Everyone Has a Story to Tell

One of the things that really excites me about the Dunker Punks movement is the way that we bridge tradition and innovation in our life within the Church of the Brethren. It’s no secret that our “Tradition” (with a capital “T”), as well as our traditions as a denomination, occupy a central place in our mind and in our worship.

Unlike many other Christian denominations, we have no creed (other than the New Testament), and our faith practice is comparatively light on rigid ritual and liturgy to shape and standardize worship. What we do have are our common faith heritage and our beloved traditions. Most of us know and treasure stories about the founding of the Church of the Brethren as well as the vital ministries of venerated “saints” along the way like John Kline, Sarah Major, Dan West, Anna Mow, and many others. And many of us are moved by traditions like foot washing, love feast, and, of course, ice cream socials.

That is a precious part of what it means to live in the Church of the Brethren. But what excites me about Dunker Punks is the way we merge tradition and innovation. Our ideas are “radical” in the sense that they bring us back to the very root of what it means to be a Chrisitan and a Brethren, but they are also “radical” in the sense that they are fresh, bold, and new, even edgy. Part of the Dunker Punks practice is about using tools and technologies sometimes overlooked by the denomination, such as social media and other digital platforms, to communicate in new ways, across new channels, and with new people.

Ultimately, part of what it means to be a Dunker Punk is to take the core (and ancient) ideas of Christianity, especially those that Jesus articulates in the Sermon on the Mount, and breathe new life into them as we seek to bring them forward for our generation and for a new century. We also look at how we can participate in established parts of Brethren identity, practice, and belief, but do so in new and innovative ways. We use old tools to break new ground, and we use new tools to stir up ground that hasn’t been touched in a long time.

That’s what excites me so much about innovative ministries that pop up in the Dunker Punks movement, such as the Dunker Punks Podcast. Twice each month, the Dunker Punks podcast airs audio episodes online, which are also available for download on iTunes and podcast apps like Stitcher. What a great idea! This is an innovative way to highlight the thoughts and ministries of Church of the Brethren folks from around the country, while also helping form a completely digital community that transcends geographic boundaries.

At the same time, of course, the Dunker Punks are far from the first in the Church of the Brethren to innovate or express their faith in creative ways. In the latest episode of the podcast, we hear from Ed Groff and Brent Carlson, the guys behind Brethren Voices, in a wonderful interview conducted by Kevin Schatz. Brethren Voices is a monthly video series that documents stories from around the Church of the Brethren. Based in Portland, OR, Brethren Voices plays on public access stations in communities around the United States, and it is also available on Youtube.

Like the Dunker Punks podcast today, Brethren Voices represents an innovative and creative way that people in the Church of the Brethren are rethinking church and ministry to connect our denomination and share our ideas with other folks in the Church of the Brethren and others around the United States and around the world. I know that I really enjoyed learning more about Brethren Voices, and I hope you take the time to listen to the podcast so you can learn about them too!

One thing that moved me in particular about what I heard about Brethren Voices is their underlying philosophy, which is that everyone has a story worth telling. I love that, and I couldn’t agree more! Speaking of Church of the Brethren traditions, one of the traditions that is most meaningful to me is our concept of the “priesthood of all believers,” this idea that ministry and witness are not the exclusive domain of the ordained and the seminary-educated, but that each and every one of us in this church has both a right and a responsibility to minister to one another and proclaim the name of Jesus, in our faith, in our speech, and especially in our actions.

That’s one tradition that I know energizes the Dunker Punks and both motivates and empowers what we do. We do things like blog and podcast because we know that each of us is invited and obligated to share our stories of transformation, struggle, faith, and discipleship.

I hope you’ll take time this week to listen to the latest episode of the Dunker Punks podcast. I also hope you’ll take the time to think about what stories you have to tell and commit yourself to tell them in some way to someone. One way that you can do so is by volunteering to write a blog post for DunkerPunks.com or joining the team of contributors at the Dunker Punks Podcast. Contact me to get started!


podiumEmmett Eldred is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on Twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

All War Is Sin

This week, President Donald Trump escalated the United States’ violent presence in the Middle East by launching approximately fifty airstrikes against targets in Syria. The move was in response to an apparent attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who used chemical weapons against his own people. Trump cited horrific images of children suffering from the effects of sarin never gas to justify the attack.

