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.

Camp Blue Diamond Campers Learn About Annual Conference, Propose Possible Queries

This July, high school-aged campers at Camp Blue Diamond’s youth camp had the chance to learn about the Church of the Brethren’s query process at annual conference. Then, campers were asked to split into groups and form questions that they would pose to standing committee and annual conference about Church of the Brethren polity.

The theme at Camp Blue Diamond this summer was Fearless Faith: Courage in Community. The whole unit was on living in the Church, part of a four-year cycle from Inside Out that rotates between units on God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. Fearless Faith: Courage In Community explores scriptural examples of people finding the courage to grow in their faith through the people around them.

Each day had a subtheme: “Courage to Show Up,” based on the story of Abram; “Courage to Trust,” based on the story of Ruth and Naomi; “Courage to Forgive,” based on the story of Joseph; “Courage to Stand,” based on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; “Courage to Change,” based on the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10; and “Courage to Connect,” based on the Great Commission.

It is a timely exercise for young members of the Church of the Brethren to study scriptural examples of living in faith communities. In the Church of the Brethren, we’re grappling with what it means to be a community of believers in the midst of deep disagreement and anxiety over the long-term health and viability of our community. These sorts of questions can only be dealt with if future leaders of the church have a seat at the table today, so it’s vitally important that young people can learn about the processes for affecting change within the COB.

Our chaplain for the week was David Witkovsky, the chaplain at nearby Juniata College. On Thursday, “Courage to Change” day, campers learned about Peter changing his views about Jewish taboos around food when he received a vision from God inviting him to kill and eat foods that were not considered kosher. Later, when Peter was invited to visit Cornelius, a gentile (another taboo), he remembered his dream and met with Cornelius.

Campers were then encouraged to think about ways God might be calling them to change. Then, they were invited to consider how they would like to see the church to change. Finally, David encouraged campers to submit possible questions that they would like to see put forward as queries to standing committee.

The questions that campers submitted centered around three themes:

  1. Welcoming
    1. How can the church break the stereotype of being hypocritical and discriminatory?
    2. How can we be less intimidating and more welcoming to those who want to connect with the church?
  2. Service
    1. How can we better serve local communities?
    2. How can we move beyond talking about service and actually put service initiatives into action?
  3. Youth Outreach
    1. How can we encourage more youth to join the church?
    2. How can we grow leadership opportunities for young people?
    3. How can the church do a better job of providing meaningful and accurate Christian education related to topics like sexuality and health?

In exploring how the Church can become more welcoming, the campers asked pointed questions: “How can the church break the stereotype of being hypocritical and discriminatory?” and “How can we be less intimidating and more welcoming to those who want to connect with the church?”

Campers pointed out that these are important question for the Church to consider as it grapples with declining and aging membership. How can the Church hope to bring in new people, when it has a reputation of excluding and discriminating?

Campers also cared deeply about encouraging the Church of the Brethren to continue emphasizing service. They pointed out that a COB congregation ought not to just be a place of spiritual education and fellowship for the community, but should also give to the community. Moreover, they pointed out that requiring service of a church’s members is itself an essential tool of spiritual education.

Around this theme, campers asked, “How can congregations better serve local communities?” More specifically, they asked, “How can congregations move beyond talking about service and actually put this aspect of faith into action.” Campers pointed out that service is often something wrongly reserved solely for young members of the Church. While it’s great to have service trips with the youth groups and work camps for COB youth, shouldn’t churches create service opportunities for members of all ages? Simply put, campers wondered, why is it that things like attendance and tithing are expected of adults, but not service? Shouldn’t service be a central aspect of what it means to live a Christian life?

Finally, campers posed questions about how the church can do more to involve young people. At the most basic level, they asked what the church can do better to bring in young people. How can churches alter worship styles or create programming that appeals to youth?

But youth campers didn’t just want youth to be invited to attend church, they also challenged the Church to do more to create leadership opportunities for young people. How can the Church of the Brethren do a better job of educating young people about its policy-making process? Should the COB do more to put youth and young adults on the Annual Conference ballots for denominational leadership? Shouldn’t committees studying the COB’s future vitality include the voices of its future generations? Should congregations send youth delegates to Annual Conference?

Overall, the youth campers at Camp Blue Diamond were very aware of challenges facing the Church, and they were excited about being invited to consider how the Church needs to change. I noticed that when asked how the Church needs to change, they didn’t ask specific polity questions, such as about same-sex marriage. Instead, they asked broader process-related questions: How can the church be more welcoming? How can the church involve young people in leadership? They didn’t pretend to know all the answers, but they understood the challenges facing the church.

And the campers took the prospect of change in the Church seriously. They wanted to see the church change, but they also knew that change itself can alienate people, if not approached carefully. The last question campers asked was: “How far can change go without undermining the Church of the Brethren’s identity?”

I invite you to join the conversation! What changes would you like to see in the church? How would you answer the questions that the campers at Blue Diamond asked?


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Emmett 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.

 

How do advocates for racial justice move forward after Dallas?

Just before I was going to go to bed tonight, I saw news of several police officers being shot in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter protest. As the story developed, I watched in horror the news of at least eleven officers shot and four dead by two snipers with high-powered rifles. By tomorrow, we’ll know more information. We’ll likely wake up to knowledge about who conducted the shooting and why, and we might (though I pray not) learn of more police officers or other individuals killed or injured.

