Posted in Prayers and the Sacred

Martyr’s Mirror

495 years ago today, in 1525, the Swiss Anabaptist Movement was founded when Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, and about a dozen others baptized each other, breaking a thousand-year tradition of church-state union. (Historical Calendar https://goo.gl/TDME3p )

Below is a hymn by Felix Manz, who was martyred for his faith by drowning in Lake Zurich in January of 1527, becoming the first casualty of the Zurich council’s edict that made adult rebaptism punishable by drowning.

Here is the hymn in German and in English:

Mit Lust so will ich singen

Mein Herz freut sich in Gott

Der mir viel Kunst thut bringen,

Dasz ich entrinn dem Tod

Der ewiglich nimmet kein End.

Ich preiz dich Christ vom Himmel,

Der mir mein Kummer wend.

With gladness will I now sing;

My heart delights in God,

Who showed me such forbearance

That I from death was saved

Which never hath an end.

I praise Thee, Christ in heaven

Who all my sorrow changed.

I am grateful for my forbears and the faith passed down to me by my family.

May I be as courageous.

Selah

Posted in Musings and Reflections

Amazon or Anabaptist? – An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos

Dear Mr. Bezos,

The opposition of Amazon (hereafter referred to as “your company”) to a tax law to help the homeless in Seattle was the last straw. Let me explain.

After your company stopped construction on a new office building in protest over a previous law, you felt the watered down version of the tax bill the city council passed in May was still too much. So you continued to pressure the council until it buried compassion at the feet of the god of capitalism to rescind even this edict in June.

Therefore, I have decided that I can no longer in good conscience remain a Prime member and customer of Amazon.

Here are some comparative figures:

As of June 2018, there are over 12,000 homeless in and around Seattle. This does not include the 33,000 people who live and work in unsafe buildings, according to the Seattle Times.

Currently, your company has approximately 40,000 employees in Seattle, who work in the 8.1 million square feet of office space you control which is almost 20% of all of the prime office space in the city. I suspect the majority of your employees do not live in unsafe housing and their ability to pay high rents is one of the main reasons there is a housing crisis in Seattle.

Over the past year, homelessness in the Seattle area has increased by 4%, while your company’s North American revenue alone for 4Q 2017 rose 42%.

The May 2018 version of the city council tax bill would have raised $47 million dollars per year. Your company’s net income for just the 4Q of 2017 was $1.9 billion, which included a tax benefit of $789 million due to the change in U.S. tax code.

This is particularly troubling. Your company received $789 million in tax benefits and you couldn’t even support a paltry $47 million tax to help the homeless in your home town?

Furthermore, as I learned while researching this article, this is only one of the most recent in a long line of troubling business practices and decisions made by your company.

There have been several media reports detailing the poor working conditions for warehouse employees in your company, namely that they barely have time to go to the bathroom and can be fired for being sick. And the contractors your company hires to deliver packages as part of Amazon Flex fare even worse.

Your company has a history of fierce opposition to unionization so the workers described above and others are not able to advocate for and force better working conditions. Or in the case of your company’s recent takeover of Whole Foods, they have very little say in a decision that caused a significant amount of layoffs and brought about a culture change in the way Whole Foods does business.

In May, The Guardian published a report that your company has been marketing and selling Amazon Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies, a decision which poses a grave threat to personal privacy and individual freedom. Nor am I comfortable with your continued monopoly over the “internet of things” or your Echo, Alexa, Key, and Blink tentacles that reach inside my house and into the intimate details of my life.

And more recently, the Washington Post (which you own and I still subscribe to for now) reported that your company continues to profit from the sale of white supremacist propaganda and products, in direct violation of your company’s policy against selling products that promote hate.

You continue to raise the fee for Prime membership, up $20 from last year and $40 from 5 years ago, to $120 annually. Even your student Prime membership is going up from $49 to $59. You claim you offer additional benefits, but it seems a little greedy to me for you to keep raising the fee with all of the profits you continue to make off of your Prime members.

