Tuesday, September 13, 2016


The brutality and violence that permeates THE FREE STATE OF JONES utterly appalled me. In fact, I missed some of the movie because I had my eyes closed. I was horrified by the scenes of war. I was especially horrified by the lynching. I was horrified by the scenes of the Klu Klux Klan riding with their crosses, killing Negroes in the name of Christ! I am especially horrified knowing that such hates continues today and is being perpetuated by one of our candidates for president. I am horrified that we who call ourselves Christian continue to torture and kill others in Jesus Name.

I came away from the movie aware that it is not enough for me to say I am a Christian, or that I believe in Jesus as the Son of God. I must also believe him, believe what he said, believe that what he did also applies to me. Jesus lived his life among the poor, the outcast and the marginalized. He taught that those who hunger and thirst to see justice prevail will be satisfied. He blessed the peacemakers, not the war-mongers. He not only taught the love of God and love of neighbor, but he also taught us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hurt and misuse us!

While few of us know what it means to love our enemies, we can assume that at the very least it means do not kill them! Since those fateful days when Jesus said love your enemies the fundamental conflict between the world's way of dealing with enemies and Jesus' way keeps playing out in front of our eyes, generation after generation. Political ideologies and powers not only advocate war as the preferred method of problem solving but they insist that violence is redemptive. Given that Jesus did not call down Legions of Angels to protect and rescue him when he was so brutally tortured and crucified seems pretty clear that he advocated a different way and understood we can't have it both ways. One can't love and hate at the same time.

Either we believe his way works or we don't.

I know this column is not supposed to be overtly religious. Believe it or not, my intention is not to convert anyone to Christianity. Whether we are Christian, skeptic, Hindu, Moslem, agnostic, a Free Mason, whatever, society has come to see Jesus as one of the greatest moral and ethical influences of all time. So in the wake of THE FREE STATE OF JONES and all other movies that glorify violence and killing, I ask, “Are we willing to take the teachings and ethics of Jesus seriously? Are we willing to try another way, the way of treating our enemies with respect, of doing good to those who persecute us, that is loving them? And for those who loudly proclaim their desire to make America a truly Christian nation, my challenge is remains: put your money where your mouth is. It's not enough to believe in Jesus; we must also believe him and do as he said! Even when it means trying a different way.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite church.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Choose a better way

Can someone tell me why the San Bernadino shooting was more frightening than similar massacres in Auroa, Charlestown, Newtown? Why the hysteria over this particular shooting? What makes a hate crime by 2 radicalized Islamist fundamentalists worst than hate crimes committed by white racists, homophobes, or anti-government vigilantes? Aren't they just as random and unpredictable, their victims just as dead? Why the hysteria over San Bernadino when there were 110 other mass shootings in 2015? What makes a Muslim legally buying weapons and using them to kill innocents different from a white guy legally buying guns and killing innocent people? 

Please help me understand why we react differently to the horrible acts of ISIS than to the 30,000 plus Americans killed every year by gun violence. Yes, the radicalized hatred of ISIS is terrifying, but does that excuse us from ignoring those who die daily from gun violence perpetrated by non-Muslims here in the US? Does it give us the right to ignore the fact that more Americans have died by gun violence within our country since 1963 than American troops killed in all 20th century wars? 

How dare we make guns, gun rights, and profits more important than human life. How dare we allow the NRA to blackmail Congress into passing legislation making it illegal to collect data on gun deaths because they are terrified of what we might learn! How dare we point fingers at Muslims for being violent when we, the reported leaders of the world, kill more of our own people, incarcerate more of our citizens, and spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined?

And don't tell me I don't love America because I dare to challenge our gun addiction. In 1958 I spent a summer in post war Berlin chipping mortar off of bricks from bombed buildings so they could be re-used. Those were Cold War days when Russia defended it's many borders with troops and guns. I saw what walls can do! How people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall separating East from West. My visit in Soviet controlled East Berlin was a terrifying experience. I literally wept in appreciation when, passing through the final barrier, I saw our American flag. It's because I love American I can't condone our policies on immigration, guns, excuse racism, religious intolerance, fear mongering and zenophobia. We are better than that. We must be better than that!

