Sermon on The Parable of the steward of injustice (Luke 16:1-13)

(This is a sermon I wrote for a class on Economic Justice in 2017. I never got to preach it, but since it was the lectionary text for this week, I thought I’d post it)

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The Big Short tells the story of four groups of stock market traders who predict the credit and housing bubble of the mid-2000s, and decide to bet on it. The banks are happy to bet against them since nobody expects the housing market to collapse. The story documents the collective blindness of the banking community to see the housing bubble right before their eyes. As the inevitable crash comes, Wall Street banks manipulate the market just long enough to convince the political elite in Washington that they are too big to fail The banks are bailed out and the losses are paid for by the tax-payers. The renegade stock market traders finally win their bets; they get rich, but realize that what seemed like a game has deadly consequences.

As his colleagues celebrate their victory, their veteran banker partner scolds them: “If we’re right, people lose homes, people lose jobs, people lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here’s a number: every one percent unemployment goes up 40,000 people die. Did you know that? Just don’t fucking dance.”

The economy is a life-and-death matter. It’s strange that we talk about it so little in churches. As people of the resurrection, life-and-death matters are what we are all about.

The Big Short is a contemporary retelling of Luke 16:1-13, probably the least preached on of Jesus’ parables: A steward is accused of wasting his bosses money. Instead of owning up to his mistakes, he manipulates the records to ingratiate himself with the debtors. And he gets away with it! His boss even commends the steward for acting smart, and Jesus presents him as an example for the “children of the light” to at least partially imitate.

We don’t hear this story often, because it goes against so many of our assumptions of what it means to be a good Christian. We often mistake being a good Christian with being a law-abiding citizen, a good consumer, and a “productive member of society.” It is this lens that leads us to uncritically embrace stewardship. Aren’t we supposed to be stewards? Stewards of creation, stewards of our gifts and talents? But like with so many other things, it matters who you’re stewarding for. Joseph was a great steward for Pharao, and ended up enslaving all of Egypt.

What we need is not stewardship or professional ethics derived from some internal logic of business separate from the good news that the economy of heaven is near. What we need is a professing ethic. An ethic that professes, that proclaims and embodies the claim that Jesus is Lord. A professing ethic throws a monkey-wrench into business as usual and prefigures the inbreaking economy of heaven. It lives as if it were already fully here, in all aspects of life – the mall, the neighborhood and the workplace.

Such a professing ethic is foolishness to Wall Street. And not just there. Many religious folk today are “lovers of money,” just like in Jesus’ day. Prosperity gospel might be heresy, but it’s growing globally. It makes sense; investing in the economy of heaven might get us fired. The steward in the parable is acutely aware of this and asks: “What shall I do?”

Can something be done? Isn’t this the way things are and always will be? Margaret Thatcher famously said: “there is no alternative to capitalism.” Her statement has since been parroted endlessly by politicians, economists and news-pundits of all political stripes. According to the neoliberal consensus, scarcity and competition are just the way things are; all we can hope for is for the wealth to trickle down.

While Thatcher thought it was a good thing, looking at where it has gotten us, we are left with the stewards question. Job insecurity is a reality even for those who are never accused of squandering their master’s money. The economy might have recovered, meaning the GDP is up again, but looking around Elkhart it is clear that the people have not. Even so called white-collar jobs, especially in the academia are increasingly short-term and with less and less security. “Precarity,” is the word invented to describe this permanent state of insecurity even if at the moment one might be relatively well off. I at least resonate strongly with the steward’s honest reflection: “I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg.”

Recognizing that business as usual cannot but produce further crises, we feel compelled to give an account of ourselves. Realizing that the way we measure wealth is unable to take environmental costs into account and is predicated on exploiting the earth, robbing us of topsoil, and poisoning the water which is our life, we feel compelled to give an account of ourselves.

All wealth is unjust mammon. I mean this not in some abstract sense, but historically. It is not possible to separate our own wealth from the sins of our ancestors, the theft of land from the First Nations of this place and the exploitation of human bodies in slavery to name just two examples. We can also barely separate it from the continued sins of this country, whose military might ensures the ongoing payment of imperial tribute in the form of debts, while the US never needs to repay its debts. All these inconvenient truths compel us to give an account of ourselves and lead us to ask: What shall I do?

To understand this parable, we need to listen to it from the perspective of the debtors. From the perspectives of small subsistence farmers who have struggled and failed to meet the crushing demand of imperial taxation and have slowly descended into a debt trap. From the perspective of sub-prime mortgage owners who have been tricked into getting a house way beyond their means and are now unable to make their payments and face homelessness. From the perspective of the people of Greece and other countries crippled by debts that were pushed on them by the International Monetary Fund and other global powers.

From their perspective, the steward’s actions is an enactment of jubilee. No matter his intentions, no matter whether it was legal, the effect of the steward’s action is a life-saving debt-release for those whose lives are crippled by debt.

This is what Jesus is recommending him for. He might have acted selfishly, to secure his future. He might have robbed his master of significant revenue in the process. It might not be a tactic that can be repeated. In telling this story, Jesus does not seem interested in these questions. Jesus praises the steward for using his smarts to bet against the bubble, to exploit the loopholes to initiate a rogue debt release.

And really, this should not surprise us. After all, in his first sermon in Luke 4, Jesus himself proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor, to release the captives. He practices economic redistribution between tax collectors and their debtors in parties and those who follow him “leave everything behind”, which in Greek is the same word as forgiving sins or canceling debts. Throughout his ministry, Jesus re-initiates and adapts the ancient Hebrew tradition of what Ched Myers calls “Sabbath economics”, an economic system based on the abundance of God’s creation, human self-limitation, sharing and recurring redistribution of wealth to ensure neither extreme poverty nor extreme wealth become hereditary.

Sabbath economics is another way of talking about the “economy of heaven”, the term I have been using to provoke our imagination to relate our ideas of God’s reign into the economy. Such provoking and new metaphors are crucial to help us break free from the lie that there is no alternative.

Many people of faith and no faith around the world are struggling for another kind of globalization, claiming that “another world is possible”. As Christians, we can participate in these struggles, not only out of defiant hope that another world is possible, but the Easter faith that it is not only possible but real and has already begun.

Easter faith frees us to make choices that seem foolish to Wall Street, but might actually resonate with the demands of those on main street. With Easter eyes we realize that the only thing to do with unjust mammon is to use it to build relationships of mutuality.

Before going into practical ideas, I wonder about Jesus‘ comment that the children of this age are more shrewd the children of the light. What does it mean to be shrewd?
One thing it might mean is economic literacy – understanding how the economy actually works, beyond the obfuscating words used by economists trying to make their field sound arcane and incomprehensible to the average citizen. We need to understand how the political economy works and how our actions impact them. Too many well-intentioned projects by white middle-class churches end up supporting the gentrification of neighborhoods leading to long-term low-income residents being displaced. To practice economic discipleship we need to be able understand how the economy works without having our imagination held captive by the dominant models.

One simple step would be to divest from projects that clearly fund and profit of the suicide economics of continued reliance on fossil fuels. If the liberated money is invested into mutual aid funds or banks doing micro-financing in this country and internationally, it’s another step closer to the “economy of heaven”.
Another way would be to love our neighbors by investing into our neighborhoods. Supporting local businesses and making sure that local housing does not become gentrified are ways to make friends with unjust mammon. Sharing a church building with an economically weaker congregation is another way. 
Money is pooled to pay members‘ outstanding debt and replace it with zero-interest loans or helping them to default on their debt, the . This could be coupled effectively with teaching financial literacy on a household and political economy level.
None of the examples above include renouncing any wealth, only making it accessible to others. Recognizing the profound inequalities and historic depth of economic injustice should lead us to ask deeper questions, though.

