Driving out fear with love and taking risks with God

Sermon for Littlemore Baptist Church, 27th May 2018 – by Ruth Wilde (UK Outreach Worker)

 

1 John 4: 16-21 (Inclusive Bible)

‘We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them. Love will come to perfection in us when we can face the day of judgment without fear- because our relation to this world is just like Christ’s. There is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear. To fear is to expect punishment, and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If you say you love God but hate your sister or brother, you are a liar. For you cannot love God, whom you have not seen, if you hate your neighbour, whom you have seen. If we love God, we should love our sisters and brothers as well; we have this commandment from God.’

 

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak today. My name is Ruth Wilde and I am the UK Outreach Worker for a charity called Christian Peacemaker Teams. I am actually a Quaker, but I know many Baptists through the Anabaptist Network and the Mennonite Trust, who support me in this job. I have plenty of information about what CPT does and how you can get involved, so please just come and chat to me afterwards to find out more…

God calls us to take risks. We’re not very good at taking risks as human beings. We like to feel safe, don’t we? It’s understandable, as safety is one of our ‘basic needs’, just above things like food, water and shelter. Our need for safety sometimes goes so far that it tragically and ironically makes us less safe. Do you remember the conversation around the renewal of Trident in this country? On the one hand, people were saying ‘We must keep an up-to-date nuclear warhead to keep us safe. It is an effective deterrent so other countries don’t attack us’ and on the other hand, people were saying ‘How on earth does something which would start a full-blown nuclear war if it were ever used make us safer?’ I think the funny-were-it-not-so-ridiculous moment came when the pacifist-leaning leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, knowing that he could not win on this issue, implied that Labour would keep Trident but would never use it!

Jesus looked to the world, in the words of Paul, like a ‘fool’, and yet what Jesus really did was to expose the world as a place of tragi-farce. That conversation about Trident was, for example, tragically nonsensical. Jesus didn’t even have a ‘place to lay his head’, he depended on others for food and water, and he never allowed for the use of force to keep him safe, even when he was facing his own death. Jesus always chose vulnerability and risk-taking over safety, and to the world this was the ultimate in foolishness. And yet… Jesus exposed the world’s tragic obsession with safety when he showed that a life lived in community, and in dependence on other people, was not foolish but wise, because the truth is that we all need one another and cannot do without other people. It seems that some of us are just a little more honest about this than others. Disabled people are often seen by society as burdens, and yet (as one disabled friend always tells me): we are all a combination of needs and gifts, and when our needs are met, our gifts can flourish. The epidemic in loneliness is directly related to our tendency to see ourselves as individual units: loneliness has become a far worse issue since we became a society of individualists. We are all vulnerable and we are all dependent on one another. It’s just that some of us admit it and some of us don’t.

In the reading from 1 John, it says ‘perfect love drives out fear’.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse recently, for several reasons. I have often found in my own life that the decisions I’ve made that have seemed the most foolhardy and risk-taking have led to the most wonderful and life-changing experiences, especially when they have been done prayerfully. Just as one example, in 2013, I left my permanent job in an office in Leeds in order to do an unpaid year-long placement in a church in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life and has now led to me doing jobs which I absolutely love- one as the part-time UK Outreach Worker for Christian Peacemaker Teams (more about this in a bit) and the other as the National Coordinator of the charity Inclusive Church. Recently, in making some big life decisions again which involve risk-taking and trust, I have come back to this verse in 1 John in order to think about whether the decisions I’m making are being made in the spirit of love. For me, that is the ultimate litmus test when risk-taking with God: am I doing, as the Quakers say, ‘what love requires of me’?  If I am, I must allow that love to cast out all fear!

Another reason I’ve been dwelling on this verse recently is one which takes me back to the beginning of my talk and this idea of safety being inextricably wrapped up in militarism. The Romans used the idea of ‘Pax Romana’ or ‘Roman Peace’ to argue for the brutal crushing of dissent and the shutting down of democracy and argument against their authoritarian rule, because (in their view), this was keeping the people safe. The ‘Pax Romana’ or the Roman Peace’ is still alive and well today. Today we argue that we cannot have peace unless we threaten other nations with disproportionate force (like Trident) and we shut down discussion of all options other than military ones, despite the extremely good evidence that nonviolent solutions work better than violent ones in twice as many cases. For more on this, have a look at the research in the book ‘Civil Resistance Works’ by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan.