As with so many instances of horrific violence lately, there are no words. To see any lives claimed by senseless violence (and I believe that all violence is senseless) is indescribably tragic. No doubt, these officers did much to serve and protect their communities. No doubt, they had loved ones whose lives will be forever changed. Jesus reminds us that blessed are those who mourn. So today, we must stand with their mourning families.

This is uncomplicated: murder is evil, violence is evil. Unequivocally, this was wrong, senseless, and shameful.

Yet of course, this moment is made woefully complicated in another sense by the Black Lives Matter protest during which it unfolded. As I’m writing this, we don’t know whether this shooting was connected to the ongoing protests in Dallas or if the shooter had grievances against police connected with the deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and so many of Black men and women at the hands of police.

These are things we will learn with time. We may learn that this shooting had nothing to do with police violence, but was the doing of people with an ax to grind against the police who saw an opportunity and took it. Clearly, this was a planned ambush, not the doing of a crowd lost in anger. Regardless, we must not forget that the protests in Dallas and across the nation were nonviolent, and these acts of violence have nothing to do with the black lives matter movement and don’t represent a legitimate struggle for justice. Since its beginning, black lives matter has been a nonviolent movement that has rejected the use of force or violence. This was not sanctioned by any legitimate justice actor.

I have been unapologetic and outspoken in insisting that Black lives matter. This shooting does nothing to change the fact that Sterling, Castile, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and countless other black people have been victims of a pattern of racist policing in the United States. I have no plans to change my tone or beliefs on demanding racial justice and comprehensive police reform.

But Jesus blesses those who mourn, so tonight I stand with the mourning families of the police officers who died or are still fighting for their lives. And I stand with the mourning families of Sterling and Castile. It is because I oppose violence that I participate in Black lives matter. It is because I oppose violence that I denounce any violence against police.

If the shooters in this case were trying to advance the cause of racial justice, they have hurt their cause beyond anything words can describe. They have sullied the reputation of a nonviolent movement for racial justice. They have tarnished the names of Sterling, Castile, and so many others. As advocates for justice, we must be of one voice in denouncing violence and offering prayer and comfort to the injured officers and the family of those officers who died. Nonviolence is the only appropriate tool in the fight for justice. It is only by refusing to be violent that we can ever hope to achieve social change.

As people of faith, we must be the first to stand for racial justice, and we must be the first to demand peace and oppose any attempts at violence. There are no words except for the living word of God: Jesus Christ, the prince of peace.

I am reminded of how Jesus advocated that the oppressed people of his day handle the state actors that wielded the sword of oppression. In Matthew 5:41, Jesus says, “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, walk with them two miles.” He was referring to the occupying presence of Roman soldiers, who would force Jews to carry their supplies, but only had the legal authority to make someone carry their supplies for one mile.

By advising occupied Jews to go two miles, Jesus showed oppressed Jews how to expose the evils of oppression by magnifying its damage by doubling the penalty. But Jesus’ advice also empowered Jews in this situation by giving them the final say in their actions, instead of the occupying soldiers. Finally, by walking two miles, Jews and soldiers had more time to break down the dividing walls of oppression. There was more time for Roman soldier and Jew to see one another as human beings rather than oppressor and oppressed.

Again, words fail in a situation like this. I don’t have all the answers. But this is a moment upon which we must prayerfully reflect upon the words of Christ. He brought good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. But instead of coming as a warrior and wielding a sword, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and preached peace and nonresistance.

And he came not just as a messiah for the downtrodden, but as the savior of all people, Jew and Gentile, Roman soldier and Jewish subject alike. We must work for justice, but we must also strive for reconciliation. Violence is our enemy, not one another.

May we keep these slain officers in our prayers. May we hold slain black lives in our prayers. May we prayerfully strive for truth and reconciliation. May we press on with nonviolent action. May we form a beloved community in which Black lives matter and no police officer fears to serve and protect.


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 onFacebook.

Alton Sterling’s Life Mattered

Last night, Alton Sterling was killed by police while selling CDs in front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, LA. Police were called to the scene after receiving an anonymous tip that someone near the convenience store might have been carrying a firearm. While it is possible that Sterling did have a gun, disturbing video of the shooting makes clear that Sterling was not a threat to the police officers that shot him. Sterling was pinned to ground when an officer shot him at point blank range without warning or cause.

Shootings like this defy adequate words or explanation. It is not enough to simply offer thoughts and prayers to Sterling’s family, nor is enough to chalk up Sterling’s murder to the work of “a few bad apples.” Sterling’s death is yet another stark reminder that we must mobilize and demand comprehensive justice and police reform in the United States, and we must insist on confronting head-on the evil and powerful specter of racism that still exists in the United States today.

As disciples of a God who urges us to love all nations and all people as unconditionally as he loves, yet who also demonstrates special concern for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden, it is our sacred responsibility to confront the evil and sinful factors that led to Sterling’s death.

