From Every Nation, Tribe, and Language

From Every Nation, Tribe, and Language

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Roseanne Bauman

Part 1

I am a nursing professor at a community college in Canada. Currently I am privileged to teach a class for foreign trained medical professionals whose credentials are not recognized in Canada. This nursing class fast tracks them into the Canadian healthcare system so that they can begin working in the field and networking their way to where they wish to go. Let me introduce you. There are 25 students. 12 are nurses or midwives, and 13 are doctors. We have 18 countries of training represented, with no more than three students from any one country. Does this qualify as diversity?

I asked them today, just for fun, what languages they speak, and wrote them on the board. I thought I was familiar with a few of the major languages in the world. I guess it depends on how you define “major”. This group of 25 persons speaks 30 languages among them! No wonder I don’t hear many non-English conversations going on at break time. There isn’t a whole lot of overlap in languages. When the name of a country is the root word for the name of the language, I can sort of spell it, and some like Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu, etc. I’ve previously encountered, but they were helping me spell out names of languages I have already forgotten! The trouble with them spelling for me is that I can’t decipher b from d, p, t, or v in their accents. They were intrigued by the fact that my first language was not English either. You know how you feel when you’ve just had a telephone conversation with someone you can barely understand at all because of their accent? Multiply that by 25 or so persons with at least a dozen varieties of such accents who talk all the time, and you will know why I come home very tired every day after work! I find myself being stretched in every way. My internal thesaurus grows daily as I run through lists of synonyms attempting to locate the one English word familiar to the student, in order to translate the concept they are having difficulty with. My ability to guess the meaning of an entire sentence based on the two or three words I understand is growing, as is my awareness of culture-specific words. I had quite a time trying to describe jello to someone who wasn’t familiar with the substance, let alone its name!

Marking papers has to be about my least favorite part of teaching, but in this group, it is an adventure. Did you all know that churches are profitless organizations? Someone describes an organization as profitless and I am left to wonder just how I would even begin to explain why it is  nonprofit instead of profitless! Also, how does one explain that certain words they hear used in common language are unacceptable in professional papers? Swearing means making a solemn promise; cursing means calling bad things down on someone; what do I call these “bad words” so they can understand? And do I list examples? After a time of reading papers written by persons with so many languages of origin, my neck has had a workout along with my brain! You remember those kaleidoscope toys where you turn it just a bit and you get a whole new design? Well sometimes I read and reread and correct grammar and reread again trying to understand what I am looking at. And sometimes I turn my head just a bit or shake it to try to rearrange my thoughts to what I am seeing. Are you laughing? Admit it, you have opened your mouth when feeding babies to try to get them to open their mouths! That’s just as profitless as turning my head in an effort to read papers! First prize for creative writing goes to the lady from South Korea who has correctly spelled English words in nearly correctly structured English sentences – and I still can’t figure out what she is saying most times! I am learning to think creatively and use lots of imagination.

This group inspires me as I see them lay aside patriotism, ethnocentrism, culture, politics, religion, and even sometimes historic values, in order to all learn how to be nurses in Canada. Yes, my students represent opposing sides in political battles, most of the major world religions, possibly different castes, and for sure various places in the age-old hierarchy of nurses and doctors, but at the moment, they are unified in their anxiety about midterm exams coming right up! I am very pleased with how they mingle and work together across genders, races, etc. It’s probably largely due to having no one like themselves in the class, but it’s nice to see. If only we in God’s global family could be so unified in kingdom work! 

As I hear personal stories bit by bit from these people I am saddened by what some of them have experienced to bring them to my country and  what some of them are faced with in this “developed multicultural country”. I find myself pondering why I make choices the way I do. Am I being influenced by Canadian culture, healthcare culture, professional culture, Mennonite culture, Swiss-German heritage, Christian values, or is there something that is unique to me? Just how many ways are there to view a thing anyhow? I have never before shared so much of my own experience in a transcultural lifestyle as I do now to help these students get a sense of how to have your own set of values which may be counter to the prevailing culture, and yet function within that culture.

On the matter of common sense, or reason, or intuition, or whatever, I am becoming an humbler person and learning that even those sorts of things are often very highly personal and culture-bound. I realize at times when I am promoting a perfectly sensible idea that I may well be the only person in the room who thinks that idea has any merit!
I am celebrating the opportunity to work with this very unique and very gifted group of people who demonstrate such courage to be learners in a new environment. I pray for humility to learn from them and to show Christ’s love in my dealings with them. And I dream about this verse in Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” 

Aug 1, 2020

“But You Will Just Die”

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Marlin Sommers

Since I did not live on campus, I spent time between classes in the Grove City College commuter student lounge.  One day my friend Brenda was speaking of her dislike for the military. She was responding to some callous young men. I started to push this conversation just a little bit. Brenda protested that, even if war is necessary, killing is certainly something to sadden one, not for one to glory in. Many of the young men took a brutally callous approach, and Brenda was pushed on the implications of her aversion to violence. What if someone is attempting to rape or kill you? She stood firm. It is not right to kill; besides, she would be in a better condition to die than the attacker. 

The reactions were interesting. Some dismissed her as sissy, out of touch with the reality of enemies. Others argued that God respects life, so we must be willing to protect innocent life by taking the life of the aggressor. Another friend, Michelle, took this position, arguing that one who tries to take the life of another forfeits his own right to live. In general, the reaction to Brenda was decidedly consequentialist; possible bad consequences supposedly showed that Brenda was wrong. “We need to protect ourselves, don’t we?” “Wouldn’t your life do more good in the world, if you survive, than the life of the guy who is trying to kill you?” “He is probably a jerk anyway.” I was quite taken aback by the blatant use of such reasoning at this Christian school.  

Brenda was not against hindering the attacker from his purposes, but she insisted that she must not kill him. Michelle tried to talk some sense into her. “But you will just die,” she said. I broke in, quoting Jesus, “He who would save his life will lose it.” Michelle pounced on this: “that’s a misinterpretation, it’s talking about spiritual life, not literal physical life.  Misuse of scripture, Marlin.”

Of course, I should sometimes save my literal, physical life. If a train is coming down the track, I had better get off, and usually I should steer clear of people who intend to shoot me. But there are some things that I, as a follower of Jesus, cannot do to save my life. Some things I must avoid, even if it means I “will just die,” and killing people is one such thing.

Later Michelle told me that she thinks the context of Jesus’ words about saving or losing one’s life is talking about spiritual life. Perhaps we misunderstood each other’s points. I don’t know. At any rate, context is the place to turn. In Luke 9 we see Peter confess that Jesus is God’s Christ, the Messiah. Immediately thereafter, Jesus begins emphasizing the suffering that will go with being the Messiah. He will not only suffer but also be rejected by the religious leaders and killed, though he will be raised from the dead. The same pattern of suffering, but ultimately being rescued, will apply to his disciples.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

To lose one’s life for Jesus’ sake is to take up the cross and identify with Jesus even in his suffering and rejection. One must not try to save his life by downplaying his connection to Jesus or backpedaling from what Jesus said. Jesus lost his life in the full literal sense, as do some of his disciples. Disciples will share the cross and human rejection with Jesus. They will also imitate the costly love of Jesus. 