This moment is a real test of our convictions, which assert that all war is sinful and that violence is never justified or acceptable, especially acts of war. The Brethren have always held this position, but the greatest challenges to our peace stance always come when it seems like the cost of nonviolence is human rights abuses and violent atrocities. Can you really even claim to be a card-carrying pacifist unless someone has glibly cited the Holocaust to undermine your commitment to nonviolence?

But this challenge is faulty in that it assumes a false dichotomy: either intervene violently or do nothing at all. But who can look at the history of the Brethren objecting to war and claim that those Brethren chose to do nothing, simply because they wouldn’t fight? John Kline didn’t fight in the Civil War, but he did ride thousands of miles in the North and South throughout the war, acting as a physician. When Dan West saw the devastation of the Spanish Civil War, he didn’t advocate for a military intervention; instead, he started the Heifer Project. And Ted Studebaker refused to carry a gun in Vietnam, but he went to Vietnam nonetheless to help rebuild destroyed communities. So too must Brethren respond to the violence they see today in Syria and elsewhere throughout the world. We believe that only nonviolent action will create peace that is sustainable.

Peace requires creative, active, and bold thinking. Most of all, it requires us to think like Jesus, to break out of false dichotomies and find a “third way.” The suffering we see in Syria must motivate us to act. But it is anti-Christ to falsely equate the word “action” with the word “violence.” Instead, it is our task to do what we can in Syria and here in the United States to promote peace without resorting to war. We should support policies that promote peace and diplomatic action on the part of our government and the international community.

Most of all, we must be the church–the hands and feet and heart of Jesus acting in the world today. That means supporting, partnering, and volunteering with relief and human rights organizations. That means welcoming refugees. That means working with Syrians to rebuild their communities and pursue political reform. That means praying and being empowered by the holy spirit to commit ourselves to humble, faithful service.

And while we’re on the subject of false dichotomies, it is not enough to oppose acts of war just because they happen to be committed by Donald Trump. Barack Obama ordered more drone strikes and airstrikes than any other president. For the first time in the entire Trump administration, Democratic lawmakers and the media have praised Trump as “presidential.” What a sick standard, that the mark of a president is how willfully they employ military force. Hours before Trump attacked, Hillary Clinton publicly called for exactly the action he took. And Trump’s critics have mostly knocked him for not seeking congressional approval of the attack, rather than for the attack itself.

War is deeply ingrained in the mainstream ideologies of both political parties. In fact, we might even admit that when it comes to waging war, both parties share one ideology: the supremacy and omnipotence of the American empire. When we subjugate our faith to partisan politics, it is always, always our faith that becomes sullied and compromised. When we try to shoehorn our faith into secular categories like “progressive” vs “conservative,” our faith becomes just that: secular. And when we employ our faith to pursue a partisan agenda, we end up cutting our preferred party a whole lot of slack when they do something contrary to Christ. Ultimately, I am convinced that to politicize faith inevitably leads us to condone war, or at least to be complicit in its commission.

Don’t oppose war because you want to resist Trump. Oppose war because you want to follow Jesus. This is our time to be the church. To speak out against violent policy. To fervently denounce military action. To oppose the militarization of our culture and the weaponization of the mantle of “human rights.” To commit ourselves to the hard, sacrificial, and personal work of building peace. To advocate the “third way” of Jesus, which defies both violence and inaction.

 

 

 

 

Welcome the Refugee: The Witness of Aphrodisius

I’ve spent a lot of time over the st-denispast month trying to decided who I was going to write about next for Dunker Punks in History. I’ve been intending to write about John Kline for some time, but with recent events was considering one of the strong Mothers of the Church, such as Thecla, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Sarah Major or Anna Mow. I am still unsure of who I will cover for my next full-length post, but given the recent actions of President Trump, I felt compelled to share the legends of a Dunker Punk who welcomed foreign refugees of a different nationality, culture, and religion into his country and home. According to legend, it is Aphrodisius who sheltered the Joseph, Mary, and Jesus when they fled to Egypt to avoid King Herod.

