Hard Peace

Grace Des Moines PeaceI keep coming back to this idea of a “hard peace.” Maybe it is because I am a hard-headed person that I am dissatisfied with the ways people talk (write) about peace and conflict within the United Methodist Church. There are all these “family” metaphors. We are told to rely on our “unity of spirit” and also there is a kind of playground dialogue which ends, “I am taking my toys and heading home. So there!”

While I often wish I was the kind of person who can say “Look! We are going to end malaria. We are feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Isn’t that good enough? Isn’t that all the proof we need of the Holy Spirit fire igniting this church?” I simply am not.

I don’t think the most important question is how much service work are we doing as a church  but rather, how are we doing that work? Who is being ground down, beaten up, cast aside and left to die in the ditch while we are so focused on ending “poverty;” a concept with which we start to divide people into opposing groups of rich and poor, have and have not, hungry and fed, check-writers and service receivers, fit and broken, able and disabled. We are definitely doing our best to alleviate hunger and disease, but still, there is no peace.

I think we have to work for the harder peace-the peace of justice. It is not a peace that says “Can’t we simply get along?” It is not a peace that says, “Oh, never mind him, that is simply Crazy Uncle Zee.” It is not a peace that says that families are safe, open, affirming, caring, loving, capable, and simply organized places in which to grow, but recognizes that first families are often the places where we learn how to hit, hate, deny, degrade, and destroy.

When Paul tells us we are brothers and sisters in Christ, he is not suggesting that we Christians get along with people the way we relate to our own siblings. In my family that looks like an awful lot of wrestling, name-calling, door-slamming, practical jokes and hand-me-downs. Instead, Paul is telling us we participate in a different kind of family, one where we have to get along with one another the way Christ gets along with us.

And that means we have to work at kindness, gentleness, peacefulness, faithfulness, joyfulness, loveliness, patience, goodness, and self-control. But those fruit are hard to nurture. They are hard to water and they are hard to grow. They don’t come naturally, simply, or easily, and evidence of their existence can be in short supply.

So, I don’t buy it. I don’t think there is a really a way for us to simply ignore our very real disagreements with others while we go about the service work of the church. Because, Christ didn’t really plant us here to provide services for those poor unfortunate souls. Instead, he tried to cultivate the soil of our souls, and he planted the seeds of God’s Mercy and Rightness, and he watered those seeds with Faithfulness, his own belief in us, that out of those souls might grow the Garden of God in the midst of a ground left salted and sere by the warring passions of people estranged from Love.

 

Iowa Storm Response

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With reports of severe weather rolling in every day, I wanted to share this update from Rev. Catie Newman, Disaster Response Coordinator of Iowa. Click these links for a report on the damages in Iowa June 16 and June 18 . For contact information and information on how your faith community can best respond:

Suggested Action Steps for Iowa Response

1. Please pray for everyone affected by the water and flooding! We are expecting more rain and that means more runoff and that means more water everywhere!! Several more towns downstream are at risk if we get much more rain, AND because we are still “underwater” that there is not too much for volunteers to do at this time, we are however getting ready for when we can help.

2. We are collecting Clean-up buckets and clean-up supplies and getting them in place,

3. I anticipate that within the next week to 10 days we will begin needing volunteers to help clean outflooded homes, basements, businesses etc…after that we will have a time where things need to dry out and wait, after that we will need volunteers for longer term and rebuilding work.

4. NOW is the time to start planning when you can come and getting a team together. At this time we will want to have teams led by UMVIM Trained volunteer leaders (and yes!! we can get some trainings in right now!!) please contact Melissa Bracht-Wagner for scheduling(melisa.brachtwagner@yahoo.com)

5. There are UMC congregations close-by that you can contact for housing, please do not plan to stay in the town that you are volunteering in, really no space or useable water is available and we do not want to be a burden on top of the flooding. We would hope that teams will come prepared to be self-sufficient, food, tools, sleeping arrangements. If this interests you, send an email to me (Catie Newman, disaster.response@iaumc.org or johnstruckfarm@wiate.net) with the dates you are looking at and how many people on your team, we will put you in contact with the contact person in the town that needs your help.

6. Right now I need some help moving things around, delivering water and clean-up buckets and supplies and general assistance. I would prefer to have people volunteer with a partner, so that we always have a team. IF you have a vehicle that can pull a trailer (loaded with water, we have the trailer) and have a day to volunteer (in the next 14 days) please let me know 712-899-4067 phone or text, I can offer a church floor for sleeping and a place to shower.

Keep Alert, the weather forecasters are predicting, more and more serious weather systems. This can and will affect all of us.

Be Well

Catie and John Newman
IAUMC Disaster Response Coordinators
disaster.response@iaumc.org
712-899-4067 phone or text

It takes ALL of us to make a difference for EACH of us!

