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    Letters from Readers

    Readers respond to Plough’s Autumn 2023 issue, The Enemy

    December 5, 2023
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    The Change We Need

    Very recently I came across a phrase (probably in Plough!) that struck me as “just right” for describing the changes so many of us need to make if life on our planet has any chance of continuing: “downward mobility.” That’s another way of framing time-honored spiritual advice to simplify, freeing ourselves from stuff. Our social aspirations have (always?) been upward mobility whenever possible. A big divergence.

    What we need now – must bring about – is a cultural and spiritual transformation, away from greed, selfishness, and indifference. However, in my experience otherwise decent, civically minded, church-going humans can react angrily to the idea of reducing their conveniences.

    I would greatly appreciate Plough digging into this topic – if you haven’t already – specifically in the “environmental” sense. Bearing in mind, also, that there’s a growing conviction (which I share) that we need to reappraise our notions of human supremacy.

    Kristine Montamat,
    Charlottesville, Virginia

    Saying No to War

    On Rachel Cañon Naffziger’s “A Russian Christian Speaks Out”: I read with interest two articles in your latest issue, one on the Russian pacifist and the other on Jesus’ call to love our enemies. Reading the latter, one could easily argue today that Jesus is calling us Christians in the West to love the Russians, instead of sending billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Ukraine to kill them. When Plough published an article a while back about a Ukrainian priest, formerly a pacifist and now supporting the Ukrainian military, the article suggested no disagreement with the priest, with only obvious support for his good work in a war zone. (Of course, I have no argument with the fact he is doing good things.) Now, regarding Egor Redin, the Russian pacifist, I also have no disagreement with his brave stance. Perhaps you could also profile a Ukrainian pacifist who has been recently arrested for his pacifist stance. For example, there is Yurii Sheliazhenko, now under house arrest, who is part of the World Beyond War international organization as well as a Ukrainian pacifist organization.

    But is it not time to make it clear that Plough does not support the arming of Ukraine to continue this insane war? I am more than a little dismayed by the lack of a strong stance on this issue, especially given the potential for escalation to nuclear annihilation that we face today. Some readers might wonder whether Plough, like so many today, might be watering down its pacifist stance because of the Ukraine war. Knowing you, I find it hard to believe this would be the case, but others might not.

    Jim Dowling,
    Brisbane, Australia

    Editors: Plough has never supported the arming of warring parties. That has not changed.

    Did Jesus Have Enemies?

    On T. J. Keiderling’s “Tough Love on the Mount”: Your conclusion that it is “power figures” that are the “enemies” and often the most difficult to love is very pertinent. I would like to pick up on two points: First, your article might be read to suggest that Pharisees were not Jesus’ enemies. However, in the story of the man with the shriveled hand (Matt. 12:14, Mark 3:6, Luke 6:11) those referred to as Pharisees clearly plot to kill Jesus. There is definite enmity from Pharisees on that occasion, as well as in other cases.

    Second, in your article you examine various groups of people: Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans, tax collectors, and those in power, pondering whether they are Jesus’ enemies. In fact, Jesus answered the question himself: “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30, Luke 11:23). Jesus does not align or oppose himself to our human sects, our nationalities, or our socioeconomic or political categories. Rather, he asks, are we with him, or not? Do we work to gather into his kingdom or scatter?

    By this definition, each of us can, and sometimes does, become an enemy of Jesus. It is in that recognition we can truly understand his command to love our enemies.

    Francis Köppschall,
    Dover, United Kingdom

    Difficult Forgiveness

    On Benjamin Crosby’s “Foolhardy Wisdom”: It’s just over a year since I was canceled, threatened with trespass charges should I ever again appear on the property of the church on whose council I served. The only time someone from that church has checked in on me since was a quick question from the head of prayer ministry after we’d seen each other maybe thirty weeks in a row at a club we both belong to. Thanks for the timely reminder of my responsibility to fulfill the very difficult and costly task of forgiveness.

