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Thoughts on a Washington, DC delegation


I was in Washington, DC Monday through Wednesday of this week, part of a faith leaders delegation through Mennonite Central Committee.  We were there to learn about and lobby for just immigration policies, specifically a clean Dream Act.  We were a group of mostly pastors, mostly non-white, from around the US.  This is most of us, in the basement of the MCC Washington office on Tuesday.

MCC faith leaders

Our time culminated in hill visits Wednesday morning, meeting in pairs with staffers of our Representative and Senators.  A write up about the delegation can be found HERE.


I arranged my flights to arrive early Monday and leave late Wednesday in order to have time to enjoy a few of the Smithsonian museums.  A conversation with a CMCer before leaving helped me better connect the two very different experiences of museum hopping, and dipping into entrenched national politics.  He noted that the Washington, DC that hosts the Smithsonian museums is not the one that makes the news, but is also part of what that city, and our nation are.

And it’s true.  On the one hand the 17 of us in the delegation walked right into an immigration debate fueled by fear, misinformation, and not so subtle racism.  The immigration policy trajectory is one of tighter borders, intensified militarization, and increased detentions and deportations directed at people deemed unwanted and unlawful.  It is characterized by legal, relational, and physical walls, and a politics of selective exclusion.

On the other hand the Smithsonian museums are publicly funded, open to all who enter, monuments of welcome and learning.  They exist to enrich, educate, and propagate ideas, including self-critical analysis of how the nation was formed through violence against American Indians and enslaved Africans.  They inspire and elevate the mind.  They are characterized by the many stories they tell that form the threads that hold us together, a politics of inclusivity.

I was not particularly encouraged after our visits with elected officials.  I was inspired by the other faith leaders who shared the experience, and by my time in the museums… which put me into information-saturation mode both Monday and Wednesday.  Hurray.

My last stop before taking the Metro back to the airport Wednesday evening was at one of the newer features of the National Mall complex, the MLK memorial.  Inscribed on the side of the stone out of which his figure emerges are his words, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”



Sabbatical year


Leviticus 25 declares a Sabbatical year for Israel, one every seven.  It was to be a year of rest and renewal for the people (including hired laborers and slaves), the land (including agricultural fields), and animals.

Mennonite Church USA has its own Sabbatical guidelines.  It suggests pastors be granted a three month Sabbatical every four years.

2018 has turned out to be a Sabbatical year for both Mark (April and May) and me (June, July, August) – although this is my fifth year rather than fourth, and Mark’s Sabbatical will be two-ish months rather than three because of being less than full time.

Today Gwen, Mim, Mark, and I had a staff retreat to plan for this Sabbatical year.  We sat around a very cozy fire at Gwen’s house and sketched out what our part of this planning involves.  Practically speaking, it means CMC will have a solo pastor for five months of the year.  My Sabbatical grant from the Lilly Foundation will pay for Mark to go full time, with extra administrative hours for Mim, in my absence.

Mark and I will have time in the upcoming months to communicate more specifically how we plan to use our Sabbatical time.  In short, one of the areas Mark will be exploring will be different models and theologies of youth ministry.  I’ll be guided by the theme “Called In: World, City, Congregation, Self.”  The hope for a clergy Sabbatical is that in stepping back from every day ministry responsibilities we have space to be renewed in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, including unhurried time with our spouses.

Despite some potential extra work for the congregation, the hope is also that this can be a time of renewal for everyone.  We are fortunate that the Lilly grant will pay for some unique opportunities in the summer including guest speakers, artists creating new worship banners, spiritual direction for CMCers, and an adult session for Vacation Bible School in July.

Before either of us begin Sabbatical-ing, we will have a Sabbath theme for our Lent worship series.  We’ll talk about and reflect on the practice and meaning of Sabbath, and consider ways that Sabbath might become a more expansive part of how we do life.

I’m grateful to be a part of a congregation that values Sabbatical time for its pastors.  Let’s see what comes our way during this Sabbatical year.





“The first clue, lesson number one from human history on the subject of nonviolence, is that there is no word for it.”

This is how Mark Kurlansky begins his book Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous IdeaHe goes on to note that every language has a word for violence, but none have an independent word for nonviolence.  All we have is a negation of that concept (violence) which we understand much better.  In Sanskrit, for example, himsa is the word for violence or harm.  Ahimsa is its negation, not doing harm.  The same is of course true for English.  So we know what nonviolence isn’t, but what is it?

Nonviolence and peacemaking have been a peculiar dimension of Anabaptist/Mennonite understanding of Christian faith.  Peculiar because so few other streams of the faith emphasize it.  Which is itself peculiar since Christianity was a pacifist/nonviolent tradition for its first three centuries.  Jesus was a teacher and practitioner of nonviolence.

The language we use for all this matters.  Pacifism sounds a whole lot like passive-ism, and often has been practiced that way.  In the 20th century North American Mennonites moved from the language of non-resistance to the language of nonviolent resistance.  Each might have their place, but these are very different concepts and practices.