What could making friends with unjust mammon look like?
One thing I wrestle with is inheritance in the context of structural injustice. It seems like sabbath economics did envision the passing of land or the basic means of production to be passed along within a family. But what if your families wealth was built on colonialism and slavery? Jubilee would ensure any surplus would be regularly redistributed in the community, with a preferential option for the poor. How can we encourage elders to make reparations a part of what we are passing on to the next generation? How can we as young people expand our imagination to renounce unjust wealth, while honoring our elders life work?

Finally, I think the cursing banker got one thing wrong: In light of the resurrection dancing can be an appropriate reaction to crisis. Over and over, the New Testament exhorts us to be joyful. This does not mean to ignore the suffering that comes with the coming crises. It means understanding that these are the birth pains of the new creation. As we bandage those wounded by the exploitation and build a new world within the shell of the old, we also celebrate the end of the suicide economy. And in celebrating with debtors and tax collectors, bankers and the foreclosed we might begin to imagine what the economy of heaven is like. And we can dance if we want to.

Predigt, Lk 10,1-9, Weiherhof 17.11.2013

Gehet hin und lernet“ ist das Motto von „Christliche Dienste“, der Organisation, die mich zu „Zelt der Völker“ einem christlich-palästinensischen Bauernhof zwischen Bethlehem und Hebron im von Israel besetzten Westjordanland entsendet hat.

Gehet hin und lernet, was das heißt: ‚Barmherzigkeit will ich, nicht Opfer’“ so spricht Jesus im Matthäusevangelium zu den Pharisäern, die ihn kritisieren, weil er mit Zöllnern, also mit Kollaborateuren der römischen Besatzungsmacht, zusammen isst. Ist Jesus die brutale Besatzung seiner Heimat etwa egal, dass er sich mit solchen Leuten einlässt? Schließlich wäre diese Besatzung ohne die Zöllner als Einnehmer der Steuern unmöglich.

Barmherzigkeit will ich nicht Opfer“ hier zitiert Jesus den Propheten Hosea, der ein paar Hundert Jahre früher gegen Ausbeutung gepredigt hatte. Es hört sich also nicht so an. Barmherzigkeit, auf hebräisch Chesed, könnte man auch mit Solidarität übersetzen. Es geht also darum, was Solidarität bedeutet, und mit wem man solidarisch sein soll.

Womit wir beim Motto der diesjährigen Friedensdekade wären: „solidarisch?“

Die Pharisäer meinten, sie könnten allein aus ihrer Auslegung der heiligen Schriften, also in der Theologie erkennen, was Solidarität heißt. Jesus legt auch die heiligen Schriften aus, aber er sagt auch, dass wir sie nur richtig auslegen, wenn wir uns in den Kontext der Anderen hineinbegeben, „in ihren Schuhen laufen“.

So hat er erkannt, dass auch die Zöllner vom römischen Imperium ausgebeutet werden und dass sie nur dadurch aufhören können selbst auszubeuten, wenn sie in die Gemeinschaft aufgenommen werden.

Auch ich wollte lernen, was das heißt: „Solidarität will ich, nicht Opfer“ und bin nach Palästina gegangen. Dabei hat mich lange Zeit der Text für heute aus Lukas 10 beschäftigt, mit dem ich über Solidarität nachgedacht habe.

Die Ernte zwar ist groß, aber die Arbeiter sind wenige“

Die Zeit der Ernte ist eine freudige Zeit: Endlich kann man die Früchte seiner Arbeit genießen. Beim Ernten machten wir oft Pausen und aßen selbst kiloweise die süßesten und saftigsten Trauben, die ich je aß. Bei Zelt der Völker kamen zur Ernte immer noch mehr internationale Freiwillige, um zu helfen. So wurde die Bitte um viele Arbeiter meist erfüllt.

Aber die Ernte ist auch eine Zeit großer Unsicherheit. Haben wir genug Helfer? Hält das Wetter? Und in Palästina auch immer die Frage: Werden wir überhaupt ernten dürfen. Oder hält das Militär uns unter Berufung auf Sicherheitsgründe davon ab. Für viele palästinensische Bauern ist das bittere Wirklichkeit.

Gerade in diesen Unsicherheiten heißt Solidarität nicht nur zu helfen, sondern auch da zu sein, damit man da ist, wenn der richtige Zeitpunkt gekommen ist.

Im Arabischen gibt es ein Sprichwort: „bukra fil mishmish“ das heißt wörtlich: „Morgen gibt es Aprikosen.“ Es wird aber in dem Sinn von: „Niemals“ gebraucht.

Zum Beispiel wenn ich Palästinenser fragte: „Wann wird die Besatzung enden?“ „Bukra fil mishmish.“


Es ist kaum vorhersehbar, wann die Aprikosen reif sind, und dann kann man sie nur ein paar Tage ernten, sonst sind sie matschig und nicht mehr transportabel. Deshalb geht die Ernte oft verloren.

Bukra fil mishmish.“ – Es wäre schön, aber es wird nicht passieren.

Und dennoch: Die Aprikosen werden reif, jedes Jahr. Die Frage ist, erkennen wir die Zeichen der Zeit und passen den richtigen Moment, den Kairos, ab, wenn die Aprikosen reif sind? Und habe ich dann genügend Arbeiter?

Solidarität heißt, nicht müde werden, die Hoffnung nicht verlieren und den richtigen Augenblick zum Handeln zu erkennen. Aber es heißt auch da zu sein, auch wenn die Zeit noch nicht gekommen ist.

Denn sonst verschlafen wir die Geschichte, wie die Jünger im Garten Getsemane, als ihr Freund Jesus ihren Beistand am meisten gebraucht hätte.

Manche palästinensischen Christen glauben, der entscheidende Moment, die Besatzung zu beenden ist schon gekommen. Sie haben das Kairos-Palästina-Dokument geschrieben, mit dem sie die weltweite Kirche dazu auffordern, sich mit ihnen in ihrem Leiden zu solidarisieren.

Nehmen wir ihre Herausforderung an, oder verschlafen wir die Geschichte um dann an Volkstrauertagen wie heute den Opfern unserer Untätigkeit zu gedenken?

Geht hin! Siehe, ich sende euch wie Lämmer unter die Wölfe. Tragt weder Börse, noch Tasche, noch Sandalen und grüßt niemandem auf dem Weg!“

Ganz ohne Gepäck bin ich nicht ausgereist und gerade auf festes Schuhwerk hat Daoud, mein Chef großen Wert gelegt. Aber ich habe mich oft wie ein Schaf unter Wölfen gefühlt. Wenn ich zum Beispiel auf einer Demonstration mit Palästinensern und israelischen Friedensaktivisten von israelischen Soldaten in meinem Alter mit Tränengas beschossen wurde. Wenn man vor Tränengas kaum atmen kann, und dann die Soldaten in ihren Uniformen sieht, ist es schwer in ihnen etwas anderes als Wölfe zu sehen.