    Carlene Hill Byron,
    Topsham, Maine

    When Our Minds Are Against Us

    On Sarah Clarkson’s “My Mind, My Enemy”: I have one adult child who has OCD and one with bipolar disorder. Both are incredible human beings but they are learning to steward the package God has given them. How do any of us embrace the awfulness and the awesomeness of who God has made us to be? But as Sarah Clarkson so beautifully conveys, there is beauty in brokenness and Jesus is the only one who can show us how to hold both and experience redemption.

    Debbie Childers,
    Greensboro, North Carolina

    Loving or Hating Sinners

    On Mary Townsend’s “Hating Sinners”: I have had a longtime interest in the easy hiding place that is the cliché, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I gained much from your words. I fear, though, that there was much I missed; parts were too esoteric for me. I am not an academic and wonder how much more enlightening it would have been – especially to many who so easily slip behind the “hate the sin” veil – if written in plainer language. I am not suggesting dumbing down your argument, but what if it had been written more as one might write a sermon, or at least with such a diverse audience in mind?

    John Hart Marshall Hull,
    Harrisonburg, Virginia

    Fruitful Debate

    On Leah Libresco Sargeant’s “Students Brave the Heat”: I appreciated reading this detailed account of educational courage. Having been a high school English teacher for several years, I understand how challenging it can be to cultivate a classroom environment that is curious and amicable rather than adversarial. I feel especially moved by those students who come into a lesson already “armed for conflict,” often for complex reasons outside their control.

    I think of one boy I began teaching when he was fourteen. He had been out of education for over a year when he arrived, and became homeless more than once during his two years in my class. We got off to a rocky start: his insecurities expressed themselves as apathy and defiance, mine as aloofness and roboticism. But a turning point came during a lesson on Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” After a bit of military history, I did a couple of tricks with a plastic sword to illustrate the “sabers” in the poem. At the end I heard a quiet, “Sir – can you show me how to do that?” What an opportunity! I did, of course.

    After that, I found I no longer had to go into those lessons praying for grace to love my enemy. That moment of curiosity and vulnerability (especially on my student’s part – the teacher was doing something worth imitating?!) turned us into educational allies. Of course, it wasn’t all straightforward from there, but we were no longer at loggerheads. Instead we stood, as we had with our plastic swords, shoulder to shoulder.

    Dominic Palmer,
    Manchester, United Kingdom

    Living Out the Truth

    On Dana Wiser’s “Macedonia Morning”: This article captures the essence of who my father was and of my parents’ life together with more insight than any other “obituary” I have read. It also helps me understand my family heritage more fully. The only change that I would have suggested is the definition of my father as a self-styled existentialist. The emphasis certainly would be more on “self-styled.” As my mother told me, he considered himself to be a Marxist Quaker. I think he had a longing for truth that is closer to religion than the philosophy of an existentialist. And he had tremendous concern for how that truth was lived out in human relationships, “love of neighbor” lived out in the personal, communal, political, and economic spheres.

    Barbara Lynd Bond,
    Warren, Ohio

    The social gospel emphasis of the Lynds was the worldview I grew up on among liberal Quakers. Although I have spent my entire professional career engaged in quintessential social gospel work as a public defender and have had the opportunity to speak into many lives, I am absolutely convinced that the real power is not in the social gospel but in the actual gospel – the witness, ministry, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we have seen in communist/Marxist movements, there is this impulse to coerce, threaten, imprison, or kill those who stand in the way of the “progressive” cause of the day, whereas the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that change comes one heart at a time as we learn, with the help of the power of the Holy Spirit, to die to ourselves and live for Christ. We would rather suffer ourselves than force others to accept our truths.

    Thomas N. N. Angell,
    Clinton Corners, New York


    Send contributions to letters@plough.com, with your name and town or city. Contributions may be edited for length and clarity and may be published in any medium.

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