According to legend, Aphrodisius was an Egyptian high priest from the city of Heliopolis. (Some version of the story instead name him as a roman prefect from the same city.) When Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod, he sheltered them despite the fact they were foreigners and practitioners of very different religion. Years later he heard of the miracles Jesus was performing in Judea and traveled to Palestine to witness them for himself, eventually becoming a disciple of the boy he had once provided refuge for.  After the resurrection, he traveled to France as a missionary, becoming the first Bishop of Beziers. He was martyred by a mob of angry pagans in Place Saint-Cyr. Beheaded, his head was thrown into a well, but was thrown out by a gush of water. Aprodisius’s body then picked up his head and carried it through the city. He finally settled into his final rest in a hermit cave where he had lived, which eventually became the location of a basilica named in his honor.

I first heard the story of Aprodisius while watching the musical adaption of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the beginning of the second act a statue or stained glass window of Aphrodisius in Notre Dame de Paris comes to life to tell his story to Quasimodo and encourage him to rescue the gypsy Esmerelda from the villainous priest Frollo.

Like many medieval saints,  the accounts we have of Aphrodisius’s life are mostly legendary and are probably not historically accurate. Personally, I am extremely doubtful of the historicity of most if not all of his legend, but in this case I would argue historical accuracy is not the point. Think of this legend like one of Jesus’s parables. You wouldn’t ask whether or not there actually was a good Samaritan that helped a man along a roadside, but what point Jesus was making through the story. Each of us is called to take the role of Aphridisius and welcome Christ in the form of a refugee into our homes and land. In this way, regardless of if it actually happened in history, the story of how Aphrodisius sheltered the Holy Family is indisputably true.


12112414_614679188671785_6960613993930677693_nNolan McBride is a Religious Studies and History major at Manchester University. He loves music, theater, and learning about Christian traditions around the world. He enjoys singing, reading, and has a bit of an obsession with icons. You can follow him on twitter at @nmcbride35, and find him on Facebook.

Salt That Has Lost Its Saltiness

Throughout the pages of scripture, Old Testament and New, you will find dozens of verses admonishing people of faith to welcome and care for strangers, especially immigrants and refugees. Take Leviticus 19:34:

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

And, of course, we can’t forget that Jesus himself was a refugee for the first few years of his life. So when he says in Matthew 25:40 “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” we should take that verse quite literally on the topic of immigration.

This week, President Trump signed an executive order suspending America’s refugee program and barring travel from several nations. Among myriad other unjust consequences, this executive order erected a legal barrier to thousands of desperate people around the world seeking safe harbor in the United States. Even people who have already waited through years of vetting. Even people who were on planes to the United States when the order was signed.

Each year, tens of thousands of people from around the world come to the United States as refugees. These are people fleeing their homes because of terrorism, war, genocide, and natural disaster. When the United States closes its doors to these people, thousands will have no option but to return to their unsafe homes, were many of them will suffer and die.

Thankfully, many people are speaking out against the president’s executive action. This includes thousands of faith leaders, including the leaders of our denomination. Sadly, however, many Christians approve of our nation’s decision to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people. In fact, it’s safe to say that nearly every one of our nation’s leaders who supports the president’s executive order identify as Christians.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matt. 5:13). Nothing says “salt that’s lost its saltiness” quite like church folks that don’t stand up for immigrants and refugees. There are few topics about which scripture speaks with such frequency, consistency, force, and clarity.

But it’s not enough just to talk about this issue. Yes, we should voice our outrage and reach out to our civic leaders to demand action. But we all also have to make the decision right now, including me, to make the drastic changes required in our personal lives to truly articulate a posture of welcome to immigrants and refugees. We have to open our congregations, our communities, and our own front doors to the immigrants and refugees in our community who need help.

I’m calling on every Dunker Punk to commit to being a personal sanctuary for immigrants and refugees in your community. When people ask us to justify why we stand with immigrants and refugees, we must be able to offer our own lives and experiences as evidence of our conviction. We’re all willing to say we stand for justice, now, it is time to prove it. Now, it is time to live it.


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Franz Jägerstätter: A Little Known Witness

franz2   When remembering great peacemakers throughout history many extoll the lives and witness of Gandhi and Martin Luther King JR., but few even know of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter. If his life his life had taken another route there would be little to tell and he would only be remembered by his friends and family as a devoted father and husband and devout Catholic, but instead he found himself caught between the might of Nazi Germany and his commitment to the teachings of Jesus. Following his savior when even the Church told him to submit to Hitler, he died a martyr for peace. In 2007 that same Church venerated him, beatifying him and setting him on the path to Sainthood.