A little further on in Luke we see Jesus warning the crowds: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27) Hate for one’s children, or for one’s life does not, of course, mean animosity or a lack of affection toward them. Rather, it is the settled disposition that neither wife nor life will keep one from making disciples’ choices.

We must circle back to the original question. Is killing in self-defense the kind of saving one’s life that Jesus warned against? If it is inconsistent with the way of Jesus, then it is an anti-Christian attempt to save one’s own life. On the other hand, if it is consistent with the way of Jesus, then I was indeed misusing scripture.

What does the way of the Master say about violence? Jesus’s life and death are the paradigm. Jesus refuses to be the violent Messiah that many wanted.  Jesus anticipates his own suffering. He puts down Peter’s sword and does not call twelve legions of angels to his aid. Finally, at the cross Jesus prays for God to forgive those who killed him. The disciple Stephen prays similar words when he is executed by stoning. 

Injunctions to not resist an evil person, to settle lawsuits against us on generous terms, to overcome evil with good, and so forth, fall into pattern as part of a cross-shaped life in imitation of Christ. Peter explicitly says that Christ’s example of submitting to the cross shows us how to deal patiently with beatings and harsh treatment (1 Peter 2:19-23).

The classic objection to this view of cross-bearing and enemy love is that such nonresistance is naïve and irresponsible. Don’t we need violence to restrain evil? Don’t we rest in peace because violent men man the trenches? Is this not mere idealism unsuited for real life and encounters with real evil? These concerns have weight and they animated that conversation at Grove City College.

But, if the ethic of the cross were only for spiritual matters like securing our atonement, and not for our life in this world, why did Jesus emphasize the need to count the cost of discipleship and renounce all? Many in the room thought they could draw a definitive conclusion from the possibility of “just dying.” Their conclusion looks anything but obvious once we grasp the self-giving love of Jesus. Jesus was raised from the dead, and we will be as well. The disciple will not wish to save his life at the cost of his assailant’s life. 

July 3, 2020

Revisiting the Lord’s Table – Again and Again

Revisiting the Lord’s Table – Again and Again

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Stephen Byler

Jesus took bread, and after blessing it, broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; 1x this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  

With these words, Matthew records the historic moment when Jesus instituted a simple but profound meal that has been a central practice of the church for the past 2,000 years. While its practice has a myriad of applications in terms of who participates, what the actual food components are, and how often it is shared, no one denies its significance as central to the mission and message of Jesus.

The practice of bread and cup is still a significant part of life in the Anabaptist church. As with most traditions, it’s easy to merely see this from inside our denomination’s long habit of practice. We rarely take a moment to step back and have a look at its place in the history of salvation, the life of the church over the past two thousand years and even its place in the Anabaptist denominations. The way in which it is practiced feels “normative” to us and seldom comes under scrutiny.

For a large segment of Anabaptist churches, the Lord’s supper is served in a specifically designed service two to four times per year. It often follows some form of examination: for some a quite formal, full-length service days or weeks before, and for others a more abbreviated segment of a service. Common to most is preparation that emphasizes the serious nature of this event. 

What has been debated throughout Anabaptist history is who comes to the table. Is it for the local church only? For the local church and visitors from the same family of churches? Is the table open to all believers? Terms have been coined to describe the various practices such as open, close, and closed. These views represent something of the polity of the church and also often represent the congregation’s perspective on navigating the challenging terrain of holiness and unity.

What has received relatively little attention is the role of this event in the life of the church. No one disputes the significance of the supper as a three-fold reminder: the historic death of Jesus, our personal salvation through this work of Jesus, and anticipation of His return when we will share this meal with Him again in the newly redeemed world. It clearly is a reminder. 

Much energy has been invested in the role of discipline and discipleship to the point that many feel some deep sense of dread and foreboding (fear) coming to the table, rooted in a concern that they may be “eating and drinking unworthily” and come under the judgment of the Lord. This is a real possibility but likely not for the reasons many fear.

Over the past years, I have become increasingly more aware of the centrality of the table to the work and message of Jesus. It seems as though revisiting this central rite of the church is long overdue: revisiting its purpose, role, and practice, not only in biblical study and theological significance, but also in frequency of practice. We would do well to revisit it with careful attention.

The frequency of practice is in need of attention. One of the earliest Anabaptist confessions, the Schleitheim confession of faith, has  a section called “Congregational Order” in which believers are urged (section 1) to “Meet at least three or four times a week to exercise themselves in the teaching of Christ.” Section seven informs them that “the Lord’s supper shall be held as often as they are together.”* Maybe a very Anabaptist thing to do would be to increase the frequency with which we come to the Lord’s table together to remember the central message of Jesus’s death and resurrection. It seems apparent from the Gospel of John that Jesus also intends for this meal to be a reminder of how we are sustained on our earthly pilgrimage.

The most common objection I hear is that increased frequency would diminish the significance and importance of communion. I would argue that the very nature of the meal is intended to be one of frequency – this was not a meal of festival, such as rib-eye steak and lobster, but rather one most central to human existence: bread and wine.

Second, rather than seeing the meal as a rare and special event, it seems to have closer correlation to the family dinner. This is a meal that is at the very center of healthy family life – physically and emotionally. Our hearts should leap with anticipation when we hear the voice of the pastor say, “Come to the table of the Lord. The bread and wine are served,” just as we do when we hear the welcome voice of the cook at the end of a long day, “Dinner’s served!” 

The table of the Lord deserves to be revisited for its theological significance to twenty-first century church life. It deserves to be revisited so that the Jesus of the table will nurture and sustain us in our wilderness journey as the manna from heaven. Maybe we should revisit it again and again.

1x 1 Cor. 10:16; [John 6:53]
* https://anabaptistwiki.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=Schleitheim_Confession_(source)#Congregational_Order

June 1, 2020

Studying the Word of God

Studying the Word of God

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Frank Reed

The Bible waits to be mined for its treasure. God intentionally hid some of these treasures so that they are only obtained by those who really desire Him and seek  His truth. Those who seek, find; to those who knock, the door to the Scriptures will be opened. Frank’s method of Bible study can be adapted and used by any diligent seeker of God’s truth. Get started; try your own hand. Discover what can be found.


“Study to show yourself approved unto God…”

Bible study is one of the most intriguing experiences of the life of a believer. The Bible is the written Word of God. When we read and study the Bible, we experience the voice and Spirit of God that gives life to us.

Bible study can be a chore but does not have to be a chore. It can be the most amazing joy of your life.


Some terms may be helpful to begin:

Revelation – God disclosing Himself in Scripture and in nature.

Inspiration – God’s moving in persons to write Scripture.

Illumination – God opening the human heart to understand Scripture.

Exegesis – the process of discovering and extracting the content of Scripture.

Eisegesis – to impose one’s own beliefs upon the text (this is very wrong).

