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The path to peace is not easy, but necessary path to peace is not easy, but necessaryBy César Moya<p><em></em></p><p><em>Aug. 24 marked six months since Russia's most recent invasion of Ukraine.  Wide-scale violence is a blight occurring in many places in our world, yet the ongoing conflict in Ukraine continues to stand out in the news and on the minds of many people in the global north. </em></p><p><em>Anabaptists have a long, storied tradition of refusing to meet violence with violence. Yet, for many Anabaptists in North America who can trace their ancestry to Ukraine and the surrounding areas, seeing imagery of leveled cities with familiar names and families fleeing their home country in a way not unlike their own ancestors had, lent a personal connection to a physically distant conflict.   </em></p><p><em>"</em><a href="/news/4681/How-can-I-be-a-peace-witness-in-time-of-war"><em>How can I be a peace witness in time of war</em></a><em>?" is a question that remains as relevant today as it was on Feb. 24. Anabaptists around the world who live in communities where violence is an everyday reality profess their answers in their daily witnesses. The following article is an example of what that peace witness looks like. </em></p><p><em></em> </p><p></p><p>Violence and weapons have always been a temptation for humanity. Jesus and his disciples confronted this. When Jesus was about to be arrested, some of his disciples encouraged him to use weapons, but he rejected this option (Luke 22:49-51). On another occasion, he invited his disciples not only to reject violence but to love their enemies, not taking revenge on those who hurt them (Matthew 5:43-48). Therefore, following Jesus not only requires a confession of faith but also following him to the cross, which implies an ethic of non-violence.</p><p>The Anabaptists of the 16th century embodied well the ethic of non-violence, despite the persecution and martyrdom to which they were subjected. They considered the gospel of Jesus a gospel of peace, and they believed that there was no indication in the biblical account that Jesus had used violence. They understood that the kingdom of God was a kingdom of peace that opposed the violent kingdoms of this world. Therefore, the community of believers should be builders of peace, rejecting the use of weapons and participation in wars. Hence, they believed the doctrine of <em>just war,</em> proclaimed by Augustine, was not compatible with the peace-making gospel of Jesus, that weapons should become instruments of work and that no one should enlist to make war (Isaiah 2: 2-4).</p><p>In my work as a teacher and researcher at the <a href="">Universidad Reformada</a>, I have visited communities that follow the path of non-violence, non-revenge, the abandonment of weapons and the rejection of war. One of these communities is <em>Tierra Grata,</em> which is located in the mountains on the Colombian Caribbean coast andhas existed for more than five years in one of the so-called peace territories<em> </em>that exist in the country. It is a community made up of former combatants, men and women of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP), who signed the peace agreement with the Colombian government in November 2016, after 50 years of armed conflict.</p><p>From my visits and conversations with their members, I can testify that these communities have not only laid down their weapons and the work of war, but they are now peace builders,<em> </em>working towards reparations with the victims of war, supporting rural communities and mothers who are heads of families, and developing community projects. They have beaten "their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks " (Isaiah 2:4 NRSV). Previously, their knowledge and skills were put at the service of war; now, they are at the service of peace. In the words of one person, "It is a commitment to reconciliation for the coming generation."</p><p>However, for them, staying on the path of peace has not been easy. The government breached several points of the peace agreement, and this, along with the murders of nearly 300 ex-combatants, in different parts of the country, has put their non-violence to the test. The temptation to return to violence and weapons is still latent. Despite this, they have remained firm in their commitment to peace and their desire that war never returns. One of the members of <em>Tierra Grata </em>gave voice to this in song:</p><p><em>Yes, war is the worst, it's the truth,</em></p><p><em>in the fields and the city, crying was heard,</em></p><p><em>for death and terror that produce pain,</em></p><p><em>people could not speak for fear.</em></p><p><em>That's why, lady peace, come here,</em></p><p><em>I open my heart to you, let's talk</em></p><p><em>if you really came to Colombia,</em></p><p><em>It was of the white dove that leaves,</em></p><p><em>My Colombia has really suffered so much,</em></p><p><em>I beg you please stay here</em></p><p><em>so that in Colombia there is freedom,</em></p><p><em>and war, oh my God! don't come back anymore.</em></p><p>In the community of <em>Tierra Grata,</em> the practice of nonviolence is observed, as taught by Jesus and our Anabaptist legacy. Such a practice requires not only goodwill but concrete actions, such as the laying down of arms and a firm commitment not to go to war. They have recognized that force is not the way to achieve change. In addition, the fact that the costs of war, both economically and morally, are much greater than the path of peace. Therefore, they believe that staying in the peace territories and participating in the country's decisions through political participation is a better way.<br></p>