Sarah Thompson, the former Executive Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, who will be one of our Winter Seminar leaders this Saturday and will preach during Sunday worship, speaks about confrontational nonviolence.  She’ll teach us skills and sets of practices for exercising the kinds of muscles that do the heavy lifting of peacemaking.

If there is a single word that captures nonviolence as a positive reality rather than just the negation of a bad one, it might be shalom.  Shalom is a Hebrew word, used throughout the Hebrew Bible, that refers to peace, holistic wellbeing, salvation, and relational harmony.  But it still provokes the question of what this looks like, for us, right now.


+ Sunday’s sermon “Jonah and the plant.  The Lord and the great city.” is posted HERE.

A couple other items of interest:

+ The Mennonite magazine ran an article this week about the current project of historian Rachel Waltner Goossen who is studying the loss of LGBTQ leaders in the Mennonite Church.

+ You can view a two minute trailer for the anti-death penalty film “The Penalty” HERE.  It is showing, for free, this Sunday at 1pm at Studio 35, less than a mile from the church.

Big Sanctuary day


Yesterday was a big Sanctuary day, with two major events.

Mayor Ginther and several of his staff brought lunch for Edith and ate with her.  Two of her children and I joined.  We had a little over an hour for Edith to tell her story, Brandow and Stephanie to talk about what it’s like to fear being separated from their mother, and the four of us to ask the mayor to use his influence to petition ICE to affirm re-opening Edith’s asylum case.  We didn’t get a firm commitment from him, but are hopeful the meal will impact his perspective moving forward in how Columbus residents are being impacted by harsh immigration tactics.

Mayor Ginther visit

In the evening we hosted the event Sanctuary People, Sanctuary Community, Sanctuary Movement.  The highlight was connecting Edith and Columbus with four other people currently in sanctuary, and their supporters: Austin, TX, Philadephia, PA, Raleigh, NC, and Durham NC.  One of the main goals was to elevate this as a national story to connect these cases and help create a new narrative of compassion.  I don’t have a good picture, but the event got a lot of attention with the local press, with links below.  During the day we were also interviewed by two international media outlets, one from Spain and one from Brazil.  I’m not currently aware of any national press that picked it up.

Today was another big day for the Espinals as Edith’s husband Manuel had a court date in Cleveland.  He was accompanied by a group of Columbus supporters.  We learned early this afternoon the very good news that he does not need to reappear in court until March 2019.  This means his own application for asylum is still pending and he maintains a temporary status in the US.

Days like yesterday are a clear reminder that Sanctuary has a life of its own.  Our collective life has become bound together with Edith, and, more widely, with a community of supporters in Columbus and across the country.  The publicity through the press is a good thing for Edith’s case, but puts us in unfamiliar territory.  There are days in which sanctuary has minimal impact on what happens around the church.  And there are days like yesterday.

From another angle, I’m guessing it is impacting every one of us in some way.  Yesterday a CMC father passed along a story about his young son telling his class in school that his church was providing a home for a woman who couldn’t live in her own home right now.  This was while the class was talking about how to keep doing the work that Dr. King taught.

Let’s stay in conversation with each other about how this is impacting us, and how we are caring for ourselves and one another.


Columbus Dispatch Growing sanctuary movement an act of resistance to immigration policy, activists say Resistance can take the form of marches and protest, but it also can be as simple as offering hospitality in an inhospitable world.

10TV Some of the Columbus community have hopes to start a “sanctuary movement”  A woman living in sanctuary at a Columbus church is fighting to stay with her family. Edith Espinal is an undocumented immigrant, facing deportation. She and others just like her across the country shared their stories with the community, hoping to start a “sanctuary movement.”

ABC6 Immigrants living in sanctuary to avoid deportation share their stories Immigrants from various American cities, including Columbus, shared their stories at a Columbus church. Columbus Mennonite Church hosted the event Tuesday night. The Clintonville church is where Edith Espinal has been living for 110 days.


The twelve months of CMC


In previous years I’ve written a January blog to recap the past year.  It’s basically a long list of happenings, with lots of commas.  It’s a little overwhelming (to write and probably to read), and I inevitably leave out something important.  This time I’d like to pare it down to a highlight from each month.  Hopefully this captures a sense of where we’ve been together and, especially if you’re new-ish, gives a window into what we do and value as a congregation.

January | Drew Hart spoke at our Winter Seminar which we promoted to Mennonites around Ohio.  We were joined by groups from as far away as Cleveland and Cincinnati in considering how the church might confront racism in its many forms.

February | Our worship theme for the month was “We are Sermon on the Mount people.”  We looked at how these core teachings in Matthew shape us as peacemakers.

March | Our annual comforter knotting party contributed toward a record year of productivity for the Piecemakers.  Many knots were tied, many tasty bowls of soup eaten, many conversations had.  Reserve March 2 and 3 this year.

April | Guest speaker Laurel Neufeld-Weaver spoke about congregations creating a safe and healthy environment for children.  Our Keeping CMC Safe policy guides us in these commitments.