 

Ministry with Fathers

This Father’s Day week, I wanted to highlight ministries of justice and mission whose core was related to the particular experience of fatherhood. I found this article and simply loved the description of how the ministry “Young Dads” came to be. I will draw your attention to the way in which the leaders of this ministry first “listened” to the community. I also want to highlight the role of prayer and Scripture, as well as the engagement of a passionate advocate to help bridge between the church and a community of people who distrusted the church.

This article originally appears among the Reformed Church in America Resources

The Surprising Launch of “Young Dads”

About 10 months after launching Moms in Unity, we began praying about and exploring how to birth a companion ministry for men. Specifically, we felt a pull toward creating a ministry for dads who were not participating as fathers in the lives of their children.

Consistent with our ministry model of listening to the community before launching a ministry, we gathered a small group of dads. But what we learned was not at all what we had expected. The young fathers did not feel comfortable with us church folks. Likely, they did not trust us. Several of them had strong negative opinions about the church. Some of them thought Jesus was a weak man, while others thought he represented white society’s interests. Others did not trust us either because we lacked a “street rep” they respected or because no one they respected vouched for us.

At one point, Joel, a ministry partner, introduced Tony to me. Tony and his wife were friends of Joel and his wife. Tony was a tall brother who, when younger, held a state-wide ranking in basketball. He understood the world of work and was a dad himself. And Tony had a strong love for Jesus. We all shared together about our ministry idea on several occasions. Tony got what the ministry was all about, committed himself to our ministry model, and agreed to champion our desire to make a difference in the lives of fathers.

Together we fleshed out our ministry strategy and adopted Malachi 4:6 as our motivating Scripture: “He [the prophet] shall turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers; or else I [God] will come and strike the land with a curse” (NIV). We named the ministry “Young Dads” and proclaimed, “You cannot be the man you want to be until you are the father you must be!”

Tony went all over town recruiting young dads. He visited the jail, stopped by barber shops, mixed with brothers on the corner, shot hoops with men, and dropped in at coffee houses. Soon he had recruited a group of guys who wanted to hear more and who had an unspoken hunger to be a great dad but lacked someone to lead them through the landmines to the promised land of healthy fatherhood.

Our twice-a-month meetings were focused on answering the questions “How are you living?” and “How are things with you and your child?” We shared pizzas or other food together. Undergirding it all was our profound belief that these dads were image-bearers of God. Most of them did not believe that, so we held on to it for them, making our case for being image-bearers as we built relationships.

Very early on it became clear that each dad’s relationship with the mother or mothers of his child or children had everything to do with his access to his child. If the relationship was stressed and conflicted (and they often were), the dad felt he had little power to do anything. We knew we had to deal with this massive ministry challenge. We could not succeed with our mission if we did not help dads find a way forward.

Tony primarily, and I a little, began meeting with some of the mothers. We either met one-on-one or included the dad. We did not try to heal their relationship per se. We tried to get them to agree that it was better for their child to have a relationship with both parents rather than one. We tried to get them to agree that their child needed to see them supporting each other rather than fighting with or belittling each other.

In some cases, both agreed. For those men, Young Dads meetings became places where they could talk openly, even cry, over the profound and beautiful thing it was to parent a child. But all of them–the dads who developed parenting relationships and those who did not–faced a challenge they had known about all along, and that those of us in ministry discovered had to be reckoned with. Single moms have to assess the men in their lives by how they support her child-rearing efforts both with money and with other kinds of support. A dad who does not measure up faces the combined wrath of the mother and the power of the child-support system to incarcerate.

A Christian who ran a government program for a faith-oriented non-profit clued me on this challenge. His program was designed to coach and equip men who were looking for jobs. All the program participants had recently completed jail sentences for failing to pay child support. The chart below illustrates the issues he described.

We learned that many men who are caught up in these dynamics feel utterly powerless. When we tried to figure out how to deal with this, we could not find another ministry that addressed the system of challenges many dads face. With a systemic approach, we reasoned, we might be successful in helping more dads be the fathers they had to become.

Letters on the chart above show the points at which Young Dads created intervention strategies.

(A) Mom and dad are in conflict. The ministry assisted the mom and dad in resolving enough of their challenges so that their child could benefit from a relationship with both parents. Often the conflict was complicated and confusing. In some cases, the conflict clearly involved issues between the mom and dad. Sometimes it involved their child. Sometimes access to the child was used as a tool to get something else. Often the non-custodial parent felt powerless.

