Category Archives: peace

A Coptic light in the Mideast darkness

The Middle East has experienced much darkness during the last years. But a light is drawing attention.

Christians make up between 15-20 percent of the population of Egypt; most are members of the ancient Coptic church. The nation’s leaders talk about all citizens being part of one family, but reality has been otherwise. Muslim demands are often appeased at the Christian minority’s expense.

How should the church respond? Surely they should call for fairness and justice. However, efforts by young Coptic Christians to demonstrate for equal rights after the 2011 Arab Spring were literally crushed under military tanks. Now a different response from the church is having dramatic impact.

On Palm Sunday ISIS suicide bombers attacked two Egyptian churches, killing 44 persons and injuring over 100. At St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the bomber was prevented from entering the sanctuary by a guard, Naseem Faheem. Coptic funeral after ISIS suicide bombing in April 2017So when the bomber detonated, Faheem was the first to die in the blast. A few days later Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, aired an interview of the widow saying “I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’” Adeeb sat in stunned silence, searching for a response. Finally he said, “Egyptian Christians are made of Steel! … How great is this forgiveness you have! If it were my father, I could never say this…” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

Such a word of forgiveness differs radically from the prevailing Middle Eastern culture based on honor and shame, demanding revenge.

Christian forgiveness began to rivet Egypt in 2015 after ISIS executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya and the victim’s families publicly forgave the terrorists. This grace is winning the hearts of the nation. Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt, told a CT reporter that many Egyptians are seeing Christian forgiveness to be exactly what their country needs to “keep Egypt from becoming like Lebanon during its civil war.” Forgiveness, not justice, is the only possible path to peace in Egypt. An insistence on justice can never bring about reconciliation since each side tallies justice differently than the other. What one thinks would even the score, the other would see as a new injustice to be avenged.

Jesus is still the light of the world! And the darker the world, the more brightly we see the light of his way of love and grace even to one’s enemy.

No easy answers on Mennonite police chief

Thursday evening I told Karen, “There was a shooting in Hesston!” She had seen the news too: “And several are dead, and many critically wounded.”

Mass shootings are becoming much too common. But this one felt close to home: Hesston is basically a Mennonite town. The year before we met, Karen lived a few blocks from the factory where the shooting took place. One of the factory owners was our sons’ college dorm residence director; his wife was a friend and co-worker of one of our daughters.

I was also taken aback that there was violence in a Mennonite-owned factory. Wouldn’t a plant with an office full of Mennonites known for working hard at peace-making and whole relationships typically avoid such bloodshed? Even if they would hire ex-cons, like the shooter?

But this part of the story struck me most: the bloodshed was kept from being worse by the Hesston police chief—who has a Mennonite last name and membership in one of the nearby Mennonite churches. He got to the scene fast. And didn’t wait for backup but at great personal risk called the shooter to come out and killed him when he returned fire.

Did that police chief do right? There are no easy answers:

  • The country sheriff and Kansas governor called the chief a hero, stopping many further deaths. Yet he himself, steeped from boyhood with a sense that killing is sin, surely struggles with what he has done. As Kurt Horst, a pastor in Hesston, told a reporter, “We are thankful for the lives he saved, but we grieve for what he had to do to save them and the impact that may have on him.”
  • I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pacifist who joined a plot during WWII to kill Hitler. He believed he was breaking the moral teaching of Jesus. Yet felt he must: to do nothing would let him maintain personal holiness but let great evil fall on many others.
  • It’s clear that God ordains police as “servants” to “bear the sword” against evildoers (Rom. 13:4) to limit violence and greed; without a police presence, society descends into anarchy. Yet Jesus calls his followers to “do good” to evildoers rather than destroy them (Matt. 5:43-45; Luke 6:27-36). Paul and Peter do too (Rom. 12:19-21; 1 Pet. 2:20-23; 3:8-9).
  • Mennonites typically avoid serving as police, knowing they might be called upon to exercise deadly force and unable to see how taking an evildoer’s life would be to “do good” to them, as Jesus instructs. Yet would it be desirable to have a police force or a military with no Christians in the ranks? Yet violence can only stop something; it cannot bring a positive well-being, shalom. Force was not Jesus’ calling—nor is it the calling of us who choose to be marked by the teaching and spirit of Jesus. That calling is to embody God’s gift of grace.