Einmal nahm mich beim Trampen eine Siedlerin mit, die mir ausführlich erzählte, dass sie doch bedroht sei, von den terroristischen Palästinensern, deswegen gebe es doch die Mauer und die Soldaten. Meine naiven Fragen á la „Aber warum wohnen sie dann auf dieser Seite der Mauer?“ brachten sie nicht wirklich zum Nachdenken.

Niemand glaubt selbst ein Wolf zu sein, sondern immer nur ein Lamm.

Aber auch die Versuchung den Anderen nur als Wolf zu sehen, ist groß. Dank Gottes Gnade konnte ich immer wieder Menschen treffen, die aus ihren Rollen fielen.

Zum Beispiel Sharon, ein Siedler, der in der Begegnung mit Zelt der Völker beschloss, dass er immer noch auf dem Land leben will, aber nicht als Siedler, und dann teilweise bei uns wohnte und für uns Komposttoiletten baute.

Die wehrlose, menschliche Begegnung hatte sein Herz verändert und er konnte im Anderen den Menschen entdecken. Und nicht nur das, er half uns und kämpft zusammen mit Palästinensern gewaltfrei gegen die Besatzung und für eine gemeinsame Zukunft, die im Buch Jesaja mit den Worten beschrieben wird: „Wolf und Lamm werden zusammen weiden; und der Löwe wird Stroh fressen wie das Rind.“

Solidarität heißt also wehrlos an der Seite der Unterdrückten zu stehen, und so den Unterdrückern ihre eigene Menschlichkeit vor Augen zu führen.

In welches Haus ihr aber eintretet, sprecht zuerst: Friede diesem Haus! Und wenn dort ein Sohn des Friedens wohnt, wird euer Friede auf ihm ruhen; wenn aber nicht, so wird er zu euch zurückkehren. In diesem Haus aber bleibt, und eßt und trinkt, was sie haben! Denn der Arbeiter ist seines Lohnes wert. Geht nicht au dem Haus in ein anderes! Und ich welche Stadt ihr kommt, und sie nehmen euch auf, da eßt, was euch vorgesetzt wird.“

Salaam aleikum“ ist der typisch Gruß unter Arabern, so wie Juden sich mit Schalom begrüßen. Aber wie schon Jeremia sagt: „Ihr sagt: Friede, Friede, aber es ist kein Friede.“

Wenn man zu einer Familie geht, deren Haus abgerissen wurde, weil sie dafür keine Baugenehmigung erhalten hatten, wie sage ich da: Friede deinem Haus?

Und doch habe ich gerade von Menschen die am meisten unter der Gewalt von israelischer Armee und Siedler litten die größte Gastfreundschaft erhalten. Und sie grüßten mich mit einem „Salaam“, bei dem ich spürte, dass es keine Floskel war.

Aber es fiel mir schwer, ihre Gastfreundschaft anzunehmen – hatten sie nicht viel zu wenig? Aber war es wirklich diese Sorge, oder vielmehr, dass ich geben wollte und nicht annehmen konnte?

Es dauerte sehr lange, bis ich wirklich verstand, dass Solidarität immer etwas Gegenseitiges ist.

Und heilt die Kranken in der Stadt und sprecht zu ihnen: Das Reich Gottes ist nahe zu euch gekommen.“

In der jüdischen Tradition ist die Aufgabe des Volkes Israel „hatikkun leOlam“ die „Heilung der Welt“. In meiner Arbeit konnte ich ein wenig davon sehen: die Bäume, die wir pflanzten und mühsam bewässerten, heilten das Land, das durch die unter Besatzung noch verschärfte Umweltzerstörung leidet. Und ein paar Mal sagten mir Palästinenser und Israelis, dass es ihnen Mut mache, wenn Menschen aus dem Ausland kommen und sich Zeit nehmen an ihrer Seite, gegen das Unrecht und für einen gerechten Frieden einzutreten.

Aber wie viel öfter verlor ich den Mut. Angesichts der Gewalt, die mir in Checkpoints, Zäunen, Mauern, Helikoptern und den allgegenwärtigen Gewehren begegnete. Und wie oft waren es Palästinenserinnen und Israelis, Christen, Muslime und Juden, die sagten: „Gib nicht auf, denn wir geben auch nicht auf. Weißt du denn nicht? Das Reich Gottes ist uns nahe gekommen?“

Einmal war ich in El Arakib, einem beduinischen Dorf, in der Negevwüste in Israel. Die Beduinen sind Staatsbürger Israels und dienen auch oft in der Armee, aber dennoch ist ihr traditioneller Lebensstil in Gefahr und sie sind massiven Diskriminierungen ausgesetzt. In diesen Tagen will die israelische Regierung einen neuen Anlauf starten, den sogenannten Prawer-Plan durchzuführen, in dem vierzigtausend Beduinen zwangsweise in Städte umgesiedelt werden sollen.

Das ist aber nur der vorläufige Höhepunkt der Diskriminierungen.

Dem Stamm von El Arakib wurden ihre traditionellen Weidegründe weggenommen, darauf pflanzte ein christlicher Fernsehsender einen Wald, da sie glauben durch diese Vertreibung die biblische Verheißung der blühenden Wüste zu erfüllen.

Die Häuser des Dorfes wurden bisher über dreißig Mal abgerissen. Die Bewohner haben sie jedes Mal aus den Trümmern wiederaufgebaut, bis die Polizei auch die Trümmer mitnahm. Jetzt wohnen sie dort in Zelten.

Als wir Aziz, den Sohn des Scheichs fragen warum er noch nicht aufgegeben hat, führt er uns dorthin, wo früher ihre Olivenbäume standen. Die Bäume wurden alle abgeschnitten, doch aus den Stümpfen wachsen wieder neue Triebe. In drei Jahren können sie schon wieder Frucht tragen. „Wenn die Bäume das überleben, wie könnte ich aufgeben und gehen?“

Und so lernte ich, dass solidarisch sein nichts Heldenhaftes ist.

Es misst sich nicht daran, wie viel Tränengas ich eingeatmet habe, oder wie lange ich im Gefängnis war.

Es misst sich daran, ob ich bereit bin, von denen zu lernen, denen ich zuerst nur helfen wollte und von denen ich mir nicht helfen lassen wollte.

Es misst sich daran, ob wir weiter daran glauben, dass die Aprikosen des Friedens morgen reif sein können. Ob wir mit Menschen wie Aziz weiter aus den Trümmern neue Häuser bauen. Und ob wir unsere Identität so begreifen, dass alle dazugehören können.

Nur so kann Solidarität entstehen und dann ist Gottes Reich uns nahe. Amen.

Committing to Memory: A Sermon on Holy Innocents and the 6th Great Extinction

I Introduction: The morning after and Holy Innocents
Merry Christmas! I hope you all had some great Christmas holidays with family and or loved ones, too much food and prolonged naps. I know I did. And I’m glad you came here today even though you could have also slept in or spent that extra time with your family.

But honestly, it’s a little strange to meet here again, very much in a same old, same old fashion. After all, did we not just celebrate the birth of Christ, the coming of Immanuel, God-with-us, the one to make all things new? Yet here we are, barely one week later, and the world feels very much the same: there are still millions of people displaced from their homes in the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war, wars around the world and racialized police violence at home continue to kill people of color with impunity, capitalism continues to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. And human-caused climate change continues to put our very survival at stake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that Christmas didn’t make a difference, or that the incarnation, God taking on flesh and becoming human, doesn’t matter. I believe it’s what matters most in all of history. But there’s also some disappointment. Didn’t we hope for more? Wasn’t there something about “glory to God and peace on earth?” in the angels’ songs? Wasn’t there something about justice rolling down like mighty rivers? Wasn’t that the reason for all the rejoicing and harking?