May | We welcomed 19 new members.  Around 80 of us joined 2500 other people of faith from Franklin County at the BREAD Nehemiah Action to do justice.  Ongoing initiates include implementing restorative practices in Columbus City Schools, and a One ID card for county residents that would give homeless, undocumented immigrants, and others access to city services.  We formed a green block with our new CMC T-Shirts which read “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.”  A matching banner was hung on the north side of the church.

June | We began the summer Twelve Hymns Project series.  The congregation selected twelve hymns that we find most meaningful.  Summer worship included singing the hymns in different styles, a sermon about the history and theology of the hymns, and a personal reflection from someone for whom the hymn has special meaning.  A new hymnal project is in the works, to be completed in 2020.

July | Several of us attended the biennial Mennonite Church USA convention, in Orlando.  We passed a resolution affirming our commitments to Palestinians and Israelis, to work for a just peace and reject antisemitism in all its forms.  The gathering also included the Future Church Summit in which we were given time to collectively dream about the future of our denomination.  There was a noticeable absence of delegates from conferences who have chosen to no longer affiliate with the denomination.

August |   In less than a week’s time we discerned we would be a Sanctuary congregation.  Concretely, this meant we would host Edith Espinal to enable her to avoid deportation and keep her family together.  She first entered the church on Labor Day, was back in her home for most of September, and has been living with us since October 2.  The Columbus Dispatch named her case one of the top ten local stories of 2017.

September | Our annual retreat at Camp Luz in Northeast Ohio included opportunities for play and fun.  Children created small boats from found objects, and youth created trash fashion which they showcased at the Saturday evening talent show.

October | This month included the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in Germany.  This is the event most commonly referenced as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  Soon the Anabaptists pushed this even further through the Radical Reformation.

November | We experimented with having our fall congregational meeting on a Sunday morning rather than evening, during the Sunday school hour, followed by the Harvest Potluck.  Turn out indicated it is a preferred time.

December | The children presented the Ohio premier of the Christmas play “Angels in the choir.”  Advent worship encouraged us to consider Mary as a model for inner sanctuary.  Coloring pages optional.

Blessings as this new year unfolds.  I’m especially grateful for all the unscheduled and unseen ways you practice caring community with one another.


Sunday’s Epiphany sermon, “Behold: Stars, Child, Church” is now posted.

Real place, real people


As we approach Christmas, we remember that Bethlehem is a real place with real people whose struggles are not dissimilar from Roman occupied Palestine in the first century.  We also remember that the nativity story, and the subsequent response of Herod, is a story of sanctuary, forced migration, and every day families subject to the violent whims of powerful state actors.

Below are two images that the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN) is inviting us to ponder this year.  Both are new works by the street artist Banksy in Bethlehem.  Note the crowbar in the hands of the angel attempting to create an opening in the separation wall.  The “Peace on Earth*” sign with the Christmas star asterisk is on the door of a new business venture: “The Walled Off Hotel,” which boasts “The worst view in the world,” the towering concrete separation wall around Bethlehem.  It hopes to bring in Israeli and international tourists, providing jobs and drawing attention to the daily life of locals living in the Occupied Territories.

Below that is an image of Jose y Maria (Joseph and Mary) by the artist Everett Patterson.  See how many nativity references you can find (e.g., Mary’s sweatshirt says “Nazareth High School.”)

This is our world.  Today.

So too is the astounding birth of Jesus who proclaimed a kingdom defined by loving kindness and justice.  So too is the persistence of a people who believe that the angelic proclamation of “peace on earth” is our life’s work and hope.


Banksy, Bethlehem


You just got an award

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Last evening four of us from CMC attended the annual Faith in Public Life celebration, downtown.  Faith in Public Life is a national organization with several state chapters, including Ohio.  In Columbus they convene a monthly faith leaders breakfast which I attend, have been active in addressing the need for crisis intervention training for city police, and have been in the center of the swirl of our sanctuary work, especially in relating with the media.

Last evening, on behalf of you all, we accepted their award of “Faith Community of the Year.”  It was their way of acknowledging this congregation’s willingness to risk stepping forward in offering sanctuary to Edith and the Espinal family, highlighting the plight of immigrant families in our community.  As a gift, we received this plaque with the quote from King.

FLP award, MLK Jr. quote

This reminds me of the joke about the person given a button for being the most humble, but had it taken away because she wore it.  We’ve joked a bit in the office about how we as humble Mennonites might display this (In a closet in the basement?), but are opting to hang it in the foyer, at least for now.  Unfortunately, the gender exclusive language from the 60’s remains.

This has always been primarily about Edith, and answering the call to be in solidarity with her family.  But we can receive this as a sign of gratitude from the wider faith community, challenging all of us to better live out our convictions as sanctuary people.  With Mary as our guide this Advent, I think about her visit to Elizabeth soon after she accepted the call to carry the Christ child.  She knew if she was going to do this, she needed support and companionship.  Elizabeth greets her with the words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of our womb,” assuring her that she is not crazy.  Even though she doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into, she is and will be blessed, and others will be blessed through her.  And Elizabeth will be by her side all the while.

Blessed are you, Columbus Mennonite Church.  And blessed is the one who has found sanctuary within you.