Manning Up

Did you see that video a little while ago where the American soldiers were videotaped urinating on the corpses of deceased Taliban fighters?  It was disturbing, to say the least.  Understandably, it made newspaper headline all around the world.

What ever happened to that story?  Were the soldiers identified and brought to justice?  Was a formal apology issued?  Were other military personnel educated about the inappropriateness of those actions?  As a non-American civilian, I may never know.  I can speculate that all of these things would be a best case scenario.  Ideally some of these things would happen as part of a larger recognition of wrongdoing.  Hopefully the response would be as much about repairing harmed international relationships as it would be about saving face. One can dream.

While we don’t know what happened there, we do know what is happening in a similar case. A few years before this urinating soldiers video, there was another video released secretly that became known as the “collateral murder” video. It showed video footage taken from a US military helicopter. In the video, you can see unarmed civilians (two of them were later identified as Reuters journalists) being fired on and killed by the soldiers in the helicopter.  The video also provides audio of the soldiers laughing about the scene. Whereas the other one mysteriously appeared on YouTube all of a sudden, this one was released by Wikileaks, a website that invited people to anonymously submit secret information.

While we may hum and haw about what might happen to the soldiers in the peeing video, there is one person I hadn’t asked about.  What about the person who released the video to the public? The video was probably shot with military equipment, or at least by military personnel on military time.  Shouldn’t this person face military discipline?  But sure, you might be saying, surely someone who witnesses this kind of immoral and/or criminal behaviour is obligated to release evidence and should be protected when they do so.

In the second case, there has been no mention of what happened to the soldiers who fired on and killed unarmed civilians. There has been no explanation made of what, if anything, was done to apologize the families of those killed. There is however one ongoing criminal case, which had a hearing today, that is connected to this video’s story.

The man who released that video to the public has been held in captivity for two years, much of that time in solitary confinement.  During the arraignment hearing today, he chose not to enter a plea, which buys his defense team some time to strategize.  He faces 22 charges, the most serious of which is aiding the enemy.

Every now and then, there is an event that foreign journalists are more interested than the local ones, and this was it. Perhaps if this played out in the open, the military might lose the public opinion poll. Does a video like this aid the enemy?  Does this kind of thing enrage the enemy so much that more soldier’s lives are endangered?  If the answer to both of these question is no, and I believe that it is, then an innocent man is being put in prison for the rest of his life.

Not only is he innocent, but he should be help up as a hero.  After WWII, the Americans tried all sorts of German prisoners with war crimes.  The common plea was that they were just following orders.  The American judges declared that despite the political and legal climate at the time, each of them as human being were called to a higher level of dignity and should have refused the Nazi orders.  Even the American legal system requires that soldier report war crimes.  So, is it a war crime to shoot innocent, unarmed, uninvolved civilians and journalists, or is it a crime to release a video of that?

The trouble with war crimes is, that when you win, there is no one to try you for the crimes you do. This case, unfortunately has nothing to do with war crimes. It has everything to do with making the US military look bad.  Rather than punish the decision makers at the top for giving them a bad name, they punish the ones at the bottom who haven’t bought 100% in to the propaganda machine.

Give up the rim (for Lent) to win

This was printed last year in the local newspaper, and I’ve modified it to fit Lent this year.  Every year it boggles my mind that Roll up the Rim coincides with Lent.

Old fashioned church stuff is dying.  Various media outlets love to repeat this news.  Some people within the church don’t believe this news or they do and they’re fighting to change it.  But even in the church there are those who celebrate the demise of long celebrated Christian religious rituals.  But did you know that one of these old, almost forgotten rituals is keeping one of the largest companies in Canada on its knees?

Every year around this time, you might hear about people giving something up for Lent, but usually they would have trouble explaining what exactly exactly is behind the practice.  Lent is a 40-day stretch of time running from Ash Wednesday (more commonly known as the day after Mardi Gras) to Easter Morning, February 22nd April 8th this year.  The idea behind the modern Lenten fast is that people give up something they like and when they feel the urge to have that thing, they are supposed to think about God and their reliance on/relationship with God.  It’s usually most effective if the thing they give up is something they’ve sorta convinced themselves that they need or are semi-addicted to.  The problem of course is that it requires a person to admit that they are half addicted to something.

I usually don’t participate in the Lenten fast in any way. This year, instead of giving something up, I am taking something up.  I will be blogging in one way or another on each of the 40 days of Lent. I believe that writing is a spiritual exercise. I also believe that writing is one of many things that one gets better at with practice, so I’m writing in different way and about different subjects than I normally do so that I get better at it.

Historically the church asked people to give up meat for Lent.  So then the last day before Lent people would want to have a feast and use up a lot of the grease they had been saving from cooking meat.  They couldn’t think of a better way to use this all up than to have a meal of pancakes (neither can I really).  That explains the pancake suppers at Christian churches; I won’t even try to explain the Mardi Gras hoopla in New Orleans.

I don’t feel particularly convicted about this lapse in Lenten conviction.  I come from a proud tradition of Lent non-observers.  A long time ago, a group of people in Zurich, publicly and intentionally broke the Lenten fast and ate sausages together.  I consider myself to be part of that school of thought.  If I ever started a Christian basketball team, I’d like to call them the “Fast Breakers.”  Many Christians believe though that if there is something you can give up in your life to bring you closer to God, you should give it up no matter what time of year it is and not start up using it again 40 days later.

There are a few things that are given up more often than french fries to.  In high school I knew many girls who had a penchant for chocolate and gave it up for Lent, which worked out nicely so that they could binge on the stuff as soon as Easter rolled around.  But there is perhaps no greater quasi-addiction in our society than coffee.