Graphe – The written text of the Scripture – All Graphe is given …

Logos – The Word spoken by God – Jesus is the Logos of God.

Rhema – The Sword of the Spirit is the Rhema of God.

Guidelines for interpretation of the Scripture

  1. Determine the natural, actual, intended divisions of the text of Scripture.
    • Note repeated concepts, words, and themes.
    • Deal with the text in those groupings.
  2. Derive the outline from the text.
    • Take care not to impose an artificial outline on the text.
    • Message is frequently found in the structure.
  3. Perceive the text as God speaking to you.
    • Receive the message with a sense of awe.
    • Lay aside preconceived notions and presuppositions.
    • Use a Bible that contains text only; do not use “study Bibles”.
  4. Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.
  5. Pray for the direction of the Holy Spirit in this study – I Cor. 2:9-16.

Study in small groups of people who have been reading and meditating on the passage for a week.

Use a white board or paper to outline the passage and make a chart or diagram of the verses.

Read the passage in several different versions of the Scripture.

The Tools

  1. The Scripture text
  2. A concordance
  3. Note paper and pencil 
  4. Vine’s book of Bible words

The Process

  1. Observation – What does it say? 
    • Read very carefully, and read often.
    • Give full attention – turn off distractions, be quiet…
    • Ask questions: who, what, where, why, when, how,…?
    • Is the passage teaching, exhortation, prophecy, prayer, …?
    • Make a list of observations; those expressed and those implied.
    • Organize observations into an outline or diagram showing relationships between the ideas in the passage.
  2. Correlation – What other Scripture passages relate to this one?
    • Use a concordance or references to find related passages.
      • This will give a balanced picture of the passage studied and (hopefully) prevent “proof texting” and errant (wrong) interpretations.
    • Record the cross references in your notes or in Bible margin for future use.
  3. Interpretation – What does it mean?
    • Ask – “Why is this passage in the Bible?”
      • “What does God want us to learn from this passage?”
    • Summarize the passage in one sentence – include all key elements.
  4. Application – What does it mean to my life/What impact should it have on my life?
    • Write the application(s) in form of exhortation, commitment, prayer, Psalm, doctrine, instruction, etc…

Notes

  • Give adequate time to observation before attempting other steps
  • Begin to listen to lessons and sermons with an ear for what step of the process the teacher is emphasizing (without being judgmental).
  • Be careful in your personal study to give appropriate time and attention to the parts of the process.
  • Realize that the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture and can open your heart to truth. He wrote the Bible and now He lives in each believer.
  • Do not jump to interpretation without having completed observations, 
  • Do not hasten to application without having thoroughly studied interpretation.
  • When presenting a lesson do not woodenly move from step to step.
  • Organize the presentation into a smoothly flowing message.
  • Do not force “pet illustrations” into passages where they do not serve to explain the text. Do not “proof text.”
  • Do not force artificial outlines on the text.
  • Allow the text to produce its own outline.
  • Look for structure in the text. 
  • Do not bring your own structure to the text. Outlines are useful – BUT…resist the urge to always have a three-point alliterated outline
  • Use a “text and concept” approach to presenting the message – What it says and how it applies.
  • See Methodical Bible Study by Robert A. Traina  1952/1980 
  • ISBN 0-9601396-1-3

Personal note:

Bible study has been the greatest joy of my Christian life.  The knowledge that the Holy Spirit, the author of the Word, lives in me and speaks truth and love to me through the Word, gives unspeakable joy and blessings that cannot be taken by any circumstance of life.  It is also a steadying influence of daily life and in times of difficulty.

I have seen people of all ages enjoy and easily grasp Bible Study. In fact, sometimes the least experienced persons see the most profound concepts and truths in the Scripture. God’s Spirit can and does reveal truths to His children according to His will.

The Anabaptist beginnings were based on the study of the Scriptures. Their study directed them to the beliefs that they adopted that differed from the Catholic and Protestant teachings and understandings. For us to continue today as faithful Anabaptist believers means diligent Bible study for all of our lives and especially in our Church gatherings.

Bible study fills your mind with wonderful information which provides content on which to meditate throughout the day. During times of lesser stimulation, your mind can recall the scripture and enjoy the rumination on truth instead of being focused on the problems of the day. This process of truth brings health to mind and body. 

Jesus said in John 6:63 that the words He speaks are Spirit and Life. Scripture is such a huge treasure and untapped source of blessing. It will change your life to invest time in God’s Word. God bless you as you include diligent Bible Study in your life as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.  

Business as Stewardship

Business as Stewardship

Anabaptist Perspectives

Part Two: Entrepreneurs as Servant-Managers

Written by: Marlin Sommers

A business person should steward his business abilities and roles. Stewardship is not limited to managing profits that may be gained through business. In Part 1 of this blog I sketched an overall vision for acting as a servant-manager in business. This second part reflects in a bit more detail on some aspects of the stewardly role of business. I reflect on job creation, on business investment in general, and conclude with a few words about the steward mindset in business.

Job Creators as Servant-Managers 

Some entrepreneurial types are tempted to think that everyone could or should be an entrepreneur. According to this line of thinking no one should need to depend on someone else creating a job for them, because opportunities for profit abound. Anybody prepared to put in the effort should be able to start their own business. But this line of thought, if taken to its natural extent, obscures the fact that job creation is a needed service in society. There are a variety of reasons why it is often good for one person to create a job and another person to work that job. Thus, the entrepreneur stewards his job creating ability for the sake of people who work for him. 

One way to define a job would be as a position that allows one to work for pay. In the big picture, work provides the link between the resources that God provides us and specific human needs. For example, God made cows, while humans tend and milk them. The general principle of compensation for work is that the workers should get a share of the good produced by their work. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul unpacks this with a variety of examples. One who is plowing should have hope of a share of the crop. One who tends cattle should get some of the milk. The worker must get a portion. Of course, we don’t always want a literal portion of what we produce; most people building pallets don’t want their wages paid in pallets. Someone laying block can hardly carry home a portion of the wall as his reward. Generally, we do such jobs with the expectation of payment in money.

The smallest scale of business is the solopreneur—the entrepreneur who works by himself and creates his own opportunities to work for payment. But businesses of size rely on entrepreneurs creating jobs for others. Perhaps an electrician hires an assistant to help him complete the work he has contracted to do, or at a larger scale, a business person engages a dozen people to build pallets. In all these cases it is business skills and business roles that ensure the venture is able to provide a “share of the crop” for the business person and all other workers.

Creating jobs for others is a needed role because not everyone should be a solopreneur. Some things in life cannot be done without larger scale businesses. No one working by himself will successfully manufacture cars, for example. Even with simpler tasks, a larger business with a division of roles is often advantageous. Further, some people need jobs they can simply plug into. Perhaps resources are limited, or there is a short time frame and starting a business is not a good option. Others need the freedom that comes with being able to leave work and spend the rest of their life energy on non-business pursuits. Finally, business and entrepreneurial abilities are unevenly distributed, and those especially gifted in those areas, should steward them for the sake of all. Not every business person needs to have employees, much less a large number of employees, but for some this is a calling. Seeing people that need jobs is a motivator to start or expand a business, though acting from pity without a good sense of the business situation is a recipe for trouble.

