“Defund the Police” is Deeply Anabaptist

From its origins, Anabaptism was a movement that questioned the belief that the state was worthy of wielding violence. So it surprised me, at first, that Anabaptist churches were even debating about defunding the police. This is a religious tradition that champions war tax resistance. We literally believe that religious freedom entitles us not to pay for our country’s military. It’s a hop, skip, and less than a jump to move from withholding military dollars to reducing police funding.

Anabaptist theology has no room for police, any more than it has room for soldiers, kings, or governments who claim to have God’s blessing. In 1527 in the Schleitheim Confession, Anabaptists made the bold statement that Christians should not carry weapons, but instead be “armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and with the Word of God.”  

But over time, this ability to critique violence morphed into a desire to avoid violence at all costs. The logic went like this: Jesus calls us to peace; therefore, we cannot exhibit signs of violence; therefore, violence simply does not exist in Christian community. There’s no need to create a vocabulary for something that does not exist. The Anabaptist legacy is one that silences violence because there are no words for it.

And so, most of our churches simply function as though police don’t exist. People like us would never be police officers. People like us would never call the police on a fellow church member. And, it must be said, people like us are rarely policed because, until three or four generations ago, Anabaptists were almost exclusively white. The message in most Anabaptist churches today is that Anabaptists should not be police officers—but police officers are also permissible when necessary to quash any violence we witness since, of course, violence is immoral. Police are unnecessary to our daily lives because we are Christian pacifists; but we understand police are needed respond to the harm committed by other, more violent people in the world. Ah, the sweet, sweet moral high ground.

Anabaptists cannot be police officers, it’s often said, because they would have to carry a gun. This is the most obvious observation we make policing, and one that fails to mention that tear gas, pepper spray, riot gear, and rubber bullets are also tools of violence.

Our historically flat critique of violence—a critique that washes over race, power, socioeconomic disparity, and gender—no longer serves us. Most likely, it never served us.

“We believe that peace is the will of God. God created the world in peace, and God’s peace is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and the peace of the whole world,” begins Article 22 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.

There is no way to get from “God created the world in peace” to “I’m okay with paying taxes to the government so that police have access to riot gear.” To be pacifist is to maintain that for every social problem, there are better places to put our money than police departments. Any government representative who is required to carry a gun is less effective at creating peace than a government employee who does not have “exercising violence when necessary” as part of their job description. Because, in the Anabaptist tradition, violence is never necessary.

The phrase “Defund the Police” is the most Anabaptist term to enter popular American social discourse in decades. As pacifists, we ought to be rushing full speed to join the movement. And if we are not, we ought to pull out our Confession of Faith and ask ourselves, “Why does this phrase make me uncomfortable?”

It is, most likely, because of our commitments to our own privilege, and not our commitments to God.

Easter: Happy Skunk Cabbage Day

When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!)
Mark 16:4

You didn’t think it was over at Day 40, did you? It was—technically, we’re all off the Lent hook now. But, whatever your discipline was, Lent isn’t intended to be a one-and-done. We return to old routines changed. We create new routines, maybe not with the strictness we adhered to during Lent (goodbye waking up at 6am to write the next day’s reflection!), but we carry who we’ve been these 40 days into who we become from here. The stone is rolled away. This morning, we put on our Easter dresses and sing and feast. As a teenager, I loved picking out my special Easter outfit, always anticipating warm weather and bare legs. April’s gonna be April, though, and more often than not I spent Easter morning digging through my closet for tights or sweaters. We didn’t think resilience would look like this. It seldom meets our beauty standards.

For some of these posts, I used a picture of an early spring bud: a skunk cabbage flower.

skunk cabbage centeredThe flower bursts up early, even before the crocuses. It generates its own heat, even to the point of melting the snow, and it also smells terrible (which attracts the flies that pollinate it). It’s a fitting image of resilience: heat-generating, life-giving, and funky-smelling. The beautiful and the rotten, not glossed over, held in a balance that favors life and makes the unpleasant tolerable. The beauty of resilience might also be a little smelly. What Easter brings is rarely what we expected or anticipated. Prepare to be surprised by your own healing. Let your resilient self astound you.

Skunk Cabbage bloomed

 Takeaway: So we release the need for the future to look exactly how we planned. We release the stipulations we demanded before healing. We let resilience open us to what we’d never considered possible.

Take a listen to this song by Rising Appalachia, called “Resilient.” Carry it with you as you move from Lent into the season of Easter, as you sit with who you’ve become and who you still are to become: “I am resilient/I trust the movement/I’ll show up at the table/again and again and again.”

