PC: KSB

The way of peace is a way of life

Basic principle of Anabaptist belief #10: Peace modeled by the Prince of Peace.

Anabaptists believe that the peace position is neither optional, marginal, nor related mainly to the military. On the basis of Scripture, Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships. We see peace and reconciliation—the way of love—as being at the heart of the Christian gospel. God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers. The way of peace is a way of life.

Are you interested in practical theology, putting your faith in action, and experiencing the overflow of the Holy Spirit? Today we’re discussing radical peace from an Anabaptist Christian standpoint, which I recently discovered, resonated with, and found to be incredibly beautiful. Welcome! Let’s dive in together.

2017 Rally on WRD, PC:KSB

PC: KSB

Peace isn’t shallow or complacent. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, suffered literal, bloody death for the sake of reconciliation, so that we sinful humans might live at peace with the one and only righteous God, here and for eternity. Our souls can rest because we don’t have to worry about our status with God anymore. Instead, we are now commanded to do as has been done unto us. This ministry of reconciliation is powerful and mandated for all Christians, or “mini-Christs.” Anabaptists believe that the peace position is not optional, not marginal, and not related mainly to the military.

This peace, a result of having God’s Spirit dwelling in us, also extends from our spiritual life into the physical world we live in each day. Peace seeks justice, harmony, the wellbeing of others, particularly those who are not physically or societally “well.” (The sick don’t need a doctor, after all.) And it does this without violence; it loves instead of hating or taking revenge. Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships.

Isn’t that beautiful? Here we have Christians – and not only individuals but also on a structural, organized level – standing up against violence, including violence towards marginalized people. One need only look up their missions work to see that this is true.

To renounce violence in human relationships is to agree that domestic violence is a sin, and to recognize that the physical, verbal, and emotional violence breaks the King of king’s heart. Moreover, rape is a sin, it is never the survivor’s fault, and the intense violation there breaks God’s heart as well as the survivor (usually a woman)’s body and potential place in society.

Gun violence by anyone, gang violence, massacring towns with machetes and drowning the victims, the prolific abuse of power to violate marginalized and poor people – these are sins, and they go directly against the holistic peace or Shalom God intends.

My rapper friend Blackman Bausi (see “The world changers“) always says that peace is love. Amani ni upendo. This means working together towards harmony, against violence, towards lasting solutions. He’s a big proponent of that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his home. And the Anabaptists agree: We see peace and reconciliation – the way of love – as being at the heart of the Christian gospel.

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Blackman Bausi and I in Goma, a few days after recording “Give Me Hope,” a song crying to God for hope as we work for justice and peace. Photo belongs to KSB and Blackman.

Again, this call to peace is not something we can choose to ignore. Not if we’re trying to honor God and walk in step with his Spirit. Turning the other cheek instead of retaliating, standing up for those who cannot fight for their own rights, putting others first, persevering… God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey.

Jesus put his status on the line for people who needed his physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Some responded in kind, with love and dedication, and others left him without so much as a thank you. Jesus put his bodily life on the line for people who spat in his face, tore the flesh off his back, and made him out to be the worst kind of criminal when he was actually offering chance at redemption and reconciliation with their Creator.

And some of his disciples, including contemporary Christians, undergo similar fates. But what kind of faith, hope, or love do we have if we do not live our lives in thankfulness and obedience to the Lord who went through hell to bring us to himself? And there is blessing at the end. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers.

I find that different Christian denominations and faith streams inform each other’s understanding of God and his Kingdom. In this case, the Anabaptists put it well. The way of peace is a way of life.

 

 

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Lawson field, PC: KSB

Confessions of a formerly racist woman

A busload of college students preparing for summer ministries filed into the open room that evening, abandoning the Midwestern winter air. We were entering a space of lament that MLK weekend. Mostly we sat, stood, or bowed in silence, allowing God to heal us from ways we had been sinned against throughout our lives. We let ourselves grieve.

But as we did this, the Holy Spirit showed me something ugly within myself, a way I had sinned against others. It was disgusting and shameful.

I knew God could and had forgiven me, but that didn’t stop my heart from pounding and burning with a pressure that only comes when the Holy Spirit is compelling me to do something. That night as I kneeled on the carpet, God was telling me to publically confess my sin.

I stood up in the silence, shaking.

The roomful of students preparing to share the Gospel in cities across the US, hostels throughout Europe, and countries in the Global South listened as I confessed my sin aloud. I had failed to understand the Gospel I proclaimed, though I did not realize that yet.

