Author Archives: cindydarylbyler

J. Daryl Byler is executive director at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Cynthia A. Byler teaches at EMU’s Intensive English Program. From 2007 until 2013, they served with MCC in Amman, Jordan

Time to rebuild good relations with Iran

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980, after Iranian students took 52 hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held them for 444 days.  But there is a back story that many Americans do not know. Today in Vienna, envoys from Iran and the world’s six major powers are gathering for a third round of talks about Iran’s nuclear program, which began with support from the United States.

On April 7, the Richmond Times Dispatch published my opinion piece offering the perspective that, while significant differences remain between the two countries, it is time to rebuild mutually respectful relationships with Iran, a former U.S. ally.

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, MCC Washington Office director, visits in Qom, Iran with Zahra, one of the Iranian women who plans to attend EMU's Summer Peacebuilding Institute in May

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, MCC Washington Office director, visits in Qom, Iran with Zahra, one of the Iranian women who plans to attend EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute in May

 

 

 

Images from Iran

I traveled to Iran, February 19-25, 2014, along with a professor from Canadian Mennonite University and the board chair and senior staff of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

This was my 11th trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the past 20 years. Our host was Dr. Mohammad Shomali, director of the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Qom.

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Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has had program connections in Iran since 1990. During the past 15 years, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) has developed a growing network of connections as well. Ten Iranians have attended EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI). Two have gone on to receive an M.A. in Conflict Transformation from EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, where I now serve as executive director.

While in Iran, we were able to meet with three SPI alumni and with several Iranian women scholars who plan to attend SPI in May 2014.

For further details of the trip, see articles posted by MCC and EMU.

Alternatives to U.S. military strikes against Syria

85d97476a6abeb7fe4df7b31d68fb5bb09749e8cHere is a link to an opinion piece that Daryl wrote for the Richmond Times Dispatch, regarding the potential for U.S. military strikes against Syria.

Signing off from Amman

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (June 16, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
II Samuel 11:26-12:15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

This week we said our last goodbyes in Jordan. On Monday, Wafa Goussous of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate hosted a lovely farewell gathering on behalf of MCC Jordan partners.

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On Tuesday we traveled to Karak to say goodbye to our friend Mamun Tarawneh, who has introduced us to many Jordanian families during our time in the Middle East. We enjoyed the Jordanian national dish, mansef — a meat and rice dish served with nuts and yogurt.

Cindy enjoys mansef at the Tarawneh home in Karak

Cindy enjoys mansef at the Tarawneh home in Karak

On Thursday evening the MCC office staff took us out for a farewell dinner. To use a Middle Eastern expression, we feel generously “fare-welled.”

Cindy at farewell dinner with colleagues Suzi Khoury, Nada Zabaneh and Kristy Guertin

Cindy at farewell dinner with colleagues Suzi Khoury, Nada Zabaneh and Kristy Guertin

This will be our last posting from the Middle East. We plan to fly to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 15.

Thanks to those who have journeyed with us during these six years. According to WordPress, we have had readers from 127 countries during the past several years. Many have taken time to send notes of encouragement. Our friend Mike Charles from Arizona, our small group from Washington, D.C. and Don and Lurline Campbell from Brisbane, Australia, deserve distinction as “encouragers-in-chief”!  We are still trying to decide whether we will continue a blog — obviously under a new name — when we return to Virginia. If so, it will be at this same site.

There have been significant changes during our six years in the Middle East:

  • The aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war uprooted some 5 million Iraqis. By some estimates, up to 70 percent of the Iraqi Christian community left the country since the 1991 and 2003 wars.
  • When we arrived in 2007, as many as 700,000 Iraqi refuges lived in Jordan, seeking resettlement to third countries. While the number of Iraqis in Jordan has decreased to tens of thousands, more than 560,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in their place. UNHCR estimates the number could swell to 1.2 million by year end, severely straining Jordan’s infrastructure.
  • As a result of the Arab Spring, four governments in the region have been toppled in the past two years – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. A major civil war rages in Syria.
  • Long-simmering tensions between the minority Bedouin tribes of Jordan and the majority Palestinian population, which arrived as refugees in Jordan after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, are now threatening to split the country apart.