Hate, racism, religious intolerance are choices we make that actually hinder our own freedoms. If we love our nation, we must look beyond our fears and longings for easy answers to real solutions: immigration reform, reforming our justice system, exercising our right to vote, focusing on the common good. We must demand more of ourselves, our public officials, our lawmakers. We can choose to find better solutions to the problems of gun violence and terrorism than blaming others or denying common sense solutions on the pretense that these somehow infringe on our constitutional rights. We can guarantee the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all: white, black, brown, yellow or red, rich or poor, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. It won't be easy. We may have to change, but we can make people more important than guns and the world safer for everyone.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

There are no simple solutions

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “These are the best of times; these are the worst of times.” Fear of the unknown, fear for our security seems to be entangling and paralyzing our country. Yet there is so much for which to be thankful. We as human beings certainly are creative and resourceful enough to solve this problem of terrorism and gun violence if and when we choose to do so. It has been said that there are three parts to every problem. My part, your part and the relationship's part. Before we can do anything about truly rooting out terrorist threats we have to first acknowledge and then do something about changing the part we play. 

In the wake of the Colorado Springs and San Bernadino shootings I am reminded of Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked on a deserted island. Instead of giving in to despair he assesses his situation. He's alive, has food. He's naked but warm, able to scavange and create what he needs from the island and the shipwreck. Most importantly, he encounters Friday who is definitely the other, the outsider: black, a stranger, speaking a different language, practicing vastly different customs. Yet by banding together they build a community and create a meaningful life for themselves.

Through the Marshall Plan, following WWII we helped rebuilt a damaged Europe and Japan, thus forging deep bonds with former enemies. Terrorism is a mind set that lurks in the hearts of human beings. It stems from fear, anger, hatred, misunderstanding, prejudice, discrimination, rejection, we must first look at ourselves, acknowledge and accept the part we have played and still play. As Pogo once said, “we have met the enemy, and it is us.” Playing the blame game simply guarantees an escalation of tension and attacks.

The Serenity Prayer tells us to pray for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change but to change the things we can. There definitely are things we can change that could alter the course we are currently on. We could make people more important than profits, guns, or “our right” to own military style weapons. That significant attitudinal and policy shift...people first...would enable us to change our focus from me and “my rights” to we and societies rights. For instance, in the wake of Australia's mass shooting they not only outlawed the sale of assault type guns, but instituted a massive buyback to reimburse citizens and get those guns off the streets. Since we are afraid of radical Islamists why do we sell them guns? Why do we export weapons as “foreign aid” instead of investing in aid that helps people, such as the millions of refugees? If we don't want Syrian refugees coming here then let's help those nations who are open to assisting them. Let's make health and educational resources, housing, equipement, food, agricultural, economic, and technological assistance available to host countries. Let's address people oriented solutions to develop trust and friendship.

Complex problems require complex solutions. Our first attempts to solve terrorist threats simply created more terrorism. What might happen if we invested as much thought, time, energy, and money in waging peace as we do in waging war? Dare we try?

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church

A Prayer for the New Year

A Prayer for the New Year

With the advent of a new year I am reminded of how fleeting our time on earth is. Instead of treasuring each day we worry about tomorrow, stew over the past, fill our moments with compulsive activity. It's hard to admit just how vulnerable we are human beings. Life is fragile and fleeting. How tragic that in our busyness we miss those special moments that could feed our souls and expand our hearts.

In 1989 I went into the hospital for fairly routine surgery; read and signed the papers that stated all the possible things that could go wrong, and quipped to my daughter, “No problem, Piece of cake.” Three major surgeries within 6 weeks and one code blue later, I emerged weaker but wiser.....and vastly more appreciative of the preciousness of life.

I no longer assume I’ll have a tomorrow. Each day is a gift. Rain or shine, cheerful or sad, difficult or easy, each day is a bonus. Knowing that I or one of my loved ones may die suddenly is one of the greatest gifts I gained from my hospital experience. Instead of making me fearful, my awareness of life's impermanence helps me appreciate and shape the time I have. It impels me to be grateful in and for all things. The very fragility with which I hold on to life motivates me to cherish each single moment, each sunrise, each bird song, each encounter with strangers or friends. I simply don't have time to be grumpy, ungrateful, or afraid.

