Tag Archives: politics

Trump, the Pax Romana, and Palm Sunday

This Sunday, many churches around the world, including our own, will take time to remember and honour Palm Sunday: the moment when Jesus enters into Jerusalem and begins the events prior to his arrest and crucifixion.

Two particular things happen on Palm Sunday: Jesus rides a donkey colt, and a number of people wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The symbol of riding on a donkey colt was meant to conjure up the image of a King riding into Jerusalem.  Solomon rides on a mule when he is anointed as King over all of Israel.  Zechariah also prophesies that when the long-awaited Messiah, the great King of Zion, will enter Jerusalem “riding on a donkey’s colt” (Zech. 9:9).

The addition of palm branches is interesting.  Palm branches were already a common symbol of royalty in Jewish culture at the time; but palm branches were particularly connected to when the King entered the Temple and performed a sacrifice upon the altar.

Palm Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry as a King into Jerusalem and we see two things quickly emerge in this image of Jesus: 1) the donkey colt was also a symbol of humility and 2) Jesus is going to be a King performing a sacrifice.  But instead of sacrificing an animal on the altar, he sacrifices himself upon the cross to heal the world of its sins.

Now try lining up this image of King with that we see quickly emerging in our beloved Donald J. Trump.  As a leader or ruler, Trump says things like:

“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning. Believe me.”

[Speaking of a protester] “I want to punch him in the face.”

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously. Okay?”

“See, in the good old days this didn’t use to happen [people protesting], because they used to treat them very rough. We’ve become very weak.”

When asked about the recent assault of a protester who was subsequently manhandled by three police officers (not the man who actually assaulted him), Trump says, “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

Trump represents what we could call the Pax Romana or “Peace of Rome.”  Just before the birth of Christ until about 180 A.D., Rome enjoyed about a relative peace for about 200 years.  Their claim was that the civilization and military expansion of the Roman Empire had engineered this peace.

However, the Pax Romana was anything but peaceful.  The Empire engaged in widespread torture and executions in order to maintain power over oppressed cultures, and it still engaged in warfare.  It just didn’t have any major civil wars during this time or any major opponents who threatened the stability of the Empire.

But the basic concept of the Pax Romana was that physical force and violence against your enemies creates security and peace.

This is what Donald Trump believes will happen when he uses physical and verbal force against protesters.  This is also what also lead Trump to say things like: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

This was the logic of the Pax Romana.  Use whatever physical force is necessary in order to ensure peace.

Two different leaders.  Two different concepts of “King.”  One leader advocates that because he is so rich and powerful, he will make America great again.  The other leader rides on a donkey colt to announce his arrival.

One leader says you have to sacrifice people on the altar of peace and security in order to be safe.  The other leader sacrifices himself to save the world.

This Palm Sunday let’s ask ourselves “What is truly the peace that we want for the world? And which kind of King will we ultimately follow?”

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The Ontario election and the Ascension

I have just received a glossy brochure from Elections Ontario.   On the cover the word “VOTE” is enscribed in big, bold letters.  Along with the brochure came my voter registration card, entitling me to vote in the provincial election on June 12.  The same mail also contained a flyer urging me who not to vote for.  In our culture, an election is an important, often passionate, event.

On Sunday, June 1, we at The First Mennonite Church, along with the wider church, will celebrate the ascension of Jesus.  Jesus’s ascension to heaven, as reported in Acts 1:6-11, marks the end of his 40 days of appearances following his resurrection.  Though it comes as a bit of an afterthought in the fading glow of the Easter season, the ascension is also an important event.

What do the coming election and the ascension have in common?

Well, not much, if you think the ascension is only about physics.  Sometimes that is how it is portrayed–as a miracle of physics, in which Jesus contravenes the law of gravity and levitates upward into the sky.  (Once in a Vacation Bible School class I used helium balloons to illustrate the ascension.  They went, up, up, up, rising heavenward over the skies of Huron County, Ontario to land, who knows where, probably in the watery depths of Lake Huron 2 miles away.)

But the ascension is not about physics.  It is about politics.  It is about what government is running the cosmos, and who is in charge of our world.

The ascension declares an important truth that is not self-evident—that Jesus has become Lord of the world.  Elsewhere the New Testament speaks of Jesus being seated at the right hand of God (e.g. Hebrews 12:2).  The right hand is the hand of power and authority.  Your “right-hand man” or woman is the one on whom you rely to get the job done, the one to whom you delegate authority and vital tasks.  Jesus “going up” to God’s right hand means that a new government has been formed, with him as its head.

And that is the gospel.  Jesus’s ascension confirms that his death and resurrection have defeated the powers of evil.  Even though those powers are still active, their reign is over, and one day they will disappear.  Because of Jesus’s ascension, and his lordship over all things, we have the sure hope that God’s work to establish a society where people from every nation, sex, race and social class can live harmoniously together will be accomplished.

I expect to vote on June 12.  But regardless of which party wins and forms Ontario’s next government, we know who is really in charge.  Thanks to his resurrection and ascension, our premier is Jesus, who rules in ways quite different from worldly governments.  Thanks to Jesus’s enthronement as Lord over all, we have confidence that God’s will one day will “be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   And that is really good news, much, much better than my favorite political party winning on June 12.



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Anthems and Salvation: blog by Gerald Ens, pastoral intern

When I was in grade 8 the underdog Calgary Flames made a dramatic Stanley Cup run, ultimately losing to Tampa Bay in game 7 of the finals. Too young to remember the 1994 playoffs, this was the first time I could remember a Canadian team making it to the Stanley Cup finals. At the time I had a tremendous passion for both hockey and my home and native land, so this was a momentous and exciting time. For me, one of the highlights of the final series – remember that Canada was just coming out of the nationalistic fervour ignited by our refusal to participate in Iraq war – was the enthusiastic anthem singing of the Canadian fans. I glowed with pride as these Canadian patriots belted out their undying loyalty to the truth north, strong and free.

