When the World Came Undone

16 07 2014

By Matt Naylor, National World War I Museum president and CEO

The world is commemorating the first global conflict. Centennials are often a cause for celebration. But not this. Rather, it is a reason to learn, make meaning, and remember.

 The world leading up to the summer of 1914 was much like the world of today. Europe faced rising nationalism and awareness of ethnic differences. Alliances shifted between nations and ruling families. Countries and empires sought increased influence to drive their goals of expansion. Changing technologies, including shifts in energy sources, changed power balances.

So while the June murder of the heir to the Austrian Hungarian Empire—an empire unfamiliar to most of us today—is considered by many as a cause of World War I, it is better thought of as the match that struck the kindling of a well-set fireplace.

What made this war different from earlier ones was that it was the first global conflict. Indians, Australians, Costa Ricans, Haitians, Thai, and multitudes of others soon found themselves traveling to foreign lands or providing resources to propel the war. And the world was never to be the same.

Going to Scale

The scale of death was massive. Additionally, conditions on the frontlines caused illness, leading to even more death. Some 9 million soldiers died, and 21 million more were wounded. For example:

More than 400,000 Australians (thousands of miles and continents away from the war) enlisted, representing almost 40 percent of the male population between 18 and 44 years old. Almost 65 percent were killed or injured.

The Austrian-Hungarians mobilized 6.5 million troops. Almost 5 million, or 75 percent, were killed or injured.

The French Empire enlisted 7.5 million, and 75 percent were killed or injured.

Whole towns of young men, who were conscripted or enlisted together, were lost. The war brought terror of weaponry, gases, trench warfare, and disease. It also brought social and technological change, perhaps the greatest in human history. To name but a few changes:

Disintegration of empires; creation of nation states; environmental damage; new technologies in communications, medicine, aviation, weaponry; oil’s rise in importance, leading to modern conflicts; civic and human-rights movements; and a USA shift from isolationism to global leadership.

One City’s Response

In Kansas City, people wanted to honor those who served, and they wanted to seek a peaceful world.

In 1919, 83,000 men, women, and children donated more than $2 million (equal to nearly $40 million today) to create a memorial. And they did this in two weeks. Everyone, from the city’s leading lumberman, R.A. Long, to schoolchildren contributed.

The memorial’s site was dedicated November 1, 1921. An estimated 100,000 people witnessed the stirring ceremony. The five main Allied military leaders—General Jacques of Belgium, General Diaz of Italy, Marshal Foch of France, General John J. Pershing of the USA, and Admiral Lord Beatty of Great Britain—addressed the throng.

A nationwide architectural competition yielded the winning design by New York architect H. Van Buren Magonigle. Following construction between 1923 and 1926, the mostly completed memorial was dedicated November 11, 1926. It attracted more than 150,000 people. President Calvin Coolidge and Queen Marie of Romania delivered addresses.

In the late 1990s when the memorial needed renovation, leading citizens again motivated the people. Kansas City’s citizens provided a place suitable for the tremendous responsibility of properly reflecting on the war—its sorrows and significance. More than $100 million has been spent in the past decade.

Ominous Contemporary Parallels

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, historian Margaret MacMillan says today holds ominous parallels to the world leading up to World War I. For example, globalization before 1914 led Germany and Britain to be each other’s largest trading partners. Yet each felt threatened by the other’s economic success and rising commercial and military power.

“It is tempting—and sobering—to compare today’s relationship between China and America to that between Germany and England a century ago” MacMillan wrote. “Lulling ourselves into a false sense of safety, we say that countries that have McDonalds will never fight one another.”

MacMillian points to the Middle East as resembling the Balkans leading up to World War I. “A similar mix of toxic nationalisms threatens to draw in outside power as the United States, Turkey, Russia, and Iran all look to protect their interests and their clients.”

The centennial of the Great War provides people of faith with an opportunity to reflect on how the world was swept into this global conflict, and what it means to live in its shadows.

I propose people of faith can do three things. Many nations are responding with similar and culturally appropriate actions.

1.    Tell stories. The Great War was about people fighting people. Sure, it was also about nationalism, tribalism, empires, and geopolitical rivalries. But those things are really about people. Telling stories can help us turn history into human story.