Israel and the Palestinians

I’ll tell you the part of my recent Israel trip that affected me most.

The most enjoyable part was definitely the week volunteering at Nazareth Village, a re-creation of a first century village; Mennonites have helped initiate and lead it.

But the week in Bethlehem—which is in the West Bank, an area which the U.N. set aside for Palestinians—still moves me every time I think of it. I saw the plight of the Palestinians.

The state of Israel is a great steward of the land. When our work group crossed into Palestinian territory, I immediately noticed more litter, and that roads and buildings are more shoddy.

Israel also has security and defense down to a science. They have had to. Their nation was born in war. In 1947, due to the holocaust creating a wave of international sympathy for the Jews to have a homeland, the United Nations decided to give half of Palestine to the Jews. The Palestinians warred against the Jews to try to stop this; when the dust settled, Israel had control of three-quarters of Palestine—all but the West Bank and Gaza.

But superior arms and state-of-the-art security has not brought Israel peace with their neighbors. And it never will, until they balance the need to defend against enemies with the need to love those enemies, as Jesus taught. When interacting with Palestinians, Israel consistently errs on the side showing too much force—because that makes them feel more secure in the short-term. But it makes them less secure in the long-term because it fuels so much deep frustration and anger which can boil up against them at any time. Our work group saw many on going injustices and humiliations inflicted on Palestinians, like the land being taken for Israeli settlements and settler roads in the West Bank, and the 24’ high separation wall snaking hundreds of miles through the West Bank (not on the border). These people are often unable to carry out the functions of daily life, such as driving to work, visiting hospitals, or even tending their own land, without first seeking Israeli approval.

Our group marveled at the patience so many Palestinians show. And join them in praying and working for peace.

The One who sees the whole picture

Many of us sense there is a reality beyond what we can see and touch and measure. We who are people of faith search to know and interact with this spiritual reality.

As we do so, we are often like the blind men who examined the elephant. In the original version of this famous story, an Indian raja or king looks on as one thinks the elephant is like a wall, one like a rope, and so on, depending on where they touch the animal. The story’s moral is quite apt: all of us who are seekers need humility – our experience and our knowledge is so limited. We, as the Apostle says, “see through a glass darkly.”

But nonetheless, just as there indeed was a real elephant and a king who saw the whole picture, so there is a spiritual world and a God who sees all. And I believe that we receive revelation from this realm through the Holy Scriptures.

I do not say this only because I’m a Christian and grew up with such belief. I see clear confirmation that Jesus and the Bible indeed put us in contact with a source of Truth far beyond our limited human reasoning.

Clearly a mark of contact with the King who sees all would be wisdom and clear-sighted understanding of how we should live and instruction that consistently moves us in the way of joy and peace. That is exactly what I see in the teachings of Scripture.

The next three Sundays at Trissels – in the morning sermons and in the evening sessions of our Winter Bible School – we will celebrate the wholeness and health that flows out of God’s Word to those who obey it. We will marvel at the many instances of wisdom seen in the Bible and feast on how our faith helps us fulfill the most-basic hopes and longings of humankind, and makes our world a better place.

Come and hear how our faith helps us:

  • give dignity and respect to every human being we meet;
  • be good neighbors–ones who replace selfishness with caring;
  • inspire bad neighbors to become good; and
  • experience life that is satisfying and personally fulfilling!

Sarah Haines of Purchase

How do we “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)?

A short answer is that we obey Jesus (see Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6:27-36), doing acts of love that surprise the one doing evil, catching them off guard, seizing the initiative.