I told them I was harboring racial prejudice.

Though not intentional and not directed towards people I knew personally, because I was able see my friends as full humans, I was prejudiced towards black people. I had internalized the belief that they were less intelligent than me, a white person. I was racist.

Four years ago last night, in the dim room at that retreat center, God turned my life around again. I’d been “born again” at age five, when God rescued me from a life stuck in sin and welcomed me into his Kingdom; baptized at ten, which was a marker in my life though not particularly life-changing; and now God was saving me again from a life of racism.

Instead of rejecting me, my peers listened with respect. Some thanked me. And when I returned to campus a few days later, I jumped into a life pursuing racial conciliation.

Through sociological education, relationships with gracious people of color, the love and conversations of the Office of Multicultural Development, events put on by Solidarity, I began to fight my ignorance and racism in order to love others better.

Where I had once been afraid of protests, I joined campus demonstrations combatting racial injustice. I began to use my writing and social influence to teach other white folks about racism, however subtle, unintentional, “innocent,” systemic, or blatant it may have been.

The focus of my life had shifted completely, all thanks to God. He helped me to love my black brothers and sisters. He saved me from the miry bog of ignorance, prejudice, racism and gave me a new song.

As a white person, I still benefit from the systems of racism in the United States. That means I am still racist in a sense. Moreover, I am still ignorant: I have years of racial understanding and conversation to catch up on, and there are things I may never fully understand because I do not experience them.

But that doesn’t stop me from striving to see things from other people’s perspectives, listen to and believe their experiences, research racial justice in order to share knowledge and support communities of color, and generally live my life in a way that esteems my friends and fellow Americans who are a different race or ethnicity than me – and not out of guilt but out of love and a sense of what is right or just.

I say none of this to glorify myself but to celebrate the way God transformed my life, saving me anew, in the hopes that he might open your eyes as well, if they are closed in the way mine were. I am forever grateful to God for this.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.

Blackman Bausi in concert, photo from his Facebook and used with permission

The world changers

I scroll through the staff page of another American missions agency and notice, not surprisingly, that the leadership is almost entirely composed of white men. From talking to some of these people and organizations, I know their intentions to share Jesus’ love are good, but the undervaluing of Christians of color in American missions disappoints me.

The commonly held idea that only white Westerners know the “true Gospel” is also heartbreaking, especially since Christianity was birthed in a region of brown people and is exploding in the Global South today. In fact, let me tell you about a few Congolese men I know.

Baraka. PC: KSB

Baraka, PC: KSB

A former English student of mine, my friend Baraka, told me about his passion for missions the very first time we conversed in the yellow painted room after a class. Quiet and earnest, he shared his heart to see Muslims know Christ Jesus. “I love them. I want to show them God’s Word,” he shared.

Baraka is studying theology in his country. Like many Congolese people, he knows over a handful of languages, including a bit of Arabic that he has learned in order to share the Gospel more effectively. He’s looking for missions agencies even as you read this.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Then there’s my best friend Dieum, whom I met through our church choir in Goma, eastern Congo. His dream is to be a doctor, pastor, and singer who uses his skills around the world and before the throne in Heaven. He is dedicated to seeing the sick healed and is particularly interested in the nervous system. His devotion to his studies is paired with a knack for making others laugh, and the atmosphere transforms when his fingers meet a keyboard.

My mentor-friend Dedi, who began Love of God Ministries under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and with encouragement his family, is perhaps the strongest example I have to give of a Congolese Christian with global impact. He is known in several countries for his faith and ministry, all through the Holy Spirit’s miraculous connections. Although his situation is humble, he has selflessly poured into me, teaching me about prophecy, the Holy Spirit, and faith. His life is wrapped around his ministry, the call God has placed on him.

Feed.bennett.Christ.18.01.15 Blackman1

Blackman Bausi, photo used with permission.

Of course, people do not have to leave their home country to have an impact in God’s kingdom. Blackman Bausi is another man of God working within his country of Congo. He has not gone out to do missions but is using his rap music to transform the lives of local, underprivileged youth through his foundation. He himself was born of rape, but Jesus redeemed his life and gave him a voice to speak for those without one, particularly women and the youth “heroes” he is now reaching. I am privileged to have collaborated with him and to join him in this work now as an international volunteer.