Amidst the political upheaval in the region, a new "downtown" is rising in the Abdali section of Amman

About a third of the high-rises are now visible in a new “Abdali downtown” that is rising in Amman

  • When we arrived in Amman, a large construction site near our flat was a patchwork of large holes in the ground. Today tall buildings are rising from the ground, comprising the new Abdali downtown.

MCC has also seen major changes.  A strategic planning and re-structuring process known as Wineskins has resulted in MCC Canada and MCC U.S. now jointly administering MCC international programs.  MCC has also adopted a more rigorous planning, evaluation and monitoring system for partner-implemented projects around the world.

Mamun with his bug-eating pet porcupine.  Cindy says it's a hedgehog and she's probably right!

Mamun with his bug-eating pet porcupine. Cindy says it’s a hedgehog and she’s probably right!

The Common Lectionary readings this week offer still timely reminders about the connections between confession, forgiveness and restoration.

The prophet Nathan confronts King David after he commits adultery with Bathsheba and has her husband killed.  To David’s credit, he acknowledges his sin. While God forgives David, the long-term consequences of his actions haunt him for the remainder of his days (II Sam. 11:26-12:15).

Reflecting on this experience David writes: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  . . . my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.  . . . Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Ps. 32:3-5)

In the Epistle reading, Paul acknowledges that we cannot be made right with God by “doing the works of the law” (Gal. 2:16), but by placing our faith in Christ who loves us and gave his life for us (vv. 16, 20).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus commends a sinful woman who has demonstrated her repentance by washing Jesus’ feet, while he criticize a religious leader who neither shows hospitality nor recognizes the depth of his need for God’s forgiveness.  “I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love,” Jesus observes, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke :47)

Farewell picture in MCC Jordan office (photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen)

Farewell picture in MCC Jordan office (photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen)

It will be special to arrive in Virginia in time for Father’s Day. We plan to spend time this Sunday with Holden, Heidi and granddaughter Sydney.

Thanks again to all who have journeyed with us!

Second chances

Third Sunday after Pentecost (June 9, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
I Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

This week we continued to wrap up loose ends in the MCC Amman office and introduced Carolyne and Gordon to MCC Jordan partners. On Monday we visited partners in Amman and on Tuesday we traveled to Irbid, Addasiyeh, Wadi Rayyan and Salt — all in the north of Jordan.

Suzan and Shireen are two of nearly 20 alumni of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University

Suzan and Shireen are two of nearly 20 alumni of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University

We also had a wonderful lunchtime discussion with Jordanian alumni of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute and continued to receive meal invitations from friends.

Lunch with Um Yousef, director of the Wadi Rayyan Women's Benevolent Society

Lunch with Um Yousef, director of the Wadi Rayyan Women’s Benevolent Society

The Common Lectionary readings this week are about second chances.

In both the Old Testament and Gospel readings widows lose their only sons to death, only to have them restored to life.

Our colleague Suzi with Finn, the youngest visitor to the MCC Jordan office this week

Our colleague Suzi with Finn, the youngest visitor to the MCC Jordan office this week.

Suzi took us out for a wonderful brunch on Friday morning

Suzi took us out for a wonderful brunch on Friday morning

When a widow’s son becomes ill and dies, Elijah cries out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” (I Kings 17:21) The Lord answers Elijah’s prayer and Elijah “gave him to his mother” (v.23). Similarly, when the adult son of a widow in Nain dies, Jesus commands, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” (Luke 7:14). Immediately the man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus “gave him to his mother.” (v.15) What happy reunions these must have been!

David praise God who, at a time of disease and distress, healed him, restored him to life and brought up his soul from the Pit (Ps. 30:2-3).

With Rev. Samir and Ms. Sabah, whose vision and energetic leadership has inspired the Arab Episcopal School in Irbid

With Rev. Samir and Ms. Sabah, whose vision and energetic leadership has inspired the Arab Episcopal School in Irbid

In the Epistle reading, Paul recounts his former life of violently persecuting the church (Gal. 1:13). But through the grace of God, Paul is given a second chance to “proclaim the faith he once tried to destroy.” (v.23)

With all of our short-comings and the many mistakes we make as human beings, it comforting to know that we are loved by a God who gives us second chances — sometimes more than once!