Day #40: Integrity

Everyone from Judah who is living in the land of Egypt will die by the sword and by famine, until all are gone. 28 Those who actually survive war and return from Egypt to the land of Judah will be very few.
-Jeremiah 44:27-28

Not everyone gets a happy ending. The resiliency gospel is not the prosperity gospel—there is no promise of wealth and happiness here. So the ending returns to the beginning. This series began with a passage from Jeremiah, where the prophet bought a field in a collapsing nation state, with a near-defunct currency, to create a deed that wouldn’t be honored. To prove that there is still hope in destruction. By the end of his life, Jeremiah has been dragged to Egypt on a fool’s errand with some refugees trying to avoid war. War comes to Egypt, and most of the people Jeremiah accompanied to Egypt don’t make it out. Jeremiah dies in Egypt, although we aren’t told how. Meanwhile, in Babylon, where the other half of the nation was deported, life gets marginally better but it still sucks. And then the story ends. It doesn’t get better.  Jeremiah remains resilient as he can through war, national crisis, and bad decisions. He has integrity. But it doesn’t get better. He just tries to bring his best self to a world getting worse.

Takeaway: Resilience is a sexy word in pop culture. It was so trendy I was reluctant to make it the center of my Lenten practice. But actual resilience is not very sexy, because it’s an admission that things might not get better. Life could get harder than it is now. Tomorrow, Jesus will resurrect, but he won’t stay, God won’t stay in flesh on earth. This embodied hope we came to count on—the friendship and mentorship of the kindness of the universe—it doesn’t stay as close as we wish. Resurrection is hope, but it’s not resolution. We still have to make a way in the world with hope standing at a distance. When I think about climate change, the American economy, the institutional church, I realize: it might not get better. But I want to bring my best self to the worst times, even if the worst of times go on and on and on. Several times during Lent, I’ve read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road,” and it summarizes best the resilience I want to embody. It’s the integrity of hope in all circumstances. Ada Limón writes of the Great Blue Heron as a symbol of hope, and says “I think even if I fail at everything,/I still want to point out the heron like I was taught.” Read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road.” What does it look like to point toward hope, even if you fail at everything?

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #39: Mourning

Joseph from Arimathea dared to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body.
Mark 15:43

Grief is not a cupcake. It’s not even a yoga class. American culture boasts that we need only recognize grief to the degree that we can consume our way out of it—every loss has an equal and opposite purchase. This consumption-minded approach approaches grief with the intent to reach satiation as quickly as possible. But grief is a tool of resilience. You are sad because you care. You love. You are present. Making adequate space for grief is an act of resilience (and usually grief takes more space than you think it should—why is grief always manspreading?). Today is Good Friday. There is a saying among pastors, “You can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday.” Sure, Easter has the flowers and the decorations and the better food. But you can’t show up for the resurrection if you aren’t willing to show up for grief. How you gonna show up in church saying “He is risen” when you didn’t even acknowledge he was dead? Even Joseph of Arimathea, a Roman-allied politician with a soft spot for Jesus, allows himself some grief. He dares to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. He makes sure the body gets a proper burial. He pays his respects. He goes deeper into his sorrow instead of numbing it out. There is a bravery in grief. We are not afraid of who we are when we ugly cry.

 Takeaway: Today, Good Friday, is the day Jesus died. Create space to acknowledge this anniversary of the loss of God. Go to a Good Friday service. If you can’t make it, light a candle today. Spend five minutes in silence. Read Mark 15. Stop at verse 47, don’t read ahead. Risk grief. Be brave enough to feel the feelings of loss without moving to solve them. Easter will come. But Easter without Good Friday is just a sugar-high and an egg hunt. Easter with Good Friday is a healing, a salvation, a resilience.

Day #38: Vulnerability

He asked, “Who are you looking for?”
They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
He said to them,
“I Am.”When he said, “I Am,” [the soldiers] shrank back and fell to the ground. He asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”
-John 18:4-6

If vulnerability is willingly opening yourself to being hurt, embarrassment is the experience of finding yourself vulnerable in a place and time you didn’t intend. These few short lines from John are embarrassing for the soldiers. They show up to arrest a dangerous revolutionary with “lanterns, torches, and weapons,” and instead they find an empty-handed man who asks ignorant questions. As if Jesus looks at them and says, “Nice costumes, guys, is it Saturnalia already?” The soldiers literally fall over with embarrassment. And it’s supposed to be literal—John writes the whole crucifixion story as a Greek drama, peppering the pre-death moments with a dark humor. The soldiers are embarrassed but Jesus, too, is embarrassed in this scene. What kind of God allows someone to bind his arms? What kind of God allows death to be forced on the Divine? A God who chose vulnerability over violence. An utterly helpless, naïve, gullible God. A God who gives humans every chance to do good, up to the very last moment. It’s that vulnerability that makes this story so enduring, and so hopeful.