Born on May 20, 1907 out of wedlock to Rosalina Huber and Franz Bachmeier, the younger Franz’s biological father served and died in World War I. In 1917 Rosalina married Heinrich Jägerstätter, who adopted his new wife’s son and gave him his surname. He received a basic education in the one-room schoolhouse of his hometown of St. Radegund, Austria, aided by his step-grandfather who encouraged the boy to become an avid reader.[1] From 1927 to 1930 Franz left his hometown to work in iron ore industry in Eisenerz, Austria. During this period he struggled with intense doubts about his faith and temporarily stopped attending church, but returned to his hometown with a renewed and strengthened faith.[2] Despite this, Franz developed a reputation as a wild man, he was the first person in his hometown to own a motorcycle, and even fathered his oldest child, Hildegard Auer, out of wedlock. Franz took responsibility for his daughter, visiting her often and sending gifts of food and especially meat, a rare commodity at the time. Hildegard’s mother Theresia later recalled that “he had begged her forgiveness, and that they had parted in peace.” Before his marriage he and his future wife visited the Auer family offering to adopt Hildegard, but neither her mother nor grandmother wished to part from her. Ten year old Hildegard amazed her family with how deeply she mourned the death of her father.[3]

On Holy Thursday 1936 Franz married Franziska Schwaninger, which proved to be a turning point in his life, making “a different man” out of him. Franziska was a very religious woman, who even considered becoming a nun before her marriage. While her husband was devout before their marriage, even contemplating becoming a monk, but with Franziska’s influence became notably more pious, taking communion more frequently and reading the Bible together with his wife each night. For their honeymoon the couple traveled to Rome on a pilgrimage, something very unusual and very expensive for the time. Franz hoped to make this a tradition, intending to make a pilgrimage with his wife ever ten years. The two were deeply in love, with Franz remarking in a letter, “I could never have imagined that being married could be so wonderful.”[4] The couple had three daughters: Rosalia, born in 1937, Maria, born in 1938, and Aloisia, born in 1940.[5] Attending mass daily, Franz became sacristan of his home parish in the summer of 1941.[6]

Franz viewed the rise of Nazism in nearby Germany with suspicion and distrust. In January 1938 he experienced what he believed to be a vison from God that firmly convinced him Nazi ideology was incompatible with Christianity. He recalled:

At first, I lay in bed without sleeping until it was nearly midnight, though I wasn’t ill, and then I must have slept a little after all; suddenly, I was shown a fine railway train, which was driving round a mountain; not only the adults, but even the children were flocking towards this train and the crowd could hardly be held back; how few adults there were who did not get into the train in that place, I would rather not say or write. Then suddenly a voice said to me: ‘This train is going to hell.’ At that moment, it seemed to me that someone took me by the hand. ‘Now we are going into purgatory,’ the same voice said to me, and the suffering I saw and felt there was so terrible that, if the voice had not told me that we were going into purgatory, I would certainly have believed that I was in hell. Probably only a few seconds passed while I looked at all this. Then I heard a swishing sound, saw a light, and everything was gone. I then immediately woke my wife and told her all that had happened. Of course, until that night, I could not really believe that the suffering in purgatory could be so great… At first, that moving train was quite a riddle to me, but the more that time passes, the more the moving train is unveiled to me. And today, it seems to me that this image represented none other than Nazism, as it was closing in or creeping up on us at that time, with all its different organizations attached – for example, the N.S.D.A.P., the N.S.W., the N.S.F. and the H. J. etc. In other words, the whole Nazi movement and every organization which sacrifices and fights for it.[7]

He was the only person in St. Radegund to vote against the annexation of Austria by the Nazis.[8]

While firmly against Nazi ideology, Franz’s opposition to serving in the German armed forces developed slowly. Conscripted twice in 1940, each time he was able to return home without seeing battle due to his “reserved civilian occupation” as a farmer and responsibilities as a father.[9] During basic training he was vested as a novice of the Third Order of Saint Francis, a lay religious order dedicated to living according to the example of Saint Francis of Assisi. He made his vows a year later at his home parish.[10] After this experience, Franz returned home, resolved that he would not serve in the military again.[11] In his own words:

When our Catholic missionaries went to live in a heathen land in order to make Christians of them, did they too go with machine guns and bombs in order to convert and improve them by those means?… Other peoples do, at the very least, have a right to ask God to bring peace and to strike the weapons from the hands of us Germans. Isn’t it a real mockery if we ask God for peace when we do not want Him at all, for otherwise we would have to finally lay down our weapons – unless perhaps the guilt we’ve already heaped on ourselves is still too small? At most, we can ask God to allow us to come to reason, so that we can at last realize that other human beings and peoples also have a right to live in this world. Otherwise, God must certainly thwart our plans by His might, or else we Catholics of Germany will force all the peoples of the earth to bow under the yoke of Nazism. Almost everyone wants to gloat over the stolen booty, yet we want to lay the blame for everything that has happened at the door of only one individual![12]

Franz discussed his decision with his family, friends, clergy, and even the local Bishop. Many tried to talk him out of it, one priest even accusing him of being suicidal and refusing to grant him absolution after the issue was brought up in confession. Bishop Joseph Calasanz Fliesser urged him to remember his responsibilities to his family and argued he could not be held moral culpable for his actions as a soldier as he would be simply following orders, the very argument later used by the defense in the Nuremberg Trials. Franz could not accept this, stating “We may just as well strike out the gifts of wisdom and understanding from the Seven Gifts for which we pray to the Holy Spirit. For if we’re supposed to obey the Führer blindly anyway, why should we need wisdom and understanding?”[13]

In February 1943 Franz Jägerstätter received his third conscription. His mother mobilized relatives and neighbors to try and change her son’s mind about his refusal serve, but he would not be moved.[14] He presented himself to his company at Enns but immediately stated “that, due to his religious views, he refused to perform military service with a weapon, that he would be acting against his religious conscience were he to fight for the Nazi State…that he could not be both a Nazi and a Catholic… that there were some things in which one must obey God more than men; due to the commandment ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’, he said he could not fight with a weapon. However, he was willing to serve as a military paramedic.” Franz was imprisoned for several months, finally being condemned to death on July 6, 1943 for “undermining military morale.”[15] At 4pm August ninth he was beheaded.[16] Offered a Bible to read in the days before his martyrdom, Franz replied “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God.”[17] On May 7, 1997 the District Court of Berlin annulled Franz’s sentence. On June 1, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI declared Franz Jägerstätter a martyr. In a ceremony at Linz Cathedral on October 26, 2007 the Catholic Church officially declared Franz Jägerstätter to be Blessed, one step away from Canonization and being declared a Saint.[18]

Franz Jägerstätter’s life and martyrdom serves as an inspiration to not just to Catholics, or even only Christians, but to all people. He would not betray his Lord by being swept up in the tide of Nazism, nor would he fight as a soldier and attack another’s home. Even when his family, friends, and church told him he should submit to the government’s demands he refused to betray the teachings of Jesus. When most of his peers compromised and stayed silent, Franz Jägerstätter spoke out. In the face of increasing nationalism and xenophobia both in our own nation and around the world, his legacy is vital now more than ever. While most of us Dunker Punks will probably never be asked to make the same sacrifice he did, the witness Blessed Franz Jägerstätter challenges us to reexamine our own relationship with God and just how committed we truly are to his teachings. What sacrifices are we willing to make in following Jesus? Are we willing to confront the comfort and privilege American society has given to many of us, to challenge the complacent and nonthreatening role American Christianity has played in the larger culture for so long? How are we to react when people we love and trust tell us we’re wrong, if we suddenly find ourselves arguing with those we see as stalwarts of the faith?  How are we called to take up our Cross and follow Christ?

 

[1] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[2] Putz 12

[3] Putz 15-17

[4] Putz 19-23

[5] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[6] Putz 57-58

[7] Putz 41-42

[8] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[9] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[10] Putz 55

[11] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[12] Putz 70-71

[13] Putz 72-74

[14] Putz 81

[15] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[16] Putz 117

[17] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[18] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

Work Cited

“Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.” The Holy See. The Vatican, n.d. Web. 25

Jan. 2016.

“Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.” Diözese Linz. Katholische Kirche in

Oberösterreich, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Putz, Erna. Franz Jägerstätter Martyr – A Shining Example in Dark Times. Grünbach:

Steinmassl, 2007. Print.