Our strength comes from God strength comes from GodBy Martin Gunawan<p><em>Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease for children in the U.S.<sup>1</sup> In September, we pause to acknowledge Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and offer our prayers and comfort to the families affected by this condition.</em></p><p><em>Pediatric cancer is a whole-family diagnosis. The Gunawans are members of the Mission Network family, and their journey is in our minds and hearts.</em></p><p><em>Martin shares his story in the hope that it may bring others comfort.</em></p><p>My son, Caleb (then age four), had frequent fevers in early February 2017. Doctors originally thought that Caleb had strep throat or a virus that had been prevalent that winter, causing fevers for more than a week. An antibiotic cured the strep throat, but the fevers continued, and Caleb began to experience severe pain in his back. </p><p>Following an X-ray at Goshen (Indiana) Hospital on Feb. 27, Caleb was called back for a computed tomography (CT) scan on his back. A CT scan uses several X-ray images and computer processing to create cross sectional images of the bones, blood vessels and soft tissues.</p><p>The following day, our family learned the source of Caleb's back pain: a tumor in the adrenal gland above his right kidney. The adrenal gland makes steroid hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones help control heart rate, blood pressure and other important body functions. </p><p>After examinations at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana, Caleb was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer that starts in immature nerve cells. The term "neuro" refers to nerves, and "blastoma" refers to a tumor of immature or developing cells.</p><p>During the next six months, he underwent six rounds of chemotherapy treatment at the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center in New York, New York, to stop or slow the growth of the cancer cells.</p><blockquote><h2><span style="color:#009959;"><span style="color:#009959;"><span style="color:#009959;">The journey through pediatric cancer is not fair. We have often missed life's precious celebrations with fam</span><span style="color:#009959;"></span><span style="color:#009959;">ily and friends, like those on Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving and the first day of school.</span></span></span></h2></blockquote><p>In this journey, God has been everything for my wife, me and our three children, even through the hardest news and experiences. I can't explain it, but there is a very tiny peace in my heart and a very small voice that says, "Caleb is going to be OK." </p><p>Caleb was declared to have "no evidence of disease" (NED) in early March 2018. The term NED is often used with<strong> </strong>cancer when there is no physical evidence of the disease upon examination or in imaging tests after treatment. No evidence of disease means the same thing as complete remission or complete response. It does not, however, mean that a cancer is cured.</p><p>The day after Christmas 2018, we learned Caleb had relapsed. A team of doctors found neuroblastoma cells localized on the back of his skull. Caleb had to do more chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. There is no protocol for relapse and treatments are much more intense. </p><blockquote><h2><span style="color:#009959;"><span style="color:#009959;">Joshua 1:9 (NASB) is our stronghold, which has carried us through these past few years: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."</span></span></h2></blockquote><p>Later, he was again declared NED, but he relapsed for the second time in December 2019. From the meta-iodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scans, doctors found a new spot in the skull bone, about an inch below the first relapse spot. Just like the first relapse, there was no protocol to use. It was up to MSK's team of doctors to decide what treatment we would try. Only by the power of God, Caleb continued to defy the odds and respond well to the different treatments.</p><p>In August, Caleb was given an IV for blood work and an MIBG scan to continue monitoring his health. MIBG is a nuclear scan test that uses injected radioactive material and a special scanner to locate or confirm the presence of neuroblastoma. Thank the Lord that Caleb, again, is considered NED. He is scheduled for his fifth neuroblastoma vaccine shot this month. Our prayer is that God will continually use Caleb's life for God's work.