Coffee is exactly the kind of thing that people should give up for Lent, it’s not particularly sinful on its own, and the cravings one might get for it would be a great reminder of one’s relationship with God.  Historically there has been a dip in coffee sales at this time of year.  Could it be because of Lent?  But besides the addiction most people refuse to admit they have, there is something that interferes with people’s willingness to give up coffee at this time of year.

To combat this dip, Tim Hortons launched a promotional campaign 25 years ago.  It was so successful that it has been running every year since then.  It does make me wonder if it is worth the cost to Tim Hortons.  The cost of extra advertising and all the prizes and fraud prevention stuff can’t really generate that much extra sales can it?  Especially since coffee and their brand of coffee in particular are so deeply engrained into the Canadian psyche.

Religious institutions are continually losing their grip on societal influence in this country, particularly the ones that would advocate a ritual Lenten observance.  Still, Lent has a transcendent power, even among people outside of Christian institutional religion.  If Tim Hortons gave up their Roll up the Rim campaign, more people would consider giving up coffee for Lent.  Since the company and its shareholders can’t afford interruptions in the profits, they can’t stop the promotion because people might use Lent or any other reason to stop drinking their coffee.  Is this an example of businesses interfering with Christian practice or a story of spirituality working under the surface?  I like to think it’s the latter.

What makes a Mennonite?

Mennonite is a term that can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Many of those meanings can be summed up in three categories; Mennonites are known by seed, by deed and by creed.

… by seed. – Mennonite is primarily a faith position, but throughout time and in many parts of the world, people with Mennonite convictions have lived together in communities and formed distinctive cultures. Aspects of that culture will reveal itself in our church, but that is not at the heart of what we do and who we want to be. In many places, Mennonites are known for their distinctive dress and exclusive community lifestyle, but you will not find those elements at most contemporary Mennonite churches.

… by deed. – Mennonites take seriously Jesus’ words “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” and the Biblical admonition that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (Matthew 25: 40 & James 2: 17, TNIV) Accordingly, we are happy to participate in and lend our support to various disaster response and global relief and development efforts. Although that work is not done to receive attention or credibility, in many places Mennonites are recognized by the charitable work they have done.

… by creed. At the core of our beliefs are statements about God’s sovereignty, the inspiration of the Bible and the nature of the trinity that would be in keeping with most other churches. Some of our distinctive are as follows:

  • Jesus at the Center – we believe that Jesus reveals to us, better than anything or anyone else, what God is really like. We believe that everything else in the Bible builds up toward his coming or builds on top of the foundation he laid. We seek to follow him before all others.
  • Separation from the world – we believe that the church should be motivated by different things, work toward different goals and be structured differently then mainstream society. Various Mennonite cultural expressions have come from a physical separation from society, but much more than that we emphasize a mental and spiritual separation.
  • Others centered Love – we believe that Love was at the core of what Jesus taught. “Love your neighbours as yourself” calls us to live and give graciously and “Love your enemies” calls us to live peacefully and embrace the people we might otherwise think we should hate.

AMOEBAS are cuter than TULIPS

Bruxy Cavey recently bemoaned the fact that Arminians have no cute flower nicknames like the Calvinists have with their TULIP acronym. Greg Boyd agreed and issued a challenge for Arminians to come up with one.

I won’t pretend to have a full grasp of Arminian theology, but for me a great start is a great piece of writing that predates Calvin’s, the Schleitheim Confession. It’s language is a little old sometimes, but five hundred years later it still summarizes the Anabaptist position quite well. I will only quote it briefly, but if you want the full version with footnotes, etc, you can find it here. It has seven points and with a little rearranging, it spells out the word AMOEBAS.

  1. Arms – Christians are not to bear arms, as it is outside the perfection of Christ.
  2. Memorial observance – the Lord’s Supper doesn’t not magically transform into the actual body and blood of Christ, but when we gather with other believers to celebrate it, God blesses our act of worship and remembrance.
  3. Oaths – Christians shouldn’t swear oaths, in keeping with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, instead we should live lives of truth and let our yes be yes.
  4. Election of sheep – each church has the right to choose their own leaders, rather than them being handed down from a higher level of the church.
  5. Ban – following Matthew 18, Christians are to peacefully, lovingly send non-repentant members outside of their circle.
  6. Adult baptism – baptism should only be given to those who have come to a full confession of faith, which automatically excludes infants who are not capable of doing so.
  7. Separation – the church should live separate from the world, guided by separate values and separate motivations. In the world but not of the world.

Welcome

Thank you for visiting this website. I will be posting some writing as well as sermon podcasts. I welcome comments on both.

This explanation is available in the “About Us” section, but this is why I’ve chosen the name “Third Way.”

For centuries, followers of Jesus around the world have felt that there are only two ways to follow Jesus, the right way or the wrong way, the Catholic way or the Protestant way, the state sactioned way or the rebellious way, the orthodox way or not at all. In his life, Jesus rejected this kind of binary thinking, and he calls us to do the same.

People asked Jesus all sorts of questions and they would often give him only two answers to choose from. Was it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we stone this woman caught in adultery or break the law and let her go? Is it right to heal on the Sabbath or not? Each time Jesus faced a question like this he challenged the ones asking to look outside of their binary thinking.

Other teachings of Jesus reinforced the same concept. Often people have to choose between risking their lives and trying to kill the enemies they hate or saving their lives and accepting their status as victims. Jesus calls us to a radical third way. His teachings in the Sermon on the Mount tell us to refuse to be victimized but also to risk our lives and love our enemies.

That kind of third way thinking needs to inform the way we live and they way we see God.