic affairs only in the late decades of the twentieth century--perhaps earlier in some of the least separated branches of Anabaptism.  To my knowledge, it prevailed unanimously in our congregation until people moved here from other states in recent decades, some of them bringing their partisan political activism with them. The final sentence articulates nonresistance [pacifism], which survives in all Mennonite and Amish groups as the official stance in relation to military service.

The "civic affairs" term occurs in the section on separation between Christians and the evil world.  I've underlined or highlighted several phrases in case you'd prefer not to wade through the entire cumbersome wording.

 "Fourth. On separation of the saved: A separation shall be made from the evil and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the world; in this manner, simply that we shall not have fellowship with them [the wicked] and not run with them in the multitude of their abominations. This is the way it is: Since all who do not walk in the obedience of faith, and have not united themselves with God so that they wish to do His will, are a great abomination before God, it is not possible for anything to grow or issue from them except abominable things. For truly all creatures are in but two classes, good and bad, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who [have come] out of the world, God's temple and idols, Christ and Belial; and none can have part with the other.
To us then the command of the Lord is clear when He calls upon us to be separate from the evil and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters. He further admonishes us to withdraw from Babylon and the earthly Egypt that we may not be partakers of the pain and suffering which the Lord will bring upon them. From this we should learn that everything which is not united with our God and Christ cannot be other than an abomination which we should shun and flee from. By this is meant all popish and antipopish works and church services, meetings and church attendance, drinking houses, civic affairs, the commitments [made in] unbelief and other things of that kind, which are highly regarded by the world and yet are carried on in flat contradiction to the command of God, in accordance with all the unrighteouness which is in the world. From all these things we shall be separated and have no part with them for they are nothing but an abomination, and they are the cause of our being hated before our Christ Jesus, Who has set us free from the slavery of the flesh and fitted us for the service of God through the Spirit Whom He has given us.
Therefore there will also unquestionably fall from us the unchristian, devilish weapons of force -- such as sword, armor and the like, and all their use [either] for friends or against one's enemies I would like the records -- by virtue of the word of Christ, Resist not [him that is] evil"  Link

Friday, February 14, 2020

Fragments, Fallout, and Freedom--Part 4

My Father

A number of years before anyone outside of Harvard Law School had heard of Barack Obama, he wrote the book Dreams From My Father.  Although I could hardly be more different from the former president, and my father could hardly be more different from his, this post could bear the title of the book written by Barack about his father.  I also have dreams from my father.

Barack saw his father only once, at the age of ten, after his parents divorced when he was a toddler.    When he was 21, the senior Obama was killed in a car crash.  After this, Barack visited Africa for the first time, and was forced to come to terms with the fact that his father was a heavy drinker and behaved arrogantly.

By contrast, my father was very present in my life for 64 years. We lived near each other for all that time except for five years when I was in my twenties and taught school in Ohio.  Since he died suddenly about three years ago, not only I, but a host of others have had opportunity to evaluate his legacy.  Drinking and arrogance are not in evidence in this legacy.  Instead the record shows integrity and faithful Christian living and service to others.  In the matter of how he engaged with government and politics, I wish for a collective return to what he taught, both by his life, and by his words. Providing some context for his legacy seems appropriate. 

My father had a bigger platform than many do, perhaps bigger than any of his Beachy (Amish Mennonite) contemporaries.  I say this remembering that he was on the founding boards of a mission organization, a publication effort, and a Bible school--the three major united efforts of the Beachy congregations.  He was one of the charter members of Center Church, and served from the beginning as a minister, having been first ordained in the Old Order Amish church.  He was also a writer (associate editor and columnist for Calvary Messenger) and teacher (at Calvary Bible School), serving for many years in some of those organizations he helped establish.  He was ordained when he was 27, and he preached into his eighties.   

In the wider Mennonite world, he served with other Mennonites in founding Offender-Victim Ministries, a Kansas prison ministry. This group chose him for their "Peacemaker of the Year" award.  He worked with Interfaith Housing in Hutchinson, eventually launching a collaborative effort between them and the work of another board which he helped found:  CASP (Conservative Anabaptist Service Program). 