While it is impossible to know what was in the officer’s heart when he shot Sterling, we know that hundreds of Black men and women die during encounters with the police every year. Disproportionately, Black and Brown victims of police violence are unarmed. In almost all cases, armed or not, police were capable of confronting the situation through non-lethal means but chose not to. While there is a disturbing trend of police violence against all people, Black and white, people of color are more likely to be confronted by police, and police are quicker to use lethal force against a person of color than a white person.

There should be little doubt, therefore, that Sterling’s death is the result of a racist justice system and racist policing practices. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Sterling’s killer was “racist” in the sense that he knowingly and maliciously harbors prejudice against African Americans. It does mean that as a result of implicit biases and ingrown stereotypes supported by media and culture, Sterling’s killer was more willing to pull the trigger on him than a white man. Alton Sterling’s life didn’t matter as much, because of the color of his skin.

No doubt, in the following days, the media will parade a negative narrative against Alton Sterling. The media will make Sterling out to be a “thug,” – a racial codeword that they will no doubt use. They will dig up past criminal accusations against Sterling and bring out acquaintances to say he was violent. They will focus on the gun that might have been in his pocket and speculate about whether there was marijuana in his system.

I’m not going to listen, because it doesn’t matter. Here’s the bottom line: Alton Sterling was a beloved child of God. A person who’s life was just as precious as any of ours.

I can’t pretend to understand how Sterling’s family feels after losing their loved one, nor can I pretend to know the fear and anxiety all people of color must feel when they see the police. I know that I will never be killed by police for selling CDs outside of a convenience store, regardless of what’s in my pocket.

All I can do is insist that my condolences are not enough. If I really grieve for Alton Sterling, if I really believed his life matters, I will do everything I can to see that real, substantive change comes not just to our laws but also to our hearts. Ultimately, I know that the degree to which I believe Alton Sterling matters is the same degree to which I believe God matters.

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Emmett 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.

 

 

A Time for Confession After Orlando Shooting

After a tragedy like the mass shooting in Orlando last week that claimed 50 lives, it’s easy to point the finger somewhere – anywhere – else. After mass shootings involving possibly radicalized Muslims, it’s easy to blame radical Islamism. After most mass shootings, we tend to fixate on mental illness as the culprit. Anything, so we don’t have to grapple with the way our attitudes and associations feed into a culture of violence and hate.

But after this shooting, which was the worst in American history and took place at a gay nightclub, it is time for Christians like me to admit our own guilt. I might not have pulled the trigger, but I am not blameless in this senseless and horrific act of violence. This is my confession.

As a member of the Church of the Brethren, I actively participate in an institution that insists that LGBTQ lives are less valuable than straight, cisgender lives. In practice, we denigrate the love that gay and lesbian brothers and sisters feel towards those of the same gender as abominable and sinful. It’s written into our Annual Conference policy: same-sex covenants are unacceptable (1983).

Is it really so shocking that a violent person would walk into a gay nightclub and murder fifty people, when institutions like the COB treat them like their lives and love are despicable and unclean? The Church of the Brethren may not be large, and we might not project anti-gay hostility like the Westboro Baptist Church does, but we must confess that we have contributed, if even in a small way, to a culture of hate towards LGBTQ people. And if such a culture did not exist, this shooting would not have happened.

The Orlando shooting should be a wake-up call, considering the sheer violence that took place. But we can’t forget that most violence against LGBTQ people isn’t so visible. In particular, anti-LGBTQ bullying and anti-gay messages drive many LGBTQ young people to harm themselves. The suicide rate for LGBTQ young people is between 30-40%, much higher than the suicide rate for other young people. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQ people from ages 15-24.

Anti-LGBTQ violence isn’t just picking up a gun and storming a gay nightclub. Insisting that homosexuality is sinful and shameful is also violent. More violent, in fact, if we only go by how many people these messages kill and injure.

It’s hard to know exactly how many LGBT people are members of the Church of the Brethren. But statistics should tell us that there are at least 5,000 LGBT members of the COB. How many of them have considered self-harm because of something they heard in their congregation about homosexuality? How many have feared coming out of the closet because they know their family or church community won’t accept them? How many have left the COB entirely in search of a faith community that values and celebrates them? How many have been permanently spiritually scarred? How many people have we ripped away from ever knowing or loving God, because we refused to love them?

I know that some people will be offended by these words. It’s hard to hear that something you believe because of your faith is actually hateful and violent. It’s hard to accept that you have contributed to a culture of violence, or that you have personally hurt people spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. I know that these words are hard to hear, but I believe that they are true, and I offer them not to accuse or belittle anyone, but to offer an opportunity for dialogue, change, and spiritual growth.

And change has to start with me. So this is my confession: by being part of the Church of the Brethren, an anti-LGBTQ organization, I have contributed to a national culture of hate and violence against gay people, which has inspired hate crimes and has driven thousands of LGBTQ people to attempt suicide. I invite you to confess the same. And together, I call for us to move forward, boldly insisting that the COB change, demanding that we finally live up to Christ’s revelation in Matthew 25 that the love we show for those on the margins is the same love we show to Christ.


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.

Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email Emmett at dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

 

 

Even the Tax Collectors Love the People Who Agree With Them Online

I’ll be the first to admit it: Sometimes, I get a little heated when I’m debating my beliefs online. When it comes to standing up for the things I believe in, I’m a fierce opponent. I dig in my heals, I cite my sources, and I don’t give an inch. Not. Ever.