With MCC Jordan office colleagues Nada Zabaneh and Suzi Khoury (photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen)

With MCC Jordan office colleagues Nada Zabaneh and Suzi Khoury (photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen)

From all nations

Second Sunday after Pentecost (June 2, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
I Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

This week we traveled to northern Iraq to introduce Carolyne and Gordon to MCC Iraq partners; then on to Istanbul to meet with Iran partners and Amela Puljek-Shank, MCC’s area director for Europe and the Middle East.

Cindy with Hero Brzw, who graduated from Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice  Peacebuilding and now works in northern Iraq

Cindy with Hero Brzw, who graduated from Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice Peacebuilding and now works in northern Iraq

Jim and Deb Fine, MCC Iraq program coordinator and English teacher, respectively, did a wonderful job of hosting us in Iraq. We traveled to all corners of the Kurdish region of Iraq, meeting with partners who have become close friends across the years. It was a great opportunity to reminisce about changes during the six years we have lived in the region.

Jim Fine, with sisters from the Daughters of Mary in al Qosh

Jim Fine, with sisters from the Daughters of Mary in al Qosh

Cindy fulfilled a long-term wish by attending the kindergarten graduation at Kids House in Ankawa, May 29. In previous years we have always been speaking in Canada or the U.S. during the first-rate kindergarten performance. Kids House – a MCC Global Family partner – is operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Kids House dancers at graduation program, May 29 (photo by Jim Fine)

Kids House dancers at graduation program, May 29 (photo by Jim Fine)

The Common Lectionary readings remind us the God cannot be contained, constrained or controlled by one people group. Rather, all nations are to worship God and examples of active faith are found in every community.

Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen buying a carpet in Erbil

Deb Fine (left) helps Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen buy a carpet at the bazaar in Erbil

At the dedication of his magnificent temple, Solomon offered an insightful and inclusive prayer: “When a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you. . .” (I Kings 8:42-43).

With Dana Hassan, former director of MCC partner REACH, in Suliemaniyah

With Dana Hassan, former director of MCC partner REACH, in Suliemaniyah

Similarly, the psalmist has a broad understanding of the reach of God’s glory and grace. “Declare (God’s) glory among the nations,” the psalmist urges, “his marvelous works among all the peoples.” (Ps. 96:3)

Jesus heals a Roman centurion’s slave after the centurion says that he trusts Jesus to perform this miracle without even coming to his home. “I tell you,” Jesus marvels, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9).

Carolyne looks at a photo with one of the children at St. Anne's Orphanage in al Qosh

Carolyne looks at a photo with one of the youth at St. Anne’s Orphanage in al Qosh

During our six years in the Middle East we have experienced God’s goodness and blessing in the relationships with people from many nations and faith traditions. Thanks be to God!

Inseparably intertwined

Trinity Sunday (May 26, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

On Tuesday this week Cindy taught her last English class with Iraqi students here in Amman. Her students threw a party in her honor. For nearly a year now Cindy has been teaching ESL classes for children and adults at the Chaldean Catholic church near the MCC offices in Jabal Webdah.

Cindy with some of her students at the Chaldean Catholic church in Amman

Cindy with some of her students at the Chaldean Catholic church in Amman (photo by Fr. Raymond)

On Wednesday we hosted a lunch for young adult staff from several MCC partners here in Amman. Daryl made West African Groundnut Stew (More-with-Less Cookbook, page 172) for the occasion. We have been inspired by the vision and commitment of many young adults who work with NGOs in Jordan.

On Thursday Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen finished their four-month formal Arabic language training. We now begin a three-week orientation period as they assume the MCC Rep role here in Jordan in mid-June.

Carolyne and Gordon with Mark LaChonce, the director of their Arabic language school

Carolyne and Gordon with Mark LaChonce, the director of their Arabic language school

Saturday morning we fly to northern Iraq to introduce the Epp-Fransen’s to MCC Iraq partners; then on to Istanbul where we will meet with one of MCC’s key Iran partners. Getting visas to Iran is not possible due to the upcoming presidential elections.