<br></p><h4><img src="" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br></h4><h4>"It is only because of God that I can be here, standing in front of you. My strength only comes from God." — Caleb Gunawan, during a worship service at <a href="">College Mennonite Church</a> in Goshen, Indiana.<br></h4><p>Caleb told me, "I wanna be an MRI or MIBG technician because it is so cool that they get to see the inside of your body. I also want to make a MIBG scan, where you can cross your legs, turn your head — where you can move your body!"</p><p>Now, at the age of 10, he has undergone countless procedures, chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation and immunotherapy treatments. </p><p>These past six years, our family has endured some of the worst experiences that a family could have, but we have also found happiness and blessings. Our daughter was born while Caleb was in one of his chemo regimens, and she has been a joy to our family.  We have been able to celebrate many birthdays. And we have known the love and support of God, friends, family, colleagues and strangers. There have been a lot of instances in which, even in the midst of sorrow, God picks us up. </p><blockquote><h2><span style="color:#009959;">Yesterday is in the past, tomorrow is not guaranteed and today is present. Always remember ... "Be strong and courageous! ... for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9 NASB).  </span> </h2></blockquote><p>You can read Caleb's full story and updates here: <a href="">Caleb | CaringBridge</a> and follow on <a href="">Facebook</a><br></p><p><sup> </sup></p><p><sup>1</sup> <a href="">Children's Cancer Research Fund (</a><br></p>
A furry, four-legged test of patience radiates unconditional love furry, four-legged test of patience radiates unconditional loveBy Zachary Headings<p><em>This piece was written for International Dog Day, August 26.</em></p><p>What do you do when your kid doesn't play nice with other kids, yells at random people on the street, and tries to bite delivery people that come to your door? You discipline them, right? Ground them, take away their allowance, give them extra chores and a stern talking to.</p><p>Unfortunately, that doesn't work for dogs. Of course, dogs are much less work than kids. But a stern talking-to typically reinforces bad behavior in dogs. And dogs don't typically get allowances, unless they're paid in the form of treats.</p><p>So, what am I supposed to do when my dog barks at everyone she doesn't know, pulls at the leash, and tries to lunge at people, other dogs, and delivery persons?</p><p>To be clear, our dog Flake (short for Snowflake, though my wife and I don't call her that much), has improved greatly since she came home with us from the small-animal rescue where we found her. Her foster caretaker said that Flake's previous owners had left her at the Elkhart County Animal Shelter overnight, stuck in a cage outside in the pouring rain. </p><p>As we got to know Flake, it became clear that those people were not good to her. After a year of living with us, she will sometimes still flinch when I raise my hand. She is still scared of loud noises, and terrified of people walking by our apartment window. It's heartbreaking to see how this wonderful, loving animal can turn hostile in a heartbeat — through no fault of her own.</p><p>We've been working with Flake on all of this, and she has gotten better. She can meet and acclimate to new people (after barking at them for a solid half-hour). She plays well with my in-laws' dog. She can pass people walking on the opposite side of the street without pulling on the leash and barking at them (usually).<br></p><p><img src="" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p><h4>Despite her leash-pulling problems, Flake loves being outside on walks. Photo by Zachary Headings.<br></h4><p>As the adage goes, "Don't pray for patience, God will give it to you through difficulties." This adventure over the past year has been a test of patience. I'm used to outdoor, independent farm dogs. My wife is used to well-adjusted indoor dogs. We were not prepared for the level of trauma that Flake has gone through. And she has tried our patience to the tattered edge.</p><p>We train her, walk her, feed her, love her — we do everything to make sure she's comfortable and enjoying her new life with us. Sometimes it feels like she is stuck in her past, fearful and angry. Some days her training can feel like one step forward, two steps back. But this isn't unique to Flake. Any dog owner has their struggles.</p><p>I think God created dogs to model the unconditional love that God has for us. I've often heard the phrase "we don't deserve dogs." And sometimes I feel that it's true, just as we often don't deserve God's love. But we are loved by both, regardless. Our dogs love us, no matter how many times we take them to the vet, run out of treats, or serve them oil-soaked food because they may have swallowed a fabric pin. God loves us even when we sin, fall, and make mistakes.</p><p>Dogs exemplify God's love for us. They teach us patience. I don't know if they go to heaven, but they should. They're all good dogs.<br></p>
