Peace Sunday 2015

This week The Commons observed Peace Sunday for the first time. Peace Sunday is something our wider tribe of Mennonites observe the Sunday before Remembrance Day. It is a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) initiative that seeks to give space for stories and ideas of peace that are pursued through active nonviolence. The slogan is “To remember, is to work for peace.”

As a community that is very new to the Peace Church tradition this time of year can be confusing and hard for us. We don’t have a life time of stories and teachings about nonviolence to draw upon. Yes we value peace and non violence but we also value safety. Many of us work in the for social service agencies that absolutely need to partner with Police to keep their community members safe. Some of us have friends and family who are in the military or who are veterans. These are people we love and respect. I’m with Johnny Cash in the notion that we need to “Support the Troops but not the War.” So at The Commons we really try not to make assumptions when we talk about peacemaking.  I don’t really know what Peace Sunday looks like at other “Peace Churches” but here is what it looked like at The Commons.

to-remember-is-to-work-for-peacePEACE BUTTONS:

We begun by handing out our peace buttons. We have been doing this for a couple weeks now and have been telling our Commoners that some people like to wear it as a compliment to their poppy and some like to wear it as an alternative to the poppy. We think both are valid and that it is a good conversation starter either way.

A MINUTE OF SILENCE:

We talked about valuing soldiers sacrifice and conviction to lay down their lives for what they believe in whether we agree or not with their actions. We stood and observed a minute of silence together in remembrance of the sacrifice given by soldiers both past and present.

We acknowledged that in our wider society that we have lots of opportunities to hear these soldiers stories and to honour their sacrifice in remembrance day services and school assemblies across our city, but that we don’t have a lot of places to think about a different way to bring about peace. A non violent way to work for peace. We said that today we are going to take the time on Peace Sunday to explore nonviolent peacemaking.

A STORY FROM A FORMER SOLDIER:

We then watched a video (see above) of Joshua Casteel’s retelling the events that led this solider to applying to be a “Contentious Objector.” It is the story of a soldier having a conversation with a terrorist about Jesus’ proclamation of “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” We used this story because it is coming from a solider. His journey into peacemaking has a weight and credibility that most of us (for whom war is just a theoretical issue) could never have.

BREATH PRAYER:

Adam Getty led us through a Breath Prayer. He explained that violence is most often connected with fear. He taught us to pray “Perfect Love, casts out all fear.” As we inhaled we were instructed to pray “Perfect Love.” As we exhaled we prayed “Casts out all fear.” As we repeat the breath prayer to the rhythm over our own breathing we start to absorb the words and open our selves up to the Holy Spirit to speak into our every day lives. We were encouraged to practice this prayer over the next week as a way to not give into fear.

PEACE SONGS:

Nick Schuurman led us in a round of peace songs. We sang Sunday Bloody Sunday, by U2. Because we had already had been listening to the story of Joshua Casteel and practiced our Breath Prayer there was a different spirit to our songs. Often music is used to introduce a theme and the words are soft, especially for a catchy and familiar tune, but we had already jumped into the theme of peace so their was a different weight to this song. As we sang the following words really jumped out “When fact is fiction and TV reality, And today the millions cry, We eat and drink while tomorrow they die, Sunday Bloody Sunday…” For many of us the whole conversation of war, violence, and even peacemaking is just something we see from afar on TV or read about and we need to not let our sanitized media consumption not dull us to the realities and horrors of violence and war that need a real response that goes beyond the theoretical of arm chair activism.

We also sang “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy” an old folk hymn by Joseph Hart written in 1759 and “We Will Lay Our Burdens Down” by John Bell. I could imagine verse 1 from Come Ye Sinners being especially meaningful for anyone who has suffered through war.

Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow’r.

LECTIO DIVINIA:

Instead of someone speaking or teaching about peace we decided that we needed to go back to basics, Peacemaking 101 if you will. We needed to think of peacemaking through the lens of Jesus. To do this we read the story of Jesus calming the storm through the spiritual practice of Lectio Divinia. In Lectio you don’t read dead words on a page you allow living words to read you. What you hear may not be the definitive reading or meaning of the passage for all time but it is a way of reading scripture that leaves room for the Holy Spirit to speak into our lives in the moment. Here is the story we read:

That day when evening came, [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”” –Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)

We listened to this passage 4 times:

  • The first time we listened for a word or phrase that stood out.
  • The second time we asked ourselves:
    “What might God be saying to us in that word or phrase?
    “Are we hearing anything related to the theme of peace?”
  • The third reading we tried to place ourselves into the shoes of the disciples and really pay attention to the words of Jesus:
    “Let us go over to the other side.”
    “Quiet! Be still!”
    “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
  • The last reading we sat in silence and just rested in the words for a couple minutes.