I no longer feel compelled to save the world. I've released my need to be someone, to make a difference. I have my hands full, in the best sense of that metaphor, living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, responding to the inevitable hardships that guide me on my pathway toward inner contentment and peace. Peace comes, not from the absence of conflict, challenge, or pain, but by accepting and loving our difficult lives. Since there is little I can control or change I try to respond to life with as much courage and grace as I can muster.

Perception is reality and our language shapes our perceptions. That's one reason I find one particular translation of the Lord's Prayer from the Aramaic so enlightening and helpful. The startlingly different wording has opened me to faith, life and love in new and profound ways. What a beautiful prayer for the New Year, thus it is my gift to you as we welcome a new year.

O Birther; Father Mother of the Cosmos. Focus your light within us. Make it useful. Create your reign of unity now—your one desire then acts with ours. As in all light, so in all forms. Grant what we need each day in bread and insight. Loose the cords of mistakes binding us as we release the strands we hold of other's guilt. Don't let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds us back. From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews. Truly, power to these statements. May they be the ground from which all my actions grow, Amen “

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church. You can reread her blogs by going to Fairfield Mennonite Church.org.




Letting go and letting God

I flirted with death about 25 years ago. Hovering somewhere between here and there, I recall musing, “so this is what it feels like to die. Wouldn't this be a good time to see an angel or Jesus?” Suspended between realities, I forced myself to open my eyes and there stood my angels! Two of my most eccentric/wacky, very fallible, earthy friends! Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it, and it might not be what you expect!

We romanticize and   our spiritual experiences and encounters wanting to seeing angelic beings, Jesus, the Virgin Mary. Something in us wants to set up shrines and to worship visions rather than learning the lesson such experiences intend to teach us. My angels were definitely grounded in this world. They dramatically reminded me that if I am to experience the divine it will be in my daily encounters with both friends and enemies. Angels with clay feet? Oh yes! And this is precisely why this particular experience remains the most profound and grounding of my life, continuing to shape my day to day living. Having been restored to life my job is not to judge or criticize, but to be more accepting of others with all their foibles and quirks. My life work is practicing gratitude in and for all things, and all persons.

Yet, I confess that I am easily jaded. Our current political climate reminds me that pettiness, selfishness, cruelty, and ugliness is everywhere. Fear and hate permeates our very atmosphere. I am too often ready to give up hope... which is why I am so committed to deliberately, thoughtfully, practicing gratitude. Just by being grateful for my morning coffee, a warm house, something to wear grounds me to wonder, anticipation, hope.

We recently attended a church retreat in which we heard about the unrelenting love some Palestinian Christians are lavishing on their Jewish neighbors. What a powerful reminder that no matter what situation we find ourselves in we still have options as to how one responds to life's challenges. Easter's approach reminds me that my response to a hate filled world must never be about revenge but rather loving both friends and enemies. Saying no to the  myth of redemptive violence.

Each day brings opportunities to be a good neighbor, to start over (resurrection), to learn the lessons of life. For me, The Cross is that ultimate example of redemptive non-violence. When Jesus chose death on the Cross he demonstrated a completely different response than war and violence. By going to the cross he said “violence stops here!”

God neither wants nor needs our defense. In spite of our illusions of power and grandeur, we are not in control. God, Allah, whatever we call our Higher Power, calls us to be good neighbor, to be less me-oriented and more forgiving, compassionate, gentler with ourselves and others. Whatever that energy is that shapes the universe, it calls us to let go of our fears and move out in gratitude, love and trust. All religions insist that love is stronger than hate, which is simply another way of saying when we practice decency, gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness, a transformative energy is released into the universe allowing our Higher Power to do the rest. Pie in the sky? I don't think so.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

Getting healthy

A friend recently sent me a relatively simple “to do list” to become happier and healthier. Here it is:

Be friendly. Being friendly can increase ones life several years! It seems that friendliness increases the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is that the cuddle hormone that calms our brain, lowers blood pressure, decreases binge eating, and jump starts our immune system. Touch is critical to our mental and physical health, so hug your family and friends. Go visit someone. There is a direct coorelation between touch and health. A baby can die if not cuddled.

Sit less, move more. We can increase our life expectancy by up to two years by being more active. Not all of us can walk 10,000 steps a day, but almost everyone can stand up and stretch and walk around the room, even if only five to ten steps at a time. My kids got me a fitbit for my birthday and it really helps me track my activity.