This past spring I watched a very similar patriotic display by the fans of the (very much not underdog) Vancouver Canucks with a slightly altered attitude. It wasn’t just the militaristic implications – more than implications – of the repeated line “we stand on guard for thee” that disturbed me. It was also the deeper sentiment of undivided loyalty in the anthem, captured nicely by the line “true patriot love with all our hearts command.”

In age where our Christian convictions are precisely that – private and docile ideas that either have little bearing on our public lives or, at the very least, must be translated into more appropriate public discourse before we put them into action – we have little trouble proclaiming that our country commands the love of all our heart, soul and might. On Sunday I’ll be talking about loyalty. Do we believe that unity and peace – salvation – comes from the nation state coupled with the supposedly unifying power of globalization or do we believe that salvation comes from Christ alone? Our answer will also command our loyalty.

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A prayer for the federal election 2011

(This is a prayer written by Dave Rogalsky, pastor of Wilmot Mennonite Church, Wilmot, ON)

Lord God, Ruler of the Universe, King of kings and Lord of lords, in this federal election in the spring of 2011, we come and bow before you, our first and last allegiance.  You have created powers and principalities, governments and institutions to regulate human life. We acknowledge them as your servants for good. Thank you God for your good gifts.

In this election, we are given choices between policies, leaders, parties and local representatives. Thank you Lord for your gift of free will to choose.

In the many choices we are sometimes confused by the messages that are carefully shaped to communicate what the leaders and parties want us to hear, by the media’s commentary, and by the opinions of party supporters. Sophia God we ask you for wisdom, clarity of thought, depth of passion, love for all those who run and those who vote, both for ourselves, and the candidates themselves.

Some of us have been turned off from the whole political process, including exercising our privilege and responsibility to vote by attack ads, character assassinations, impolite behaviour on the part of candidates, parties and leaders. Lord of hope, forgive us our apathy and cynicism, and help those who run in the election to rise to standards of behavior and truth befitting leaders in our country.

We come from many political perspectives and opinions. God of the marginalized, as we vote, may we always remember our neighbours, the poor, the downtrodden, “the widow, the orphan and the refugee” in our midst.  May we remember justice, righteousness, mercy and grace.

This is a huge expenditure of time, money and human talents. God of faithful work, we pray for those who do the work of making votes possible in every city, town, village and every area of our country, may they have energy and integrity in the task.

God who remains the same day after day, the end result is unknown to us, may we support our leaders with prayer, good advice, fair criticism, and honest praise, whether we voted for them or not. May your creation of government rule humbly, and honestly, working for the common good in our country.

We pray this in the name of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Prince of peace. Amen.

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Political troubles

When you read the words of the title to this blog, maybe you thought of a politician who is facing a scandal or an investigation. But that’s not the type of political troubles we’re talking about this Sunday. As we continue our series on “Our God in Troubled Times” we are talking about what happens when the government is hostile to you. Or maybe it’s not hostile, it just breaks down and becomes ineffective. Or maybe there’s a war, and your government is overthrown. Or maybe… Political troubles come in lots of variations.

At our Mennonite Central Committee Fundraising Dinner this Saturday we will be talking to four people who experienced political troubles. Different countries, different continents, different time periods, different situations. What links their stories is that their political troubles made their lives unbearable, and it prompted them to flee. What also links their stories is that people working in the name of Jesus, people working through Mennonite Central Committee, helped them in their relocation journey.

What are our prayers like when we do not feel safe in our society? What is the nature of our worship when we are filled with fear and uncertainty? We’ll be exploring this in our service this week. Here’s a hint: come prepared to sing!

This week’s prayer: Help us to listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters in countries torn apart by political instability.  Help us to hear your voice as we respond.


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Give WHAT?….unto WHOM????? Guest post by Jonathan Seiling

The added punctuation, which could be texting-code or twitter-ish for some meaning I have not intended, is simply meant to emphasise my hesitation and bewilderment at the meaning of the verse in Matthew 22 where Jesus slips out of a tight spot he found himself in by speaking the famous words, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. Those words seem fairly clear, but then again, what do they really mean? How do we put them into practice?

I recall a cartoon or poster I saw years ago that read something like, “There has been some discussion about what we owe to God and what we owe to Ceasar and we have decided to give the benefit of the doubt to God.”

As a teenager I thought that was a good answer, and a cute one. More recently I still think it’s a cute answer, but not a good one. It doesn’t help us to sort out the practical questions of the degree to which we are called as followers of Christ to be active in politics, and to what degree we should ‘leave it all up to God’.

I was raised in a fairly traditional, rural Swiss Mennonite congregation and I had a fairly clear sense that Mennonites didn’t do politics. That was for ‘worldly people’. Then when I grew up and learned about Russian Mennonites and realized that, yes, Mennonites ‘did politics’ too!!! The more I have studied the issue of Mennonites and politics, the clearer it is to me that the broader Mennonite tradition has for centuries, since the early Reformation, carried on a relatively productive, yet unfinished, debate (polite discussion, fierce argument), concerning our role in the political realm. The question of what we owe Caesar and what we owe God is difficult to answer. On Sunday the sermon will address some of the challenges of both extremes – of full-on political involvement and full-out avoidance of politics.

The scripture reading for this sermon will be Matthew 22 vv15-22.

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