2.    Teach people what happened and why it matters. The world today is more like the world leading up to World War I than we would like to imagine. The great American novelist, Mark Twain, is credited with saying “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Appreciating the past can help us successfully navigate the future. In partnership with a consortium of churches and affiliates, including Community of Christ Seminary, the National World War I Museum will host a symposium in 2017 about conscientious objection as a response to war.

3.    Remember the courage and values of those days. Many thought World War I would be over in days, surely by Christmas. But the war was not over by Christmas. War was envisioned as romantic and colorful—flags, spiked helmets, flashing sabers. Those called to arms would be heroes, defending their homelands and way of life. The grim reality was far different. To remove any notion of war as a grand adventure, remember what happened. Remembering also can make us aware of real and present threats to our world.

Monumental Changes

The world came undone in those days. When it was put back together—if it ever was—it was forever changed: new countries, new weaponry, new threats and ideologies.

This war matters, if only because it is about the power of a fractured world. And it showed us as never before destructive power on a massive scale.

The great Frieze Wall at Liberty Memorial is 488 feet long and 43 feet high. Combining images of the horrors of war and the fruits of industry and peace, the wall’s central figure is a woman with spread wings, symbolizing peace and understanding. Inscribed above it:

These have dared bear the torches of sacrifice and service. Their bodies return to dust but their work liveth evermore. Let us strive on to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Remembering those who served and learning and finding meaning in the Great War and its enduring impact is a tribute to the past and a commitment to a world of peace.


Longing for Peace

14 07 2014

By Greg Clark,
Integrated Communications

Church leaders were among the many guests who found images of peace amid stories of conflict at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Hall.

Church leaders were among the many guests who found images of peace amid stories of conflict at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Hall.

It would be easy to think the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City reflects battle, pain, and strife—and it does.

Even more, however, it tells of humankind’s yearning for peace.

To be sure, when Community of Christ leaders toured the site in May, they found many spectacles of warfare: tanks, trenches, and testimonies of tragedy. They also saw reflections of our desire for peace: red poppies depicting the Flanders Fields, where so many died in Belgium and France; 40-foot-tall carvings of Guardian Spirits, who symbolize protectors of peace; and the Great Frieze, a 488- by 48-foot sculpture that represents the end of the war and the creation of an era of peace.

Sadly, peace was short-lived. The war to end all wars didn’t. Since its first shots 100 years ago this month, wars have popped up across the world like mushrooms in a moist forest. Today people fight in Ukraine, and others needlessly die in places called Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and more.
All of this makes Christ’s mission—our mission—imperative.

“We have to learn about the causes of war to understand how to wage peace,” President Steve Veazey said during the tour. “We are to the best of our ability doing that.”

Many anniversaries are seen as celebrations. Not this one. No party hats, no cake, no reliving past glories. Rather, this centennial reminds of war’s horrific nature and humankind’s imperative to find different paths.

“For me, the claim as a peace church forces us to be aware and see the presence of non-peace in our midst, and it requires us to look into the ugly face of brokenness and conflict,” said Scott Murphy of the First Presidency.

“I was very supportive of coming here. It’s one thing to talk about peace around the table, but to see representations of [war] makes our work more critical.”

Apostle Susan Oxley echoed that sentiment: “I don’t think the church ever can be reconciled to war. We stand for looking for alternatives. War is alien to the gospel of Jesus Christ. His teachings are designed to solve conflict and encourage us to seek solutions.

“I support museums like this that don’t glorify war but present the horror of it.”

Historians cite many reasons for the start of World War I, which killed 9 million, wounded 21 million, and brought changes the world still feels today. Among the causes was widespread and fervent nationalism, still a force today.

World Church Historian Mark Scherer said that initially in World War I the church urged neutrality. “People were not supposed to join, but if drafted, to ‘do your duty.’ But there was a disconnect between the general church and the patriotic fervor most Americans held. With the enthusiasm of going ‘over there, over there,’ church members flocked to join.”

Not all members. F. Henry Edwards, an English citizen and future member of the First Presidency, was in England during the Great War. He was drafted but refused to fight, and he went to prison.