There is so much anticipation built up during Advent, all the hope for a redeemer and a radical change that it can be hard to wake up the morning after and feeling like not much has changed. So this is a sermon about the morning after.

We just heard Matthew’s story of the holy family’s morning after. Warned by a dream, they leave everything behind to flee from a tyrant whose fear of losing power is so great he orders a massacre of all the children in Jesus’ age – just to make sure he has no contender. And while Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus can escape to Egypt, all the other children still get slaughtered. After years of exile in Egypt, Joseph has another dream and risks returning, only to find that his home is still unsafe, and settling in Nazareth, turning from refugee to an internally displaced person, to use the anachronistic vocabulary of modern international human rights law. It’s a hard story, embarrassing almost. Is this what God came down to Earth for? To become a refugee and remain internally displaced? To cause a massacre of innocent children who did nothing wrong and indeed nothing at all, just happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time?

This story illustrates in the most drastic terms what it means for God to become incarnate—to take on flesh in this broken world that is ruled by the powers. For God to become human means to become vulnerable. For God to become human means to risk having to fly or die. For God to become human means to be powerless to prevent a massacre. This is a hard and on some days disappointing thing. Part of me doesn’t want God to become human but just to take away all the pain and suffering right now, by any means necessary. Instead God became a vulnerable baby and entrusted us with to care for this baby.

We ignore this story and others at our own peril. If we don’t tell the whole story, we easily forget its unsettling parts. And if we forget these parts, it is easy for other stories to take their place, masquerading as biblical truth, when they are indeed antithetical to the biblical witness.

In the context I am in—the US—it is vitally important to remind my own people, white Christians, that Jesus himself was a refugee, because many white Christians cite Romans 13 to give a blank check to the government on immigration. But I know that here at River East, I don’t need to preach a whole sermon on the fact that Jesus was a refugee. I don’t need to remind you that Jesus’ flight to Egypt together with the countless calls throughout the bible to have compassion on the foreigner and the refugee should inform a Christian approach to immigration policies. You already know this, and even more than that, you are practicing what you preach by supporting refugees in your midst and helping people come and live here in safety by sponsoring several refugee families over the years.

II Committing to memory – #SAYTHEIRNAMES

So instead, I want us to take some time to reflect on the fact that the story of the holy family’s flight only frames our reading today. At the center of our text today are dead children. Children who did nothing to deserve to die. Children who would not have died, had Jesus not been born in Bethlehem on Christmas. We need to resist the temptation to try to make this right, by saying for instance that it was necessary so we could be saved, or that it’s ok because they are now in heaven. The massacre of these children is not ok, nothing can make it ok, and a religion that tries to make it ok is worth nothing.

The attempt to make a massacre ok is the logic of “collateral damage.” It is the logic of empire, of a system that weighs people’s lives against comfort, and profit and decides against lives.

Matthew does not use the logic of collateral damage to explain away the massacred children. He records this story when no other historian did, just like so many massacres today go unrecorded. And while Matthew interprets what happened by quoting Jeremiah, he explicitly does NOT say that this happened to fulfill a prophecy. Building on this legacy, the church does not call these children „collateral damage“. Instead we call them “holy innocents” and regard them as the first martyrs. By remembering these children, we commit ourselves to their memory. The lives of these holy innocents matter, they are at the center of our text today, even if we do not know their names. There are so many names we do not know and will never know. So it’s important we commit ourselves to the memory those we do know.

Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin was a 7-year-old girl from Alta Verapaz Department, Guatemala. She came to the US with her father, Nery Caal, fleeing the interlocking forms of violence by colonialism, poverty, gangs, drugs, and ecological destruction in Guatemala, all of which are connected to US policies. When she came to the US, she and her father turned themselves into US Border Patrol and asked to apply for asylum. While in Border Patrol custody, she died from dehydration on Dec 8.

Felipe Gómez Alonzo was an 8-year-old boy from Huehuetenango Department, Guatemala who died in custody of US Border Patrol as well. This Monday was diagnosed with a cold and given Ibuprofen and an antibiotic. In the evening, he began vomiting and was taken back to the hospital for evaluation. He died hours later, early on Christmas Day.

Both children were indigenous, part of the Mayan nation, making their displacement and deaths their last chapter in the ongoing 500 year old story of genocide and displacement by European settler-colonialism.

I also want to talk about Alan Kurdi. Alan was from Kobane, a predominately Kurdish city in Syria. He was three years old, when he drowned as his family tried to cross from Turkey to Greece on September 2, 2015. The picture of his disfigured body on the Greek coast swept through the global media, only to be submerged again by new news. Before they tried to cross the sea, Kurdi’s family had hoped to join their relatives in Vancouver, British Columbia, where his aunt had filed for refugee sponsorship. The Harper government declined their application, forcing them to try a different way.

The deaths of Jakelin, Felipe and Alan were not massacres, no one fired a bullet or decided to kill them. Their deaths were an outworking of bureaucratic procedures, where responsibility is diffused. The Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt called this the “banality of evil.” Its a kind of violence that is invisible because it we have become so used to unseeing it, and because it is propped up by beliefs like the equation of laws with morality. At the same time, their deaths were also caused by what the Bible calls “hard-heartenedness,” a condition of rulers like Pharaoh unwilling to give up power.

There are so many more names, so many more stories to tell. And we know that it is not just refugees, who die because of the hard-heartenedness and the banality of evil. In the US, black boys and men like Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner are killed by police with impunity. Here in Canada, we could name the missing and murdered indigenous women, or the countless children who were abused or died in residential schools.

There are so many more names, so many more stories to tell, it is overwhelming. So let’s take a deep breath before I name just one more group of Holy Innocents we too often leave out of our stories.

Animals, our fellow creatures, are going extinct at alarming rates. While some extinction has always occurred as a natural process, current extinction rates are between 100-1000 times the average natural rate, with up to 200 species going extinct a day, leading many biologists to argue that we humans are causing the 6th great extinction in Earth’s history. According to some estimates, half of all of Earth’s species will be extinct by 2100, if we do not change our ways.

Currently most of the species going extinct are insects at the bottom of the food web, which we don’t notice, but depend on. Among the main reasons for species decline are habitat destruction and pesticide use for industrial agriculture. That decline, besides being a tragedy by itself, also affects the whole web of life, such as the birds‘, reptiles‘ and amphibians‘ diet, pollination, etc. And since we are part of this web of life, no matter how much we deny it, their extinction ultimately also affects us. Without bees, we cannot grow food. Climate change caused by our addiction to fossil fuel and the corporate profits it generates, leads to more extreme weather, desertification and floods, further multiplying the crisis of animal extinction, as well as forcing more people to flee from their ancestral homelands.

How can we commit to the memory of so many species going extinct? Nevertheless, I believe it is vital to at least say some of their names as a step on the journey to love our fellow creatures as God loves them. In 2018, the Spix Macaw, a large parrot who lived in the Brazilian rainforest was declared extinct, along with two Brazilian songbirds: the Cryptic Treehunter and the Alagoas Foliage-gleaner and lastly the poʻouli, an insect-eating forest-bird from Hawaii was also declared extinct.