The meeting point of our five lives is Un Jour Nouveau, or Africa New Day, a Congolese organization that strives “to equip, educate, and empower each man, woman, and child in Congo to bring about cultural change, both individually and as part of a community, to enrich and provide opportunities for growth for future generations.” The goal is for change to come from within Congo, and the organization teaches Biblically-based principles of peace and leadership.

UJN also includes a Gospel-loving church. God’s work through UJN is showing incredible fruit, as the school and church have multiplied in recent years. As evidenced above, my friends from there are passionate about sharing the Gospel in their city, country, and around the globe.

And fun-fact: Although this blog post focuses on men of color, UJN was co-founded by a married couple, so one of the leaders is a woman. The principal of their primary school is a female friend of mine, and I know other incredible women in leadership there as well as men. Most of the Congolese people that I know who are interested in or able to pursue missions outside their country are these men, however.

UJN at night, PC: either Dieum or Daniel

UJN at night, summer 2016. It has expanded since I was last there. PC: either Dieum or Daniel

Some Christians go out, some stay put, and all have the opportunity to contribute to the work of God. Black men like these four gentlemen – Congolese men in their early to mid-twenties, dedicated to peace and Jesus’ Gospel though from a country that is torn apart by endless violence – are some of the leading examples of faith, ministry, and missions in my life. God is using them powerfully to impact other Africans, Asians, and North Americans.

God is using people of color, including those from the Global South, to renew the missions field.

PC: KSB

God is faithful: a year-end reminder

Every day is an opportunity to thank the Lord. For his faithfulness to stay with us and to keep his promises and guide us in our call; for his goodness to want our best and warn us of harm, to provide for us, and to bless us with sweet gifts; for family and a hospitable American and Congolese community of faith; and for his love that never leaves even when we stray, we bless the Lord.

2017 was yet another crazy year. I moved multiple times and had the opportunity to travel in and outside of the United States while undergoing significant transitions in life. One of these transitions was graduating college, a huge testament to God’s faithfulness. God saw me through all this and provided incredible old friends to stick with me from college through the distance as well as new ones to love me in my Denver home.

It was also a year of creation, as I began writing for the Denver VOICE in June and released several song collaborations, which you can listen to here:

My favorite blog posts of the year from this site fell in September.

The call God has given me to live in Congo (three years ago as of this coming MLK Day weekend!) and my deep desire to work with refugees remain the same. My goals in this direction do as well, and I hope to make significant progress in 2018. Despite discouraging, disorienting, and downright dreadful circumstances in the second half of this year, I can see God’s goodness. I remember his promises to me.

As the hymn below declares, I know God’s hand will bring me home, even to Congo, by his good grace. He has brought me to where I am now, and he will remain faithful.

 

*Updated on Jan. 02, 2018, to include “Gatherer,” which was released just before the new year.

PC: KSB

Who is my neighbor?

You hear a lot of talk about loving your neighbor, but what does that really mean? Neighbor love can be defined in three ways and about 450 words, so let’s go.

Neighbors are the people that live on your street. Americans in general are pretty bad about knowing the people who live proximate to them. My dad, cognizant of the importance of loving the people in your local community, always made sure he built relationships with these neighbors and served them. I grew up knowing a few neighbors but definitely failed at reaching out to the people across the street and next door once I began renting on my own. That’s something I’m working on in my new location and which comes into the story in my next post.

Then there’s the idea of neighbor that Scripture holds in the story of the Good Samaritan: your neighbor is anyone you come into contact with.

This requires compassion for anyone you meet, regardless of having a pre-established trust. This requires a bit of bravery and stepping outside your comfort zone because you might not like the people you meet – you might even be from conflicting religious or ethnic groups as in the story Jesus told – but still God commands us to love, to give of ourselves and resources, to those neighbors. (And honestly, God doesn’t ask much else of us besides to love.)

Plus, getting to know the people you meet might not be bad! Why fear when you could have a spirit of openness and a vision to see the good in others? You could meet some pretty fantastic people by looking up, and if you hadn’t chanced it, you never would have known them. That’s how I met my collabo and now good friend on the single “Astrogirl,” and you can listen to it to see how that went!

Finally, this concept of loving neighbor applies to loving those you haven’t met but still impact indirectly through how you take care of the earth, stand up against systemic injustice, et cetera.