Monthly food packages provide a chance to meet Jesus at the well food packages provide a chance to meet Jesus at the wellBy Rebekah York<p style="text-align:center;"><em>"Here [in the church], I feel at peace, I feel safe, I feel like I have a family."</em></p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>Venezuelan migrant</strong></p><p>March 2020 upended the day-to-day operations of churches worldwide. Teusaquillo Mennonite Church, in Bogotá, Colombia, was no exception. While church meetings and <em>Momento por la Paz (</em>Moment for Peace), the church's ministry with migrants and displaced peoples, came to a jolting halt that month, the church's <em>Comité de Justicia y Paz (</em>Justice and Peace Committee, JPC) recognized the need for daily bread had not disappeared. Rather, it became even more urgent. </p><p>Many Colombians and Venezuelans make their livelihoods through informal economies: street vending, day laboring, and working other unofficial jobs that bring in a daily salary to meet basic needs. In the sudden absence of crowded streets and busy markets, and with the onset of lockdowns and quarantines, the demands for such basic necessities began to multiply exponentially.</p><p>Everyone in Colombia experienced a drastic change when the first lockdowns began. In response, through the leadership of Sandra Sanchez and Ian Horne, the JPC developed a comprehensive food packaging project with support from Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Mission Network, several churches in the United Kingdom, and the local food bank. For those who make up this committee, an integral part of the project is not only the monthly food packages, but also the spiritual food that is shared.</p><p>Despite the quarantines and the different phases of the pandemic here in Colombia, the project has been able to support many people, including over 60 Venezuelan families each year for the past two years. Thanks to vaccines and various mitigation efforts, life has turned into a post-quarantine reality. The local church is now able to offer discipleship classes, in which Venezuelan families hear the Word of God and are nurtured in their faith. </p><p>The crisis in Venezuela is overwhelming: Many who analyze current events have estimated nearly six million Venezuelans have left the country of their birth. Colombia, Venezuela's western neighbor, has received almost two million people.  </p><p>The cumulative effect of several concurrent crises is just one reason why the JPC's project continues, with food distribution and spaces for spiritual growth to families in critical situations. Each individual has their own story. In an act of solidarity, committee members listen to these stories, support the people spiritually, and learn about their dreams, which often center on the future they have imagined for their children. </p><p>"There are better possibilities here [in Colombia] for them [the children]," one individual said. "[In Venezuela], the universities have closed and the professors left." Another recounted, "There is an economic crisis [in Venezuela]; there is no food [and] it is a very different situation. There is a lot of persecution there." </p><p>Under no illusions that leaving their home country will be easy, many people weigh the odds, and then begin the long walk toward the border. One person recalled: "We started walking. … I was responsible for the women and children who accompanied us. <span style="font-size:22.4px;">…</span> We walked in the rain for three days. It was always wet." </p><p>Another person, who had been struggling for decades with a potentially lethal bacterial infection in her leg, which eventually required amputation, remembered, "We went with a bus to Cúcuta ... then we walked to cross the border ... I crossed [the border] with only one leg." She went on to say that this was necessary because she could not find any medication to prevent infection in the wound where her leg was amputated. </p><p>As many have described, the situation is so critical in Venezuela that school and medical systems are not functioning. Much like the woman who crossed the border with one leg so she could buy pain medication and not get caught by "the [pharmacy] mafia," another person stated, "There is no trust in the medical system. [I left because I was] afraid of losing my pregnant wife and baby." Unable to obtain necessities such as food, medical care, and education, many flee with the hope of one day returning and rebuilding their lives in Venezuela.</p><p>After making the unbearable decision to leave loved ones behind, many encounter racism, xenophobia, and face difficulties providing for their families in a new country.  </p><p><img src="" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p><h4>Carmen Chivico, Ian Horne, Bekah York and Sandra Sanchez package food to share primarily with Venezuelans in Bogotá. For the past two years, over 60 families in the local community have recieved these monthly bags of food. Photo by Linda Shelly.