And sometimes, I find myself humbled. If not proven wrong in my positions (I rarely yield this), I am often shown the error of my methods. Did I have to be that sarcastic? Could I have said that in a way that was a little less condescending? Is being right in this Facebook argument really more important than being kind? Did I just resort to the type of childish and hurtful reasoning that I claim to oppose?

I’m noticing this more and more in online conversations these days. Tensions are high. People are angry. Our politics are more divisive than ever.

And I’ve noticed it in online conversations among members of the Church of the Brethren. Tensions are high here, too, on same-sex marriage and a host of other issues. Suddenly, proving our version of the truth has taken precedence over unity as a body and loving decorum towards one another.

Of course, it’s understandable why tensions are so high.

On one side of the marriage debate, people are arguing for strict adherence to what they view as clear scriptural guidance that marriage be between and man and a woman. Moreover, they’re seeking to protect a sacred tradition that has enriched their lives and brought them closer to God.

On the other side, people argue that the spirit of scripture bends towards inclusion, justice, and radical love. They hold that Christ’s law of love trumps the Church’s law of rules and tradition. They see Christ’s call for compassion as clear guidance that the time is now to accept and affirm everyone as God created them. They know members of the LGBT community, or are themselves members of that community, and they view opposition to marriage equality and other rights as discrimination and oppression. Moreover, they, too value the sacred nature of marriage, and they can’t countenance depriving anyone of the way marriage enriches life and brings us closer to God.

I’ve made it explicitly clear on which side I stand, even if I might regret being so blistering.

As I observe the arguments in the church surrounding this issue and many others, I’ve reflected a lot of Matthew 5:43-48, Christ’s reasoning for why we must love our enemies:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NRSV)

It is painful to use the language of “enemies,” to discuss conversations on social media between me and my friends and family or among brothers and sisters of the Church of the Brethren. But, sad as it is, it doesn’t quite seem inappropriate. Perhaps our first step towards healing is simply to resist viewing those with whom we disagree as enemies.

But whether or not we choose the word “enemy” to describe the person on the other end of the argument or some other word (adversary, opponent, etc.), the point of this passage remains the same: it is easy to love those with whom we agree, but often painfully difficult to love those with whom we disagree.

I want to be a whole lot better at remembering to love the person on the other end of my digital arguments. I must remember that God loves that other person just as much as God loves me. I must bear in mind what Jesus said in Matthew 25: “Just as you treated your arch-nemesis on Facebook in that comment thread about Donald Trump, that is how you treated me.”

This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop advocating my beliefs. I will never stop trying to make the Church of the Brethren more open, affirming, and inclusive to members of the LGBT community, including by allowing same-sex marriages. I will never back down from a challenge to my beliefs about this or any other issue.

But I’m also going to do this: I want to have more personal conversations and relationships with those with whom I disagree. I’m going to resist the urge to flee to my corner and surround myself only with those who agree with me. And I invite you to do the same. Here’s some suggestions for how to get started:

  • Find a pen pal on the other side of the aisle and make a point to correspond with them regularly.
  • Pray for someone with whom you disagree (and not just that they’ll change their mind).
  • Ask that someone to pray for you.
  • Read your own Facebook comments critically. Ask, “Is this how I would want someone to speak to me?”

Maybe you already do these things. If so, good for you! But I think we can all use a reminder right now before we head to what is sure to be a particularly divisive Annual Conference. This year, rather than putting on your battle armour, gird yourself instead. In the end, I believe that we change a lot more hearts and minds by washing one another’s feet than by hurting each other online.


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Emmett 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.

Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email Emmett at dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

Becoming a Church With Its Hair on Fire

It’s a common gag in slapstick movies and viral videos: unwittingly, someone catches their hair on fire, and the people around them watch in astonishment until they finally realize what’s wrong.

hair on fire

But this is the image of the church’s birth at Pentecost. Here is how it is told in Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel. (Acts 2:1-16)

Peter goes on to relay the scriptural background of what is happening, quoting verses from Joel and the words of King David. And the once skeptical onlookers are moved:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:37-42)

Those once bewildered and afraid of the fire of the holy spirit, yearn to join it once they understand it.

This is the birth of the church: a room full of people with their hair on fire. And the observers watch with doubt, confusion, and concern: “Are they drunk? Do they realize that their hair is on fire?”

But we know that this was a different sort of fire. Not a fire that burns the flesh, but the fire of the burning the bush variety, the fire of the holy spirit: inspiration, the revelation of God, eureka.

Suddenly, everything that normally divides us fell away: cultural and language barriers toppled, inhibition extinguished, and gender roles dissolved. All spoke, men and women, and though they spoke in their own language, everyone understood one another, because they were speaking the language of God.

This was the church as it was meant to be: undivided by the factors that we have invented to divide ourselves, unhindered by social norms that keep people in their “rightful place,” undaunted by cultural divides that seem unbridgeable to others.

The scripture says that the onlookers were “cut to the heart,” and asked simply, “what should we do?” They simply had to be a part of the what they were witnessing.