Takeaway: At the crucifixion, God becomes vulnerable to humanity. God opens Godself to the possibility of being hurt. As if God wishes to tell us: it’s okay to be known and to be hurtable. You are made to be known, which means you are made with the possibility of being hurt.  Notice, today, when you sidestep vulnerability: when your motive for doing something is to avoid embarrassment or exposing some piece of yourself for judgment. Try to edge toward vulnerability. Open up, just a little farther than is comfortable. Make a joke you’d usually hold back, in case no one laughs (it’s embarrassing). Or admit to doing something stupid (how embarrassing). Or tell someone you love them (what if they don’t love you as much? Embarrassing!) If even the Creator of the Universe is willing to be embarrassed, we, too, can risk a little embarrassment.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #37: Gratitude

He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
Mark 14:23

 Like love, gratitude had to show up in this series. Gratitude is one of the most researched and scientifically-endorsed paths to resilience. Gratitude tends to cause joy. But I’ve been avoiding gratitude because there’s just so much of it all over the Bible. Where to begin? It is, perhaps, the nature of gratitude to ask: Where to begin? For what can I be grateful, should I be grateful for first, and once I start, how do I know when to stop? What “counts” as gratitude and what’s me just upending “Thank you” to the thought I wanted to say? When Jesus offers the first Communion at the Last Supper, it is gratitude and belonging woven into a ritual of resilience. One of the last gifts Jesus gives is belonging and thanks. One could argue that Judas betrayed Jesus because he’d forgotten what it meant to feel gratitude–at least, it’s a convincing theory. The poet Ross Gay wrote,

“what do you think
this singing and shuddering is,
what this screaming and reaching and dancing
and crying is, other than loving
what every second goes away?”

and I can’t think of a better description for Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper, and into Gethsemane, to the cross, telling the disciples to love and love what every day goes away.

 Takeaway: Try it, this way of saying thank you: set a timer for five minutes and write a list of things you’re thankful for. Keep your hand moving, when you run out of things to say just write “thank you thank you thank you” until something new comes to mind. “Bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones/the whole rusty brass band of gratitude,” as Ross Gay writes. When you’re done (but only when you’re done), if you want to transform your life, just for fun, listen to the whole 13-minute glittering universe of Ross Gay’s poem, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.”  It’s worth every second.

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #36: Belonging

Naomi took the child and held him to her breast, and she became his guardian. 17 The neighborhood women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They called his name Obed.
Ruth 4:16-17

 

“We belong in a bundle of life,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes when he describes ubuntu, the South African philosophy that “a person is a person through other persons.” At the beginning of the story, Naomi lost the people through whom she was a person: her husband, her two sons, a daughter-in-law. At the end of the story, she stands in a bundle of life, becoming a new person through the new persons surrounding her. The end of the book of Ruth is belonging. For everyone. Call Ruth a love story of two people if you want, but those two people need a whole community to bring their love to life. When Obed is born, he belongs not just to his nuclear family, but to his whole community. “A son has been born to Naomi,” the village women say—these same village women who refused to call her Bitter when she spoke honestly of how she felt at her lowest low. Why do the women say that? The son is not Naomi’s, yet they belong to each other. And so do the village women belong—Obed is not named by his mother and father, or even by his grandmother, he is named by the neighborhood women who will grow up with him in the streets, looking after him and his parents and his grandmother. Obed’s birth is the symbol of everyone’s belonging. Each person becomes more a part of the community by his presence.

Does belonging always mean a fairy tale ending? Of course not. Ruth is a family story, but not everyone finds belonging in nuclear family (even one as nontraditional as Ruth and Naomi’s). In 1867, generations later and on a different continent, Mother Jones had a Naomi-like experience when she lost her husband and four children to yellow fever. She never married or had more children, but took the name Mother Jones and organized miners’ unions and advocated for better working conditions. She was at the center of every march and movement and created a labor movement where everyone belonged: widows, bachelors, children. Belonging is not always about blood family; it is also about chosen family.

Takeaway: Jesus wove an odd bunch of male and female disciples into “a bundle of life.” He taught people who had nobody to belong to each other. As we approach the sorrow of Holy Week, we also draw closer to each other, leaning toward the ones to whom we belong. Create a quiet moment today to name and pray for the ones to whom you belong, near and far, the people who give and create home for you.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #35: Celebration

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Mark 11:9

 A good party is a good party. And Palm Sunday is a good party. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, he creates a gregarious, impromptu party (Jesus tends to do that). People begin to lay down their coats. They cut down branches and start waving them. They sing and dance. And on the other side of the city, somewhere in Jerusalem, Pilate is also holding a parade. Pilate, dressed in his military regalia, riding a warhorse, is riding through the streets displaying the Roman military might, and around him pedestrians are compelled to applaud and wave branches for this display of patriotic power. Pilate tries to force a party under threat of violence. Jesus creates space for people to share love, and that love yields a joyful all-ages party in the streets. In a highly stressful time, he revives the spirits of a discouraged, impoverished ethnic minority under occupied Roman rule.