This does not take into account the multitude of storefront bookstores that you forced out of business early on when books were the primary products you sold. Since then you have expanded into anything and everything, much to the detriment of small businesses everywhere. Now I learn you might for all practical purposes become a pharmaceutical company.

But even without all of your shoddy business dealings, after I leave behind the magic of clicking a mouse and having an item appear on my doorstep, the product you sell is really not all that great. Like all good snake oil salesmen though, you have marketed convenience and created a demand that does not exist. If I get off my rear end and shop locally, I can usually find something at a lower price and of a decidedly higher quality. But even if I pay more, I have the satisfaction of contributing to my local economy, supporting local artisans and small businesses, and perhaps in my small way am helping to strengthen my community.

I have caught a glimpse of the future you are pulling us towards and I do not like it. I must confess that your siren song has lured me away from the Anabaptist values that I grew up with:

– A belief in community and in the equal and significant value of every precious member of that community.

– A belief in living simply so others may simply live.

– A belief in speaking up for the voiceless, advocating for those who cannot do so themselves, and working to end any and all forms of injustice.

– A belief in the way of peace and in practicing nonviolence in all of my life choices, including where and what I buy.

– A belief in service and in helping others in any and every way I can.

– A belief in being a good steward of my time, talents, and money, spending such in a way that honors God and the values I have listed above.

I have come to the conclusion that your company is the antithesis to these values and therefore, since I cannot serve both God and Mammon, I am choosing to serve God. My only regret is that it has taken me so long to come to this decision. I ask God’s forgiveness for the damage I may have caused another by my collusion with your company. I continue to pray that your company will cease to worship at the altar of profit and that you will be grounded in your past to be driven by an obsession with compassion, rather than with customers.

And may God, so rich in grace and slow to anger, have mercy on all of our souls.

Sincerely,

Keith M. Lyndaker

Posted in PEACE GROOVES

On Thin Ice

Late at night, in the cold of a Dutch winter, an innocent man flees before his pursuer.

If he is caught, he will be put to death for his faith.

Coming to a body of water, he runs across the ice and despite the danger, makes it to the other side.

His pursuer is not so lucky and falls through the ice.

The man, Dirk Willems, hearing the cries of his enemy, returns and saves his life.

The “thief-catcher” wants to free his savior, but the authorities insist he follow the law.

Willems is arrested and burned at the stake, literally giving his life for another, his enemy.

(A note regarding numbers: As he died a long slow death, Willems “was heard to exclaim over seventy times, ‘O my Lord; my God,’ etc.” Strange to find this number in the account of a man who exemplified the Rule of the 490).

Source: http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/dirk-willems.htm

February 5, 2012

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Join the RE Generation

I’ve always been a little confused about what generation I am a part of. The social labelers say I’m a member of Generation X. Sometimes they call us the Baby Busters or the 13th Generation.

Then this morning I got to thinking about one of my favorite Menno Simons quotes:

“The regenerated do not go to war, nor engage in strife…. They are the children of peace who have beaten their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and know of no war…. Spears and swords of iron we leave to those who, alas, consider human blood and swine’s blood of well-nigh equal value.” (1550)

I like words. In this instance, the word “regenerated” fascinates me. It is not a word used very often today – unless you’re watching a sci fi movie about regrowing limbs. But regenerate means to reform spiritually, to create anew, or to give new life or energy to. In this context, Menno is using it to refer to those who have been revitalized, renewed – born again – i.e. Christians.

When Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door, he opened the door of the Reformation. Menno and other Anabaptists pushed it open a little further, believing, unlike Luther and other reformers, that they could not justify any violence to protect their faith. Hence the reason for Menno’s statement.

“The regenerated do not go to war . . .”

Rather than Gen X, Y, or Z, Lost, Baby Boom, Silent, or Greatest Generations, I’m choosing to be part of the RE Generation.

Which begs the question:

Are you regenerated?

Originally posted here November 16, 2017

Posted in WWJP? What Would Jesus Play?