When we heard recently about the horrific murder of 50 Palestinian civilians at the hands of the Israeli military, even our own Press tried to paint the picture as two-sided, using words like ‘clashes’. The Israeli government itself of course always justifies the murder of Palestinians, even when (as in this case) quite a few of the people killed were under 16. It has a kind of ‘Pax Israel’ mentality to peace and justice, and the subjugation of a second-class citizenry is allowed to persist because the State and its people are afraid. Fear is the driver and it drives out love. Some of that fear may be understandable, especially if you have experienced a Palestinian rocket attack that killed a member of your family, but it is the fear which must be driven out in order to make space for love, and in order for there to be justice for Palestinians and true, long-lasting peace in Israel. The use of force, and the heavy-handed brutality used on Palestinians by a paranoid State has not ever and will not ever work. We need love, vulnerability, justice and a new, creative nonviolent solution.

Christian Peacemaker Teams know a thing or two about risk-taking love and vulnerability. One of the places we have a presence is Hebron in the Palestinian territories. Our team regularly sees children under the age of 16 shot with rubber bullets and imprisoned for years for crimes like throwing stones or shouting at soldiers. Israeli children who have committed far worse crimes would never be put in adult prisons, as Palestinian children are. We try to keep the children of Hebron safe, walking them through the endless Israeli checkpoints on their way to school. The lives of Palestinian children are worlds apart from the lives of Israeli children, and yet they are all supposedly citizens of the same State.

Our teams are also present in other places of conflict around the world, like Iraqi Kurdistan and Colombia. Often CPTers put their own safety at risk, in trying to stand alongside others who are oppressed. CPT itself was formed following a speech by the theologian Ron Sider to Mennonite World Conference in which he called on people who believe in the way of nonviolence to be as risk-taking as soldiers, who believe in the way of violence. He said that if peacemakers are serious about their belief that peace is the way, we must be prepared to put our lives on the line for peace in the way that soldiers put their lives on the line for what they believe will bring peace. CPTers are willing to take risks with God, in order to drive out fear and trust in the way of perfect love. Will you join us?

 

 

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What is it like to be a mother in places where there is conflict and injustice? – Talk to Elmswood URC, Birmingham

By Ruth Wilde, CPT UK Outreach Worker

11th March 2018 – Mothering Sunday

Thank you for welcoming me to your church today. I am here to talk about Christian Peacemaker Teams. I normally wear a t-shirt that says Christian Peacemaker Teams on it, to remind you of the name of our charity, but I’ve forgotten it today, so I’ll keep repeating the name instead! I have also brought some newsletters, books and other things with me, so please come and find me after the service if you’re interested in knowing more.

Christian Peacemaker Teams is a charity which came out of a call in the Mennonite Church in North America in the 1980s – a call for people to engage in active peacemaking which would be as dedicated and as risk-taking as when people are prepared to die for war. This developed into what are now five main projects around the world where we have a presence.

In Israel/Palestine, we work alongside Palestinian children and walk them safely through armed checkpoint upon checkpoint. We also do international observation and advocate for Palestinian justice. In Colombia, we work alongside indigenous people who are struggling to keep their land and ways of life in the face of corporate interests and an indifferent and often hostile government. In Canada, we also work alongside indigenous people who are fighting the government and corporations who want to profit from their traditional land and destroy their way of life. We always use nonviolent methods to fight for justice. In Iraq, we work in Kurdistan, with Kurdistani people in the mountains. These people are bombarded- literally- from all sides- by Iraq, Iran and Turkey. It’s a dangerous place to be but we’re there. Finally, we work with refugees on the island of Lesvos, Greece, where we have a partner called Pikpa who house and care for mainly refugee children without families, who have come alone and left everything behind. We always and only work with partners on the ground in these places- partners who have invited us to come and help.