Investment as Stewardship

Active business investment requires access to resources as well as business connections and entrepreneurial savvy. Creating jobs often means significant investment in machinery and infrastructure. Successful businesses will generate a return on this investment, but the path to the return is much more involved and hands on than passive investments like buying publicly traded stock. Business investment means putting money on the line to put people to work utilizing available resources to produce something of value. The stewardship-minded investor has an eye for the concrete good that will be accomplished through the investment, not just for the abstract ideas of “compounding returns” derived from mutual funds.

Just as an entrepreneur with sufficient business wisdom can be motivated by other people’s need for jobs, so also business investment can be motivated by the needs of the community. Perhaps there is a need for a mechanic shop, a grocery store, or a sawmill. The investor may rightly act out of this sense of need, but again acting out of pity without a good sense of the business situation is a recipe for trouble. The wise investor who is called to invest in a community or place will discern what sorts of investments are viable and helpful. He will also be open to the possibility that some needs should be met through avenues other than business.

Some businesspeople are called to break ground for other businesses. Many industries work best with networks or businesses. For example, to make good use of forest resources, there will likely be businesses specializing in logging, transport, sawing lumber, or making paper, building furniture etc. as well as businesses dedicated to selling and servicing equipment used in the various parts of the timber industry. A business person with a strong vision may see untapped potential for new industries in the resources available in a given region and be able to break ground that opens the door for a network of businesses to spring up. We might think of this as one of the most advanced business roles, one suited only for a few, but one with great potential to benefit many people.

It’s a Mindset

What does this look like in specific business practices and arrangements? I won’t say much about details here because this is not a business textbook, nor am I qualified to write a business textbook. But there is a mindset that goes with thinking like a steward about your business roles and opportunities. Certain goals and aspirations fit naturally with a servant-manager mindset. 

For one thing, many businesses should aim to create multiple positions within the company that allow employees to exercise significant skills and to earn compensation that can amply sustain a family. This is not a criticism of tiny or one person businesses, but an aspiration for those called to be servant-managers of job creation. They are not motivated simply by carving out a good income for themselves, but also care deeply about creating good jobs for other people. Similarly with business investment, the steward investor cares about his own returns, but he also cares about other people’s opportunities to invest and own capital. His goal is that his investment does good and not harm for the community. 

The business steward has a keen eye for risk and profit potential and develops his skills in the various aspects of business management. However, his motivation is not to find the easiest path to the most lucrative returns. A small town business person might  gain more wealth easier if he took a well-paying corporate job and invested heavily in the stock market, but his town would be poorer for his absence. If his true calling is that of an entrepreneur, he will aspire to actively use that capital to create good jobs and utilize available resources.

A COVID-19 Economy and Stewardship.

A COVID-19 Economy and Stewardship.

Anabaptist Perspectives

Note: This is a bonus post Marlin Sommers wrote in response to current events. The second part of the “Business as Stewardship” post will be released next week.

Factories, Gardens, Giving, Guns: A COVID-19 economy and Stewardship.

Jobs have been lost, hours have been cut, and businesses have closed. So far, the economic impact of COVID-19 is enormous. The scale and duration of the slowdown remain to be seen. It hangs not only on the course of the virus, but on the course our various governments take to fight the virus. 

Like any economic difficulty, a COVID-19 economy highlights the need to steward our resources, whether those resources be meager or vast. Hard times can actually clarify our understanding of basic Christian economics. Let’s consider four themes:

  1. Prepare to Share
  2. As Public Health Allows, Maintain Fundamental Productivity and Invest for Good
  3. Lend Righteously
  4. The One who Takes the Sword Will Perish by the Sword.
Pictures used with permission by: Anabaptist Covid-19 Response

1. Prepare to Share

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,” we are instructed; “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). Sharing resources with others should be the most obvious stewardship response. It is both a constant biblical theme and an obvious response to seeing people forced to leave their jobs and stay home.

Social distancing requires unemployment to be effective. After all, the goal is to minimize physical proximity and not all jobs can be done remotely. Governments attempt the tricky task of dividing work into essential and non-essential categories so they can keep some people home while others maintain food production and other essentials. Thus some people work feverishly while others can’t work their job. 

Trimming “non-essential” work is not all bad. For the most part, it’s a good thing if people cook more at home and buy less at restaurants. The trouble is that instantly shutting down restaurants deprives many of a means of paying for essential goods and services. We who still have our jobs, or who have significant assets, need to help shoulder the burden they face, whether through organizations or through direct giving. After all, their job loss is for our sakes.

Government action helps distribute the burden of COVID-19 unemployment across society, by providing unemployment compensation, welfare programs, and “stimulus.” We should not resent such government actions, or what they might cost us in taxes. On the other hand, we should not expect the government to eliminate the need for us to share.


2. As Public Health Allows, Maintain Fundamental Productivity and Invest for Good

The ability to share depends on the availability of resources and resources depend on work. Gifts of money will not feed the world if agriculture ceases. Planting, tending, and harvesting must go on. Neither will giving money feed people if supply chains and distribution networks are out of commission. (COVID-19 is unlikely to harm our supply chain, but the possibility is worth reflecting on.) Sustaining food, medical care, and communication requires a vast network of businesses—everything from manufacturing tractor parts, to driving fuel trucks, to IT and accounting. These can temporarily be shut down in strategic areas, but by and large they must go on.

We need to creatively sustain fundamental infrastructure and production capacity in our sphere of influence. Factory and shop owners should proactively think about how to safely keep up key production and about possibilities for repurposing their setup to meet urgent needs that may arise. The same holds true at the household level. Gardens deserve extra energy in a time when production and supply chain disruption are possible. If we can’t go about our normal work, we would do well to use opportunities to increase household production of various sorts and to scrounge and repair items that we would otherwise replace. Such work provides a little margin against possible economic shutdowns and can reduce, at least a little bit, dependence on the generosity of others.

Creative employment should be sought. While those with wealth must be willing to simply give to those in need, hiring them, when possible, has obvious advantages. The trick is putting people to work without subverting public health regulations. This is easiest to do if you can address actual shortages and essential needs. Otherwise creative thinking is in order. Can you hire somebody to revamp a website or software system remotely? Can you hire a neighbor with a chainsaw to cut firewood on your land or to do a bit of culling and thinning for “timber stand improvement”? Can you have a tenant maintain or improve the rental property they occupy? Think outside the box, but don’t expect creative employment to eliminate all need for giving.

A forced pause from daily activity is a good time to think long term. What can you do, or have someone do that will pay off in the future? Can you do proactive maintenance with materials already on hand? Can you learn new skills or study new topics? Can you invest in a project with a future payoff? It might be a good time to put up the fencing that has been sitting in the barn for years.