This Pentecost, the Church should strive to look like a group of people with their hair on fire. To the outside world, the church should seem crazy, bewildering, maybe even frightening, in its devotion and obedience to God’s ways of justice and love, rather than the world’s ways of selfishness and hard-heartedness.

“This corrupt generation,” as Peter puts it, doesn’t always understand what it means to love our neighbors, let alone our enemies, but the church must.

Our world doesn’t always understand the way of nonviolence or what it means to love radically, but the Church must.

The world doesn’t always put relationship and community over rules and law and social norms, but the Church must.

The world doesn’t always put care for God’s creation and his created beings over corporate and personal profit, but the Church must.

These are the things that the holy spirit empowers us to do if we just go out and do it. And we might look crazy doing it. When we act as God’s agents of peace and justice, when we become vessels of his love for the world, when we refuse to participate in the world’s ways of selfishness and cruelty, we might look to the world like people with their hair on fire. But when the world sees that this fire is the fire of God, who is love, they might just want to join us.


Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA District

Emmett 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.

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The Promise of Easter

By r. scot miller

There is not really a need to read a Bible verse on Easter Morning. It’s my guess that most of us are familiar enough with the story. The story is the reason that there are more of us in the church or meeting house on Easter Morning than on most other Sundays. The Resurrection Story ­ a story of the God of Abraham and Sarah; the God of Ruth and Isaiah, acting in history to liberate a faithful servant from the bonds of death.

It is a story of creation’s liberation from the oppression of those who would wield dominance over creation. It is also the story of our own liberation ­ a rescue from bondage to those forces that so often lay claim to our allegiances that should be entirely reserved for the God of Peace. The story is an ancient one. Its beginnings are remembered because it has been told and retold over thousands of years.

Once upon a time, there were a people held in bondage by a great nation. They were held as slaves, and they cried out for their release from a ruler who made claims that he was a god himself. This ruler had priests that supported his claims. The people of his nation lent their loyalties to his grandeur, identifying the divinity of the Pharaoh of Egypt as, if you‘ll excuse the expression, the Gospel truth.

It was the Hebrews who were slaves in Egypt ­ slaves to Pharaoh’s empire, the mightiest force in the ancient Mediterranean world and beyond. The God of all Creation, however, heard the cries of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. YHWH hears the cries of slaves. It was YHWH who delivered the Hebrews from the grasp of Pharaoh and lead them out of Egypt, taking the form of fire, and a pillar of cloud. This people of YHWH did not need to fight for their release from captivity. The God of Moses destroyed Pharaoh’s military strength and drowned in the Sea of Reeds any threat to the Hebrews that Pharaoh’s empire could muster.

Oh, how thankful was Israel. In commemoration of this liberating act of God, the Hebrews established a celebration. This feast, called Passover, is an annual remembrance of the Story. This celebration of the liberating act of the God of Moses and Miriam, who rescued a people from empire, has been celebrated every since by people close to YHWH’s heart. It is a time for worship, praise, and great Joy over the Story that recalls the great actions of a God who rolls up the divine sleeves and rescues the poor, the marginalized, and even lowly slaves from oppression.

It was during just such a celebration of Passover, ­ possibly some 1200 years after the fact, and nearly 2000 years ago ­ that a startling new development was introduced to the plot of this biblical Story. It would still be a story of liberation, a story of joy and an occasion for worship. But events in Jerusalem in the first­century of what became the Common Era demanded a new twist. In fact, any number of Jews were looking at a variety of ways to prompt another rescue on behalf of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, who were again under the dominating thumb of an empire.

This time, that empire was Roman instead of Egyptian. It was Caesar making claiming godlike status instead of Pharaoh. And this time, it was personal. Israel was been economically and politically dominated on its own turf, the Promised Land of had become known as Palestine. It is on Easter we remember the old liberating story, however, this time the leader of Israel was not the Moses of old, but as his disciple Matthew tells in a story of his own, a new Moses. A Messiah who is known to all of us by the name of Jesus.

Jesus was a celebrant of the ancient Story. As a first­century Galilean, the Story was his story. It was the story of his family and his people. And the followers of Jesus realized that the Story was not just for the people of Abraham and Sarah, but for the whole world. So, for all involved, obedience to the God of Israel was the only way that liberation would visit humanity. Obedience was the way of Salvation.

While other would be Judean leaders ­ would­be messiahs – believed, indeed, they knew in their hearts, that a warrior God who had already defeated the likes of Pharaoh, and other rulers,would act in history and defeat the pagan oppressors once and for all. God would finally establish the reign of YHWH as an unquestioned force that the world would reckon with, through the ruling kingdom of Israel. There was to be a holy war, believed so many Judeans, and the enemies of YHWH were going to pay a price.

But Jesus was different. He certainly preached the kingdom of God. But the kingdom preached by Jesus to his disciples meant reflecting the love of God, and the Creator’s concern for the faithful pursuit of justice, peace, and grace. This was not, according to the Messiah, achieved through holy war, but instead, through the faithful expression of YHWH’s love for even the enemies of God’s people. The liberating God of Moses and Miriam would bring salvation to the entire world, not by destroying armies with one fell swoop of the divine hand, but through the love of the faithful servants of God’s creation.

It was the familiar story – with a twist.