In the region this week:

  • UNHCR announced a temporary lull in the arrival of Syrian refugees to Jordan due to intensified fighting on the Syrian-Jordanian border, making it difficult for refugees to cross. On Thursday the World Bank announced that it will provide $150 million of economic support to Jordan to assist with the cost of hosting the refugees. Jordan is currently hosting 540,000 Syrians.
Syrian children haul mattresses into one-room caravan homes at Za'atari Camp (photo by Muath Freij for the Jordan Times)

Syrian children haul mattresses into a one-room caravan home at Za’atari Camp (photo by Muath Freij for the Jordan Times)

  • Syrian opposition leaders began three days of talks in Istanbul, seeking a political solution to the conflict which has taken the lives of some 80,000 Syrians and uprooted an additional 5 million.
Jordanian demonstrators outside the Iraqi embassy in Amman (AP photo in Jordan Times)

Anti-riot police outside the Iraqi embassy in Amman (AP photo in Jordan Times)

The Common Lectionary readings for this Trinity Sunday highlight the interwoven relationships between members of the Trinity.

God, who is Creator and Sovereign, gives humans dominion over creation (Ps. 8) and shares everything with Jesus Christ, God’s son (John 16:15).

Jesus Christ is co-creator with God (Prov. 8:22-31) and mediator between God and humanity. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul declares (Rom. 5:1).

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” Paul continues (Rom. 5:5). In addition to being the channel of God’s love, the Spirit guides humanity into all the truth, glorifying and bearing witness to Jesus (John 16:13-15).

Such collaboration and unselfish interaction are rare. Indeed, the relationship between the members of the Trinity is a powerful example of the kind of unity that God desires for the human community as well. In a world torn by divisions and fighting, may such unity be so!

Granddaughter Sydney tests the waters and decides it's too cold to climb in (photo by Holden Byler)

Granddaughter Sydney tests the waters and decides it’s too cold to climb in (photo by Holden Byler)

Coming with power

Pentecost Sunday (May 19, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-35; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27

As our time draws to a close in Jordan, we are receiving a number of farewell dinner invitations. Wednesday we spent a lovely evening with Wafa Goussous, who has worked with the Middle East Council of Churches and the Orthodox Initiative during the past 10 years. On Friday, our MCC Jordan colleague Nada Zabaneh hosted us for a delightful lunch in her home. On Saturday evening, Barbara Jones – with whom we served on the council at the International Anglican Church of Amman – hosted a beautiful farewell dinner for us and the Fabrycky family who is also leaving this summer.

Nada Zabaneh serves Arabic coffee after dinner

Nada Zabaneh serves Arabic coffee after dinner

Cindy conducted interviews for short-term Intensive English teachers in Iraq. This is the fourth year that MCC plans to provide ESL teachers for a program initiated by the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Our friend Wafa took this picture in her home in Jabal Amman, Wednesday. We're coming home with a few more gray hairs than when we arrived in Amman six years ago!

Our friend Wafa took this picture in her home in Jabal Amman, Wednesday. We’re coming home with a few more gray hairs than when we arrived in Amman six years ago!

In the region this week:

"I received a package of milk and diapers . . . they were my hope since I desperately needed them for my newborn twins," said Azad Al Bardan, a Syrian refugee who received assistance through MCC partner Caritas Jordan (photo by Dana Shahin)

“I received a package of milk and diapers . . . they were my hope since I desperately needed them for my newborn twins,” said Azad Al Bardan, a Syrian refugee who received assistance through MCC partner Caritas Jordan (photo by Dana Shahin)

  • Turkey alleged it has evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the fighting in Syria.
  • Iran’s Guardian Council will announce on Tuesday the list of candidates for the June 14 elections. While 30 women have registered, one member of the Guardian Council said this week that Iran’s constitution rules out women presidential candidates. Women are allowed to run for parliamentary seats.

The Common Lectionary readings for this Pentecost Sunday highlight the impact of God’s Holy Spirit.