Jesus invites hopeless peasants to find a reason to celebrate. He invites them to name and nurture their resilience. The whole community orients toward joy, working together with a purpose and an enthusiasm that hasn’t been seen for a long time. Sometimes resilience leads to celebration, and sometimes celebration itself becomes a doorway to resilience.

Takeaway: Find something to celebrate today. Hold a dance party with your children. Write a congratulations card to your co-worker who ran a 5k. Wave a palm branch when no one asked you to. There is plenty to mourn during Holy Week, the last week before Easter. But over and over (in the Triumphal Entry, washing feet at the Last Supper, sharing Communion), Jesus roots the people in practices of celebration. He creates ways for them to carry each other into joy. This week will take a turn for the somber, but today, there is celebration.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #34: Risk taking

They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, Jesus threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves.
Mark 11:15

 

Some days, you do flip the tables. The day after Jesus shows patience in the temple, he returns and commits this drastic protest art/social movement, inviting the temple visitors to radically rethink their relationship to God. Jesus throws out those who market salvation via consumption (of the currency exchange for tithes; the purchase of doves for sacrifice). Jesus invites the temple visitors to bring their whole, bare, vulnerable selves to God and that that will be enough to save them, whatever it is they need saving from. It is this moment that cues all the dominoes that will fall until Jesus hangs on a cross. And yet Jesus takes the risk. Resilient people have been burned, threatened, lost friends—they know what’s at stake in their actions. And sometimes, they take the risk anyway.

Ruth, a perennial personality in these last 33 days, also chooses risk when she approaches Boaz late one night and essentially says, “thanks for your donations but I deserve to be more than a charity case to assuage this community’s guilt that so get it together and marry me.” And her honest, unconventional proposal works (but that’s another story). The point is that this is a real risk for Ruth: she’s a widow; she knows marriage isn’t as secure as it appears. She knows, better than anyone, the heartbreak she’s risking and, for all that she is a charity case, she’s pretty stable at the moment. She could continue with the status quo, gleaning for survival, for a long time. But she decides to risk connection and risk the possibility of new, healed community.

Takeaway: Resilient people have walked through the fire; they know it burns. And they know it warms. They’ve experienced pain, but they’ve realized if they spend their whole life avoiding pain, they’ll also avoid joy, love, belonging, hope. Tomorrow, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of the last week of this practice. What do you want to hold in this last week of thinking intentionally about resilience? Are there risks you’re weighing, and are you trying to rig the scales in favor of the decision that scares you less? Try to hold that risk not in terms of how scary it is but in terms of the possibility of healing, for yourself and your community.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #33: Patience

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 11:11

 

Remember that time Jesus went to the temple and didn’t flip over tables and banish the moneychangers? I didn’t either, until I reread Mark 11 this week. Mark is careful to point out that the day before Jesus storms into the temple and throws out the corrupt moneychangers and commodifiers of salvation, Jesus goes into the temple and… does nothing. Jesus looks around, and “because it was already late in the evening,” leaves. Maybe the disciples were hungry; maybe there weren’t enough people to make the protest worthwhile; maybe everyone was tired from a long day waving palms and dancing in the desert sun. Jesus sees something that doesn’t sit right with him, but he waits before reacting. There’s a certain amount of patience in resilience—a sense that we don’t always need to react out of our emotions, or that our reactions will benefit from more thoughtfulness. In other words, resilient people pick their battles. They don’t exhaust themselves and their collaborators fighting every fire. They pick and choose which fires to fight when they have the water and peoplepower to put it out. For an afternoon, Jesus disrupts the temple economy and kicks out anyone who tries to make a profit off guilt. But not this afternoon. Not today.

Takeaway: Patience is another word for picking your battles. Patience means not collecting and carrying every pebble your emotional landscape brings to the surface. Carrying a bag of rocks doesn’t always makes you stronger. Sometimes it just makes you grumpier.  Where can you be more patient? What battles aren’t worth fighting today? When you notice yourself getting riled up today, take a cue from Jesus: look around the temple and, if it’s metaphorically “late in the evening,” go home. Think on it. Regroup. Gather your energy and your people. You can wait until tomorrow to flip the tables.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).