Brush! Floss! For the life of me I'll never understand why heath insurance doesn't cover our teeth! Study after study links dirty chompers to digestive, intestional, autoimmune, and heart diseases, strokes, diabetes. Good oral hygiene is so important that regular brushing and flossing can add up to 6 years to ones life.

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating at least a cup of RAW fruit and veggies a day truly improves gut and intestional health! And yes, cooked veggies are good, but we still need at least 60 grams (about 1 cup) of fresh fruit and veggies a day. It's all about probiotics, fiber, antioxidants and other chemicals fruits and vegetables produce to protect them from bacteria, fungus, etc.

Be positive. Practice gratitude. People with a positive outlook can live more than seven years longer than those who are chronic complainers. Positive thinking increases the brain’s levels of feel good/ happiness hormones, especially those that improve memory, alleviate depression, and fight dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lose weight. Reaching and maintaining ones' Target BMI can make a dramatic difference in how one feels and how long one lives. Our BMI compares weight to height by dividing weight measurement in kilograms by squared height measurement in meters. That's a fancy way of saying, watch your weight (but not by getting it out there where you can see it!), eat better, and get more exercise. Losing and maintaining one's ideal weight can add up 3 years to one's life .

Eat More Nuts. Nutritionists say eating a small daily portion (like 13 to 20 almonds or walnuts) can add up to 3 years to your life. Nuts are good not just because they decrease the risk of high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, irregular heart rhythms, and diabetes but because their protein and their fat content promotes feelings of satisfaction. When you need a quick pick-me-up or bed time snack eat a peanut butter and banana or sliced apple sandwich instead of something with sugar.

Eat smaller portions. Put away your dinner plates and use a salad plate instead! And no seconds.

According to the information my friend sent, doing all of the above could increase one's life span by 35 years but at 79 that's not even appealing. Especially if Donald Trump gets elected president!

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

Facing our fears

I am so sick of the fear mongering that has taken over the election and our country that I could scream. Everywhere I turn all I hear is fear. Being fearful has become the new patriotism. Fear of the right. Fear of the left. Fear of loss. Fear of being wrong. Fear of immigrants. Fear of the Islamists. Fear of health care. Fear of the media. Fear of guns. Fear of gun control. Fear of blacks. Fear of Wall Street. The list goes on and on.

We've become a nation of fear addicts and unfortunately, fear breeds violence. We simply won't get any real solutions to our many problems until we address our national obsession with fear. Yes, there are scary things out there. Yes, our world feels like it is coming apart at the seams. But in the end, fear only leads to irrational and dangerous decisions. The opposite of peace is not war It's fear!

I became a 12 stepper when our kids were teens and got caught up in the drug culture. I was terrified! Feeling a failure as a parent and person, I joined a 12 step program called Families Anonymous. That program not only saved my sanity but the life of at least one of our children who later confessed he was suicidal. I went into the program to change and fix my kids and their problems. I quickly learned the program was not for them; it was for me because I was part of the problem! Tortured by my fears and anxieties my actions and reactions had become irrational and insane! The only person I could change was myself so once I began changing my responses and behavior, learned how to detach with love, everyone else in the family was forced to own their own behavior and change as well.

I fantasize about our nation moving toward healing by insituting a 12 step program focused on getting a realistic handle on our many fears. Here are the 12 spiritual principles we'd use:.
Admitted that we were powerless over our fears and other peoples' actions and that our lives had become unmangeable.
  1. Came to believe a power greater than ourselves can free us from our fears and restore us to sanity.
  2. Decided to turn our will and our lives over to the care and guidance of God as we understood God.
  3. Made a fearless and moral inventory of ourselves our fears, and resulting crazy behaviors.
  4. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another trusted person the exact nature of our fears and wrongs.
  5. Became ready to have God remove our fears and the resulting defects of character.
  6. Humbly asked God to remove our fears and resulting defects of character.
  7. Made a list of all the people we have harmed because of our fears.
  8. Made direct amends to such persons unless doing so would injure them or others.
  9. Continued to take daily personal inventory of ourselves and our fears and promptly admitted our wrongs and shortcomings.
  10. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for God's will for us and the power to carry it out.
  11. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of practicing these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all of our affairs.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church. She participates in a 12 step program called CoDa (codependents anonymous) which focused on self improvement and facing our fears.