At first glance this story may not seem to be about peacemaking but in our conversations we began to talk about this Jesus that has the power to control the seemingly uncontrollable. We often think that war and violence are just something that happens, something beyond all control, just like we can’t control the weather. But, if Jesus has the power to change something as unchangeable as the weather then perhaps we should trust that Jesus also has the power to change the way we work for peace in our world. We need to listen carefully to this Jesus that we claim to follow when he is perplexed and asks us Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 

There is that “Fear” word again. I guess we need to start working on that.
Inhale: “Perfect Love.”
E
xhale: “Casts out all fear.”
Inhale: “Perfect Love.”
E
xhale: “Casts out all fear.”
Keep breathing words of peace!
Amen.

A Soundtrack for Prayer & Forgiveness

DJ GearMountain Top Questions Title SlideCan You Keep A Secret?
Teaching Segment Recap by Randell Neudorf
Sunday, October 26th, 2014
Matthew 6: 1-18

Before we got into the official teaching section of the Gathering, Paul Perry, led us through our scripture passage using Lectio Divina, an ancient way of reading scripture that leaves space for reflections. We listened to 4 voices repeat the passage found in Matthew 6: 1-18 and were asked to think about what words, phrases and ideas jump out at us. As the passage was read I was using a Sufjan Stevens song called “Year of Our Lord” as sonic space to anchor our reflections.

I have been using Lectio Divina at home as a way to prepare for teaching, and two things really jumped out at me as I was thinking about what to say this week:

  • the phrase: “do not keep on babbling like pagans” found in Matt 6:7
  • the idea of keeping things “Secret” found all through out the above passage.

So in the spirit of not babbling, I decided I shouldn’t talk much today and we should have an opportunity to participate in some of the things Jesus was talking about. There was also a DJ component to each sections with songs used to frame our reflections and actions.

ACTIVITY ONE: Secret Prayer Cards

skywalker-family-breakfastThe first thing we did was to keep some good secrets. Not all secrets are dark and bad, some are fun and more like the joy found in a surprise party or receiving a gift and having no idea who was so thoughtful.

I showed off my “World’s Greatest Dad” T-shirt as an example of a good secret. A couple years ago I got this Star Wars themed Dad shirt. I cam home and my wife Susan gave it to me and said that some one dropped it off for me and she was instructed not to tell me who it was from. I still have no idea who gave me this shirt, and during the gathering Susan said she can’t even remember who it was so the secret is extra safe now.  Was it my brother, was it someone from the Commons?  I don’t know, but they know me well enough to know that I’m a Star Wars fan, I have a love of funky T-shirts and that I’m a father of two. The secret made this gift extra special and exciting.

keep-calm-and-shhh-keep-secret-3In that spirit of secrets, we all filled out secret prayer request cards while listing to Eastmount Park by Christine Bougie (one of the best guitarists I have ever seen, she is from Toronto).

We then put all our secret cards into a giant gift bag and we changed our soundtrack to “And This No More” by Joy Electric (a great party/dance song) to put a little fun in our secret prayers.

We were all asked to take one card from the gift bag home and secretly pray for what was on the card. I may or may not have had a little dance in my step as I walked around with the gift bag full of secret prayers.

ACTIVITY TWO: Lord’s Prayer Stations

After finishing with secrets we moved on to The Lord’s Prayer, and our sonic landscape was provided by Oliver Schroer violin interpretation of this prayer.

Instead of reciting this prayer as a group liturgy we were invited to use one of 4 prayer stations to personally say this prayer and reflect on some of Jesus’ directions about prayer:

  • “don’t stand in the house of worship” (v 5)
  • Pray in private – “Go to your room, close your door” (v 6)
  • Keep it short (v 8)
  • don’t use meaningless words (v 8)

Two stations had mats provided for kneeling. Three of the stations were in spaces outside of our Gathering space. Two stations had doors that could be closed. Each Station had a print out of the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew from the Good News Translation. I choose this version because of the very simple and clear language.

free-celtic-cross-clip-art-simple-celtic-cross-vector---viewing-galleryThe Lord’s Prayer
Matthew 6:9-13 as found in the Good News Translation

Our Father in heaven:
May your holy name be honored;
      may your Kingdom come;
may your will be done on earth
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need.
Forgive us the wrongs we have done,
as we forgive the wrongs
that others have done to us.
Do not bring us to hard testing,
but keep us safe from the Evil One.

MCEC logoACTIVITY THREE: MCEC Call to Prayer

The Commons’ wider tribe is Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC).

MCEC is part of the Historic Peace Church tradition and in light of the tragic events that took place in Ottawa this week, David Martin (MCEC Executive Minister) sent out the following statement to all MCEC churches to encourage them to pray.

“The recent tragic events in the communities of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa that have taken the lives of two members of the Canadian Armed Forces have riveted the attention of our nation. These events have triggered a variety of responses that are increasing the level of fear in our society, risk fostering discrimination against our Muslim brothers and sisters, are heightening militaristic rhetoric, and justifying our country’s violent response to terrorism.