Over time, the church’s stance changed. Peter Judd described the shift in “RLDS Attitudes in World War I,” a 1975 article:

It appears evident that the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints moved from a position of strict neutrality with respect to the war in 1914 to a position of unqualified support for the United States and Allied nations by 1918.

Today leaders from the church, the museum, and others are seeking peaceful paths and hoping to learn from history. Among them is US Army Colonel Robert Ewing, who leads the 79th Service Support Command. His group toured the museum at the same time as the church leaders.

“Our chaplain unit is having ministry team training,” he explained. “We want them to practice exercising their faith…with people like those represented [in museum exhibits].”

Presiding Evangelist David Brock, like many other church leaders on the tour, holds hope that humankind will learn from the causes and tragedy of World War I.

“In a strange way, being aware of the reality of how horrible and costly war is presents one of our greatest hopes.”

Apostle Andrew Bolton said every generation must learn the lesson of peace over war. “In answer to nationalism, we’re an international church. That’s one of the social forces that pushes our peace mission.”

Apostle Linda Booth noted the irony of the US entrance into the war. It was April 6, 1917—the church’s birthday. While church members were celebrating their heritage, the nation was entering a dark period.

“We learn from our experiences of the past, mistakes in relationships that caused people to determine war was more important than reconciliation,” she said.“Here we see the stark reality of millions killed and families changed because leadership couldn’t [turn away from war].”

But Booth also found hope in the tour.

“I’m walking behind a tour of high school students who will see the reality of what war does, and hopefully they will become advocates for peace.”

Living, Loving, and Sharing Zion

11 07 2014
Stassi Cramm, Council of Twelve Apostles

Stassi Cramm, Council of Twelve Apostles


by Stassi Cramm,
Council of Twelve Apostles

I grew up in the church, hearing sermons, singing songs, and listening to prayers about Zion. There was an awareness Zion was coming, and we needed to be ready to go to Independence, Missouri, when the call came. I remember one reunion before I turned 16. The message focused on the idea that Zion was coming very soon. We were living in the latter days, and we needed to be ready.
I was petrified in the following months that Zion would happen before I got my driver’s license, and I’d never get a chance to drive a car. (I guess somehow I had inferred that cars would be unnecessary in Zion.) I was also sad that I would have to leave my life and friends in Illinois and move to Independence. Even with my limited understanding of God and Zion, leaving others “behind” seemed like something a loving God would not require or even want.
I remember all of these feelings about Zion with a bit of humor and deep fondness. My understanding of Zion may have been incomplete then (and probably still is), but the idea of Zion coming was—and still is—a formative vision for me. It has continued to guide my discipleship and ministry throughout the years.
When I first heard, and later read, the closing paragraphs of the words of counsel presented in April 2013, my heart overflowed with joy. There was that old familiar idea: Zion, beckoning us onward. More important was the idea that God challenges us to move beyond talking about and just waiting for Zion into the action of co-creating with God the reality of Zion. How amazing is that?

If we survey Doctrine and Covenants about Zion it becomes clear this closing paragraph of the 2013 words of counsel repeats counsel we have heard before.

There is a recurring theme that Zion is something we need to work toward and not just wait for. As early as 1869 in Section 6:3a is the encouragement: “…Keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.”

This counsel highlights that Zion is not something we are waiting for. Rather it’s something we help make happen. More than 100 years later, in 1982, Section 155:8 reminded us: “The call is for workers in the cause of Zion.…” This was another reminder that God was looking for people to help bring about God’s vision of shalom. Again the indication was that God wants and needs workers to help build Zion, rather than for people to wait faithfully until God brings Zion to us.

It has taken me awhile in my own journey to grasp that I’m not waiting on God to bring about Zion. The call to go to Independence is not going to come. God’s waiting on me and—more importantly—us to create expressions of God’s reign on Earth in our families, neighborhoods, and cities.

It reminds me of the song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” by John Mayer. In a world where we often feel powerless to overcome injustices and bad situations, we feel like we are stuck waiting. Waiting on the powerful. Waiting on an intervening God. Waiting on something or someone to change the world.