Even if you don’t immediately see the effects, someone will be impacted by your putting milk jugs and soda cans, which aren’t bio-degradable, into landfills, and it will eventually come back to you too. Even if you aren’t personally impacted by immigration policy, the migrants and refugees who spent years searching for safety and even being promised a home here, are. And even if your biological son wasn’t shot because of his skin color, that son’s family and community are impacted by your choice to stay silent or to speak up against racial injustice.

No person is more deserving of human rights and a safe and healthy home than another. No neighbor deserves less love because of cultural, emotional, or social distance.

2017 Solar Eclipse, PC: KSB

It’s been 500 years since the Reformation, and I’m calling for unity

Today my former evangelical church celebrated 500 years since the Reformation. My alma mater has made a whole semester of it. But even as a Protestant myself, I’m not so sure I want to be celebrating it.

Since moving to Denver (which is why I left my previous church), I’ve befriended a house of Catholic volunteers. A few months ago, I was volunteering alongside one of the folks doing this one year service program, and he invited me to their weekly mass and dinner. Now I’ve become a regular and call myself a friend of the house. I love going each week because it is such a place of peace.

And I’ve learned a lot about Catholicism since I became friends with them a couple months ago. But I realize that this might startle some of my family, so let me give some background.

I grew up with people who had “converted” from Catholicism to Protestantism, or evangelicalism more specifically. They saw and thus I heard of the dark side of the Catholic Church: the extreme focus on works over faith, where doing was all that mattered. To me, it seems like a hopeless task to reach the throne of God, coming from that perspective; just read Romans 3:23, 6:23, and John 3:16). I was taught that Catholics were not Christians, and indeed I knew several that were not.

I grew up in a pretty atheist state, although nominal Catholicism was prevalent as well, likely due to cultural ties and passed-down religion.

But when I went to college, I met Catholics who were Christians. These people believed in Jesus for their salvation. They were people with different traditions, more liturgical blessings instead of the freestyle prayers to which I was accustomed, but they were people who believed that Jesus is the Savior of the world and loved those around them as Jesus did.

Then, in a Social Change sociology class during my senior year, I read documents from both evangelical and Catholic leaders. The Catholic Church is well-organized and unified in its beliefs, whereas there is no one leader of the evangelical church making statements on doctrine. Thus, while is more difficult to define the global “evangelical” viewpoint on any issue, the papal encyclical for example, lays the Catholic stance out.

What I’ve noticed is that the Catholic Church does a lot better job of caring about social justice and for the earth than the evangelical church. It’s understood as a natural part of Christianity, although evangelicals in America generally have a harder time seeing that. I admire and agree with these things, however. I think the evangelical/Protestant church can learn a lot from the Catholic Church in these regards.

The Catholic Church also has a richer understanding of history and a lot more examples of faith since they do not skip the whole period between the early Church and the Reformation. Though all Christians are saints, the Church-ordained saints serve as examples of how to live holy lives. They’re not gods or idols, but they are examples in the faith.

(Now, the Catholic Church can also learn from the Protestant church, and we can both learn from the Orthodox Church as well. The Church is like a mixed media sculpture, and our diversity has the opportunity to strengthen and unify us as we are molded into the image of Christ.)

Because I’m friends with this house of volunteers, I’m now having conversations before dinner and hearing words at mass about Church unity. These Catholics in their twenties and the priests who are preaching have a heart for everyone who calls themselves Christian. As a Protestant Christian, I appreciate and agree with this too. And it is crucial to hear this as many celebrate the Reformation today, since the Reformation stands as a marker of division in Church history.

I’m still learning a lot. I don’t agree with everything Catholic, and I still call myself a Protestant. But I see a lot of shared beliefs in our diverse practices, and I don’t believe that we have to be exactly the same in order to have unity or worship together.

I’m also not ready to say that the Reformation was completely bad. Martin Luther called out some things that needed to be said in that day, such as paying for indulgences to save deceased relatives from their sins. It was a huge money making scam that hurt the poor and corrupted the truth back in the 1500s, and Luther was a prophetic voice in the Church to stop it. For what he did to restore the Gospel truth (that we are saved by grace through faith) and thus care for suffering communities in body and soul, I am grateful.

But I don’t want to glorify division in the church, as I fear is happening particularly at this 500 year marker of the Protestant Reformation. Today, countless Protestants are rejoicing at their Reformation from the Catholic Church, and many Catholics are looking on saying, “Are we not one Church?” Protestant Stanley Hauerwas writes an educated article about the Reformation, disunity, and sin here, which I encourage you to read.