<br></h4><p>Packaging monthly bags of food and distributing them to families can feel like an insignificant act, considering ­­these realities. When people's needs dwarf what the church can provide, what the church provides may seem trivial. Yet, when those in the JPC reflect on this ministry for Venezuelan families, a deeper understanding of what it means to be welcomed and to be a neighbor emerges. A helpful framework can be found in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (<a href="">John 4:5-42</a>).</p><p>The encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well is unique, not only because Jesus — a Jewish man — defied religious, cultural and social norms by talking to a Samaritan woman but also because it shows the reciprocal nature of being a neighbor.</p><p>Jesus, tired and parched from his dusty walk, noticed a woman by a well and asked her for a drink of water. He chose to see the woman as a human being of great value. </p><p>The story does not tell us if she gave him water, and perhaps she did not. What she does do, however, is have a conversation with this man. Perhaps she curtly insists that they should not be talking. Yet, at the same time, they both see each other. From their conversation, by dialoguing and sharing a space, the woman encounters Jesus in a new way. More precisely, she finds God in the other, which leads her to a deeper understanding of herself. She begins to see herself in a different light — as someone deeply loved and imbued with dignity.  </p><p>Committee members meet with people, listen to their stories, and distribute packages of food. These actions are a way of humanizing and re-humanizing those stigmatized in society, and a rejection of norms by recognizing their dignity. They also position oneself to see God. Distributing bags of food is a way of saying to each person individually, "I see you. You have a right to life. And as a church, a living witness of the Lord who sees and knows every person, we stand in solidarity with you and say, 'Go in peace. Receive nourishment and know that you are very precious.'"</p><p>Being a neighbor is not just about responding to the needs of those who cross our paths. Being a neighbor means choosing to see others with God's eyes, to take on the role of servant, and to be ready to see God in the "other." Even amidst suffering, God is found in unlikely places and people.<br></p>
Lessons I’ve learned from my cats I’ve learned from my catsBy Cynthia Friesen Coyle<p><em>In observance of International Cat Day (August 8), Cynthia Friesen Coyle offers some reflections on the biblical lessons that her cats have taught her.</em></p><p>We have five cats — plus one who died — and all of our cats have different personalities. What have I learned from my interactions with these felines?<br></p><p><img src="" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p><h4>The Coyle's five cats. Clockwise from top-left: Tiger, Ashley, Luna, Ash and Cherry.<br><br></h4><p><strong>Chloe — the one who died of old age</strong></p><p>Chloe was my husband, James' cat before we got married. So, when James moved in, so did Chloe. While I had cats when I was growing up, I had never had a fully indoor cat before. Chloe was a cuddly cat. But about a year after we got married, she started interacting with me differently. She wanted to be on my lap and hug my shoulder with her front paws, laying her head close to my neck. It was a very marked difference, and she kept it up for a long time. About 1 ½ years later, we discovered we were expecting a child. While I had had a lot of interaction with teens in a youth group I helped lead, I had not had a lot of interactions with babies. As I look back at the cat experience, I often wonder if God used our cat in this creative way to prepare me to hold my own child.  </p><p><strong>Cherry Blossom (Bomb)</strong></p><p>We got Cherry to be our daughter, Rebekah's cat. Cherry has always had a very sweet personality (Blossom) until something happens, and then, she may bite or scratch (Bomb), whether that may be a person or a wall. We were very happy with just one cat, but then, we went on a family service trip to Koinonia Farm in Georgia with Service Opportunities with Our Partners (SOOP). Rebekah fell in love with a little stray kitten, and we ended up bringing her home with us. Boy, did the fireworks fly when Cherry discovered there was another cat in the house! She was no longer queen of the pad, and she let us know. Her personality changed, and she no longer wanted to cuddle with us very much, she would not play with any toy that the other cat played with and did little acts of "revenge," like peeing on the carpet. It took several years, but she finally let it go and came to peace with the other cats and with us. She is back to the sweet personality she had ...  even sweeter than before! Cherry is an example of what happens when we hold on to grudges and resentment and what happens when we can let those things go.