To give ourselves hope and encouragement while we wait, we speak and sing about Zion. It is good to speak and sing about Zion because this is how we expand our understanding of what God’s peaceable kingdom on Earth is all about. However, we can’t just wait while we speak and sing. We must live, love, and share as Zion. Preceding the call for workers in Section 155 was the encouragement to act now:

Know, O my people, the time for hesitation is past. The earth, my creation, groans for the liberating truths of my gospel which have been given for the salvation of the world. Test my words. —Doctrine and Covenants 155:7

I love the challenge to test God’s words. Throughout our journey as a people, we have received many “words” on how we can help Zion happen: tend to our spiritual condition; have courage; witness; heed the call; create pathways for peace in sacred communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness; hold to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ; visibly be one in Christ; and more.

Words are funny things. They often mean different things to different people. No matter how clearly I think I’ve said or written something, inevitably someone will have an interpretation that differs from my intent. So even agreeing on how we test God’s words is a challenge.

I began a journey in June 2013 to build on my limited Spanish knowledge. Learning a new language has underscored for me how complicated communicating with words can be. Maybe that is why Mark Twain wisely observed, “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”

We have filled volumes with beautiful words about Zion. Meanwhile, God keeps calling us into action. I am certain each of us has a different idea of what Zion might be or how to help create it. I suspect this is why we get stuck in the “talking about it” phase and never get on with the “testing of God’s words” phase.

Meanwhile, our words have limited impact on influencing others and inviting them into a new way of seeing and interacting in the world. If Mark Twain was right and our actions do speak louder than our words, then our inaction as we wait for God to bring about Zion is screaming an unfortunate message to a world in need.

I talked for years about becoming more fluent in Spanish. However, every time I thought about taking action, it seemed too overwhelming. I wanted the “quick fix” that magically would move me from illiterate to fluent without any real effort on my part. The reality is that learning a new language (or a new way of being) is really hard, very time consuming, and most humbling.

The call to build Zion is a call into a new way of being. It is the action of developing zionic skills and behaviors. It is really hard, very time consuming, and most humbling.

We have to start small. I had to relearn the Spanish alphabet so I could start learning the basic words and grammar rules. I had to move beyond just reading the rules and into the action of practicing them. I had to experiment with speaking and writing the words. I had to test everything I was learning. I had to be willing to be humble because of my countless mistakes.

With each new section in Doctrine and Covenants about Zion we have gone deeper in our understanding of the “alphabet” and basic grammar rules of Zion.

Now we need to start experimenting with what we’ve learned by “testing God’s words.” We have to be willing to jump into living, loving, and sharing as Zion, striving to be visibly one in Christ, where there are no poor or oppressed.

We’ve been told our ability to create zionic conditions in our family, with neighbors, at our workplace, and in interactions with others is dependent on our spiritual condition. If our cup is filled, we are more likely to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus in the way we live, love, and share. We need to tend to our spiritual condition.

We have been told to have courage about our call to bring about the cause of Zion. If we make time to be spiritually healthy, this will give us more confidence.

We need to ignore natural insecurities about being incapable of making a difference and instead look for opportunities to serve and jump in.

This means we have to get out of our homes and congregations and become involved in the community around us. As we prayerfully engage with others, God will open our eyes to opportunities for service.

Many in the church have been praying the mission prayer being used by the Leading Congregations in Mission project:

God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.

Those who have made this a daily practice have discovered that prayers are answered and opportunities to bring blessing become visible.

We have been told to witness of God’s love and concern for all people and to become a global family. We do this by listening to others’ stories, sharing our stories, and weaving our stories with God’s unfolding story for creation. We are called to be in healthy relationships with others to include bearing each other’s burdens.

Actions shared with others in Christ-like love are great ways to share our witness. This then leads to the opportunity to invite others to be part of Christ’s mission through baptism and confirmation.

We have been told to create pathways for peace in sacred communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness. For me sacred communities include my family, friends, work colleagues, my church family, and neighborhood. As I consider each of these communities, I am challenged to consider how I can be more attentive to making all of these encounters a zionic experience and a witness to the world.

When I visited Honduras after my first week of Spanish immersion, I realized my Spanish-language skill was equivalent to the abilities of the Honduran 2- to 3-year-olds. I remember Carlos Enrique teaching his grandson, David Enrique, a song to help him learn the alphabet. I almost cried when I realized David Enrique could sing it better than I. I wanted to give up.