The story in Acts is the most familiar. God’s Spirit comes from heaven with the sound of a rushing wind and tongues of fire rest on the disciples of Jesus, giving them the ability to speak in diverse languages so that everyone in the crowd is able to hear in his or her own language about God’s deeds of power (Acts 2:1-13). Some allege that the disciples are drunk, but Peter reminds the crowd that the prophets of foretold the coming of the Spirit with power, helping some to see visions and others to dream dreams (vv.17-21).

Our friend Agnes Chen, who served as a HNGR intern with Caritas Jordan, graduated from Wheaton College this week.

Our friend Agnes Chen, who served as a HNGR intern with Caritas Jordan, graduated from Wheaton College this week.

The psalmist associates the coming of God’s Spirit with creation and renewal of the earth (Ps. 104:30).

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that God’s Spirit connects with our human spirit, reminding us that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says that God’s Spirit of truth will serve as our Advocate (John 14:16, 26), abiding with us to teach us everything and to remind us of the words of Jesus (vv. 17, 26).

Our prayer for Pentecost is that God’s Spirit will come with power, bringing new understanding between warring nations, helping leaders to see visions of justice and peace, renewing the earth, teaching humanity how to follow the way of Jesus, and reminding all that we are God’s children.

Lunch feast at Nada's house (left to right): Cindy, Carolyne & Gordon, Nada and Luna

Lunch feast at Nada’s house (left to right): Cindy, Carolyne & Gordon, Nada and Luna

Last wishes

7th Sunday of Easter (May 12, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-21; John 17:20-26

We have just two weeks left in the MCC Jordan office before beginning a three-week period of transition with incoming MCC Reps Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen. Our time now is spent tidying up loose ends and preparing for the transition.

Following is a reflection that Cindy shared in a recent workshop via Skype with Illinois Mennonite Conference:

These girls from Baghdad are among tens of thousands of Iraqis for whom Amman is a temporary home while awaiting resettlement

These girls from Baghdad are among tens of thousands of Iraqis for whom Amman is a temporary home while awaiting resettlement

During the past year I have had the privilege of teaching ESL classes for groups of Iraqi adults, elementary and junior high students at a small Chaldean Catholic church near the MCC office in Amman. These students are part of a refugee community here in Amman, awaiting resettlement to a third country.

Their priest, Father Raymond, says Iraqi refugees began coming to Jordan in 1991 after the invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War. At the peak, he estimates 700,000 Iraqis – Muslims and Christians – were in Jordan. Some 35,000 – 40,000 of this number were Chaldean Catholics.

Now, more than 20 years later, he estimates there are still 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan – including 10,000-15,000 Chaldean Christians. There is a steady flow of resettlement, with Iraqis going to Australia, the United States, Canada, Sweden, and most recently, to Germany. In the U.S. many Chaldean Catholics are resettling in Detroit and San Diego. Chicago has a large Iraqi Assyrian Catholic community.

The children in my English classes, ages 7-16, have been in Jordan for anywhere between 1 to 9 years. Most come from Baghdad, but some come from Mosul and Basra. They say their families left Iraq because the war made life very difficult and unsafe. They will be resettling in Germany and the United States. Most don’t know when; but Ivan, whose family has been in Jordan for 2 years, excitedly explained that his family will move to Detroit at the end of May. The reality is that families are constantly leaving to begin their new lives, and other families are arriving to Jordan from Iraq to take their places.

MCC U.S. writer LInda Espenshade (right) talks with an Iraqi woman who is part of the higher education program run by MCC partner Jesuit Refugee Services

MCC U.S. writer LInda Espenshade (right) talks with an Iraqi woman who is part of the higher education program run by MCC partner Jesuit Refugee Services

My adult class includes 25-30 men and women, ages 15-76, keen to practice English with someone who has an American accent! They want to learn “survival” English — how to meet people, engage in small talk, shop, order dinner at a restaurant, catch a taxi and the list goes on.

My students are so motivated, appreciative and upbeat. But one gentleman confided, “You see us joking and laughing, but every Iraqi’s heart is sad.”