While the God of all Creation, Jesus, and the apostle Paul all speak about liberating creation from empire, the Bible also brings witness to specific ways that the loving justice of YHWH is reflected upon a world groaning for freedom. Loving your neighbor, even the hated Samaritan, as you love yourself. Or throwing away privilege and giving substantially, if not everything, to the poor. How about forgiving your enemies seventy times over. The Scriptures abound with stories of loving grace and forgiveness. Yet, stories are simply stories if they are not acted out in a manner that proves their credibility.

About twelve years ago, in the Michigan town of Ann Arbor, there was an individual who made credible the story of Jesus. The Ku Klux Klan came to Ann Arbor one June day in 1996. In fact, the Klan marched every June in Ann Arbor for a number of years. They may in fact still do just that. But twelve years ago, and not atypically, the Klan march was challenged by a ferocious crowd of counter­protesters. Just as typically, an entire area of the city was witness to brick and bottle throwing outrage ­ all aimed at the parading white supremacists.

The Klan continued to march, and the counter protesters rage grew thicker with every racist slogan that emanated from the mouths of their enemy. Police were outnumbered, and things were about to turn violent. They did turn violent. The crowd raged at the Klan, and broke through the police protection that was provided for the demonstrating organization. Klan members were separated from one another, and it was quickly an event that could only be described as every Klan member for his and herself. Groups of enraged protesters isolated individuals and harassed them. In one instance, a group of protesters encircled a tattooed man wearing a clothing that identified him as an enemy, and began kicking and punching him.

Out of this chaos, the messiah appeared.

She was wearing denim shorts and a white t­shirt. She only 18 years old, and she was an African­-American. Our modern day messiah’s name was Keshia Thomas.

Originally there to protest the racist enemy known as the Klan, she saw an image­bearer of God cowering on the cement and under brutal attack. Keshia Thomas sacrificed her own body, covering and protecting the a white man she had moments before demanded justice from, and shown anger toward.

Our messiah would have never received a just hearing from Albert McKeel had she engaged him through violence. Only through reflecting the love that God has for every person, even the enemy, could she radically alter the hatred that McKeel may have had harbored against African-Americans and other people of color or faith.

McKeel was radically changed, as the two consequently appeared together in public as an example of redeemed human relationships. When Keshia Thomas sacrificed herself for the love of her enemy, she brought salvation not only to herself but to her enemy as well. They were liberated from oppressive rage, and hatred, and brought into right relationship with one another.

I have no idea if either Keshia Thomas of Albert McKeel were followers of the one true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. But I do know that this is the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus was preaching, that God intends, and that Christendom is lacking. This is the way that followers of Christ Jesus change the world, and love of enemies is how YHWH intends for Creation to be liberated from the bonds of injustice, of inhumanity, and from empire making claims about its own authority to rule creation.

And for Easter? Remember the story? A story of liberation from oppressive and degrading powers of domination. A story of liberation from those who would stake a claim to be held high as gods, such as Pharaoh, or Caesar. They nailed this messianic claimant to a cross. Executed him as an enemy of the state. Jesus was laid to waste just like any number of failed revolutionaries on either side of his own crucifixion.

Yet, It is in the ministry, the obedient reflection of God’s love toward every person, and the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus in staying faithful to YHWH, that salvation is brought to all of creation. How do we know this? Because the Sovereign God of the Universe acted in history on that first Easter morning and raised Jesus from the dead.

God rewarded Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness, and overturned all of the evil that empire could heap upon him. That is the Story of God’s liberating all of creation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his liberation from the bonds of death, foreshadows the reward of our own faithfulness. A faith placed not upon the god of empire that promises our salvation through economic justification but to the One True God who resurrects the dead.

Easter is the reminder that all of God’s faithful will someday be rewarded. In fact, both friend and foe, through the work of Christ, will enjoy the salvation that God intends for all creation. Yet, Easter is also a reminder that the work of Jesus must continue, through the work of those like Keshia Thomas, or the work of one’s meeting or congregation, or the work of the church as a whole. Because there can be no salvation – none of the universal redemption such as my Quaker and Anabaptist faith is so fond of -­ without the continuous striving for justice, equality, and peace.

Followers of Jesus are called ­- indeed, commanded -­ to challenge the oppressive tactics of those intending to dominate creation, whether they be the Klan or the rulers of nations. We are commanded, however, to do so by reflecting the love that God has for every inch of creation. A love offered for every nation, for every person, and especially for every enemy.


r. scot miller asked to contribute through DunkerPunks.com to introduce a new level of bible-focused original content about peace and nonviolence for our friends at On Earth Peace. You can read more of his word at his blog, Gospel of the Absurd. Thanks Scot!

Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or send an email to dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

Boiling Water, Lukewarm Faith

 

By r. scot miller

The cross has gone missing from the politics of the church. We don’t like to think of Jesus, or  the church, as being political. Yet, It is Thomas Mann who rightfully stated that “everything is politics.” Faith is a big part of our political selves, and the church, yet a larger question looms regarding the question of how Christian politics reflect the cross. Evangelical and progressive Christians are experiencing a  rapid political boil fueled by a long-simmering electorate. If faith is to be the driving force of the choices we make, we need to ask ourselves, how do political actions fueled by anger reflect the mandate to love both neighbor and enemy, and, how does our insistence on controlling political outcomes reflect the cross. The cross and the early church reflect a faith committed to serving neighbor and enemy from a position of powerlessness. The faith was that God would vindicate Christian humility and servanthood in resurrection just as Jesus was said to have been resurrected.