In reality, I just want to wait for the technology that will allow me to insert a data card into my head and bam!…I am fluent in Spanish. However, what I am learning goes so much beyond knowing the language. I am shaped and formed by the struggle. I would lose so much if I just wait for technology to do it for me.

Similarly, we’ve been invited into the creative struggle with God. For me, this is what the last two paragraphs of the 2013 words of counsel are all about. We are being shaped and formed as we tend to our spiritual condition, act in courage, develop healthy relationships, and create sacred communities that witness of Zion through our collective actions. This often comes with pain and suffering, but the outcome makes it all worth it.

More than a year has passed since the 2013 USA National Conference. As I look back, I see that all who gathered created a sacred community that witnessed to the world a new way of making decisions about difficult topics. Regardless of whether people agreed with the result, most present recognized the profound nature of sacred community struggling to listen to God’s guidance through the blessing of the Holy Spirit. It was hard and even painful at times.

Those gathered were generous with their love, patience, and contributions. They sought to be just in how they treated one another. Most experienced a peacefulness that passed all human understanding, even amid heart-wrenching moments.

People came spiritually prepared to be together with one another and the Holy Spirit. Most received an undeniable glimmer of the nature of Zion that has continued to bless many throughout the USA as stories have been shared.

So you see, the closing paragraphs of the 2013 words of counsel align with our own story of why we should have courage and hope. Our story teaches us to trust what will happen when we test God’s words. It encourages us that we can struggle together with difficult issues, trying to be true to God’s vision of shalom in our actions. It shows that Zion happens as we endure, persevere, and stay the course, holding to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ as best we understand it. Ultimately, it is about seeking to visibly be one in Christ not only in word, but in action.

Most experiments that yield significant results are not easy and can even be dangerous. As we continue to experiment with living, loving, and sharing Zion, we undoubtedly will experience difficulties and setbacks. We need to be patient with one another and open to continued understanding of how God is leading us.

Nobody has all the answers. But the 2013 words of counsel end with a recurring and undeniable truth from people’s continuing interactions with God: The story always ends with “resurrection and everlasting life in Christ’s eternal community of oneness and peace. Trust in this promise.”

Enough with the words…What are we waiting for? Let’s build Zion…Onward!

Know, Be, and Do – Ministry and Priesthood

9 07 2014
Becky Savage

Becky Savage, First Presidency

by Becky Savage

Ministry and priesthood describe an expanding approach to discipleship. Doctrine and Covenants 119:8b affirms: “All are called according to the gifts of God unto them…”

We respond by intentionally linking ministry in a continuum of disciples and priesthood members who serve together to fulfill Christ’s mission. What does this mean for you? For members it emphasizes your covenant and role as a disciple.

As living expressions of Christ’s life, ministry, and continuing presence in the world, disciples covenant with God to bring peace and reconciliation to the world, break down the walls that divide people, and share Christ’s peace with everyone they meet.

…As ministry takes place, sacred communities of unconditional love, tolerance, reconciliation, and Unity in Diversity are born. These Christ-centered communities invite and welcome those who are searching for a spiritual home and yearning to know of God’s redeeming love….
—Ministry and Priesthood flyer, September 2013

For priesthood, recent inspired counsel calls for faithful, holistic ministry. Priesthood ministry, as a sacred covenant, includes the highest form of stewardship of body, mind, spirit, and relationships. Priesthood members express their ministry with humility and integrity and extend themselves in servant ministry for others and for the well-being of the faith community (163:6a).

Being comes before doing. President Steve Veazey says effective servant ministry comes from the overflow of daily spiritual disciplines that allow one to immerse oneself in God’s love and generosity. Priesthood members are most effective when they focus on bringing blessing to others (163:6b). To increase one’s capacity for ministry, it is essential for priesthood members to spend time in personal renewal and spiritual rest. Priesthood members magnify their callings through continual “spiritual growth, study, exemplary generosity, ethical choices, and fully accountable ministry” (163:6c).