3. Lend Righteously

Strikingly, the Mosaic law commands lending and forbids interest. While we are not under Torah, and some forms of interest can be godly, we should attend to the principle behind the command. The principle is intensified in the New Covenant, with constant exhortations to share our possessions and the instruction to lend expecting nothing in return. The gospel puts our principle and assets at risk, to say nothing of interest. Lending things, whether vehicles, tools, or money is a stewardship principle for hard times.

Why is interest so abominable in the Old Testament? Largely, because interest and collateral enabled those with money (or grain) to acquire others’ productive assets. Creditors could claim fields, houses, vineyards, and even the people themselves as slaves. In difficult times, the righteous wealthy will help others keep their dwellings and means of livelihood. The unrighteous wealthy will see an opportunity to buy homes and businesses for cheap, turning homeowners into tenants and business owners into employees. Far from seeing need as an opportunity to force others to sell cheap, Christians are willing to liquidate some of their own assets. Of course, no such urgency applies to helping someone keep a vacation home, pleasure boat, or sole ownership in a business empire.


4. The One who Takes the Sword Will Perish by the Sword.

Recent events have spiked sales of guns and ammo. People want to protect themselves and their stuff. This is, of course, a fundamentally non-Christian response. We would rather give away our last food than shoot someone trying to steal it. 

COVID-19 is unlikely to plunge America into a worst-case economic scenario. Those usually result from war or (very) bad governance.  But perhaps the little bit of panic we see with a COVID-19 economy can get us to think about how we would respond. Wars, famines, and economic devastation happen regularly, even if they are far from current American experience.

So, what would happen if the American food system and distribution channels fell apart? If true disruption lasted very long people with stashes of supplies could quickly face bands of men with guns, and cattle would often be stolen out of fields. In many parts of America gun fights would become frequent. Engaging in a gun fight to protect your stuff is not only anti-Christian, it is also likely to get you killed by a gun. Proactive Christians would instead work to establish alternative market channels for food, give as needed, and seek to peacefully maintain breeding stock and productive capacity. But, where that is unsuccessful, they will accept joyfully the plundering of their property (Hebrews 10:34).

Business as Stewardship

Business as Stewardship

Anabaptist Perspectives

Part One: Business People among God’s “Servant-Managers”

Note: Part 2 of this blog will be posted the middle of April.

Written by: Marlin Sommers


This is not a post about how to handle profits that may be gained through business. Of course, if you do own a business that generates large profits, that does result in responsibilities to use that money well, but that is not the subject under discussion. Rather, the question is what does it mean to be a steward of business giftings and abilities, and of business roles and opportunities?

In my January post on this blog, I examined the New Testament concept of being a steward (household manager, servant-manager) in more detail. This month’s post has two parts. In this first part, I will recap some of that biblical discussion, focusing on business applications, and encouraging business people to recognize themselves as servant-managers of both a set of giftings and abilities and of certain roles and opportunities. In part two I will reflect a bit more specifically on stewardship in relation to job creation and business investment, as well as on the general mindset of the business steward.

The Greek term oikonomos refers most directly to a slave who played a managerial role within his master’s household. The New Testament makes frequent reference to the oikonomos (steward, household-manager, servant-manager) to show Christians how to live. The parable of the faithful and wise manager in Luke 12:42-45 shows the structure of stewardship. As a steward one has:

  1. Someone they are responsible to (human master, God)
  2. Something they are a steward of (wealth, abilities, leadership positions, etc.)
  3. Those they are responsible for (fellow servants, fellow believers, etc.)

One strand of being a servant-manager is using the skill, abilities, and possessions God has given us to benefit others, as indicated in 1 Peter 4:10-11.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—

God gives different skills and abilities to different people for the sake of all. So, the first strand of business as stewardship is the recognition that God provides for human needs by distributing different sets of skills and abilities to different people. The skills that make one good at running a business are among those, and if those are the skills you have received from God, they were not given for yourself alone.

Another strand of being a servant-manager is faithfulness in positions of authority and leadership; the servant-manager in Jesus’s parable had a certain amount of control over his fellow servants. Elders and overseers can be called God’s stewards because of their leadership and managerial role in the church, the household of God (Titus 1:7).  Business too, especially in large and well-established businesses, creates positions and roles that exert considerable power over others, and that must be stewarded to benefit those under one’s charge.

When we think of good stewardship, we might think of things like, generosity, frugality, miserliness, carefulness, or shrewdness. Some of these form part of the biblical picture; others distort it. Fundamentally, stewardship is not just about giving or saving money, but about using our abilities and our roles to benefit those whom God intends for those abilities and roles to bless.

Business as Gifting and Ability 

What do we mean when we speak of distinctive business skills and opportunities? After all, businesses engage in very different tasks. Some clear land, some build houses, some raise cattle, some service computers, some build cars, some distribute risk through insurance, some help other businesses with marketing. What do these businesses have in common that makes them businesses? And what is the difference between being a businessperson in one of these entities and working in one of them as a dozer driver, electrician, cattle hand, robot programmer, graphic designer etc.? 

One way to approach the distinctive focus of business skills is to think about the nested skills and abilities needed to create a house. I will use building a house as an example. Imagine several eager workers standing beside pallets of blocks near a prepared footer. They have the ability to move these blocks, but moving these blocks will do no good unless someone is there with the skill to assemble these blocks into a wall around the crawlspace. The simple action of moving blocks does not accomplish its goal without the coordinating skill of a mason to produce a wall. In the same way the work of laying a block wall can only accomplish its goal if it is directed by a builder who has a plan to build an entire house on that foundation. The coordinating skill of the builder determines the kind of wall and the location of the wall that can contribute to a well-built house. Otherwise, moving and laying block would be wasted effort rather than profitable work. 

Business skills provide another essential level of coordination. If a builder creates a fine house, but it is not valued highly enough to pay for materials, pay all the various workers, and, at a minimum, sustain capital, the result will be a degree of wasted effort and unprofitable labor. Producing a house does no good if a house is not needed, and it does but limited good if a house is not needed as badly as other things workers could have produced. One of the primary functions of the business person is to direct work and the use of resources toward products and services that people value. More specifically the business person finds and takes opportunities where people are willing to pay enough for the goods or services provided that a profit remains for the business after paying all expenses.

Not all matters or decisions should be left to business criteria. Some profitable ventures should be avoided, because the “good” or “service”that people would gladly pay for is actually harmful or evil. And some needs in life are better provided through non-profit organizations or taxes and governments. However, for large swathes of life, business people with a keen eye for profits and losses do a great job hiring people for good and beneficial work to supply human needs. The stewardship-minded business person sees what he does as one skill and one role among the many that God has provided for the flourishing of humanity.

Business as Opportunities and Roles

While we have emphasized business as a skill, it is also a societal role. When an entrepreneur has been successful, a business structure is developed that shapes work and commerce. Those managing this structure may not have the same insight and abilities as the founder, but they have similar responsibilities. A business can shape life for a number of people purely because it exists and manages to survive. Running a business involves choices that affect customers, employees, and even outside parties to various degrees. A businessperson may be quite literally one who gives fellow servants their portion of food at the proper time (Luke 12:43). Being an owner and manager of a reasonably successful business also opens opportunities that may not be available to others. One may have access to capital, familiarity with the community, business infrastructure, etc. that allow him to pursue new ventures or address problems. The stewardship minded business person will feel a certain weight to these opportunities and roles and a desire to perform them well for the sake of various stakeholders.