12112414_614679188671785_6960613993930677693_nNolan McBride is a Religious Studies and History major at Manchester University. He loves music, theater, and learning about Christian traditions around the world. He enjoys singing, reading, and has a bit of an obsession with icons. You can follow him on twitter at @nmcbride35, and find him on Facebook.

A Dunker Punks Agenda for 2017

With the end of one divisive and tumultuous year comes the specter of another. 2016 may be over, but its partisan divides and humanitarian crises linger. In our own denomination, divisions surrounding same-sex marriage, climate change, and other topics rage on.

Dunker Punks have an important role to play, whether in response to national and international events, struggles in our own communities, or policy debates in the Church of the Brethren. We are committed to carrying the light of Jesus, meaning we will study his life and instruction, dedicate ourselves to him, and reflect his love and wisdom to the world.

With a New Year comes time for reflection, rededication, and inspiration. Though it is not intended to be exhaustive, here is a list of five priorities that I suggest for Dunker Punks for the next year.

1. Read the Sermon on the Mount

This is a bread and butter issue for the Dunker Punks. We can’t meet 2017 as disciples of Christ without continuing to study his wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed with three straight chapters of Jesus giving precise instruction of how we ought to live our lives. And if we truly want to call ourselves Christ’s disciples, we have no choice but to take his words seriously.

This is a bread and butter issue for the Dunker Punks. We can’t meet 2017 as disciples of Christ without continuing to study his wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed with three straight chapters of Jesus giving precise instruction of how we ought to live our lives. And if we truly want to call ourselves Christ’s disciples, we have no choice but to take his words seriously.

Maybe 2016 was such fraught year because so many people failed to live up to the Sermon on the Mount. How would foreign affairs have been different if we accepted Christ’s teachings about turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) or loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44)? How would our politics have differed if we had chosen to be salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13) or a light to the world (Matt. 5:14).

This year, crack open the Sermon on the Mount and even try to commit it to memory. Most importantly, internalize it, and implement it in the way you live.

2. Get to Know Someone Different

There’s no way to deny it: we’re divided. Internationally, we view those from different nations with distrust and fear. Nationally, we vilify those of a different race, national origin, citizenship status, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Within our denomination, we draw battle lines based on who’s progressive and who’s conservative. In our congregations, we stake our territory in the pews, and we divide ourselves based on age and preferred worship style.

The Gospel scriptures overflow with examples of Jesus breaking down such boundaries. He healed lepers (Matt. 8, Luke 17) despite Jewish taboos that ostracized them. In John 4, he speaks intimately with the Samaritan woman at the well, even though cultural attitudes vilified Samaritans and forbade men and women to interact like this. He also reached out to those in power, healing a Roman soldier’s servant (Luke 7) and interacting with tax collectors like Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and his disciple Mattew.

We should follow Jesus’ example, striving especially to personally know the oppressed: the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. There is no better way to break down our own prejudices than by getting to know those different from us. And there is no better way to become an advocate for justice than by understanding and witnessing injustice.

And we strive also to get to know those who think differently to overcome ideological divisions. Social media has made it easier than ever to curate our friends, associates, and information to suit our ideological beliefs. But we can’t see the humanity and goodness in our ideological opposites unless we strive to get to know them as people, not just vessels of ideas we oppose.

3. Hold Our Leaders Accountable (And Pray For Them)

After a fraught politics season that lasted nearly two years, it’s tempting to disengage. And it’s important to give ourselves a little time to heal and breathe and breath of fresh air. But as people of faith, the decisions made by our national, statewide, and community leaders are too consequential to ignore. As disciples of Christ, we are sworn to stand with “the least of these” (Matt. 25), who are so often the subject of important political decisions. Therefore, it’s time to dust off our shoulders, stand in solidarity with the oppressed people around us, and get ready to engage.

This is equally true whether we have a Republican or a Democrat in the White House or which party holds the majority of seats in Congress. It’s true whether we voted for or against our state legislature, governor, or mayor. Justice should be a nonpartisan issue, and, for our purposes, it’s a non-political issue as well. It’s simply what we are called to do as Christians.

We’ve heard adages about power and how it corrupts. Like them or not, our leaders are in positions of power, and often their agendas come on the heads and shoulders of the powerless. It’s our duty to soberly, skeptically, and diligently observe them. We are citizens of God’s kingdom and our sole allegiance is to Jesus. When earthly leaders strive to oppress others to meet their own ends, or to wage war, we have to be there to stand in their way.