III Risking Hospitality and Disobedience
Aldo Leopold, one of the grandfathers of the ecological movement said “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” This is a depressing statement, but profoundly true. How can we live in such a violent and broken world? It is easy to feel overwhelmed and give into despair. And there is a time for that. But today I want to leave you with an observation that my Hebrew Bible professor Safwat Marzouk made when reading the story from Exodus and the story of Matthew together.

There are many parallels between the two stories, two tyrants feel threatened by babies, both send their retainers to kill the babies. In both stories, the retainers do not act on the tyrants’ orders but instead save lives. Both times they do not directly confront the tyrants, but rather act clandestinely. In both stories, innocents still die, but the brave acts of disobedience and defection still make the crucial difference creating the conditions for survival of Moses and Jesus respectively. Yet there is one crucial difference: the geographic locations are reversed. In Exodus Egypt was the place of oppression and Israel is the promised land of freedom. In Matthew’s story it is the other way around.

This is a subtle suggestion that change is possible. Change is possible not just on an individual or communal level, we, the nations are able to change. We can change for the worse or for the better. Israel under Herod had become a place of oppression, worse than Egypt. Egypt on the other hand has turned from a place of oppression to a place of refuge. This is important for us to remember, especially as Anabaptists. We do not put our faith in the state. And with good reason! Our salvation comes from the LORD, in the form of a vulnerable child. But it’s a small step from not putting our faith in the state to letting it off the hook completely.

While I was preparing this sermon I learned about Jordan’s principle. Jordan’s principle is used by Canadian public services to ensure that First Nations children can access all public services when they need them. It basically says that whoever is first in contact with the child pays, and the rest is figured out later. Jordan’s Principle was established by First Nations after five-year-old Jordan River Anderson, from Norway House Cree Nation died while the federal and provincial governments were arguing who would pay for his care. It is tragic and infuriating that it took the death of a child to lead to this change, but the existence of this principle shows that is possible for the state to change and become more compassionate. What would it take for there to be an Alan Principle or a Jakelin or Felipe Principle?

There are many ways to change the nations for the better, but one way that we see in both biblical stories we heard today is in the action of small groups of people acting on their conscience. Puah and Shipra the two midwives to the Hebrews understood that Pharaoh’s commands to kill the Hebrew boys was wrong even if it was legal. They chose to do what is right and saved the life of Moses and many more. The three magi understood that Herod would kill the new-born king Jesus and chose to defy his orders and leave the country another way. Let us remember them not only for their gifts to Jesus but also for defying Herod creating the delay that allowed the holy family to escape.

To close this sermon I thought it fitting to raise up the witness of one holy innocent who is still breathing and fighting to continue to do so. Greta Thunberg, a 15-year old Swedish girl learned about climate change when she was 8. The gap between her knowledge of the extent of the crisis and the lack of urgency or even attention to climate change in politics put her first into depression and then into action. This year in September when her school year started again, she decided to take the one lever of power she had and grab it with all her might. She refused to go to school on Fridays and instead sat in front of the Swedish parliament engaging passersby and parliamentarians, demanding her government act on climate change. By December she had inspired school children in Sweden, Australia, Japan and elsewhere to school strike for the climate as well. Trying to coopt her message, the politicians meeting for the climate summit in Poland invited her only to hear a scathing message. I’m reading in excerpts (read or watch the whole speech here):

For 25 years countless of people have stood in front of the United Nations climate conferences, asking our nation’s leaders to stop the emissions. But, clearly, this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise.

So I will not ask them anything.
Instead, I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis.
Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us.
Because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness.

Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can “solve the climate crisis”. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions….

Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground.

So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.

So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.

So on this morning after and into the next year, may we go out and commit ourselves to the memory of the Holy Innocents Jaqelin, Felipe, Alan, the Spix Macaw, Cryptic Treehunter and the Alagoas Foliage-gleaner, and the Hawaian poʻouli.
On this morning and into the next year, may we go out and commit ourselves to action to defend the web of life like Shiprah and Puah, and to resist like Greta.

May it be so.

Doughnut Economics

Throughout my life I have become more and more curious about economics. Starting out with a concern about wealth disparity and its social and political consequences, I eventually learned that perpetual growth on a finite planet is what’s fueling the ecological crisis. And as a student of theology I was struck by the paradox of reading a Bible that is full of economic commentary, while in the real existing church, concerns about money will usually drown out all other concerns.

Yet, despite having taken several classes related to economics, I still felt painfully illiterate in economic matters. This is especially true when it comes to not only naming what is bad about our current economic system, but what a better alternative could look like. Enter Kate Raworth and her 2017 book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-century Economist which does just that in an engaging, almost playful way that for once leaves me hopeful for the future and full of new ideas and questions.

Raworth’s doughnut visualizing the „safe and just space for humanity“ in which the existential needs are met without undermining the ecological systems supporting all of life.

Raworth basic idea is that the challenge of 21st-century economics is to meet the basic needs of all humans while at the same time staying within the limits of the Earth. She calls these two limiting factors the „social foundation“ and the „ecological ceiling“ and draws them as a donut, or-in her British spelling-„doughnut.“ The problem is that the dominant economic theories of the 19th and 20th-century have at least contributed to if not created these crises and are incapable of solving them, which means we need new economic models and ways of thinking to get us out of the wreckage and into the doughnut.

In the book’s seven chapters, Raworth sketches core concepts in „neoclassical“ dominant economics like „Gross Domestic Product“, „homo oeconomicus“, „price equilibrium,“ or „Kuznet Curve“ and contrasts them with new ideas drawn from various fields, especially psychology, systems thinking, and complexity science. Without ever becoming boring or arcane, she introduces the economically illiterate reader to the big debates in economics from the role of households and commons in relation to market and the state, the challenges of climate change and automation, or what growth is and whether it is necessary.

Or rather, she uncovers that there is a debate, despite the neoliberal consensus which is taught in most economic faculties around the world. She does this by telling the stories of how the dominant models came to be accepted, often a process of stripping a cautious attempt of all caveats and transforming it into an unquestionable dogma. Within this process of dogmatization, Raworth highlights the power of images to capture our imagination, based in our metaphorical mind. Rather than bemoaning this fact too much, she sets out to provide new images that line up closer to the best of our knowledge and can displace the old images.

Drawing on her years of experience with Oxfam and as a consultant in international negotiations, Raworth tries hard to present a global perspective to counter the Eurocentrism inherent in economic theory. Her real-world examples of people experimenting with new economic approaches are drawn from around the world. While some of her cultural references might be difficult to get from a non-Western perspective, she tries hard to communicate across cultural contexts. I especially appreciated her reoccuring use of the acronym WEIRD to designate the biased basis of many psychological studies that draw primarily on college students and thus on people who are primarily from societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.

While the book is not explicitly theological, it provides rich ground for theological reflection; not least because of its engagement with anthropology. Raworth sees the perfectly calculating completely selfish homo oeconomicus as a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy. She points to research which documents that humans are uniquely capable of caring and prosocial behavior in comparison to other species, and argues that the role of economics is to nurture this aspect of human nature through appropriate economic arrangements, going beyond pricing to include things like nudging and establishing shared expectations.