To help disciples and priesthood members learn about or reconnect to covenant commitments, new Temple School courses are under development. They are designed to help students learn what they need to know, be, and do for effective servant ministry. The courses will focus on basic principles one needs to understand, or know, at the beginning of a new ministry responsibility. Learning and knowing are best achieved by being receptive to the intervening presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

Each lesson will open and close with spiritual practices that attune participants to the Holy Spirit’s movements leading into, through, and following each session. Ministry effectiveness is achieved best when one practices how to bring blessing to others. The courses will include the opportunity to do by practicing ministry skills with other participants. Together students also will learn to evaluate how ministry effectiveness can improve by continuing to know, be, and do as ministry and priesthood teams.

For the first time there will be a disciple course. The course will be designed to prepare members to serve in mission. There also will be new preparation courses for priesthood members. These will include a new Introduction to Priesthood Ministry course, a revised Introduction to Scripture course, and new or revised office-specific courses for deacon, teacher, priest, elder, seventy, high priest, and evangelist.

The Ministry and Priesthood Team and course writers will conduct pilot classes over the next several months. If you have the opportunity to take part, we’ll look forward to your feedback. We expect to release final course materials at the 2016 World Conference.

A monthly Herald series will begin in September, focusing on ministry and priesthood. The articles will preview the new course content and will serve as excellent study materials for groups or Sunday school classes.

We affirm All Are Called. We respond by learning what to know, be, and do to best serve together to fulfill Christ’s mission.

What the Cross Means to Me

30 06 2014

By Kris Judd, staff pastor

My physician wears a simple silver cross on her lapel. I had not noticed it until a recent visit, and I was not aware of her religious preference. But I knew she was a woman of faith by the way she spoke and treated her patients. I told her I appreciated that she was not afraid to wear the symbol of her faith, and she responded, “I wear it close to my heart. It’s my work.”

Jim Wallis of Sojourners made a similar comment when he wrote about the popularity of Pope Francis. “Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ.” I love Pope Francis, not only for what he does for the poor, the oppressed, the excluded, and marginalized, but for what he is doing for all Christianity in its diverse shapes, forms, and denominations.

He’s not ashamed of Jesus. People not only are noticing, they’re celebrating this humble leader who lives and loves like Jesus because that is his job, and that is who he is.

Feeding the hungry, crying for justice for those without voice, empowering the powerless…these are more than good deeds performed to build community. These are the actions, intentions, and inclinations of one who knows and boldly lives the invitation to follow Christ.
Wallis also comments:

The remarkable acts of kindness and grace we see with Pope Francis are the natural response from a disciple who has known the kindness and grace of Christ in his own life. The pope’s moments of Christ-like compassion and love point not to “a great man,” but rather point to Jesus. He is not asking us to follow him, but inviting us to follow Christ.

Many of us struggle with the Mission Initiative of Invite People to Christ. It is perhaps the most important, yet most difficult, to do. It challenges us to leave our comfort zones and face our egos, which prefer to avoid rejection at all costs; to state our truth rather than remain silently respectful of all other truth-tellers in our pluralistic societies; to boldly live our faith in actions and words that tell the source and reason for our faith.

Actions are critical because it’s through the work of our hands and feet that poverty is abolished, peace is pursued, and communities are built. However, if we fail to speak of the life and ministry of Jesus, the source of our faith and community as Christians, then we and our community become the worshiped. And when either the community dies or we are no longer present, so, too, does the hope and faith of the ones we’ve invited in.

We are called to point to the One who gives hope and is worthy of our faith, not to be the recipients ourselves.

Jesus Christ is worth speaking of through bold and generous lives, through story, testimony, invitation, and the simple and ordinary work of disciples, like Francis, my doctor, and each of us.

A Dude and a Donkey

27 06 2014

By Zac Harmon–McLaughlin, Wickliffe, Ohio, USA

mclaughlin-donkeyI had an hour of spiritual-practice time dedicated to reflection and connection with the Divine. I was in the Rocky Mountains. A racing creek was right outside, snow-capped mountains waited for my eyes, and birds flew back and forth. Other blessings were waiting to reveal themselves.

I walked to a bridge over a raging creek and sat down. I communed with God. I reflected on what had been a terrific weekend—a retreat experience at Peaceful Valley Dude Ranch.