To be continued…

Following a Homeless Lord

Following a Homeless Lord

Anabaptist Perspectives, Guest Blogger

Dwight Gingrich is a former pastor and high school teacher who currently lives in Atlanta, Ga with his wife and three daughters where they are helping to establish a church plant. Dwight says that he is passionate about “exegesis and ecclesiology–that is, faithful interpretation of the Bible and good theological understandings and practices regarding the Church of Jesus Christ.” You can read more of Dwight’s writings and Scripture studies here.

(Thank you to Daughters of Promise magazine for granting us permission to reprint this article from their Winter 2017 issue.)

***

Since 1973, the year before I was born, the average living space per person in newly built United States homes has nearly doubled from 551 to 1,058 square feet.1 My adult experience distantly follows this same trend. As a single during college, I had personal space of maybe 375 square feet in the basement of my landlord’s home. Now (eighteen years, four dwellings, and four additional family members later) I am a first-time home owner of a house in Atlanta, Georgia, with 2,200 square feet plus an unfinished basement.

“But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Speaking of somewhere to lay your head, my bed size since moving to the U.S. in 2003 has also grown—from a single bed in the Bronx, to a full-sized sofa bed (newly-weds!), to several more full-sized beds, to, now, a luxurious queen-sized bed.

“But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Rich Mullins sang it well:

There were places You visited frequently
Took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet
‘Cause You knew that the whole world belonged to the meek
But You did not have a home…
Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man. 2

What does it mean, in our McMansion world, to be followers of a homeless Lord?

We must begin by taking Jesus’ call to homelessness seriously. “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go,” an overconfident scribe assured Jesus (Matt. 8:19). Jesus’ response was a harsh reality check: Foxes have holes, and birds have roosts, but the One we profess to follow had no place to rest. Perhaps significantly, Luke says this conversation happened “along the road” (9:57). Matthew says it happened right before Jesus’ disciples “followed him” into a boat, where the travel-weary Jesus slept, tossed by a great storm (8:23-24).

Jesus, who lived during childhood with His parents in “their own town” of Nazareth (Luke 2:39), spent His adult ministry years as a travelling rabbi, never long in one place, always following His Father’s call. In Luke’s account, it was “after this” teaching about homelessness that Jesus sent out the seventy-two, instructing them to rely on others who would open their houses (Luke 10:1, 5-8). Anyone who wanted to follow Jesus had to travel with Him, leaving nets and tables and homes behind. Anyone who wants to follow Him today must likewise be willing to abandon home without hesitation.

Many of the first Christians voluntarily sold their houses, giving to those in need (Acts 4:34-35). More were driven from home against their will by persecution (Acts 8:1). Obedience to the two great commandments and the Great Commission will lead many Christians to pluck up roots and move where the Spirit blows. Do not imagine a homeless Messiah will never ask His followers to be homeless. Do not imagine you will know the joy of following if you cling tenaciously to your present—or your dream—square footage of personal living space. (And do not imagine, I suggest from experience, that the hassles of home ownership can compete with the joys of following Jesus.)

And yet, receive Jesus’ statement about homelessness as a proverb, not a law. Receive it as a candle exposing the loyalties of your heart, not a cookie-cutter to enforce conformity. No spiritual law lets you mechanically measure the discipleship of anyone, yourself included, simply by calculating the square footage of a house, large or small.

Like the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and the rabbis of His day, Jesus used stark images, black-and-white contrasts, and hyperbole. When He told us to gouge out our eye if it causes us to stumble (Matt. 5:29), His exaggerated demand was a command commonly used by teachers of His day. Jesus aimed to expose hearts and stir minds, inviting listeners to solve moral riddles by a heart renovation of repentance. Applying Jesus’ teaching requires an exegesis of not only His words, but also our lives and cultures, so we can rightly apply the right words for the right circumstances.

Jesus said you cannot be His disciple unless you “hate” your own family (Luke 14:26), yet one of His last acts was to ensure His mother had a “son” to care for her (John 19:26-27). He said you should “give to everyone who begs from you” (Luke 6:30), yet He rebuked the crowd who wanted to crown Him king so they could always eat His miraculous provision of food (John 6:15, 26-27). And Jesus’ call to homelessness came, according to Matthew, right after He had been hosted in “Peter’s house” (8:14-17)!

This leads to my final point: if you have a home, use it as a place to host Jesus and those He loves. Peter, who had reportedly “left everything” to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28), had not, apparently, actually sold his house. Some scholars speculate it became a base for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, being perhaps the “home” that Jesus is said to have had in Capernaum (Mark 1:29-34; 2:1, 15; 3:20; etc.). Something similar happened with the rich tax collector Levi. “Leaving everything, he rose and followed” Jesus. After that statement, the next sentence may surprise us: “And Levi made [Jesus] a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them” (Luke 5:28-29). Notice the pattern: following Jesus does not always mean selling one’s house, but it does mean devoting our resources entirely and lavishly to His service.

Here is the call to one of the most difficult and underrated of Christian virtues: hospitality. Hospitality was so central to the early church that if you would have asked anyone for directions to the local church, they would have pointed you to someone’s home. Hosting God’s household is a wonderful reversal of God’s charge against Israel: “My house… lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house” (Hag. 1:9). Jesus said that when we serve those who belong to Him, we serve Jesus Himself (Matt. 10:40-42; 18:5). What an opportunity!

As we can, our hospitality should extend beyond the family of God to people such as international students and the homeless living in our own neighborhoods—both adventures that we have tasted here in Atlanta. Despite our ballooning houses, over 500,000 homeless live in the U.S., nearly a third of those without shelter.3 As Shane Claiborne likes to ask, “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?”4 Practically speaking, such hospitality will indeed mean we lose personal space, whether through selling or sharing.

This, then, is what it means to follow our homeless Lord. If the Son of Man, the One Who fully shares the glory and kingdom of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13-14), willingly left home to serve His Father, how can we do less? If He wants to renovate the loyalties of our heart, who are we to cling to our square footage of home? And if the Son of Man needs somewhere to lay His head, how can we resist the honor of hosting Him?

 

 

 

Selling Dad’s Farm

Selling Dad’s Farm

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Melvin Lehman conducted by Reagan Schrock. Melvin lives with his family in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he served as a teacher at Faith Builders Educational Program for many years. Melvin is passionate about teaching the Bible to the next generation and enjoys tending their small family farm.

***

Mennonite culture has traditionally promoted work that is centered around agriculture and working with one’s hands. But in the last decades, a shift has begun towards fewer people working the land. Instead, Mennonite breadwinners have moved toward more “conventional” forms of income. As one who grew up on a dairy farm, I have been a part of this transition. I have also observed that those who still farm have changed too. Farming is done differently now than it was when I was young, and I think that is more significant than some realize.