In the mid-1960s, when a court case was filed locally against an Amish man who refused to send his daughter to high school after the law changed to require attendance till age 16, Dad was the local person who made a trip to Topeka to read a statement to the governor on behalf of those who wished to appeal for an exemption.  He did it in company with a group of  Holdeman Mennonites from Hesston and surrounding areas.  On the way to Topeka, they looked at two statements that had been prepared in advance--one written by Dad and the other by someone else in the group.  They voted to have Dad read his own statement to represent the position of the group.

Dad was the Beachy representative to Mennonite Central Committee and served the constituency as representative to the National Service Board for Religious Objectors in Washington, D. C.

Although never a historian in any official sense, Dad was locally the unofficial consultant for anyone who wanted to learn about Mennonite and Amish people's history, being well-informed about both their European roots and the relationships between groups in the US.  Steven Nolt came here from Indiana to interview him while he was writing books on Mennonite and Amish history.  On a side note, I remember Dad bringing him to the school where I was teaching to show him the building and to introduce him to me. I didn't know who he was at the time, except that he was studying the history of this community.

Dad was drafted after WWII had ended, but before the draft had wound down.  He served in Civilian Public Service in Iowa, Colorado, and Mississippi doing jobs ranging from soil conservation to cooking to sanitation projects aimed at eradicating hookworm in the deep South.  This work happened alongside conscientious objectors of all stripes, many of them from other Mennonite groups.  Some of these people became lifelong friends.  One of them became our family physician.

After finishing his obligation to the government, Dad enrolled at Eastern Mennonite College in Virginia (now Eastern Mennonite University). This exposed him to many of the foremost Mennonite leaders of that time.  His roommate, Myron Augsburger, later became a prominent leader in  Mennonite circles.  I remember him visiting in our home and preaching in our church when I was growing up.

For his time, Dad's exposure ran wide and deep.  Combined with his commitment to the Lord and his thoughtful, reflective habits, I believe he acquired the necessary humility and confidence to speak and act effectively.

What does this record of my dad's life have to do with government and politics?  Hardly anything, as it turns out, and almost everything.  It had almost nothing to do with government and politics in that none of the accomplishments in his life came about through political activism.  He never voted in any election, to my knowledge, although he may have done so rarely in local elections where he personally knew the candidates.  He never identified with any political party or defended any particular candidate.  He certainly never campaigned for anyone.

Yet, through communicating with government officials and at times magnifying his efforts through circulating petitions or urging others to make contacts, Dad did influence law making and law enforcement (I just remembered his work in support of making "net metering" an option for people connected to an electric grid who wanted to generate some of their own electricity.)  The key difference between what my dad did and what people do who promote or participate in political activism is that Dad's efforts were always centered on appeal and influence toward those already in power--never on wielding the power of his vote or encouraging that others do so.  In that way he adhered to the centuries-long Anabaptist tradition of staying clear of political entanglements.

The "almost everything' side of Dad's life in relation to politics and government can be traced to his passion, gifting, and platform for prophetic ministry.  He called it "being a witness."  When others attempted to summarize Christians' responsibility to government by using a set of rhyming words (pray, pay, and obey), I remember Dad saying publicly that he thought that wasn't quite complete, and that "being a witness" is also part of a Christian's responsibility toward government.  He was highly motivated to speak truth to all--perhaps to a fault, whether in everyday life, in the pulpit or in his role as a citizen.  Speaking truth to those with political or governmental power happened less frequently than speaking truth to the congregation, but both fit seamlessly into Dad's understanding of his Christian duty.  When he spoke truth to the congregation, he helped us all make sense of the world we lived in--even the political parts of that world.  His many contacts and his depth of experience in the world beyond the local congregation gave him credibility as a translator of the wider world to the Amish world.

I never heard Dad connect himself to the earliest Anabaptist leaders in this way, but speaking truth to power* as Dad practiced it was a hallmark of their approach.  "Disputations" were a thing, with Anabaptists on one side and the religious/civic leaders on the other side.  Even when city councils ruled entire city-states, and when these councils switched with alarming frequency between having first a Catholic and then a Protestant majority, each one enthusiastically lopping off the heads of people on the other side, and both of them doing that to the Anabaptists, none of these earliest Anabaptists sought political office in an effort to change things.  A central tenet of their "rebellion" against the status quo was love for all, along with a determination to suffer willingly rather than to use force to gain an advantage.