During one class I had my students write and share their hopes and dreams. One woman wrote: “I always dream I am with our children. I have four children and they have all moved away. Two daughters live in Canada. One daughter lives in the United States. One son lives in Sydney. They are all married. When I pray I beg God to let me see them. It’s a dream to me now, but I am patient. Patience and time bring everything to bear.”

Like this Iraqi woman, the Common Lectionary readings this week are about last wishes.

In the reading from Acts, a jailer charged with guarding Paul and Silas fears for his life when an earthquake breaks open the prison where his prisoners are singing and praying while locked in chains (Acts 16:26). But none of the prisoners choose to escape. So impressed by their example, the jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v.30) Paul and Silas take the opportunity to introduce the jailer and his household to Jesus.

On Orthodox Easter Sunday, we were invited to the home of Jordanian friends for lunch.  The remains a a 5th century Byzantine Church were recently discovered on their property during construction of a road connecting Amman with the Queen Alia Airport.

On Orthodox Easter Sunday, we were invited to the home of Jordanian friends for lunch. The remains of this 5th century Byzantine church were recently discovered on their property during construction of a road connecting Amman with the Queen Alia Airport.

In the reading from Revelation, Jesus – described as “the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13) – expresses his desire: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes to take the water of life as a gift.” (v.17)

In the Gospel reading, shortly before returning to heaven, Jesus prays for his disciples and those who will succeed them. His last desire for his followers is that they “may be one” (John 17:21-23). For it is only through the unity and love demonstrated by followers of Jesus that the world will come to know him (vv. 21, 23).

Really, could our granddaughter get any cuter?

Really, could our granddaughter get any cuter?

Everybody plays the fool

Orthodox Easter (May 5, 2013)
I Corinthians 1:18-25; Revelation 22:1-5

May 6 is Easter in the Orthodox Christian tradition. This morning, we participated in an Easter sunrise service at Mt. Nebo, where one has a beautiful view of the Jordan Valley and the West Bank of Palestine.

From Mt. Nebo looking east, the sun rises while the moon sets

From Mt. Nebo looking east, the sun rises while the moon sets

Daryl shared the reflection during the communion service at the MCC Europe-Middle East retreat in Barcelona earlier this week:

Aaron Neville is one of many musicians who have popularized the song, “Everybody plays the fool.” The song is about falling in love and getting hurt.

Fallin’ in love is such an easy thing to do;
But there’s no guarantee that the one you love, is gonna love you.
Oh, loving eyes they cannot see a certain person could never be.
Love runs deeper than any ocean, it clouds you’re mind with emotion;
There’s no exception to the rule, listen baby;
Everybody plays the fool, sometime;
It may be factual, it may be cruel, I ain’t lying;
Everybody plays the fool.

Falling in love aside, no one wants to be called a fool. Indeed, our culture is partial to intelligence and power.

The same was true in the first century. Paul writes: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom.” (I Cor. 1:22) Signs and wisdom. Power and intelligence. “But we proclaim Christ crucified,” Paul continues, “a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (v.23)

At first blush, getting crucified seems to be neither intelligent nor a show of strength.

Krystan  Pawlikowski and Ruth Plett (MCC East Europe Reps), with daughter Misha

Krystan Pawlikowski and Ruth Plett (MCC East Europe Reps), with daughter Misha

In Europe and the Middle East we live in the daily shadow of violence, volatility occupation, unrest and uncertainty. It’s enough to make anyone feel anxious and afraid.

Weapons – sometimes very large weapons — are the tool of choice for rulers and authorities who are afraid or who seek to impose their will or to maintain the status quo.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler recently wrote a piece for Mennonite World Review, comparing the prominent use of guns in Israel-Palestine with the use of guns in the United States. “Do such weapons provide real security?” Ryan asked. “Studies show guns in U.S. homes are far more likely to kill family or friends than an intruder. For all its advanced weaponry, Israel remains gripped by existential fears…”

The rain during most of the EME retreat didn't dampen our spirits.  Here Annie and Jean-Victor Brosseau (West Europe Reps) are pictured with Sarah Adams (Lebanon-Syria Rep)

The rain during most of the EME retreat didn’t dampen our spirits. Here Sarah Adams (Lebanon-Syria Rep) is pictured with Annie and Jean-Victor Brosseau (West Europe Reps)

At a gut human level, wielding power and using force make sense when we are afraid. What better way to protect our own interests and to be sure that we aren’t bullied around?