As I was letting my heart dwell in God, flowing with the breeze and the water, I felt prompted to cross the bridge. In a small pasture I found a donkey gently grazing, having some dinner. As soon as the donkey heard me, we made eye contact.

Now, I am a city boy. I don’t know how donkeys behave, what they like, or how to touch them. But I thought I would give it a go. I was in the middle of connecting with the Divine. I thought, “What a wonderful opportunity to experience God through this creature!” So I made my way closer, and he made his way closer to me.

We met, and I stuck out my hand in the same way you do when you meet a dog.

The donkey rubbed against my hand as if to tell me to start rubbing his nose and head. I began to pet him, and I swear he smiled at me. He opened his big, old mouth and bared his teeth in a grin. I felt a connection to this creature.

His coat was coarse and dirty. As I patted his neck and back, dust flew into the air. His owner had mowed his meadow clean. I picked from the plentiful grass outside the fence. As soon as I leaned forward with a handful of greens and dandelions he smiled again.

The donkey is the lowliest of creatures in the equestrian world. It is not a beautiful stallion or a giant Clydesdale. It isn’t exotic or fast. Yet, the donkey is what Jesus rode into Jerusalem—what Jesus used to flip this world’s understanding of power and status into love and peace.

The donkey for Jesus is an ambassador for peace. I was at peace with an animal that doesn’t hold honor and glory or even the tourism appeal of a zebra. I was with God, having a peaceful agape meal.

This is an excerpt from one of the entries appearing each day in the Daily Bread blog. Visit http://CofChristDailyBread.wordpress.com to subscribe for free.

I Want to Do that All over Again

25 06 2014

By Shauna Ferguson, Kansas City, Kansas, USA

Shauna familyI love going to reunion at Camp Chihowa, west of Kansas City. I didn’t get to go often when I was a kid, but I have been able to go with my children since they were small. I also have the special privilege of taking other children.

Doug and I are foster parents. Over the last 13 years more than 55 children have passed through our house. Some have stayed a few days. Others have stayed a few years. One we adopted, and we are adopting another. Most have returned home or to a different relative. We have been able to keep in contact with some.

One child calls me every January and asks, “When is reunion?” He and his sister lived with us about six years ago and spend a few weekends throughout the year with us. They go to Camp Chihowa every summer.

Their living situation is not what I want it to be. It frustrates me that I can’t change that, but I can let them come with me to experience the peaceful and safe surroundings at reunion. Now he’s almost 13, and his behavior has changed—not for the better. I talked to him about my expectations of him during reunion and said if he didn’t follow the rules, we would take him home. He said softly, “I won’t mess up. I really want to be there.”

A 16-year-old came with me last year. He had lived with us when he was 10. We had lost contact with him for a while but recently reconnected. He has been coming over for short periods as we rebuild a relationship. He had some difficult behaviors to manage, so we have been taking things slowly.

Last June, he said, “Remember that camp you took me to? Do you still go to that?” I spoke with his grandmother, and she agreed to let him go. I had the same conversation with him as with the other boy. He asked, “Are you still strict and make us follow the rules?” I responded that I was. He replied, “Good, I need that.”

Because of immaturity and poor choices, he isn’t often placed in roles with responsibility. At reunion, I told him he would be expected to help with cleaning, serving, and washing dishes. He loved it! He volunteered for all kinds of jobs.

He washed pots and pans. He offered to vacuum the chapel. He liked serving in the food line, and he got to cook hot dogs on the grill. People kept telling him they appreciated him and his good work. His smile was huge, and he was very proud of himself.

The theme one night was God’s Grace and Generosity. What a great theme for our family. We get to see God working every day in the lives of these kids. So many people work to make Chihowa a safe, clean environment. People show up at work days, serve on the board, plan reunions, shop creatively to keep food costs down, and quietly work behind the scenes. I can’t thank them enough.

My kids and my “extended family” need this place. Too many of them have experienced pain no child should have to face. At reunion, they find acceptance, fulfillment, and a sense of belonging they desperately need.

Friday, on our way home from reunion, my van was very quiet. An 8-year-old girl with us sighed deeply and said, “I wish it was Sunday. I want to do that all over again.”

So did I.