Probably because of horrendous persecution, those Anabaptists who survived this active earlier period eventually put their heads down and concentrated on unobtrusive evangelism, kindness, and diligent service to fellow Anabaptists.  They became known as "the quiet in the land."   This is the quiet Anabaptist (Amish) world Dad was born into.   Indeed, Dad used gentle, respectful words in speaking to or about those in authority, and in that way stayed true to the "quiet in the land" identity as well as the "speaking truth to power" Anabaptist identity.

As the record shows, Dad's decision not to vote or seek public office or government service did not diminish his influence or effectiveness, despite some people believing that he should have done these things.  Without developing this further, I feel confident in saying that a case could be made for asserting that voting or holding office would have compromised rather than aided his influence and effectiveness.

Almost everyone reading this has a smaller platform than my dad did--as is true of me also. In the next post, I hope to explore what it means to follow his legacy in spite of that.  A collective return to what he taught, both by his life and by his words could start anywhere.  Wherever it happens, I hope to be aboard when that train leaves the station.


*"speaking truth to power" may not be as widely understood as I thought.  Here's a link that explains it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Fragments, Fallout, and Freedom--Part 3

In a heartbreaking mishap, I lost the entire text of the blog post I had written about my father.

I'll try again tomorrow.

This has happened only a few times before, and I've never figured out how it happens or how to prevent it.  The only thing I know to do is to write it entirely in a word processing document and then paste it into the blogger screen.  This is cumbersome though and I've always eventually gone back to the easier option of typing directly into the blogger screen.

I'll need another night's rest before I feel up to tackling it.


Later, obviously I didn't get the post written that I intended to write.  I'll try again--soon, I hope.

Yesterday I attended the first of a series of classes on my way to becoming a Master Naturalist.  The classes last into early April, with once-a-week events.

Taking this class reminds me of several things.  One, I don't learn new information as quickly as I once did.  Two, I still love learning about nature and being present in it.  Three, the need for human population control is still being taught. 

While I understand the perspective of those who teach the need for population control from a scientific basis, I always mentally counter it with several other things I understand.  One, Scripture always speaks of children as a blessing--not a curse or even an encumbrance.  Two, while people can cause problems with the environment, people are also the ones who can help solve problems--some of which they did not cause.  They can do so a lot faster than would be the case if the earth were left to itself.  Three, entropy (the earth "running down") would still be in operation, whether or not people were present.  Four, humans are to be good stewards of all the gifts God gives, including the earth's resources.  Five, anyone from a large family like the one I came from has a really hard time believing that any of us are a mistake and a blot on the planet. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Fragments, Fallout, and Freedom--Part 2

One of the big advantages of blogging over posting on Facebook is that topics can be developed in more depth in a blog than in a Facebook post.  A corollary is that diving too deeply into one piece of the bigger topic can result in losing track of how the piece relates to the whole.  Keeping it all hanging together is certainly my intention, but you may need to engage in some mental gymnastics to grab and knot together the loose ends.

In a piece of writing I did last summer I was probably more aware than I've ever been that my writing needs to be both honest and kind.  The stakes were high then, but I'm aware of that reality now too.  I see one more thing though:  my writing needs to be clear.  Some of the questions my friends have asked tell me that I have not been understood.  Writing this sounds so "virtuous" and self-excusing that I cringe.  That's exactly how people often excuse bad behavior, and I want to be as honest about my own behavior and thinking as I want others to be about their own--and as I want to be in writing about others.

To be honest, kind, and clear is fraught with hazards.  The opposites, however, are even more hazardous.  Imagine the challenge of making any progress in relationships or in serving effectively if dishonesty, cruelty, and ambiguity are involved.