However, we should also remember to pray for our leaders and wish for them success. We should hope that leaders call an agenda that advances justice, equity, and human rights. And we should work with them to advance those goals, not out of loyalty to them, but to Christ.

2017 will be a momentous political year, as we transition to a new president and a new congress, as we participate in local elections, and as we experience international events. Dunker Punks must be there, must be present, and must be ready to act.

4. Break Out of Politics

On the other hand, we can’t allow politics to define us or constrain our vision. It’s easy to be consumed by politics, to let it drain our time, energy, and emotional fortitude. But in an age of harsh partisan divides and extreme gridlock, politics can also obscure from our vision the humanity of others, and it can be fruitless, wasting our time and dampening our spirits.

To be sure, we must engage in politics because we have to challenge and change systems that create injustice. However, we also have to bring the light of Christ to every other corner of the social landscape. Our role is to be engaged disciples of Christ in culture, education, social movements, our faith institutions, family, and community, just as much as politics. This means reflecting Christ’s love and wisdom in each of these settings. Our role is to serve others in addition to challenging political leaders, just as Jesus performed intimate acts of service like healing, in addition to advocating broader social and political reforms.

In 2017, let’s not allow ourselves to be consumed by politics. After an explosive election season, it’s vital to remember that there is more going on in the world than just Donald Trump. The world is bigger than that, and smaller. We have to fix our eyes on Jesus, allowing him to transform our hearts, so we can go out and transform the world around us, both through small acts of love, and grand gestures of solidarity.

5. Get Involved!

I’ll conclude this by urging you to get involved with Dunker Punks, and also to lean into opportunities to lead and serve in your communities and congregations. As far as Dunker Punks goes, you can click here to join our movement. I also encourage you to contact us about getting involved in new and creative ways, such as writing for our blog or leading a service project. You should also check out our wonderful podcast, which is sponsored and produced by the Arlington Church of the Brethren.

2017 is here, and with it come new challenges as well as new opportunities to transform ourselves to look, think, and act a little bit more like Jesus, so we can transform the world around us to look a little more like the God’s Kingdom. Here’s to a happy, productive, and worshipful new year!


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Peace in Trump’s America

I’ll cut right to the chase: the world has seldom needed the peace witness of the Church of the Brethren more than it does right now. In two months, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States. The commander-in-chief of the world’s largest, most well-funded, and most-powerful military will be a man who has shown himself to be erratic and impulsive, especially when provoked.

During the Presidential campaign, the president-elect was not subtle about his disposition towards military force. He said that he “loves war,” and promised to be “the most militaristic” president ever. He campaigned on a promise to reinstate torture and has advocated for killing not just suspected terrorists, but their entire families as well. He has promised to “bomb the shit” out of middle eastern villages. He proposed sending ground troops into Iraq and Syria. He has advocated for nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Japan. He has refused to “rule out” using nuclear weapons himself, even questioning repeatedly why we can’t use them.

This is to say nothing of Trump’s policies on refugees, on immigrants, on Muslims, on LGBT people, on people of color, on climate change, on police use of force, on healthcare, and a whole suite of positions that endanger people in the US and around the world. It’s to say nothing of his divisive and inflammatory campaign tactics, which inflamed racial and religious divisions, emboldened bigotry, and inspired hate crimes.

We must be clear: the world’s greatest threat to peace isn’t ISIS, or Russia, or North Korea, or Iran, or China. It is the United States under a President Trump.

Throughout our history, the Church of the Brethren has stood up to violence and been a voice calling from the wilderness for peace, diplomacy, and nonviolence. We follow a God of love and the Prince of Peace. We worship and disciple ourselves to a man who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. For as long as Donald Trump occupies the Oval Office, it is on each of us in the Church of the Brethren to mobilize and organize against his dangerous, reckless, and violent approach to public policy. Christ said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” It is time to get us some blessing.

This is not to say that we should not pray for Mr. Trump. We should. It is certainly not to say that we should attack, demonize, and mistreat his supporters. We should not. But the world is watching the United States with fear and anxiety in their hearts. And they’re watching the church, too. What we do matters. The stands we choose to take matter. Will we be a voice for the powerless and seekers of peace? Will we continue to be one of the world’s historic peace denominations? I hope so. I plan to show up, and I hope you do too.


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.