As it’s Mothering Sunday, I’ve been asked to link this talk about Christian Peacemaker Teams to the theme of ‘mothers’. So I’m now going to ask you to imagine being a mother in several situations related to places where we work…

Imagine being a mother whose son, as young as 12, has been imprisoned indefinitely for throwing stones at an Israeli soldier; imprisoned by a paranoid country which treats some people differently to other people; a country which is paranoid because it is afraid of terrorism. Your son was angry at the injustice of treating people differently and so he threw stones in anger. He is now in an adult prison with some very dangerous men at the age of 12, and he could be there for many years. This would never be allowed for an Israeli child. Imagine being that mother.

Imagine being a mother living in somewhere like Syria- with bombs falling all around you- who has to choose between your child being at danger of death if he stays or at risk of other dangers and suffering if you send him away across sea and land to a safer country; a country where he will likely be treated worse than a criminal and placed in a refugee camp which is more like a prison- somewhere like Moria on the island of Lesvos in Greece. Imagine having to make that choice for your child who is as young as 13 or 14.

Imagine being a mother whose children were taken away from you and placed in a boarding school a long way away, where they were taught to be little white people and speak only English. When they are returned to you ten years later, they don’t even remember you and they can’t speak your language. This happened in Canada even up until the 1970s and has caused ongoing suffering to whole communities of people. Imagine being that indigenous mother.

I am not a parent myself yet, but I have children who I care deeply about, and I can’t imagine my nephews or niece or my close friends’ baby being taken away or being treated in these ways. It horrifies me. The good news is that there are groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams making a real difference to people like this. As I heard a peace worker say recently: whether we are pacifists or believe in just war, there is no just war if it is not a last resort, and it is not a last resort unless we have put energy and support into peacemaking initiatives. Christians must support peacemaking initiatives, through money or volunteering or in other ways, or we cannot call ourselves peacemakers, which is what Jesus called us to be.

Amen.

 

Veterans for Peace at the Cenotaph

By retired full-time CPTer John Lynes 

Several CPTers have a military background.  Some have been among my closest friends.  I’m thinking of Jerry Levin, who served in the US Navy. While working in 1984 as bureau chief in Beirut with the American news agency CNN, he was captured and held for a year as a hostage in Lebanon.  As a prisoner (and a secular Jew) he read the New Testament and became a Christian.  Later he and I later slept for several years on the floor in the same room in the CPT flat in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, Palestine.

I’m thinking too of Tom Fox, who had served in the US Marines.  We joined the Christian Peacemaker Teams training together in Chicago in 2003.  At the end of the training Tom joined the CPT Iraq team in Baghdad, and I returned to Hebron. Tom was taken hostage in 2005.  He was executed.  His corpse was dumped in a street.

Besides being a CPT reservist, I’m now in the UK branch of Veterans for Peace, a group of ex-service men and women who have joined together in renouncing war.  Each Armistice Sunday, we lay a wreath of white (and a few red) poppies at the Cenotaph in Whitehall in memory of our fallen comrades. See a video of last year’s memorial here.

During 2018 Veterans for Peace UK will be releasing a documentary film War School.  See the trailer here

John Lynes is an retired full time CPTer who has worked in Palestine and Iraq. 

A world prepared to win the war, but not the peace: report from a CPT Delegation to Israel and Palestine

By CPT UK steering committee member, Louise McGechaen

When people with direct experience of the struggle against the Israeli occupation speak, the challenge to do something in response can be overwhelming. I was unprepared for every story I heard but I understand that we grow when we thrust ourselves into the unknown. Some experiences just don’t leave you alone, attaching themselves to you, like a recurring loop in your consciousness.  Here, I share some of the truths I experienced as a participant on a CPT delegation. I hope this inspires and challenges you to go and take a look for yourself.

This delegation was well structured and led by Amy from the German Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania. The days were long, hot and tiring both emotionally and physically. Each member took it in turns to share their reflection at the end of each day, we also had a mind, body and soul check in. This was a very helpful time as emotions ran high and we supported one another.

The first half of the delegation was based at a hostel in the Arab quarter of the old city in Jerusalem and the second half at the CPT apartment in Hebron.

The delegation was arranged so that we heard from different perspectives on the Israel/Palestine situation. Israeli Jews, Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims provided us with hospitality. We also visited a mosque and attended both a Christian service and a Jewish Shabbat service.