I grew up attending Strasburg Mennonite Church in Chambersburg Pa. At least 70 percent of the families there were either directly involved in agriculture or at least connected to it-such as working in a feed mill. Today, in the same congregation, there are less than 20 percent who farm. This vocational tendency is quite prevalent east of the Appalachians. Many of the Western churches still have significant numbers involved in agriculture, but even there, the changing scene is evident.

The results of this shift are not all negative. The changes are significant, but intelligent people pay attention to what’s happening and pay attention to their core values, understandings, and so on. It is important for all of us to grapple with the significance of these changes.

So how will this affect our culture? This occupational shift is a part of the reason for the fragmentation in our circles. The shift is certainly not the only reason for the fragmentation, but it is a contributor. The generation of the early 20th century farmed together more than what my parents did. Labor intensive work such as threshing grain called for 4-6 families to pool their resources to keep up with the work. The agricultural community set the agenda for the church community.  Schedules were created to accommodate the farmer. The upshot is that farming together created community out of necessity. As the movements away from the farm happened, that natural integration of church community began to come apart at the seams. Few have been paying attention.

There are some good aspects to the migration from farm to something else. Although moving away from the agricultural lifestyle has contributed some to acculturation, depending on your perspective, the acculturation may be helpful. A few examples might be- turning from the German language to the English language and the development of businesses that resulted in rubbing shoulders with neighbors in the workplace. In short, it forced us into contact with the broader society and reduced isolation from our non-Mennonite neighbors. This contact has helped to correct the tunnel vision that is so common when we are too introverted.

One of the most significant down sides to the move away from the farm is that of less dad-presence. It doesn’t matter how you cut it, farming created great opportunity for lots of dad-presence. On the family farm where I grew up, I experienced 24/7 dad-presence for the most part. Dad put on his bib overalls and we worked together all day on the farm. By way of contrast, my father-in-law was a trucker. To this day, he says that the worst thing about his job was being away from home too much of the time. There was a price he paid for that absence of dad-presence. I do not think everyone needs to go back to the farm to have healthy dad-presence. But I do think it is important for us to be thoughtful and intentional about creating a culture where Dad is “at home” in his own household.

To explore this a bit farther, consider how farming itself has changed in the past 40 years. Few in my family still farm. My one nephew who does dairy farming hires Mexicans to do his milking; not all the time, but sometimes. My dad would never have done that. Ours was a family dairy farm and we did all the work. A benefit was that I received an education from my dad—a political and theological orientation so to speak, while milking in a stable. Not a milking parlor, mind you, but stanchions and cows facing away from the walkway while we did the menial tasks of milking. That was every morning and evening, seven days a week. We wouldn’t think of having somebody else milk the cows. My dad and I, along with my brothers had an hour and a half to two hours every morning and every evening, milking cows and talking about life and the neighbors. (Of course there were plenty of times that the mood dictated silence.) My nephew will be missing that. I do not criticize him for hiring help, but those are some of the changes in farming methods that he and others are facing. To reiterate, it’s not just the movement from farm to city that is changing the cultural landscape. It’s the changes within farming itself that I think affect us more than we might realize.

Looking towards the future, I have four question that I suggest we think about. One: What must we do to create community solidarity? Two: How can we maintain and improve a strong work ethic that we gained on the farm?  Three: How can we increase dad-presence when our culture pushes us away from such? Four: How can we stay connected to the good earth in good ways as we move away from the farm?

How should we approach the future in light of these questions? Well, first we should consider how we might develop models and strategies for sustainable small-scale farming. I think we’ve given up on “farming” too quickly. Again, don’t misunderstand me to say that I think we should all get back on the farm. My point is that we have obviously experienced some real value from farming. Why just give up because it seems not to pay enough in dollar value or in free time? Why not explore small-scale strategies and make farming more accessible to more people?

What are some possibilities for small-scale farming? I have grass-fed beef. Why am I doing that? One reason is that it fits with today’s cultural atmosphere of eating healthy. Raising grass-fed beef is also inexpensive. When I say it’s inexpensive, I mean that you can raise an animal with far less cash investment if you’re feeding only grass and hay. The equation changes if you want to fatten them fast by feeding corn or some other high protein grain. This is what I mean by developing models and strategies for sustainable small-scale farming. I am a teacher, but I do small- scale farming with relatively inexpensive equipment on the side. Here in Northwest Pa, one can create a supplementary income by tapping trees and making maple syrup. My vision would call for some thinking and doing outside of the box. It seems to me that at times Mennonites are too quick to buy into modern farming methods—more fertilizers, more pesticides, etc.—in spite of mounting evidence that such approaches may be problematic. Should we not be leaders in the field for alternative means to make the land productive? Buying into modern farming methods leads to big business models. The result is that farming becomes less and less accessible to the average person. It is true that there are many people in the world to feed. This seems to argue for bigger and better. But I wonder if we would not be able to achieve a more sustainable productivity from the land over the long haul by keeping the farm small enough to be family owned and family run. I have a vision for this, but we will have to do some innovative work to make it happen.

One way would be by encouraging small businesses. Our people have naturally moved that direction. When I was around 12 years old I remember my dad telling me and my brothers, “Boys, you can’t all farm.” which I also took to imply, “at least not on the scale I am farming.” He continued, “Some of you are going to have to do something else.” He thought I should be a mechanic, which was my occupation as a young adult. We need to encourage small businesses that will give us a chance to capture the core values that are present in farming. Those values could possibly be garnered and passed on to the next generation in small businesses. I think we are more vulnerable in the professional world. Certainly some have pursued the professions and done quite well. Whatever, our vocational choice, I think a key question is the dad-presence question. Will it increase or decrease?

Another possibility is to take agriculture and business to the city. This is kind of cutting edge, but I know of some who are doing this. One man I know of has a special interest in aquaponics and hopes to “farm” in the city sometime. That fascinates me! Why not take farming to the city? Why not find ways of producing food right in town? There are limits, of course, but why not explore the limits? This is something that we should pursue. The younger generation has an interest in city life, but they will have to think carefully about the gains and the losses. There are always pros and cons. My suggestion here is perhaps there is something to be gained by carrying some of our cultural instincts in respect to farming right into the city.

Thinking beyond the farm now, what do we need to do? We need to integrate professionals into community culture. The transition is that of moving from farm, to trades, to business, to semi-professional, and professional. So what about the professionals? What I hear from them (doctors, nurses, and so on) is that, particularly in the typical Mennonite community,  they feel like they’re at sea. I think more effort needs to be made to integrate the professional into the core activities of the community. We need thoughtfulness and hard work in this area.