One piece of the political mess that we're all involved in right now is the one involving Anabaptist understandings and traditions.This is not relevant to all to the same degree, but I'm writing about it here with the presumption that most of my readers have this background.  I believe that as a group we are currently in something of a wasteland because we have forgotten--or never learned--too much of our history to be able to see that continuing on the traditional trajectory is a viable, defensible, and ultimately God-honoring option.  We are also too ignorant of what is involved in embracing the evangelical or fundamentalist models to understand their hazards.  I don't have any illusions about being able to spell out all these things clearly.  I did teach Anabaptist History classes to high school students and learned a lot, but many gaps in  my understanding remain.

After sleep has washed the day's clutter from my mind, I hope to write about what I learned from my father on this topic.   


Sunday, February 09, 2020

Fragments, Fallout, and Freedom

Today I posted this message on Facebook.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to let my friends know that I plan to step away from Facebook for a while. I will check periodically for private messages, but do little browsing and engage in few interactions. I hope to devote more time to blogging. My blog address appears on my Facebook page.
I had already written  "Please hold your applause," but I thought better of that smart-alecky tone before I posted the above status.   
If you're my Facebook friend and have been there recently, you may know something of the drama around my recent activity there.  If not, you probably suspect that there's a backstory to my decision.  You'd be right if you suspected that.  
Several weeks ago I had decided that maybe I would undertake a special Lent observance of some kind this year, a fast of some kind perhaps.  I was feeling somewhat ambivalent about that, but went to the trouble to find out when Lent begins.  "About  the middle of February" is what stayed in my mind.  That turns out to have been incorrect.  It's actually February 26.  
I've done several water-only fasts of several days' duration this year, and those worked out pretty well, so that's the kind of fast I had in mind--not the whole 40 days, but for shorter periods of time.  
Increasingly,  however, I came to dread some of the interactions that were happening on Facebook.  I couldn't keep them from happening and most of the pleasure went out of being present there.   I decided that for the sake of my own well-being I couldn't wait till Lent begins to mostly withdraw from Facebook for now.
I am happy for all the private communication that has occurred.  By that route, I've heard some precious affirmations, as well as having fielded some questions from dear friends.  Those who commented the most combatively publicly have been almost entirely silent privately, even when I initiated communication. 
The very best thing that has happened through the brouhaha on Facebook is that I have had many wonderful opportunities to think and learn and renew my commitment to follow the Lord.  The next best thing that has happened is that I now have a wealth of material begging to be written.  I know that the "next best thing" label may not represent a universal opinion, but "it's my story and I'm sticking to it."
Because I often write to process my thoughts, I was able to gain clarity in matters that I never before thought about enough to have an opinion on, much less a conviction.  I reviewed my past influences and evaluated the changes that have occurred in my thinking.  I forged ahead into some new territory regarding the role of women in the Christian community and the role of prophetic ministry--via the Sunday School lessons we've had recently from the book of Acts.  I wrestled with heavy questions about the nature of sin and the reality of disability and brokenness.  I've thought about establishing healthy boundaries while wanting to reach out redemptively at every opportunity.  I see myself now more than ever as being deeply flawed--and marvelously blessed by a loving Father.  Especially I see myself as having both a duty and a privilege to follow where God leads. 
While I don't have a clear sense for how this will develop, I believe a series of blog posts including some of the topics in the previous paragraph is pending.  I will likely also draw from some of the things I've written in private written conversations.  I may refer to some of what others have written as questions, but since I haven't asked for permission to share their words, I will not intentionally reveal their identity.  If they are blog readers and wish to identify themselves, that's fine.
I hope the fallout is mostly past and that the fragments I've gathered up can be arranged in some cohesive fashion.  I know that I already feel a huge sense of freedom because of being able to continue writing here rather than being stuck in the clutches of Facebook.
Recently the president of our local chapter of Kansas Author's Club asked if he could pencil me in for giving a presentation to the group on "Life Writing." I have delayed answering, for no particularly good reasons.  After this series is written, I may have acquired enough more experience with Life Writing that I can readily answer that question in the affirmative.  I already know more things that can go wrong than I did before, so I think that part is covered.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Good Sunday School Superintendents

In our church, the Sunday School superintendents are elected for one-year terms by members of the church.  In the past, some of these people have demonstrated outstanding ability and effectiveness.  Some of them have been subsequently ordained to serve as pastors.  All of them have contributed something worthwhile as they carried out their duties.