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The final chapter on growth is perhaps most engaging for theological reflection. It explicitly uses theological language by calling us to be „agnostic about growth.“ Rather than putting our faith in growth, or in its repudiation (!) the task is to designing economies in which humans can flourish with or without growth, much like a windsurfer rides out the waves, but does not rely on them to move. The current system by contrast, is like a plane with no landing gear. It not only believes in perpetual growth, but is dependent one it to keep functioning. Raworth describes how we are financially, politically, and socially addicted to growth, but oddly moves on from there without describing ways we might wean ourselves off these addictions. This vacuum might be filled by Ched Myers‘ practical theology of Sabbath Economics reflecting on how can get „beyond the addict’s excuse“ toward Recovery from public addictions.

Raworth’s book is a gift to everyone who cares about this planet and whether humans will survive on it. By demythologizing economics she gives ordinary readers the knowledge to contribute to the urgent and long overdue societal conversation about what kind of an economy we want to live in. Her emphasis on images (iconic turn!) is not only important in going beyond rationalism, but also highlights the importance of visual and other artists in the work for a just transition. While much of the book focuses on macroeconomic structural changes that need political change to be implemented, some like worker-owned cooperatives, or defending and expanding the cultural and ecological commons can also be implemented here and now by small groups of people. Pastors and church people can only benefit from reading this book as a way to learn how to „make friends by means of the unjust mammon, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal tents.“ (Luke 16:9)

Also check out all the free material on her blog!

Ein letzter Brief

Liebe Oma,
heute beim Frühstück habe ich Papas Email gelesen und gehört, dass du nicht mehr bei uns bist. Obwohl Mama mir erzählt hatte, dass es dir in den letzten Tagen nicht gut ging, hat mich die Nachricht überrascht. Sie hat mich aus dem Gleichgewicht gebracht.
Ich glaube, dass es so gut ist, Ich glaube, du warst (wärst/bist?) dankbar, nicht mehr von deinem geschwächten Körper und den Wolken in deinem Kopf eingeschränkt zu sein.
Aber da sind trotzdem noch all diese Gefühle, mit denen ich nicht weiß wohin. In den letzten Jahren, besonders seit ich für mein Studium und die Liebe nach Nordamerika gezogen bin, schrieb ich dir ab und zu Briefe. Das war ein Weg, wie ich bei dir sein konnte, und wunderbarerweise hast du die Briefe immer wieder gelesen, oder dir vorlesen lassen, obwohl ich mir nicht sicher bin, ob du immer wusstest, wer dir da schrieb. Also hab ich beschlossen, dir einen letzten Brief zu schreiben.

Wusstest du das ich dieses Semester in einem Naturschutzgebiet lebe und lerne? Während ich dir schreibe, blicke ich auf einen See umgeben von Wildprärie auf der einen und Wald auf der anderen Seite. Grillen und Vögel singen und vor kurzem sah ich einen Schwarm Kanadagänse auf ihrem Weg in den Süden. Ich glaube es würde dir hier gefallen. Ich erinnere mich, wie sehr du deinen Garten liebtest und wie du dich gefreut hast, wenn eine Wildbiene aus dem Nest dass du für sie gebaut hast herauskam. Ich kann mich an keinen Ausflug mit dir erinnern, der nicht irgendwas mit Natur oder zumindest Pflanzen zu tun hatte, von Radfahrten zum Donnersberg oder zu einem Ausflug zur Landesgartenschau. Als du weniger mobil warst, lief immer eine Naturdoku im Fernsehen, wenn wir dich besuchten. Und ich weiß, wie schlimm es für dich war, als du dich nicht mehr um den Garten kümmern konntest.

Neben deiner Liebe für die Bewahrung der Schöpfung, denke ich sofort an deine Kuchen und Torten. Besonders die, die wir einfach „Omatorte“ nannten. Selbst als du sie nicht mehr backen konntest, und Ursula anfing sie zu backen, blieb es bei dem Namen, „Tantetorte“ klingt einfach nicht richtig. Abgesehen davon, dass es immer noch meine Lieblingstorte ist—wovon man wirklich nicht absehen sollte—bin ich beeindruckt, dass du so viel Energie in etwas stecktest, dass du als Diabetikerin selbst nicht genießen konntest. Die Omatorte bleibt für mich das klarste Bild deiner Liebe für deine Familie.

Ich bin dankbar für diese Erinnerungen, besonders weil die letzten paar Jahre mit dir schwer für mich waren. Ich wusste nicht, wie ich mit dir umgehen soll. Als du das erste Mal nicht wusstest wer ich war, zerbrach etwas in mir. Und statt mich der Angst in mir zu stellen, vermied ich dich einfach. Heute weiß ich, wieviel ich deshalb verpasst habe.

Denn es gab auch schöne und sogar lustige Momente mit dir. Gar nicht wenige, weil du dir bis zuletzt einen ganz eigenen Sinn für Humor bewahrt hast. Als ich heute die Wäsche aufhängte, musste ich daran denken, wie du aus Protest gegen die Windeln die du gegen die Inkontinenz tragen musstest, immer darauf bestandest, Unterwäsche zu tragen. Wie du überall in der Wohnung unter Kissen und in Schubladen Unterwäsche versteckt hattest, damit Hiltrud sie dir nicht wegnehmen konnte. Und wie du eines Tages, als die letzten deiner Unterhosen beschlagnahmt worden waren, einfach ein paar Unterhosen von der Wäscheleine einer Nachbarin nahmst und wie du als Hiltrud dich fragte, wo du die Unterwäsche herhattest mit breitem Grinsen sagtest: „Hab ich gestohlen!“

Später durfte ich erleben, wie du Rianna in dein Herz geschlossen hast, trotz ihrer komischen Haare. Leider konntest du nicht zur Hochzeit in Kanada kommen, aber an Weihnachten konnten wir zusammen Bilder anschauen, und du hast dich gefreut, auch wenn du nicht wusstest wer da jetzt geheiratet hat. Und ich bin dankbar, dass du Nikita, deinen ersten Urenkel und meinen ersten Neffen, treffen durftest, etwas worauf ich immer noch warte.

Ich bin traurig, dass ich dich nicht mehr habe sehen können und dass ich nicht zur Beerdigung kommen kann. Aber ich weiß, dass du ein volles Leben hattest und jetzt froh warst zu gehen. Ich weiß nicht, was du geglaubt hast, was nach dem Tod kommt, aber gestern, als ich noch nicht wusste, dass es dein letzter Tag auf Erden war, aß ich mit meinen Kommilitoninnen bei einem Professor zu Abend und wir lasen Gedichte. Bei einem Gedicht musste ich sofort an dich denken. Ich schicke es dir mit diesem Brief.

Hab dich lieb,
Dein Enkel Benni

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Der Sommertag von Mary Oliver (Übersetzung: Margrit Irgang)
Wer hat die Welt gemacht?
Wer hat den Schwan gemacht, den Schwarzbären?
Wer den Grashüpfer?
Diesen Grashüpfer, ich meine
den, der aus dem Gras gesprungen ist,
der Zucker aus meiner Hand frisst,
der seine Kauwerkzeuge vor und zurück bewegt statt auf und ab –
der umherblickt mit riesigen komplizierten Augen.
Jetzt hebt er seine blassen Unterarme und wäscht sich gründlich das Gesicht.
Jetzt öffnet er die Flügel und fliegt davon.
Ich weiß nicht, was genau ein Gebet ist.
Ich weiß, wie ich aufmerksam sein kann, wie ich
niederfallen und knien kann im Gras,
wie ich müßig und gesegnet sein kann und durch die Felder streifen,
was ich den ganzen Tag getan habe.
Sag mir, was sonst hätte ich tun sollen?
Stirbt nicht letztendlich alles, und zu früh?
Sag mir, was willst du tun
mit deinem einen wilden und kostbaren Leben?

