Mary E. Klassen
Ched Myers demonstrated how careful biblical study reveals clear messages for issues the church faces today in presentations he made at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary on November 15.
Myers is a biblical scholar, activist and educator who has challenged and supported Christians in peace and justice work and radical discipleship for 30 years. Working with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in southern California, he focuses on building connections between the Bible and today’s world, church renewal and faith-based witness for justice.
His first presentation at the seminary’s noon Forum sampled work in his most recent book, Our God is undocumented: Biblical faith and immigrant justice, written with Matthew Colwell (Orbis 2012). After showing statistics that demonstrate how much of the U.S. population comes from immigration movements, Myers explained how war, economics and U.S. government policies contribute to immigration.
Following this, Myers examined the story of Jesus’ birth, recounting how “Maria” and “José” were caught in a setting of violence, domination and uncertainty, not unlike some parts of the world today. “Empire, revolution and counter-revolution move people around the globe like pawns. It is extremely significant that Jesus was born under these circumstances at this political moment on the margins of empire.”
This significance has been acted out in a celebration of Posada each Christmas season for 18 years at the wall that divides the U.S. from Mexico. In this service, the people on the Mexico side read the part of the liturgy in which the Holy Family asks for refuge, and the people on the U.S. side read the lines of rejection. When the liturgy ends, participants share small gifts through the fence to signal their hope for understanding and justice.
This re-enactment of the Luke story of Jesus’ birth emphasized Myers’s conclusion: “We must allow Scripture to question the easy answers of immigration law.”
Myers then joined the seminary class Economic Justice and Christian Conscience, taught by AMBS professor Ted Koontz, which included several dozen visitors for the afternoon. Myers focused on our current economic “story” with its injustices, dysfunction and lack of sustainability.
Again Myers turned to Scripture. The story of God feeding the Israelites in the wilderness has been relegated to a children’s story, Myers said, when it should be viewed as the first set of lessons that the freed Israelite people are given. God provides all that the people need, Myers noted, and three rules come with the gift. First, don’t take too much, but take enough. This is a vision where there can be too much and too little, Myers pointed out, unlike our current economy where we have an infinite tolerance for both wealth and poverty. The second rule is to not store up God’s gift. And the third rule is to “make sure at least once a week you stop what you are doing to remember the first two instructions and have a party … a fundamental ethos of self-limitation.”
Myers emphasized, “Our task as people of faith is to give priority to the ongoing struggle to recover, nurture and advocate for community in the midst of the ever more insatiable power of capital. That of course is not an easy task; it is a life’s work. If the church could become a workshop where we are all trying to figure out how to retain community—very conscious of the way community is under attack—that would be a pretty powerful thing.”
Later Myers also examined the parables in Luke 16, to illustrate how we today are caught between an economy based on consumption and the gift economy in which relationships and community are valued. “We are all stuck between these two economies,” Myers said. “That’s where our discipleship begins as we work to learn how to creatively and subversively begin to be in service of God and not mammon.”
Myers included in both presentations examples of current efforts that advocate for justice and sustainability. Students from Goshen College’s sustainability semester at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center were present for the afternoon lecture, and in several ways Myers both challenged and commended them for addressing issues he was raising.
In addition to the presentations at AMBS, Myers met with young adults in the Elkhart community and was introduced to community organizing and sustainability projects in the area. Joanna Shenk, associate for interchurch relations and communication, helped to facilitate these aspects of Myers’s visit.
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