Right now our two superintendents are Nelson M. and John Y.  They are unlike each other, but I find it very easy to listen to them both and to learn from them.  Among the traits that they have in common are these:  They seek to live with integrity, treat others with kindness, and are willing to examine themselves and ask for help or input from others.

John is a first-generation immigrant to the United States.  English is his second language.  He came from a life of poverty in Central America.  He was allowed to enter this country legally by a special act of Congress on behalf of him and his brother.*  A Kansas-Democrat representative, Dan Glickman, introduced the bill that accomplished this.

On a personal note, their American father later became our bishop, and John later married the daughter of my friend, Grace.  John's adopted mother was also a dear friend of mine, and their daughter married our oldest son.

The country of John's birth was in a civil war when he and his brother were adopted into an American family.  Young men of adolescent age could apparently not come into the U.S. from that country as immigrants without an exception being made. Others in their age group had perhaps already joined the military conflict.

When it's John's turn to have the opening devotions in church, he often speaks of things he has learned through personal experience, or things he feels a need of in his own life.  Although he is outgoing and friendly, public speaking is not something he feels very well prepared for.  That doesn't keep people from listening attentively and learning from John.

As I mentioned, the other superintendent is Nelson.  Nelson's parents both grew up in solid Mennonite communities.  His maternal grandparents grew up in the same midwestern community as my mother, and they were dear friends of my parents after my father entered the picture.  His grandfather had one of his occasional phone conversations with my dad the day before Dad died.

Nelson's father grew up in a very old traditional eastern Mennonite community.  I don't know many details about the father's influence on his children, but I do know that he raised his family in settings both geographically and culturally distant from his roots.  They lived in the west, one state away from the Pacific coast, and earlier, in one of the southern border states.  The churches they were part of were fledgling ventures, in some respects at least, although I know few details.

Nelson married my niece after they met in school (FB).  Nelson was also on staff as a 7th and 8th grade teacher in the school where I taught until I retired in 2018.

Nelson is very articulate and shows evidence of having a fine, well-disciplined, well-trained mind.  All who listen to one of his devotionals might need to scramble a bit to keep up, but if they can manage it, they will probably learn something and will be drawn to God.

Nelson apparently has music pulsing through his veins.  This seems also to be true of most people in the community where Nelson's dad grew up.  I've been there and witnessed this first-hand, so it's easy for me to draw a straight line from that community's influence to Nelson, who uses his music ability very effectively in our church services and elsewhere.  For example, last summer he and his wife helped plan and then coordinate a choir tour to the UK.

At least three times in recent months, Nelson has written a song to go with his Sunday morning devotional in church.  The words are closely tied to the Scripture he's focusing on.  The words and music are projected onto a screen and the congregation sings it together as part of the devotional meditation.  It looks so professional that I had to look carefully at first to confirm what I suspected.  In tiny letters somewhere on the screen, the composer's name (Nelson ______) appears.

Yesterday Nelson promised that he would not have a song for every devotional.  I understand why this might not be possible.  I really like, however, that Nelson is using his considerable talent in our local church.  Whatever he decides to pursue in the future will surely not have been hindered by his willingness to serve in a small place, and I'm happy that we can benefit in the meantime.

I marvel as well at the improbable chain of events that brought John into our fellowship, and am deeply grateful that we all can benefit from his ministry among us.

Late last evening I saw my name on a ballot for a church office.  This was a surprise.  I don't even know what that person is expected to do, or by what process my name made it onto the ballot.  My first instinct is to resist serving in that office because I don't feel that it matches my skills and interests, and I'm already not doing a very good job of handling other responsibilities and aspirations--which do more closely align with my skills and interests.  Besides, when I served in a similar role when I was much younger, I consoled myself with the thought that if I take my turn now, I won't have to do it later.  One of my aunts had suggested this perspective to me.  It is thinking about John's service as a superintendent that provides a check for my runaway thoughts.


*I'm giving these details by memory, and will make corrections later as needed if errors are pointed out to me.