Everybody’s got a right to live

Reflections on the Poor People’s Campaign and Meeting Jesus in Jail

Rianna singing.On a hot summer Monday in May, my wife Rianna and thirteen others were standing on an intersection outside the legislature in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA blocking traffic and singing a new song. The song encapsulated the reason they were there that day: “Somebody’s hurting my sister and it’s gone on far too long. And we won’t be silent anymore.” The group included college students, veterans, pastors, and elders from Christian Peacemaker Teams, coming from a variety of faith backgrounds and ethnicities. Surrounding them on the sidewalks was a crowd of myself and about fifty people who picked up the tune and joined in the song, supporting those putting themselves in harm’s way by singing and clapping, and making sure they had enough water. To the car drivers honking at us, we chanted: “Traffic is bad, poverty is worse.” After about three hours, the police arrested all fourteen of them and only released them the following day. As she was waiting in the police precinct she could see herself on the news. Across the country, about a hundred people were arrested that day in what historians say was the biggest coordinated act of civil disobedience in recent US history.

Benni negotiating with a car driver

We were inspired by the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said that the moral emergency of poverty in the midst of plenty demands people of conscience break the law, just like an ambulance ignores the red light to save lives. Fifty years ago, just before he was assassinated, King and others had launched the first Poor People’s Campaign as a call for poor people black, brown, and white to come together as “a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.” That Monday we were in Indianapolis as part of the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to finish the work that King had begun.

A cartoon from the original Poor People's Campaign. "What worries me, senator, is that they're getting into step."The idea for the original Poor People’s Campaign was to bring together poor Americans across the historic divisions of race, religion, and gender to engage in disciplined mass civil disobedience to demand that democracy work for all and the wealth all have produced be shared more equally between all. A song from that time sums it up: “Everybody’s got a right to live, everybody’s got a right to live. And before this campaign fails, we’ll all go down to jail, because everybody’s got a right to live.” The original Poor People’s Campaign suffered greatly from King’s assassination, and since then, many of the successes have been rolled back. Things have gotten worse for poor people in the United States in the last fifty years since the first Poor People’s Campaign. Which is why we are calling for a national revival to realize the dream that Dr. King and so many others dreamt.

Rev. Dr. William Barber II. and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival leading the Unite the Poor March in Washington DCWe began with forty days of action happening at the same time in forty US states as a powerful way of breaking into the national media cycle. At the rallies impacted people were boldly naming the sins of poverty, racism, militarism, and ecological devastation and the ways they are inextricably connected. Our songs and prayers brought a new spirit to protest that gave it depth and serenity. At the end of the Forty Days, twenty thousand people converged on Washington DC. At the rally, Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis, the co-chairs of the campaign called us to go back to our communities and organize them, just like civil rights activists had down.

As Mennonites we often claim that seeking a just peace is at the center of our work. Yet the historic record also shows that we have often failed to show up in movements for justice. If we really want to be a peace church, we need to show up where people stand up against violence. As seminary students we brought our skills at listening and pastoral care to situations of high stress and trauma. As people of the book, we resonated with this campaign because it understood the power of stories to shape imagination and political decision-making. By letting poor people tell their own stories, we began to put cracks in the dominant story that blames the poor and to expose the violence of a system that keeps people poor in the midst of plenty. As followers of Jesus, we remember that Jesus was a poor man. He preached: “Blessed are the poor, woe to you who are rich” and taught that the way to freedom lies in serving and following the least, the lost, and the left out.

When I reconnected with Rianna after seventeen hours in jail, she was dirty and tired and had a lot to process, but she told me: „When I was in that cell I met Jesus in the women there.“

Further reading and listening:

Some initial rambling reflections on Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR)

Last week Rianna and I participated in a five day training called Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) at the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute. Given that I had studied trauma at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in a class on Introduction to Strategic Peacebuilding and Nonviolence I expected to learn some useful practices but not a lot of genuinely new content. I was thinking of it as a kind of refresher on a first aid course. Instead, I left each day with a sense of immense gratitude and with a thousand thoughts swirling around in my head. I truly believe that wide-spread awareness about psychological trauma and resilience is crucial in many areas of life, especially for those involved in movements seeking to bring an end to violence in all forms. In order to process my own experience I am planning to write a number of short pieces which will introduce some of my key learnings and how they relate to movement work. While this is mainly meant for my own processing, I hope it will be useful to others as well. Please help me think by commenting and entering into the conversation.

As an introductory post, I thought I should write a little bit about STAR, its origins and what it is. STAR was developed by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University after the national collective trauma of the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001. The goal was to develop a program to help first-responders become more aware of the impact of psychological trauma on the people they work with as well as themselves in the form of secondary or vicarious trauma.

But STAR is so much more than just that. It seeks to provide an evidence-based „bio-psycho-social-spiritual framework“ for understanding trauma and resilience. The STAR model integrates the insights of neuroscience on the way the brain functions and how trauma messes up these processes. This research also helped us understand how trauma is held in the body and how it can be released. But STAR also emphasizes the way trauma is a social phenomenon and how groups can hinder or help healing, as well as how religious and spiritual traditions, narratives, and rituals play a role in keeping people stuck in cycles of trauma, or help them break free and strengthen resilience through acknowledgement and reconnection.

Expanding the conventional individualistic and privatized understanding of healing, STAR suggests restorative justice as a way to heal the broken relationship between persons who suffered harms and persons who caused harm, as well as the communities they are embedded in. STAR understands that conflict is a natural part of social existence and necessary to transform unjust structures. Rather than seeking to resolve or manage conflict it suggests the framework of conflict transformation as a way to wage nonviolent conflict to balance power as a necessary step for genuine reconciliation to become possible.

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As a student of peace studies and theology, it was very exciting to have an actual framework that brings together a variety of approaches and practices that are often named together, without thought on how they actually relate to each other. My experience doing jail support for those risking arrest with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival over the summer gave me very fresh impressions of the impact of unhealed trauma in my own body, the bodies of those around me, and the collective bodies of our movements.

The STAR framework begins to provide such a framework in creative and helpful ways, that enables practitioners of diverse fields to understand their own unique contributions as well as their need for others and a coherent strategy. This framework centers trauma awareness and nurturing resilience as the elephant in the room, while also acknowledging the need for systemic transformation. Even though I hope to show that the STAR framework is undertheorized and needs to be further developed, especially in the areas of political analysis and strategies for making systems change, I believe community organizers, activists, and would-be revolutionaries more fluent in these areas can benefit immensely from honest and compassionate dialogue with STAR.

The last two years have been especially rough for people in progressive movements or even just people who care about decency and anyone beyond themselves. This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right-Rally in Charlottesville with its torch marches and chants specifically designed to trigger the historic trauma of the German Nazis and the Holocaust, culminating in the murder of Heather Heyer and many others being physically and psychologically scarred by white supremacists (who some argue were acting out of their own trauma). That weekend created a collective trauma for the city of Charlottesville, the wider nation, as well as individual traumas for all involved, the effects of trauma are ongoing and are being opened up again as the anniversary comes around and white supremacists assemble this time in DC.