</p><p><strong>Ashley</strong></p><p>Ashley is our Southern Koinonia cat. She was a small, round, fluffy kitten when we brought her back home. It was hard to tell her age; we thought she might be around 5-6 months old. I was thinking we had a little time before we needed to think about getting her spayed. Low and behold, she got pregnant about two weeks later! A teen mom! The night she gave birth, Rebekah and I were at a retreat, and James was home alone. He helped Ashley get comfortable with her two little kittens. </p><p>The next day, we discovered Ashley was still in pain and rushed her to the vet. One kitten had failed to come out, and Ashley had to have emergency surgery to save her life. As a result of the surgery, she could not give as much milk as she normally would have been able to. So, I became "mom #2." Every two hours around the clock for about 1 ½ months that summer, I mixed up cat milk formula and fed the kittens with eyedroppers and then gave the kittens to Ashley to clean and nurse. We kept Ashley and the kittens in our bedroom because Cherry did not like Ashley at the time. If I didn't get up in the middle of the night, Ashely would hop onto the bed and tap my face with her paw. </p><p>Despite her young age, Ashley turned out to be a VERY good mother. She was protective of her kittens and moved them whenever she felt danger was around. She stuck beside her kittens and was attentive to their needs. As time went on, Ashley started leaving the room more and even went outside some. But, if we ever put one of the kittens to the window and they meowed, Ashley would bolt into the house and up to our room to see what was needed. Ashley taught her kittens to clean themselves, how to use the litter box and how to hunt. Sometimes, all three of them would be stalking a bird or digging after moles in our backyard. To this day, these three cats check in on each other and have a bond. </p><p><strong>Luna</strong></p><p>We had planned to give Ash and Luna — Ashley's two kittens — away. But they wormed their way into our hearts, so we kept them. They both have a way of sensing when someone in our family is feeling down or just needs some extra attention — especially Luna. She will lay down with us on the bed, snuggling up as close as possible and fall asleep. It is like love and acceptance all wrapped in one. James has felt a special bond with Luna because of this.</p><p>Luna is also a very protective cat and wants to make sure we are all accounted for. If she is outside when we start to go for a walk, she will start to follow us. On several occasions, we were about 3 blocks from home only to hear a meow and turn around to see Luna. She will not turn back home unless we do, and then, she trots beside us all the way back home. </p><p><strong>Ash</strong></p><p>Ash is our talkative cat. He makes his desires known by meowing very loudly and looking at you directly in the eye. If he wants to go outside, he will meow at you by the door. If he wants to come in, he will meow loudly until you let him in — even if that is in the middle of the night. He reminds me of the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-18). Ash persists until his need is met — even when the lights are out, and the door is closed. </p><p><strong>Tiger</strong></p><p>Tiger was the last to join our family. We never got Cherry spayed, because Rebekah wanted Cherry to have kittens someday. For four years, Cherry went into heat very regularly, but no kittens. Then, half a year after Ashley had kittens, Cherry got pregnant! She ended up having 4 kittens under Rebekah's bed. Unlike Ashley, Cherry was not a very good parent. She was disinterested in her kittens and did the bare minimum. One kitten died. If Cherry felt danger was around, she would run, leaving her kittens behind, and we would have to move the kittens to Cherry. The moment 6 weeks came around, she was done with the whole mom thing and wouldn't let the kittens nurse anymore. We could only find homes for two of the kittens, so Tiger stayed on with us. <br></p><p>Tiger is our biggest cat and has been our most inquisitive. He learned how to open the drawers in the bathroom and fish out Q-tips to play with. He can open doors that are mostly closed. He was the first one to realize that if he scratched on our bedroom door at night, we might wake up and take action. For the longest time, he slept right outside Rebekah's door at night or on her bed. His presence was a comfort to her.    </p><p>Our cats go in and out of our house all day. They play hard. But they also rest. Sometimes we look around the living room and every comfy surface has a cat sleeping on it in the middle of the day. They remind us of the need for balance in our own lives. </p><p>We have felt blessed in so many ways by our cats. They bring us companionship and constant entertainment. They also bring a peaceful presence to our house. <br></p>