Using destructive force is the adult version of the playground threats that children sometimes make: “My dad will beat up your dad!” If our weapons are bigger than our enemy’s, we’ll come out ahead, right?

So why did Jesus choose the way the cross? Why such a foolish approach? If God is so powerful, why didn’t God just crush those who opposed God’s ways? Why didn’t God act like a superhero and smash them into submission?

Willie Reimer (MCC Canada program director) waits for the Metro train with Dan Bergen (Co-Palestine Rep) and his daughter Chloe

Willie Reimer (MCC Canada program director) waits for the Metro train with Dan Bergen (Co-Palestine Rep) and his daughter Chloe

Indeed, there are some examples in the Old Testament of God crushing enemies. But the trajectory and weight of Scripture offer a very different approach. God’s power is ultimately displayed as a force for creation and life and light – not as a force of destruction and death. God overcomes evil with good.

God does not overcome enemies through shock and awe. God overcomes enemies by exposing their weakness. God plays into their supposed strength; and then shows a better and more powerful way.

Do you remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal? According to Canaanite mythology, Baal was the most powerful of all gods. Among his many attributes, Baal was worshiped as the sun god – or the god of fire. Baal was usually depicted as holding a lightning bolt.

So Elijah proposed a contest that played to Baal’s supposed strength (I Kings 18). Who could send fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice? Would it be Baal – the god of fire? Or would it be Elijah’s God?

Looking north from Mt. Nebo

Looking north from Mt. Nebo

On Mount Carmel the prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice and called upon their god to send fire. But nothing happened. Elijah taunted them: “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (v.27) The prophets of Baal cried even louder and “cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them.”(v.28) Still, there was no answer.

Then, in dramatic fashion, Elijah doused his sacrifice with 12 large jars of water before calling for God to send fire from heaven.

Immediately, “The fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” (vv. 38-39)

The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus – which Christians in the Orthodox tradition commemorate this week – is a similar to the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

The Roman Empire and the Jewish religious establishment both used the threat of death as their ultimate weapon to intimidate the masses into obeying orders.

By allowing the alliance of the Empire and the religious establishment to crucify Jesus, God unmasked the bluster and bravado of their threat of death. God called their bluff.

If God had instead used overwhelming force, God would have only validated that destructive power is a legitimate tool for accomplishing one’s ends.

Instead, by appearing foolish, by accepting the way of the cross, Jesus demonstrated God’s power of life and resurrection is both different and superior to the forces of death. Indeed, the power of life is always stronger than death. The power of light always overcomes the darkness.

This is the amazing thing that MCC’s partner organizations continue to grasp: In the face of violence and oppression, in the face of poverty and injustice, in the face of war itself, our partners continue to choose the seemingly foolish way.

MCC workers from across Europe and the Middle East gathered in Barcelona for a retreat, April 27-30

MCC workers from across Europe and the Middle East gathered in Barcelona for a retreat, April 27-30

MCC’s partners have chosen not to take up arms to promote the cause of justice and freedom. They have chosen not to use the tools favored by rulers and authorities.

Instead, they have chosen the tools of life and light. They have chosen to become part of that healing river described in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22 –

  • The river that sends down its waters to wash the blood from off the sand.
  • The river that transforms the Dead Sea into a body of fresh water teaming with life.
  • The river that helps seeds to grow in a parched and barren land.
  • The river that makes seeds of freedom to flourish and tall stalks to rise.
Our retreat center n Barcelona was with beautiful flowers

Our retreat center n Barcelona was adorned with beautiful flowers

The bread and wine – representing the body and blood of Christ — are forever reminders of God’s seemingly foolish way of working.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (I Cor.1:18, 25)

For those who would follow Jesus, everybody plays the fool. There’s no exception to the rule. Everybody plays the fool.

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