It seems fitting to start a series on trauma, resilience, and social movements on this weekend. May it be a mourning of all we have lost in the struggle, and another step in building a new world within the shell of the old where it is easier to be good.

What good is the good news?

What good is the good news?

And the church that proclaims it
all its bloody complicity
or worse –
the crusades,
slavery and the lynching tree
violence against women and queers.

All blessed, by priests and theologians
proclaiming a conquering Christ as Lord
and forgetting the punch line
– it’s the slain lamb that conquers.

And yet,
where else should we go?
Who else has words of eternal life?
Though we deny him,
Christ is still with us
as his body, the church harbors
dangerous memories”,
a truth that sets free.
From the lies
of white supremacy
of never-ending war,
of the meaning of life being found in a mall
or in pledging allegiance to a flag
or company, or revolutionary cause.
Jesus sets us free to strive first for that strange “Kingdom of God”.

Brother Martin spoke of “building the beloved community.”
The love he meant is not sentimental,
it’s an “unsettling force in our complacent national life”,
it repents of sins past and present,
it speaks truth to power,
it breaks down separating walls of hostility
those of concrete and those in our heads.

It’s a love of enemies,
which does not deny we do have enemies
but, remembering our own conversion,
envisions theirs.

This love is long-suffering.
It knows
it’s working “with the grain of the universe”.
It has time
to rest, dance and drink tea
knowing the Spirit acts in serendipity.

That’s the good of the good news,
it’s the only good news I know.

It’s strange – A poem for MJ

It’s strange.
Since I heard about it Monday at noon,
from a friend who didn’t want
his friends to learn about it from social media,
I have been connecting with some other of his friends,
through social media, socializing these media,
by asking for numbers and calling people,
so we hear each others‘ voice
when I break the bad news.
Why does loss bring us together?

It’s strange,
The DRC government says
MJ has been kidnapped by “negative forces not yet identified”.
In his last report to the UN Security Council
kidnappings are mentioned 21 times.
It says most armed groups fundraise like this.
His group had found that
“certain members of the Congolese security forces had
also participated in kidnappings”.
War is messy like that.

It’s strange.
I don’t have many pictures.
Of MJ and me.
The only one’s I found, on social media,
are from his second to last time he was with us
in Bammental.
He said he needed a break from the DRC.
My dad probably has some.
And mom was always better at keeping in touch with MJ.

It’s strange.
I always knew that MJ was an important person in my life.
We called each other brothers.
He lived with us when I was a teenager,
and my hero.
He taught me how to play poker and Warcraft III,
and somewhere in between
to be humble and brave.
But our last facebook chat was August 2016.
when we had just missed another opportunity
to see each other.

It’s strange.
In Germany he was working with US soldiers wanting to get out
of the military that had ensnared them with empty promises
out of the senseless wars.
In the DRC he was working with Rwandan rebels wanting to get out
of the militia that had ensnared them with empty promises
out of the senseless wars.
One time, he jumped out of a window
when the military police was after him
This time I guess,
there was no window to jump out of.

It’s strange.
As we gather to pray
with words from Mountain States Mennonite Conference
I feel close to him.
But also this nagging realization,
that we cannot say the names of the four Congolese
who were also abducted.
Because no newspaper bothered researching and reporting their names.
Not even the DRC government.
Even in mourning, all lives are not equal.

It’s strange.
I believe and hold out hope
that MJ is alive
that he will be returned to us soon
and that he will dance at my wedding
this summer.
But if I believe and hold out hope,
why does it feel like
I am writing a eulogy?

It’s strange.
The MCC calendar I picked up,
for free at a local church,
has a picture from the Congo for the month of March.
Telling the story of
MCC‘ efforts to demilitarize Rwandan rebels in the DRC.
Of MJ’s work.






Viele wissen irgendwie schon, dass ich in die USA gehen will, aber es gibt wohl sehr unterschiedliche Wissensstände, weshalb ich die Gelegenheit nutzen wollte, hier was zu schreiben (um dann voraussichtlich im persönlichen Gespräch alles nochmal erklären zu müssen).

Ab 1. September werde ich in Elkhart am Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary einen dreijährigen Master in Theologie machen. Das war schon lange ein Traum von mir, von dem ich nie sicher war, ob daraus mal mehr als ein Traum werden würde. Anfang dieses Jahres habe ich mich aber endlich getraut, zu fragen und fand überall offene Türen. Ich bin Gott dankbar, dass die Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes fast das ganze Studium finanziert und die meisten Stolpersteine aus dem Weg geräumt sind.

Bis ich am 29. August nach Chicago fliege steht noch einiges an: Ich schließe mein Studium hier mit der Zwischenprüfung ab, die zwar eigentlich kein Bachelor ist, aber irgendwie funktioniert es zum Glück. Außerdem bin ich Mitte August bei der „Friedenszeit“ auf Lesbos. Auf dieser Freizeit des juwe und des Deutschen Mennonitischen Friedenskomittee wollen fragen, was es heißt, heute Friedenskirche zu sein und im Kontext der Abschottung Europas, dem Flüchtling Jesus nachzufolgen. Dieses Projekt ist schon lange in Arbeit und ich freue mich, daran beteiligt sein zu können, aber auch darauf muss ich mich noch vorbereiten. Und dann gibt es noch viele kleinere Sachen wie Visa und Umzug zu regeln.

Ich freue mich sehr auf das Studium in Elkhart. In vier Jahren Studium in Heidelberg habe ich viel gelernt, das mich wohl weiter prägen wird. Gleichzeitig bin ich gespannt auf neue Profs und Kommiliton*innen, auf Friedenstheologie und darauf, wie es ist, eben nicht mehr der einzige Mennonit zu sein – aber dafür vielleicht der einzige Europäer und Deutscher. Neue Kontexte bringen neue Fragen mit sich und werfen alte Gewissheiten und Frontstellungen über den Haufen. Darauf freue ich mich.

Notgedrungen denke ich zurzeit viel darüber nach, was ich mitnehmen möchte nach Nordamerika. Zwar habe ich fast 50 Kilogramm Freigepäck, aber Bücher sind schwer und Brettspiele klobig. Die Erfahrungen aber, die ich hier gemacht habe, nehme ich mit mir mit. Dabei denke ich besonders auch an die Gemeinde, in der ich aufgewachsen bin und getauft wurde und zuerst erfuhr, was es heißt mündiges Glied im Leib Christi zu sein. Diese Gemeinde, in der ich wachsen durfte, mich an Problemen abarbeiten konnte und stets Freiraum hatte, meine Worte zu suchen, auch wenn ich dafür aus dem Gottesdienst stürmen musste.

Ich plane nicht wirklich lange im Voraus. Mein Horizont ist zur Zeit dieses Studium und wer weiß was danach kommt. Ich denke zur Zeit oft an den Satz Bilbo Beutlins:

„Es ist eine gefährliche Sache Frodo, aus deiner Haustür hinauszugehen. Du betrittst die Straße und wenn du nicht auf deine Füße aufpasst, kann man nicht wissen, wohin sie dich tragen.“ Bilbo Beutlin

In diesem Sinne, ich hoffe wir sehen uns noch und auf Wiedersehen!