Tension is essential for life is essential for lifeBy Naomi Tice<p><em>This blog has been adapted from the first sermon that Naomi Tice preached in German for the Bammental Mennonite Church in Germany, "</em>Leben mit Spannung" ("<em>Life with Tension"). Read the entire sermon in <a href="">English</a> or in <a href="">German</a>.</em></p><p>Whether we like it or not, tension is part of everyday life. Sometimes, tension is good, pushing us to step outside of our comfort zones. But tension can also be destructive, causing so much stress that we struggle to breathe or find it impossible to make simple decisions. Tension stretches us. But it can sometimes cause us to snap.</p><p>For more than two years, COVID-19 has increased the tension in our lives. Not only do people deal with tension differently, but due to an ever-evolving virus, guidelines are constantly shifting to address the particularities of each new variant. This tension creates awkwardness as disciples of Jesus try to gather for fellowship. But this is nothing new.  </p><p>Imagine that you've been invited to a friend's house for a holiday meal. You're sitting around the table, engaging in conversation and enjoying good food. Many of the guests are subversive people who threaten the status quo, so coming here has been risky. But, by some unspoken agreement, everyone is purposely ignoring this elephant in the room. </p><p>Suddenly, a woman comes in and crawls under the table! She starts crying, soaking the feet of one the guests with her tears. Then, she pulls some pins out of her hair, so that her long locks flow freely. She uses her hair to dry the guest's feet! If the awkwardness of the situation isn't enough, the shameless woman opens a jar of perfumed oil and starts massaging the guest's feet. The smell of the perfume overwhelms all the food odors in the room, and the atmosphere becomes tense and uncertain. The host and all the guests have lost control!</p><p>You feel embarrassed for the guest who is receiving such indecent attention. Though, truth be told, he seems calm. After what seems like an eternity of watching this unusual encounter, you can't handle the awkwardness anymore. </p><p>"Enough already," you shout! "Why are you doing this? Why do we need to witness this intimacy? And, woman, why are you wasting your money on such costly oil? Your money could be put to so many other good uses."</p><p>Unfortunately, your efforts to bring an end to the awkwardness seem to have created even more tension. You feel the heat rise to your cheeks. The guest calmly explains that this woman has not wasted her money. In fact, she was really doing him a favor, because, although God always calls us to fight against poverty and injustice in the world, the guest's presence is a moment to be cherished. </p><p>Now it's not only you who is embarrassed and confused, the tension in the room has increased exponentially. Why, oh why, did you open your mouth? If only you could have dealt with the awkward display of affection in silence!</p><p>The story presented to us in John 12:1-8 is not just about a happy dinner party that became uncomfortable. It is also about an extravagant display of love and gratitude among a group of people willing to come together, despite the risks. It takes place after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the Jewish authorities, at this point, were more than fed up with Jesus and Lazarus, who had been turning the world upside-down.</p><p>Jesus could have chosen to not accept the dinner invitation and stayed away from Bethany until things calmed down. But he didn't. Surely, some of his disciples pushed back when Jesus decided to travel towards Bethany again.  </p><p>And because Jesus takes the risk, Mary also risks displaying her love and gratitude for him in an extravagant way. Remember that Jesus raised her brother from the dead! </p><p>When Judas makes the remarks intended to restore normalcy to the dinner party, is he a bit jealous? The writer of the Gospel of John describes Judas as a thief — someone interested in lining his own pockets from the communal purse. But Mary's actions threaten Judas' way of life. Is Mary's extravagance a tipping point for Judas? Is this when Judas realizes that Jesus isn't going to help him attain the power he is striving for? </p><p>In the following chapter, John 13, Judas strikes out on his own, leaving Jesus and the other disciples. He turns to the Jewish leaders to gain their approval and earn the reward money promised for the capture of Jesus.</p><p>Many of us would have probably spoken out against Mary's actions, like Judas did. We, Mennonites, tend to take a — humble — pride in being thrifty people. We would never spend a fortune on name-brand perfume when we could buy something similar for a tenth of the price. Think of all the good we could have done with the money we saved! </p><p>The Bible doesn't fill us in on how the tensions at the Bethany dinner party resolved. But some of the takeaways are:</p><ul><li>There is a tension between thrift and extravagance. Thrift for charitable purposes doesn't always take precedence over extravagant generosity.</li><li>Often things don't go as planned. Tension and awkward situations result. We are invited to sit with tension in emotionally charged times to allow ourselves to be stretched, so that we can grow. The disciples live in the tension that followed the Bethany banquet for seven chapters — one-third of the Gospel of John — before Jesus' resurrection resolves it.<br><br></li></ul><p>In our day-to-day lives and in our congregations, we are constantly adapting to new guidelines, whether it be COVID-19-related, or whether it is changing church polity. Some people embrace the new reality. Some are wary of it. </p><p>Let us have grace with one another through the changes that lie ahead. <br></p>



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