Once we get past the wild visions of dragons and such that jump at us from the pages of the Revelation, however, we see that for some churches in the first three centuries, giving up social and economic power had a negative impact on faith. John’s Revelation judges against the assembly at Laodicea for being lukewarm in its faith, instead trusting in its collective wealth to take care of needs. Our immersion in election politics and our use of democracy as a means of controlling outcomes is having a similar impact on the churches of the United States Christendom is guilty of the Laodicean sin. Though we are a simmering-to-boiling pot of political rage, I suggest that Americans are guilty of acting as though the “are rich… have prospered, and need nothing,” but fail to realize that we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind,” and like the fabled King of a now faded empire, “naked.” (Rev. 3:15-18)

John warns that the Laodiceans’ are placing faith in their prosperity and privilege instead of the gospel. Similar circumstances in the United States have overwhelmed the message of the cross. While the poor are often said to have a greater faith, and the gospel says plenty about what the future hold for those who enjoy wealth, Americans refuse to empty ourselves of such privilege. We seek politically to maintain stability and wealth in favor of hope and faith. In order to maintain stability and privilege, the church seems to have place more faith in economic and political power than a self-emptying servanthood in the manner of Jesus. Our politics are of the world, and not of the gospel. Jesus explicitly rejected the political option of power and control. The cross is how God chose to witness against evil. Americans have chosen to crucify others.

Many Judeans rejected servanthood and non-violence. In the Gospel of John 6 (John 6:1-15), we learn a bit Jesus’ own politics, as well as the politics of the region. Jerusalem had been under pagan Roman rule and the Jerusalem religious establishment. History indicates that there were plenty of Jews prepared to  revolt against the ruling classes. There were a lot of “political style” rallies in the wilderness, like those launched by John the Baptist, who lost his head for his troubles.

We know from the Hebrew Bible, any time spent in the wilderness is a predictor of sweeping change, of God preparing to act through or on behalf of, Israel. It is in the wilderness that God comes through when all seems lost, to provide manna, or water, or a great military victory, according to the stories of Israel. Just such a group has come to hear the message of Jesus who is preparing for the annual Passover in Jerusalem. Any Jew in the region who could was going up to Jerusalem. Passover is not just a big holiday feast, it is a time when the natives, as Rome knew, got restless. Rome sent extra troops during Passover to keep order.  During Passover 66 AD,  the Zealots launched an insurrection that ended in the destruction of the Temple. With John’s gospel being written with fresh memory of the fall of Jerusalem, it is not hard to imagine just the kind of group John is writing about. An angry mob of Jews who are fed up with the exploitation and politics of the day, and, the unfaithfulness of the religious and ruling classes. The simmering was coming to a boil.

The wilderness crowd is inspired healing, which indicated to them that Jesus might be the messiah they had been waiting for to lead them to victory against Rome. They soon get hungry, as well as angry, and Jesus has a grand opportunity to lead of force of supporters into Jerusalem to cast judgment on the Temple. However, we read in all four gospels that Jesus does not enter Jerusalem with an army of rebels. He instead feeds them. He sits them down (in military formation; groups of 50), yet he tells the disciples there is no need to buy food. As happens in the wilderness, it is a matter of faith that God will provide. Jesus has faith that God will supply food for the crowd, from the scarce resources of the community, and not from the six months of wages they had. In such action, the wealth and resources of the empire have no use. No power is retained by anyone. A community of God is able to feed the entire crowd from what appeared to be limited resources because of their faith, not their wealth.

The feeding fires up the crowd. Is Jesus the Messiah? Will he restore power to Israel? They made sense of Jesus’ signs and they  made known some extraordinary intentions. John tells us that Jesus saw the crowd was convinced of their own resourcefulness and faith in God’s provision, but that “ perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” (John 6:15) The wilderness rebels were planning to go to Jerusalem with Jesus and revolt in order to make him the King of Israel. This, of course, the preferred option through history, and  a favored option of people today. Yet, Jesus entirely rejects it. There is no use of force, power, or controlling others in the gospel. Jesus walks away from that option.

The option Jesus chooses is to go to Jerusalem to preach the truth knowing he will be crucified for his trouble. Jesus rejects power and force in favor of bringing a public challenge to the establishment. We know there was an impact related to Jesus’ teaching, otherwise, he would have never been arrested, let alone crucified for being an insurrectionist. We also might surmise that the option of reform Jesus chose was rejected not only by many Jews, but some of his disciples as well. It may be in the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus that we can relate to the crisis of faith in Laodicea.