Like Sarah Haines of Purchase, New York, many years ago:
     One stormy October night Sarah sat in front of her kitchen stove reading her Bible. Just as she closed the Book, she heard a heavy thump on the door and a strange man staggered into her house out of the rain. Before he could say anything Sarah began exclaiming at how wet and chilled he must be. Pulling her rocker before the open oven door, she persuaded him to sit down and warm himself.
     Sarah offered him her husband’s coat. Explaining that it was hanging in the hall closet, even though her husband had died years before, she ran to get it.
     As soon as she left the room, the man sprang to the cupboard, his eyes on the silver tea set. He hesitated as her gentle voice spoke from the hall: “Excuse me, my friend. I forgot that you might be more hungry than uncomfortable from wet clothing. I do not keep the food in that cupboard. But while you’re there, please take down a plate and get yourself a knife and fork in the box below. Would you like some bacon and eggs?”
     He didn’t speak as Sarah prepared a fine meal for him. She even went to the cellar to get some of her fresh quince jelly.
     Before the man left, he confessed to Sarah that he had known she lived alone and had come to steal her silver things. But something about her caused him to change his mind.
     The old lady smiled. “It was Jesus Christ who changed your mind.”

Let that story suggest possibilities in your life this week!

Love as a weapon against a wrong-doer will not always work. But then force carries no guarantee either. And only love is strong enough to change the other from the inside out, to make them want to stop wronging you. Most important for us at Trissels, only love is marked by the teaching and spirit of Jesus.

So foolish there was no word for it

During Lent our Sunday worship is focusing on the “genius of grace” — the divine wisdom that shines in Christ’s mercy and love. There is immense emotional and relational wholeness that comes when we as Christ’s disciples not only receive but also practice this grace.

Not that showing such grace comes naturally. Rather, persons tend to reject as foolish, or even stupid, the self-sacrifice involved in gentleness and meekness and forgiveness. One distinguished psychologist called it “masochism moderately indulged.”

Here is an indication just how counter-intuitive and against our nature this self-giving love is: no human language started out with a word for it.

There were several words for “love” in ancient Greek. When the Old Testament writings (written in Hebrew) and the words of that Jesus taught (he spoke in Aramaic) were translated into the Greek language, none of the existing Greek words captured God’s love. So they took a word, agape, a weak and minor word in classical Greek, and made it the central word in our faith to describe “the self-giving love of God revealed in Jesus Christ which is the motivating power and pattern of Christian living” (New Dictionary of Theology) — a love not based on the other’s worthiness, on what they deserve, but based on a choice to love the other, to do good for them.

Every time the Bible has been translated into a new language, its translators have had to do what the first church did in the Greek: take a word and fill it with new meaning to refer to God’s agape love, the highest love possible — and the deepest, widest, longest (Eph 3:18)!

Yes, there is a genius to grace. So much beyond our wisdom that we human beings could not come up with it. I believe that this unique message of Christian grace and mercy carries the voiceprint of the Spirit of God.

A love like what God shows

Human nature wants a Deity who shows power over enemies. We choose leaders who convince us they can control and shape everything and everyone around them.

The Bible presents another way. Leaders are to be servants of all. The Messiah anointed of God is born in a lowly manger and lets himself be rejected and even crucified. True, one day God will judge the whole universe with power (anything that resists him will be cast out of the new heavens and earth) but in this day of grace God is among us in humility and apparent weakness.

Why? Because God is not content with obedience but wants our love as well — a strong, passionate love that cannot be compelled into being. So God loves us and invites us to return that love and then waits, vulnerable, letting us freely choose, knowing we might choose to spurn him.

Such love is also to be the pattern for our love. The Bible repeatedly calls us as the people of God to show this same vulnerable love (cf. Eph. 5:1-2, Phil. 2:5).

Here is one simple, everyday example of this love. Think of what we say when someone bugs us or stands against us. Do we accuse them and demand that they change? In contrast, love that is like what God shows looks like this:
– Rather than laying bare the other by pointing out their mistakes, wrong motives, etc., we lay bare ourselves by describing what’s going on inside of us (eg. our hurt at the other’s action).
– We say to them what love we will do; we don’t demand that they love.
– We listen when the other wants to talk even if we also want to talk and think that what the other is saying is wrong; we listen until we have communicated our desire to hear them and until we know for sure that what they are saying is wrong.
– We affirm the other rather than drawing attention to our goodness.

Try it! See how this vulnerable love opens the way to healthy conversations and relationships!