When Peace Is Left Behind

Okay, so it’s the end times and it’s up to you save the world. How do you do it? Well, you pray, worship, and fight the forces of the Anti-Christ. The game is Left Behind: Eternal Forces, based on the best-selling Left Behind Series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

There is a lot of controversy about the game (see links below) and it is difficult to get to the truth. Critics say the game glorifies violence by Christians, especially against people of other faiths. Defenders say you are penalized for perpetrating violence and killing innocents. Critics reply that once your spiritual points go down, all you have to do is pray to get them back up again.

Regardless where you come out, the game is questionable for several reasons:

  • It is based on bad theology in several ways. It combines a literal reading of Revelation with the idea that Christians can save the world by themselves, with violence as an option for doing so.
  • It allows violence to be a part of the game (the game is rated T), whether players are penalized or not.
  • It definitely does not portray Jesus as the Prince of Peace. (Just a note: In Revelation Jesus is portrayed as the Lion who is the slaughtered Lamb, one who took violence rather than perpetrated it in order to save the world (see Revelation 5).
  • It pushes a particular theological and political agenda without providing for the sophistication necessary for players to dialogue or raise questions about issues of faith. It paints a simplistic picture of good and evil in the world and the authors of course know which is which.
  • In the multi-player version of the game, you can play either as part of the Tribulation Forces or the Anti-Christ’s Global Community Peacekeepers. However, putting Anti-Christ next to terms such as “global,” “community,” and “peacekeepers” is problematic at best for those of us who don’t see those terms as necessarily anti-Jesus.

The game is well-done, is getting great reviews, and will probably sell like crazy (just like the books did). We Christians like everyone else vote with our money. The choice is whether to support questionable media or help create alternatives.

In my opinion, the game leaves Jesus and lots of good theology behind. For those reasons it too should be Left Behind.

News links for more info on the Left Behind game controversy:

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/gaming/2006-12-13-left-behind-controversy_x.htm

http://www.leftbehindgames.com/pages/controversy.htm

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16175897/

Anabaptist perspective on Revelation, World Events, and the Left Behind series by Loren L. Johns, Academic Dean, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary

http://www.ambs.edu/LJohns/Godinthisworld.htm

http://www.ambs.edu/LJohns/Leftbehind.htm

Originally posted February 2007

Reposted in light of the passing of Dr. LaHaye.

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Midweek Essays – Death of a Concerned Anabaptist

When I found the chest stored in an old building on the premises of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community where I lived, it was a little beat up but still in good shape. I asked the previous owner, who lived next door to me, if I could fix it up and put it to good use. I painted the hinges and metal corners gold and touched up the black exterior. I made sure I did not paint over the name and address.

Paul Peachey. Japan.

Today, so soon after his death, when I looked at this well-traveled box, I was reminded again of my appreciation for the way Paul lived his life. The chest symbolizes for me Paul’s willingness to go where the Spirit led, to live a life like Abraham, driven by a faith connected to a rich history coupled with the promise of something new.

Before Japan, there was Germany. Paul was one of the many Mennonites who left their rural roots to help rebuild Europe after World War II. The quiet in the land quietly changed the world and they left a rich legacy for the rest of us.

It is a legacy that is in danger of being forgotten.

Paul was a founding member of the “Concern Group,” a gathering of Mennonite thinkers who were “concerned” that the Mennonite church might be subverted by the ways of the world. After WW II, as Mennonites began to engage more with society, these men wanted to lay a foundation for how that engagement should take place – so that the salt would not lose its saltiness as it were.

It is a word we would do well to heed today. Too often I fear Mennonite churches have accepted beliefs from the mainstream church which are not Anabaptist. That is indeed a concern.

The world is crying out for the voice of the Anabaptist. Our heritage of nonviolence, not-of-this-world-ness, simplicity, community, and love of enemy, alien and stranger, exemplified over the years by people such as Paul, are the ingredients that could change the world. They should not be lost in the soup of evangelical Christianity. Or cast aside for the temporary pleasures of this consumerist society.

This belief is what keeps my fingers tapping at the keyboard late into the night. It leaves me overflowing with gratefulness for the years I knew Paul and a deep appreciation to he and others like him who led by example. But belief and gratefulness alone do not have to be my only responses. Nor should they be.