We can have different practices, we can all celebrate truth and grace and the living out of our faith, and there is no getting around the fact that we do have different histories now, but are we not one Church with the same goal of building the Kingdom of God?

DACA, the Wall, and the fall of Jericho

 

I had a revelation about walls the other day, and it seems fitting to share it in light of Trump’s decision to end DACA. I have only grief regarding that decision, but the revelation that I had last week is a bit more hopeful…for some.

Denver skyline at sunset. The city. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Denver skyline at sunset. The city. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

God broke down the walls of Jericho. He can and will break them down the physical and relational walls that Trump is helping to build in the United States, walls that have been going up for over a hundred years. God’s plan is to bring people together to worship Him: all nations, all languages, bowing and worshiping together at his feet. Dividing people by tribe, nation, or language does nothing to serve that purpose.

God also broke down Jericho’s walls without the use of force. His people used the peaceful and persistent method of marching around the city. Racial justice activists and those who stand up for immigrants in the United States follow these methods as well, and although they use only their voices, they are met with opposition and force by those who do not understand their shouts for justice, their pleas for systems and structures to be made right. But God did it for Jericho, and He can do it here.

Human violence is not necessary to accomplish God’s purposes, but faith and faithfulness are. Friends of God, be persistent in walking around the city until the walls fall. In the face of hopelessness, cry out to God and keep walking around the city doing His work.

Jericho is meant to be a metaphor here for bringing people together. A house divided cannot stand, as Jesus said in Matthew 12.

But suppose one wants to look at the story of Jericho literally instead of taking the above point to heart. So be it.

The walls were around Jericho just as this nation is building walls around itself so that newcomers may not enter and those who are not accepted must leave. The United States is Jericho. God used others to destroy the old city of Jericho, decimating everyone but Rahab, the one woman who respected Him, and her household. Hear me: The United States is also in danger of destruction.

We are bringing it upon ourselves.

In the face of this destruction, are you one of the righteous whom God will protect, or are you living in sin, disrespecting God by disrespecting the people He has made?

…People like Latinx and Black Americans who have done nothing but live and work for this country yet are daily suspected of drug dealing or violence because of their darker skin. Shot in the streets without a trial, innocent but perceived as guilty and not given a chance to defend themselves before their breath is ripped from their chests. Men imprisoned, separated from their children, called felons, and stripped of their voting rights for petty crimes. Why? Because Black and Latino men were profiled to begin with, instead of white men. Because there are quotas certain judicial departments must meet, so even police with good intentions may be put in a pinch to fulfill their jobs. Because the laws are inherently racist and very complex. And because Americans themselves are racist and unnecessarily fearful.

…People like undocumented immigrants who barely getting by because they can only land under the table jobs unless they have the right connections, because their other skills and education are not valued more than a paper calling them citizen, because it is easier to cheat and deceive people who do not have the power to fight for themselves if they do not have that magic nine-digit code called a social security number.

…People like Latinx folk who are documented Americans but are told to return to “their country,” told to speak English, or complimented on their English as if being an English speaker is both the original and superior language the United States. (Neither is true; ask a person of indigenous descent.)

…People like war- and famine-fleeing refugees who enter the United States with nothing, are given extremely little help from the government, and work low wage jobs because their credentials may not be recognized or because their English is not yet fluent enough or because they do not have the required education yet do not have the time or finances to pursue that education here. Some refugees recognize this discrimination by name and others do not. Regardless, the inequity exists. I witness it daily.

She could be a Dreamer, I suppose, with the universe before her but the tentacles of this nation's unjust policies stinging and strangling her head. I found her when returning from the Santa Fe art walk in Denver.  PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

She could be a Dreamer, I suppose, with the universe before her but the tentacles of this nation’s unjust policies stinging and strangling her head. I found her when returning from the Santa Fe art walk in Denver. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

I prefer the metaphorical version of Jericho that points to Heaven. It’s more joyful, harmonious, full of hope. But the literal version, which portends the destruction before God destroys the world for its sin and then makes it new again, is just as crucial.

God does not discriminate. In Amos 9:10, He told His chosen nation, “All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us’” (ESV). Yet there is hope of restoration, for forgiveness comes with repentance. (Read 1 John here and consider the story of Nineveh.) God does not change, so this is true for Americans today as well as Israelites and Ninevites of old.

Where do you stand before God and in this nation? Where does your church stand? Your city?