(B) Dad is required to provide money. The ministry needed to help young dads secure work. We did that in two ways: 1) referring them to job development nonprofits and 2) talking directly to employers, which Tony (mostly) and I did. While we did find jobs for some dads, several of them found their own jobs. They wanted to, they needed to, and they saw work as a way to do extra things with their child and as a ticket to being the kind of dad they wanted to be. A few dads worked two or three jobs at a time to achieve that end.

(C) Mom and child support agency are aligned. The ministry periodically would need to advocate with the child support enforcement office and ask that they not send the dad to jail so long as he worked with us. In some instances, the mother was so impressed with the dad’s engagement with their child, she advocated with us on his behalf.

  1. If the dad is not the custodial parent and can provide the mom with adequate funds, he normally can negotiate access to his child.
  2. Generally, the dad remains under a great deal of pressure to pay child support or face jail. This legal matter is often complicated by powerful conflicts with the mom. The dad may resort to going underground, either locally or by leaving for another state.
  3. As the mom and the child support enforcement agency align, the dad often is put under great pressure to pay child support or go to jail. Dad generally exercises one of the following options (4-6).
  4. Dad goes to jail. This often is an ongoing matter. Often, jail time results in court costs and fines–additional financial obligations for the dad. Depending on the jurisdiction, child support arrears may continue to accumulate while he is incarcerated.
  5. Dad goes underground. Some dads drop out of sight when the mom and the child support enforcement agency threaten to incarcerate them.
  6. Dad gets a job and pays support. If the child support averages are not too high and if the mom is open to it, the dad generally can be actively involved in parenting their child.

The goal: Dad gets along with mom and sees their child. Dad and mom negotiate how and when he can be with and actively parent their child.

Terry is one young dad who found fresh reasons for living during his time with Young Dads. He had four children by three mothers. He made peace with all of the mothers and became the father he always wanted to be with his children. Terry valued work and saw it as a critical means of supporting his children and their mothers’ efforts to raise them well. Terry showed the way to other young dads who became convinced that they could not be the men they wanted to be unless they became the fathers they had to be.

Be Reconciled to One Another

"Hands across the divide statues - Derry' reconciliation monument" by FABIO CASADEI  Some rights reserved
“Hands across the divide statues – Derry’ reconciliation monument” by FABIO CASADEI Some rights reserved Creative Commons License

In two separate entries for the definition of the word “reconciliation,” I think I see the seeds of one of the biggest issues facing American Christians today. There is an entry which says that reconciliation is the “restoration of friendly relations,” and the next entry says “reconciliation is the action of making one belief or view compatible with another.”

Interestingly, when looking up the word irreconcilable, I found a similar set of definitions, but in reverse order. The first entry says that irreconcilable indicates “ideas, facts, and beliefs representing findings or points of view that are so different from each other that they cannot be made compatible” while the second entry reads that irreconcilable, when used to describe relationships between people, means “implacably hostile to each other.”

As I read blog articles, eavesdrop on conversations in the diner, and engage in pretty intense one-on-one conversations with people about topics like abortion, contraception, sexuality, gender, war, gun control, foreign aid, environment, labor, or incarceration, what I find is people who have somehow made the two definitions of reconciliation (or irreconcilable) the same.

Yet one definition is a definition of subjects. It is a description of relationships between people: people who have successfully re-established friendliness, and people who cannot and will not decide to get along.

The other definition is a definition of objects. It is a description of relationships between things: ideas, beliefs, and facts. Some ideas can be made compatible with one another: I am a Christian and I am a United Methodist, for example. Other facts cannot be made compatible with one another: hot and cold, for example.

It seems, as I read, listen, argue, converse and engage, that we all too often fuse the two.  “I hold ideas or beliefs that cannot be reconciled (made compatible) with your ideas or beliefs, so that means you and I must be implacably hostile to one another.”  Or, more commonly, “Because you and I cannot find agreement on this issue, one of us has to leave, or both of us have to stop talking about these ideas and beliefs, and not just with one another, but at all.”

This confusion-that the full compatibility of ideas is necessary in order for our relationships to be friendly, for you and I to be reconciled to one another, is not only ridiculous, it is also dangerous.  What’s more, it casts doubt on Christ’s ability to have reconciled the world-because Christ’s primary work of reconciliation was a work of subjects: God with people, people with God, people with people, people with creation, creation with heaven, the living with the dead, men with women, Muslims with Christians, deviant with conformist.

In John Wesley’s sermon The Character of a Methodist he opens with this phrase: “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his [sic] opinions of any sort.” The Methodist is “a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He [sic] is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He [sic] thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His [sic] soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he [sic] so walks as Christ also walked.”

Apostle Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we humans continue to argue the compatibility of ideas, beliefs and facts, I think it is imperative that we Christians live seriously into this other ministry with which we have been entrusted: the ministry of restoring  friendly relationships between all God’s children on this Earth.

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