And there should be a response. This is a legacy NOT an entitlement. So then what will that response be?

Today would have been Paul’s 94th birthday so it seems fitting to reflect upon his life and legacy. But how will I choose to live my life after today?

Do I have the guts to pack my Anabaptist beliefs up in that old chest and head out wherever God leads? Do I even know what those beliefs are? Do I believe them?

We run before a great cloud of witnesses. There is a new one up there now, cheering us on. I for one have decided to live my life in a way that would honor the life Paul Peachey lived.

That means choosing to take his concerns to heart.

I urge you to do the same.

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Broken Pieces

John, one of my boyhood friends, enjoyed building plastic military models, usually airplanes. Sometimes when I would visit, he would take the models out into the yard, put firecrackers inside, and promptly blow them up. While I could say that he was destroying the representations of war as an act of peacemaking, in all honesty I suspect he was doing the opposite, another boy playing at war.

As I think back on the incidents now, I realize that my response was rather interesting. I distinctly remember gathering up as many of the broken pieces as I could find. Then I would take them home and put the airplanes back together. If I didn’t have all of the pieces, I would make some out of cardboard, using glue and tape to reconstruct the airplane. Finally I would take my model enamel and paint the planes in camouflage so that the parts blended together as closely as possible. Some of the models turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. I hung them with fishing line from the ceiling in my room and watched them take flight again.

For me I think the main issue was that I could not imagine someone destroying something that they had taken so much time to put together. Somewhere inside I guess I felt the need to use my imagination to reconstruct that which had been broken.

Recently I have become aware of conversations within some Mennonite circles about reaching out to wounded soldiers returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wish to wholeheartedly affirm this idea and strongly encourage us to move from conversation to action. In particular, I would invite Anabaptist and other Peace churches around military installations to reach out to these communities as a way to help heal the wounds and wounded of war. While it is difficult to get a firm tally of those wounded in the “War on Terrorism,” namely because the Pentagon is reluctant to acknowledge certain casualties (see “the invisible wounded”), the number of those sick, injured or disabled is in the tens of thousands. There is much we can do as a people of compassion and peace.

There are several rather powerful precedents within our Mennonite history. Conscientious Objectors in World War II as part of CPS spent the war years working in mental hospitals, building dams, constructing roads, and providing free labor to a host of other projects. As a result, they helped build the infrastructure of this country and changed the way mental patients were treated, to name a few of the accomplishments (which have never been recognized officially). Then following the end of the war, Mennonites rallied to help rebuild Europe, flocking overseas in droves to volunteer to assist those affected by war. Mennonite Central Committee grew out of these efforts, which continue to reverberate positively in its solid reputation and good work throughout the world. There are many other examples which I am sure I am missing.

So our ancestors in the faith saw fit to put their peacemaking into action by being true to their beliefs in opposing war and violence, but also in not letting those beliefs keep them from loving their enemies and helping to heal the wounds of war. We, the current keepers of this legacy, should do no less.

Perhaps like the clumsily pieced-together model airplanes of my childhood, we can help heal those whose bodies and minds have been broken by war. And maybe, just maybe, someone’s life and dreams will be able to take flight again.

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Mennos Swimming In A Media Sea

(Reprint of article in January 2012 PeaceSigns)

Be not conformed to this world but rather be transformed by the latest app.

Oops! I misquoted. But sometimes I wonder. I am fascinated by the phenomenon of friends who seem to be more excited over the latest app than the application of their faith to everyday life.

So how do we as modern-day Mennonites relate to technology? I believe our early Anabaptist forebears offer us some clues.

The Anabaptist concept of the church set them distinctly apart from the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant reformers of their day. To them, the notion of the church and society as one unit was unacceptable. Instead the early Anabaptists believed in a voluntary church separate from the world. So strongly did they believe in such a separation that they were willing to suffer persecution at the hands of this said alliance of religious and civil authorities rather than conform to the status quo.