Visiting  Sabeel, a Christian Liberation Theology Centre, we met Cedar, born in Haifa in 1935. She recalled how people of different ethnicities and faiths, lived together until the human Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948. Her family were amongst 700,000 – 900,000 Palestinians who were forcibly expelled or fled in fear, from their homes, in the areas that became the State of Israel. From Haifa, people fled to Lebanon on boats and others to Nazareth whilst the Zionist militia shot at their backs. This, she described as an Identity Nakba.

She explained how, once the conflict began, she and many other Palestinian Christians began to experience a theological Nakba, losing their Christian identity. She returned to her faith once she realised how skewed the Western theology brought by the missionaries had been, whereby the Palestinians had no part in the promised land.

We also heard from Military Court Watch, who monitor the treatment of children in Israeli military detention. It is barbaric that children as young as seven are handcuffed and blindfolded and sometimes held for weeks, accused of throwing stones, without access to parents or a lawyer.

Tamar, a Jewish tour guide and history scholar took us to Lifta, a village in Jerusalem, abandoned when people were driven out and feared for their lives, during the Nakba. We saw many derelict  houses where people had once lived in peace.  Tamar read an incredibly powerful first person account from the book; ‘One Country’ about life in Lifta before the Nakba. I could imagine people inhabiting the place, living with mutual respect towards their neighbours and this made the terror of the Nakba all the more disturbing.

Tamar guided us through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in West Jerusalem. She was incredibly knowledgeable and explained in detail the horrific plight of the Jewish people in Europe in the 1930s and 40s as the Nazi regime sought to remove the Jewish people from the land through violence and terror. I can see some parallels between this sad history and what the Israeli regime is now doing to the Palestinians.

Amos, our Jewish tour guide, took us to meet his friend, Sheikh Sayah Al Tur, an Israeli citizen and elder of the  the village of Al-Araqib. We listened intently, sitting on the floor of a large Bedouin tent whilst the Sheikh passionately shared his stories.  The Bedouin are a persecuted minority and their way of life has been destroyed by the occupation, their lands confiscated, despite documentation from the Ottoman era. Demolition of unrecognised Bedouin villages is a central Israeli policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the Negev and transferring them to townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish Israeli settlements. This village has been demolished 122 times.

Since our visit, the Sheikh has been imprisoned, found guilty of trespassing on his own land.

Israel is a wealthy, resource rich state and yet the Bedouin are forced to live in 3rd world conditions, denied access to electricity, water, gas and yet expected to contribute both their labour and taxes. The inequality is a scandal.

Being struck by the resilience of the people and the local champions we met, I wondered about the people we didn’t meet, those that struggle to find any purpose to their existence. I found this day disturbing.

We visited Aida Refugee Camp and watched a film, ‘We Have a Dream to Live Safe’. I reflected on the difference between my children’s life and life for the young people in the camp. There is no comparison between what these young people have to endure on a daily basis and the lifestyle of my children’s upbringing and yet the children looked just like mine did at that age. Then again, the 18 year old Israeli soldiers also bear a strong resemblance to my sons. None of this makes any sense.

The experience of settlers on segways, armed and aggressive towards our Palestinian guide Fairuz from Grassroots, made me feel angry and I don’t know how she remained so calm.

Separate road systems, water in plenty, walls, check points, hostility, apartheid. Children throwing stones, parents feeling helpless, oppression everywhere and yet, there are some who still deny its existence.

‘The world is well prepared to win the war, but not well prepared to win the peace.’ -Marie Dennis

We had so many experiences and visited many more places. For the full trip report please click here.

‘Righteousness and peace will kiss each other’: Sermon for 10th Dec 2017

By Ruth Wilde, CPT UK Outreach Worker

Sermon for Weoley Castle Community Church, 10th December 2017

LECTIONARY READING: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah
85:8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
85:11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
85:12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
85:13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

Sadly, we all got snowed in and I couldn’t deliver this sermon in person! Here it is anyway! – Ruth Wilde

Thank you to Mike and Cheryl for giving me the opportunity to preach today. I know Mike and Cheryl well because I work for a Mennonite / Anabaptist charity called Christian Peacemaker Teams, which began in the 1980s in Chicago and which now has teams all over the world seeking justice and peace with and alongside those on the margins. Today, I want to talk about the first lectionary reading– the Psalm- and how it relates to the work of justice and peace which Christian Peacemaker Teams is so engaged in.