At such a time as this, our nation needs the voice of a peace church that witnesses to alternative responses to violence and invites our political leaders to address the root causes of violence and terrorism. From what we know at this time, it appears that the recent tragic events are more likely an indicator of our society’s failure to address the social and psychiatric needs of our citizens than the rise of coordinated terrorist attacks on Canadian soil.

In the face of traumatic events, we as Christians put our faith in the strength and compassion of a loving God and remind ourselves that in all things God is at work to bring about the peace that we have experienced in Jesus Christ.

As MCEC churches, we have committed ourselves as a community of congregations to extending the peace of Jesus Christ. I am inviting you and your congregation to be such a voice for peace among your neighbours, your school mates and in the wider community as we give witness to a peace that is stronger than violence and hatred. Please join the MCEC community as we commit ourselves to pray for the peace of our nation and our world.” – David Martin

We then had 5 volunteers light candles for each of the areas that MCEC is calling the church to pray for:

MCEC – A Prayer for Peace in our Time:

  1. Lord we Pray for those in the communities of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa whose lives have been impacted by the tragic deaths of members of the Canadian armed forces
    a. For the families and friends of those killed
    b. For the families of those who committed the atrocities
    c. For members of the Canadian military and their families as they deal with the fear of losing a loved one to violence
    d. For those in the community and across the country whose lives have been shaken by these events
  2. Lord we Pray for members of our Ottawa area congregations and those in the Ottawa community affected by the recent tragedies
  3. Lord we Pray for the Muslim community that they feel supported and do not become the target of misplaced anger and discrimination
  4. Lord we Pray for our Civic leaders that they may respond in a responsible and measured way that seeks to promote the welfare and peace of all Canadians and peace in our global community and does not instill fear or suspicion of our local or global neighbours
  5. Lord we Pray for the vulnerable in our society, especially those who struggle with mental illness and are tempted to misdirect their anger and fear

 ACTIVITY FOUR: Forgiveness Exercise

Over the last year or so the phrase “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us” (Matthew 5:12) really jumps out at me when I read the Lord’s Prayer. There is a weight to forgiveness, that is tied right in with he very first Christian Liturgy. Forgiveness, is a foundational value of Jesus, and it is a fundamental principle of Christian Peacemaking.

Forgive us slide

We had Matthew 5:2  with an image of an Orthodox Cross posted on the power point screen, and handed out slips of paper with the same verse and cross on it to each person in the room.

The Orthodox cross is a unique symbol with more lines involved then the standard cross. There are lots of reasons attributed to the slanted line at the bottom of the Orthodox Cross. I found some helpful explanations on seiyaku.com:

  • It can represent the thieves on either side of Jesus at the crucifixion. The thief on the left side repented and the line points up to emphasis that this man went up to heaven to be with Jesus. The other man continued to insult Jesus and did not repent and so his side of the line goes down to emphasis his fate.
  • 3-d-eastorthIt could be an attempt at creating a hint of Three Dimensions with the board that Jesus was standing on being fixed in the opposite direction of the middle cross beam (see image to the right).
  • Some people hold that Jesus spasmed  right before his death and broke his foot support, Others say that the weight of Jesus’ body broke the foot support.

I like to think about this weight in more of a metaphorical way. There is a weight to sin and in forgiveness we are holding on to weight that is not ours. Through unforgiveness we allow the wrong that was done to us to weigh us down and to have power over us. I attached the Orthodox Cross to the words found in Matthew 5:12 so that when ever we walk past an orthodox church that we would be reminded of the weight of holding on to other people’s wrongs, and the need for us to forgive.

Matt 6 v12 Cross copy

We then took our slips of paper and went outside and people were invited to burn them in a metal pale. People were asked to pray silently one of two things as they ignited their slip of paper:

  1. “Lord I forgive ____________________”
  2. “Lord I’m not able to forgive ___________________, I need you to help me to learn to forgive.”

Both prayers are valid. It is hard to forgive, and some of us have suffered things that should not have been aloud to happen, but if we are following Jesus we need to be willing to take one step further into forgiveness.

Upon reflecting on the burning of these forgiveness prayers, a number of things stood out to me:

  1. Ash is lighter then paper. As we burnt these slips of paper that represented unforgiveness, they physically became liter.
  2. Forgiveness produces light, just like our fire.
  3. Forgiveness and Fire can be scary, I had two jars of water and a fire extinguisher ready in case we had an accident. Just like we need to be safe when using a fire, we need to be safe when creating opportunities to engage in forgiveness.
  4. When I put the last of the fire out, it stank, It would have been better for me to stick with the fire, allow it to consume every last ember. We must be patient as we allow forgiveness to consume the burden we have been holding on to.

Some where in the middle of our fire a spontaneous “Kumbaya moment” happened and we began singing Oh Lord Hear My Prayer as we watched our fire.