The early Anabaptists took seriously the misquoted verse above: they were among the first non-conformists, attempting to live separate from the world, a “peculiar” people. They tended to behave in ways that were different from the general population. I am reminded of this not-so-distant heritage every time I visit my Amish relatives in Ohio or my conservative Mennonite kin in New York. They have chosen a very different relationship to society and to technology in particular. They are doing fine and perhaps, are even more content than I. Such visits lead me to ponder whether Menno (or Jesus for that matter) would stand in line for hours just to get the latest I-gadget.

But the early Anabaptists did not reject technology out of hand. They believed in separation from the world with two exceptions: a commitment to evangelism and a willingness to offer criticism of the social order. Such commitments led them to seek more effective ways to get their message out.

The Reformation, and its rebellious step-child Anabaptism, owed its rampant growth to the invention of a technology comparable to the Internet of today, namely the printing press. By 1450, Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type and the printing press, had set up shop in Mainz, Germany, and had begun his most famous project, The Gutenberg Bible. Eventually, as a result of a monetary dispute, his two financial partners, Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer, took over the operation. By 1525, Protestants and Catholics controlled most of the existing printing presses but it was not long before Anabaptists seized upon the invention as a means to spread their message. In fact, Peter Schöffer the Younger, son of the former Gutenberg partner, moved his shop to Worms in 1524 and by 1527, had joined the Anabaptists, printing a variety of works by Hans Denck, leader of the Augsburg Anabaptists. By 1554, Menno Simons joined other oppressed Anabaptists living under the protection of Bartholomeus von Ahlefeldt, on Wüstenfeld, one of his large estates. Here, Menno’s printer began to publish new books by Menno and revisions of his earlier writings. Menno’s writings in particular were well received and contributed to the furthering of Anabaptist thought.

Technology can bring about positive change. For modern day examples, one need only look so far as the so-called Arab Spring as well as other similar movements to see the impact that social media in particular can play in uniting people to bring about a more just and equal society.

So I am not advocating that we throw our cell phones out the window (though I did write a song with that title a few years ago). But we need to be as intentional in our relationship to technology as with any other area of our life. Our faith should inform our relationship to media, not the other way around. In other words, my decisions regarding what technology I possess and how I use it should be driven by my Anabaptist values.

In this day and age, it is easy to buy into, and buy, the latest sexy gadget that comes along. But my early Anabaptist kin lead me to ask several questions:

  • Is this a need?
  • How does it fit with the values of nonviolence, simple living and good stewardship?
  • How does it help me further the Kingdom?
  • How does my having to have the latest version contribute to the tons of older technologic junk polluting the world?
  • How can honoring the Sabbath assist me in taking regular breaks from media and technology?

And finally, if I am asked to give it up, would I be able to do so and remain happy? Do I possess this device or does it possess me?

Be not conformed to this world but rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind. This verse in Romans 12 can provide guidance in how we relate to media by offering us a caution as well as a reminder of our ultimate objective. Why is this “mind renewal” so important? The second half of the verse offers some insight; “that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Technology is transforming us as a human species and as we continue to engage with technology, further transformations will occur. At times the latest manifestation may seem to be magical, possessing God-like qualities. But we must remember; it is not divine. Ultimate transformation, the renewing of our minds, comes about through the mighty creative work of God’s Spirit moving across the waters. Such a Spirit is not bound by any human construct, is not limited by any plastic box, and is far brighter than any pixeled screen.

Hallelujah! Now that, my friends, is good news!

Sources:

The European History of the Swiss Mennonites from Volhynia
Martin H Schrag 1956

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online

http://www.gameo.org/

Mennonite Historian, Volume XXII, No.3, September, 1996 http://www.mennonitehistorian.ca/22.3.MHSep96.pdf

A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical. Historical. Constructive

Thomas Finger 2004

Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science:

Volume 23 – Poland: Libraries and Information Centers in to Printers and Printing

Allen Kent, Harold Lancour, Jay E. Daily 1978

New Advent: The Catholic Encyclopedia

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07090a.htm

The Bible: New King James Version