BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Saying Yes to God from the Margins

Please welcome back Rev. Marty Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount, on whose site the original version this post was published. He takes us through some  reflections on Lent from the margins:

That the saints of history said “Yes” to God is not a story. Esther, Mary, Jesus, Michael Sattler, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer are not unique because they answered the call. They are household names because of the context within which they said “Where do I sign?” Their yes was spoken into the darkness of opposition, oppression and hatred. They are a voice crying out from the wilderness, the margins, outside dominant culture and accepted norms. This is no easily whispered “yes.” For saying yes from the minority fringe is very different than saying yes from the safe confines of dominant culture.

But our story began on the margins, with Jesus, who himself was “an outsider” who “sympathized with the disadvantaged and estranged" (John Driver, Radical Faith, pg 24). Howard Thurman, speaking within the black church context, says in Jesus and the Disinherited, “The basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed.” This view is echoed everywhere Christians find themselves oppressed, impoverished, or on the margins. And it was equally true of the Anabaptists, forced to the margins by the violence of the state churches.

Our Lenten lectionary texts were clearly not written to, by, or within dominant culture. The Gospels, the Psalms, and the Epistles especially reveal a marginalized community of origin set apart by persecution. And yet over and again they shouted, Where do I sign? What was it about their faith that empowered them to say “yes” to God in a world that could not? What is it today about the faith in marginalized communities that consistently calls them to lives of passion and faith? And what can we learn from the margins that will deepen our own faith? But also, what are the dangers of reading from only one perspective

Jesus Nailed to Cross, Martyr's Mirror
Context matters! Social location changes how we interpret God, self and our world. Religion for a wealthy white western male will be different than it is for a poor Jewish peasant from Galilee under Roman rule. Putting ourselves in another’s shoes creates empathy and increases our capacity to love all people. But more importantly it reveals the depth of faith which sustains and inspires radical devotion to Christ in a resistant world. As missional Anabaptists situated on the margins, this is our kind of faith!

For instance, who could better understand the power of Jesus nonviolent teaching on retaliation, ” turn the other cheek… do not retaliate revengefully by evil means… love your enemies” than the African Amercian churches who lived under oppressive racism and fought for justice through nonviolent direct action? Or who can rightly teach us to follow Jesus’ teachings “blessed are the poorGive to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” except the poor themselves; who live this ethic as a matter of survival and community rather than charity? Likewise, I’m learning from Houston’s immigrant community who have had their wages stolen the necessity and spirituality to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” These are all passages from Matthew 5:38-44 that have been and are interpreted (and practiced!) radically different among those of us in Dominant majority culture (differently enough to make you ask, Is Jesus an idiot?).

Our Lenten journey probes these questions and invites us to embody the Jesus narrative to such a degree we too can say “yes” to God, regardless the consequences. So we invite you to explore Lent from the margins in a variety of ways: through worship, personal reflection and learning, and group events. It’s our deepest desire that in signing on to celebrate Lent from and with the margins, you’ll be more ready than ever to say 'Yes' to God in your life!

Find some 'Resources from the Margins' to help guide you through this Lenten season. 

See Also:
Reverb: The unintended consequences of our daily behavior


  1. I've had some of my own reflections on Lent and will put them here, for lack of a different venue:

    I grew up non-liturgical, but have recently been discovering the beauty of the tradition. I went from scoffing at ritual and pomp, to understanding the value of remembering the powerful/holy nature of a timeless God that is worshiped over hundreds of years a shared a heritage and tradition. That isn't to say that we idolize ritual, but can enjoy benefit of building good habits in worship as we do in the rest of our lives. At my core, I'm still a non-denom praise-and-worshiper, but have enjoyed the richness that the liturgical calender can bring.

    One year for Lent, I chose to give up my coveting of time. I tended to hoard 'time' like a treasure stored in a barn. I would be jealous of others' time and stingy with giving my own. I was stressed, and frantic and I tried to buy more time in my day. 'Time' was my currency, often valued much more highly than money. But did I ever tithe my time? Did I give 2.4 hours every day to God?

    So that year for 40 days, I gave up my obsession with time. When  I was tempted to freak out about a lack of time in my busy schedule, I reminded myself of my commitment to release those fears to trust in God's divine schedule. I was scared that I wouldn't be productive, that I would fall be hind on my 'to-do's, but I was amazed at the freeing, life-giving effect it had on me. It was particularly salient the following fall as I entered my last year in college with an understanding of a need to prioritize relationships over 'time', which had been placed on a pedestal. Of course, I need to remain responsible with my studies, but made sure to also carve out space to commune completely unproductively with the folks in my life that I would probably never get such a luxury with again. It was one of the smartest things I did in school.

    I still struggle with 'time' idolatry. I certainly don't tithe time with nearly the same discipline I tithe money, but the journey continues and it started with one Protestant's curios exploration of Lent. 'Giving up worry and replacing it with Trust'--this should probably be the next step for me.

  2. I have been saying for many years that I will listen to anyone who brings up Dietrich Bonhoeffer in conversation.  I have had to explain who he is to many people, believers and non-believers.  I first heard about him in college and was sorry I didn't know about him sooner. 

    I do believe the world would be a better place if more people knew what he stood for and against.  Thank you for including him in this post.  Thank you for making him a part of this conversation.

    I am grateful I have found this site. I've been reading for almost a year. Thank you for always making me think. Thank you for helping me find my voice as a Christian, as a citizen of the world.   

  3. Bonhoeffer  is so great! You're very right that he should get more play! Little by little we'll spread the word! Glad Marty included him here.

    What kind words! Thank you! 


Creative Commons License
By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at @BTSFblog