To summarize, I would say that we need to identify core values and promote them through multiple avenues, in our effort to carry them forward generationally. An example would be our sturdy work ethic. A strong work ethic is natural to the farm. Not all vocations point as strongly toward that same sense of grit and determination. For the dad who is a professional nurse, he comes home and his evenings are free. (I know he wouldn’t think so.) It appears that he has more leisure time. More leisure time means more “fun” options to pursue. Increase leisure time and the culture will change. Hopefully, the change will be positive. Often it is not.   My generation has seen this firsthand. For example, if a game of softball or volleyball were planned on a Wednesday or Thursday evening when I was a child, my dad would have responded, “You’re going to do what? There’s hay to unload! What do you mean you’re playing volleyball this evening?” Many do not have those kinds of restraints on their time in today’s world. That means it will be harder to maintain the sturdy work ethic that was naturally a part of the farm. This is just one example of a core value that we should preserve and protect. I have confidence that with prayerfulness and persistence, the next generation will rise to this task.

__________________

 

Why Graduate From Four Colleges

Why Graduate From Four Colleges

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Kyle Stoltzfus conducted by Reagan Schrock. Kyle is on staff at Faith Builders Educational Program, a conservative Anabaptist school whose mission is to prepare young people to serve their churches and communities through teaching and ministry. Kyle manages the communications department while pursuing a graduate degree in church history and theology. He lives with his family in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania.

***

When I think about being a student of four different colleges, I sometimes feel this wave of shame. There are stereotypes which imply that people who keep going to college will become perpetual students who are of no earthly good after a while. As much as I’d like to say that I had big ideals about having a college education and of hoping to end up here at Faith Builders on staff, that’s just not the reality.

So why would somebody attend four colleges? For me—it was because I couldn’t build mini barns. Coming out of high school and trying to enter the workforce, I had some ideas about where I wanted to be headed, but they were vague and poorly defined. I was a decent student and knew something about computers, but I had very few manual skills.

I think a lot of people coming out of high school go for blue collar jobs that are immediately available to them; a low-level job where you apply and get the position. My application went to a business called Yoder Barns. I applied, got the job, and became a laborer. I guess some people can learn carpentry faster because they are more skilled or have background in it. However, I soon realized that I’m actually rather bad at building mini barns. I would arrive early and faithfully to work every day, but I would look at the time clock, time card in hand, and be absolutely miserable. I knew I would punch in, go out on the floor, and hate every moment of the day. I had a gnawing ache of sadness and depression. The ache goaded me to do something different. I needed a springboard and that’s what pushed me toward college.

My first experience came through Penn College where I earned an Associate’s Degree in computer science. They offer “degrees that work”. They are a skill focused school and offer technical degrees. After earning my degree, I began to see other possibilities besides just manual trade skills. Going to school allowed me to apply for a job that I otherwise wouldn’t have even considered because it would have been out of my league. I got the job, moved two hours away from my home area, and began to apply the skills I had gained.

Skills developed in college are not designed to cover everything. But they gave me the confidence I needed to settle into a new job. After starting that job I met my wife, Marlene, who was teaching school. Although we were making pretty good money, working long hours, and enjoying the meaningful work our skills-focused jobs gave to us, we still felt unfulfilled. What was the significance of our work? We were beginning to feel kind of burned out around the margins. My wife and I knew how to work, but how should we work with meaning? How could we learn to serve people that we care about and contribute something into their lives? These considerations brought us to Faith Builders. They had a faithful view of life, more than just a view of meeting the bottom dollar or getting to the American dream. I studied at Faith Builders for two years, and was then asked to come on staff.

The two-year degree at Penn College gave me technical skills and an occupation. Faith Builders helped me to find meaning in the work and answered the question of how I could participate more fully in God’s Kingdom with my work. The third part of my education, a bachelor’s degree from Liberty University online, paved the way for graduate school. This was the progression in my life which has prepared and provided for meaningful work and service.

When asked if I would recommend these steps for others, or if college should be pursued at all, one could consider the question, “Should I continue to grow, develop, and change?” The answer is yes, absolutely. Everybody needs to do that or else life will quickly become stale and stagnant. Regardless of the type of field a person is interested in getting into−whether it is carpentry, the manual trades, etc.−you are going to need to grow, change, and find sources of input to make that happen.

Would I recommend that someone go to four colleges or go to college at all? No, for two reasons. First, the skills which people bring to life around them are different. Some people are more suited to do manual labor and that is necessary and good. Second, anyone who goes to college in an attempt to elevate themselves above the common laborer probably has a defective view of schooling. There are many different types of intelligences. Some kinds of intelligence, such as being a farmer, are more applied. That doesn’t make the work less intelligent; it’s just a different kind. People who go to college may be more gifted in abstraction and being able to spin yarns and theory. Their education isn’t really complete until they develop something of a very gentle contempt, perhaps, for those abstract abilities as they recognize the limitations. A farmer needs a diversity of skills. He needs to care for cows, take care of his plants, be a diesel mechanic, and a bookkeeper. He needs all of these various skills, and it takes a certain kind of person to do that well. That person may not be well suited for academics, but the academic person, if you put him in that same situation, would probably fumble.

Superficially, one incentive to attending college is that having a degree will allow for a higher pay scale−if you can find a job after graduating. We might also think that a college experience can help us find what is authentic about ourselves. But you’re probably going to be disappointed if you look at going to school or landing the perfect job as “finding that core identity”. There’s just more to it than that.

These are relatively superficial reasons to attend college. So we must get down to the questions of real value. Do I want to do this job because I want to grow in my capacities? Why do I want to enlarge my abilities as a person?

Going to college not only helps us to gain particular working skills, but also provides a different way of looking at the world. You come out on the other end of college training and see new possibilities in the world that you didn’t see before. The possibility may be as simple as saying, “Oh, you’re having trouble with making sense of your finances. I have tools and training that can help you sort that out.” You are seeing possibilities on the other side of those muddled up finances. It begins to change how you see the world. When things break, you see the possibility of a system that works again, such as the possibility of health in patients who are really sick. The possibilities begin to bring equipped people’s imaginations alive. With a college education, they now have skills which make a possibility of something previously out of reach.

This is all good motivation for going to college, but, for the Christian, we can go even deeper than that. The statesman Abraham Kuyper is quoted as saying, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”1 This call of Christ extends into that space of imagination where we begin to see possibilities in the world, as well as into the disciplines a person gains from college. It begins to change and inform how they see the possibilities.

There is talk in today’s world about the sacred and the secular. The majority of trades that people learn in college—whether nursing, mathematics, or technical skills—are all chunked off in the realm of the secular. What this really mean, though, is that these trades haven’t been influenced yet by the Christian imagination. In reality, they have already been claimed. This is what Kuyper was referencing when he spoke of Jesus laying claim to everything. “Mine!” The task of the Christian, then, is to see those possibilities as the raw material they really are. Seeing them through the lens of their education, claim them for Christ, and then rehabilitate or reform them. What is a Christian way of doing nursing? What is a Christian way of doing computer science? What is a Christian way of doing agriculture? There are incredible opportunities out there for this kind of reform because all of these kinds of work have been set apart as secular, when really it needs to be reclaimed for Christ. College allows you to have access to both worlds, spiritual and secular, and to begin to redeem and reclaim them together for Christ.

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