As we are in Advent, there are many readings which relate to Jesus’ arrival- like the second reading for today from Mark about John the Baptist preparing the way. The first reading- the Psalm- has also been chosen in the Lectionary for today as it speaks of someone or something righteous who will ‘go before him’ and ‘make a path for his steps’. This passage relates well to the idea of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.

The Lectionary passage from the Psalm does not include the whole Psalm, but when it’s read as a whole, it’s interesting to note the shape and the themes which the writer might be trying to emphasise. The passage picks out verses 1, 2 and 8 to 13, so that’s the very beginning and then from the middle to the end. Even with verses 3 to 7 cut out, it’s easy to see thematic patterns. The Psalm begins by talking about God’s favour and forgiveness, mentioning the land and the people on the land; and it ends with a promise that the land ‘will yield its increase’ as righteousness goes ‘before him’. It’s not clear who he is, but it’s clear that the Lectionary is trying to make us think of Jesus by placing this Psalm with the Mark reading.

Between verse 8 and verse 11, faithfulness is mentioned three times, and right in the centre of the Psalm- often a position denoting importance in biblical literature- is this sentence: ‘Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.’ Peace is mentioned again in verse 10: ‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other’, says the Psalmist.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase? It’s clear to me that, for the Psalmist, there is no peace without righteousness, no faithfulness without love. All of these are inextricably linked.

There is a biblical word which you may be familiar with, and which is often translated as ‘peace’ in English: Shalom. This type of peace does not mean the type of peace which you might find in the expressions ‘keeping the peace’ or ‘breeching the peace’. It does not come without justice and so sometimes it can shake things up a lot! It is also not the kind of peace which we sometimes slip into thinking about around Christmas: it is not a twee Christmas card peace- a kind of vague and complacent wish for world peace coupled with a nice, cozy feeling inside us. There’s nothing wrong with either wishing for world peace or wishing for internal calm: both of these things are good things to wish for. But they are not Shalom.

Shalom is about healing, wholeness, righteousness and justice, as well as peace. It is about looking at a situation or person and working to make them whole, even if that means challenging the status quo and the powers that be. To seek justice and peace together is to be faithful- in the words of the Psalmist. It is our calling and it is one which Christian Peacemaker Teams takes seriously. CPT works across the world alongside people who have been marginalised and treated differently because of their ethnicity or identity. In Colombia and North America, we work with Indigenous peoples who have had their rights to the land and therefore their way of life taken away from them by governments and corporations working hand in hand. You may remember that land was an important theme in the Psalm- in the Old Testament, the land is very much linked up with justice and peace. If God’s people are not allowed to live peacefully and productively on the land, the ‘very rocks cry out’ for justice (in the words of Jesus) and God intervenes to restore balance.

As well as working with indigenous peoples in North and South America, we work alongside Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Palestinians in the occupied territories. In both of these cases, a minority people without access to the same rights and opportunities as the people who rule the land have been forced into a small space and made to live under the daily threat of violence. In Palestine, CPT’s work involves observing the situation and reporting on it, resisting the regular displacement of people from their land and homes, as well as guiding children safely through checkpoints, past loaded guns and the threat of rubber bullets. In Kurdistan, we work with grassroots peacemakers to resist further displacement of the Kurdish people and we advocate for an end to bombardments from both Iraq and Iran.

Everything we do with our partners on the ground is done in the Spirit of faithfulness to the Gospel. We seek justice but we never use violence as a means to an end. We live out a nonviolent Gospel, but we also believe that there is more to violence than bombs and guns; we believe that persecution, injustice and discrimination are all methods of violence too. Taking someone’s home or land from them, or polluting their river systems with mercury (as has happened to indigenous people in Canada) – all of these things are violent. This is why we believe that we cannot work for peace without justice. To work for peace without working for justice too is the same as believing that being faithful and righteous does not involve ‘steadfast love’, as the Psalmist rightly says.

CPT’s work comes out of a call to put our very lives on the line in the work of justice, peace and steadfast love.  If you’re interested in finding out more about this work, I would be delighted to chat to you more about our projects and the faith that leads us to do the work that we do. Please just come and speak to me after the service. And please pray for both peace and justice for the world’s most marginalised people this Advent and Christmas time.

Amen.