Jesus seems to indicate that, because the crowds are not accepting of a non-violent option, they are rejecting the call to reflect God’s will through non-violence. As for the disciples, it appears that after the event that sees Jesus rejecting the militant option, Judas beings to doubt Jesus’ agenda. At the end of John 6, Jesus foretells the betrayal of Judas Iscariot (John 6:62-71); Iscariot being a transliteration of sicarrii (little sword), a name for militants who became the Zealots. Judas envisioned the military option, and betrayed Jesus to keep him guiding militant Jews from the militant option. Perhaps the crowds had faith that Jesus might be a messiah until he rejected their militancy. Then, he was denounced as a rather uppity son of Joseph the Carpenter. Even his family rejected him. (John 6:41-42)

The faith of most of us has been placed in the military option for centuries. The progressive minds of the church have failed to develop creative opportunities for others to reject it. We have not successfully created alternatives to war or voting for the lesser of two evils, nor, have we rejected the benefits of militarism. While Jesus looked for resources outside of the economy of empire in faith to feed the wilderness rebels, today’s church has no such faith, nor does it have the political courage to trust God’s provision. We insist on continuing to benefit from wealth obtained and protected by military might, racism, and low earning “wage slaves” across the world. Such favoring of unjustly collected “stuff” and reliance upon military might for stability is an utter rejection of the cross, and a maintenance of privilege. Indeed, we have become the church of Laodicea.

But the problem is significantly deeper than that. While our faith is lukewarm due to our levels of comfort and privilege that is produced on the backs of the “other,” we are boiling over in rage politically, and failing to consider that our behavior in electoral politics in making enemies and is an attempt to force others to follow a morality that is entirely related to faith, and, faithfulness. Election politics is not evil, nor is is anti-christ, but it has tended to sway the church more toward government as the acting right-hand of God. The church is instead called to be a community of self-sacrificing economics, non-violence, and faith as the godly alternative to both militarism, and winning elections at all costs. Even democratic outcomes are ensured only by the threat of violence. The Kingdom of God, on the other hand, is completely voluntary, and entirely “other.”


r. scot miller asked to contribute through DunkerPunks.com to introduce a new level of bible-focused original content about peace and nonviolence for our friends at On Earth Peace. You can read more of his word at his blog, Gospel of the Absurd. Thanks Scot!

Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or send an email to dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

For those who enjoy Dunker Punks in History: Lent Madness 2016

For the seventh year running, people worldwide are gearing up for Lent Madness, the “saintly smackdown” in which thirty-two saints do battle to win the coveted Golden Halo.

Yes, the world’s most popular online Lenten devotion is back for another round of saintly thrills and spills. With its unique blend of cut-throat competition, learning, and humor, Lent Madness is really about being inspired by the ways in which God has worked through the lives of saintly souls across the generations.

Based loosely on the NCAA basketball tournament, this unique competition pits saints against one another in a single-elimination bracket as voters choose their favorites throughout the penitential season of Lent.

Lent Madness began in 2010 as the brainchild of the Rev. Tim Schenck, an Episcopal priest and rector of St. John’s Church in Hingham, Massachusetts. In seeking a fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women who make up the church’s calendar of saints, Schenck came up with this unique Lenten devotion. Combining his love of sports with his passion for the lives of the saints, Lent Madness was born.

Starting in 2012, Schenck partnered with Forward Movement (the same folks that publish Forward Day by Day) executive director Scott Gunn, to bring Lent Madness to the masses. Schenck and Gunn form the self-appointed Supreme Executive Committee, a more-or-less benevolent dictatorship that runs the entire operation. The formula has worked as this online devotional has been featured in media outlets all over the country including national television, the Washington Post, NPR, USAToday, and even Sports Illustrated (seriously).

Here’s how to participate: on the weekdays of Lent, information is posted at http://www.lentmadness.org about two different saints. Each pairing remains open for 24 hours as participants read about and then vote to determine which saint moves on to the next round. Sixteen saints make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Round of the Elate Eight; four make it to the Faithful Four; two to the Championship; and the winner is awarded the coveted Golden Halo.

The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch.

This year Lent Madness features an intriguing slate of saints ancient and modern, Biblical and ecclesiastical. The 2016 heavyweights include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Clare of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Sojourner Truth, Joseph, and Albert Schweitzer. The full bracket is online at the Lent Madness website.

This all kicks off on “Ash Thursday,” February 11. To participate, visit the Lent Madness website, where you can also print out a bracket to see how you fare or “compete” against friends and family members. Like that other March tournament, there will be drama and intrigue, upsets and thrashings, last-minute victories and Cinderellas.

Eleven “celebrity bloggers” from across the country have been tapped to write for the project: the Rev. Amber Belldene of San Francisco, CA; the Rev. Laurie Brock of Lexington, KY; Anna Fitch Courie of Ft. Leavenworth, KS; Dr. David Creech of Morehead, MN; the Rev. Megan Castellan of Kansas City, MO; Neva Rae Fox of Somerville, NJ; the Rev. David Hansen of Woodlands, TX; Beth Lewis of Minneapolis, MN; Hugo Olaiz of Cincinnati, OH; Dr. Derek Olsen of Baltimore, MD; and the Rev. David Sibley of Manhasset, NY. Information about each of the celebrity bloggers and the rest of the team is available on the Lent Madness website.

If you’re looking for a Lenten discipline that is fun, educational, occasionally goofy, and always joyful, join the Lent Madness journey. Lent needn’t be all doom and gloom. After all, what could be more joyful than a season specifically set aside to get closer to Jesus Christ?

the above article provided courtesy of www.lentmadness.org

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