Today’s guest blog is written by Tim Schmucker, former public engagement coordinator for the Ottawa Office, currently Toronto regional representative for MCC Ontario. He loves Toronto and no longer considers it to be “exile” from his hometown ofToledo, Ohio.
I was 15 when I first campaigned for an up-and-coming local politician. Mr. Finkbeiner had come to my history class at school, and I had been quite impressed with his ideas and passion and with his desire to make our city a better place for us – its residents – to call “home.” And so, in spite of my traditionally apolitical Mennonite parents’ apprehension, I signed up and went out canvasing: “Vote Finkbeiner for City Councilor. He’ll make a difference!”
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
I and many Bible readers have a short list of various passages that sum up our faith and life in particularly poignant words. This intuitive list is our “canon within the canon.” Many Mennonites would include passages such as Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and his “the Spirit of the LORD is upon me” statement in Luke 4:16ff. They would likely add Paul’s words about ministry of reconciliation and breaking down the dividing wall of hostility in Ephesians 2. For MCC, Matthew 25:31ff — “whatever you do for the least of these my children, you do to me” — has been a core text for our organizational identity for most of our history.
There are of course numerous other texts. For me, Jeremiah 29:1-14 holds an important place on my list. As a 15-year-old, I wasn’t able to articulate theologically to my parents why I was campaigning for Finkbeiner. But later on, the Jeremiah passage became core to my understanding of the Christian’s role in broader society.
Jeremiah wrote during very uncertain times. Around 587 BCE King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon crushed an ill-advised revolt by King Zedekiah of Judah, and summarily exiled Jerusalem’s political, economic and social elite to Babylon. But soon after “prophets and diviners” began to deceive the exiles, saying that the LORD would soon rescue them from Babylon, and return them to Jerusalem.
However, Jeremiah, who had been left with the lower classes in Jerusalem, sent them a “Thus says the LORD” letter: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage … multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare [shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Seek the shalom – the well-being – of the city and the people where you find yourselves. Even when that’s a strange land. Indeed, pray for it. For in its well-being, you will find your own well-being.
In other words, work for the common good of your society, for the goodness of your life is intricately woven together with the goodness of others.
Jeremiah’s message to the exiles in Babylon has undergirded my life of political engagement and advocacy: locally and provincially, nationally and internationally. While I have no illusions that a particular political party or platform will inaugurate the LORD’s reign of justice and peace, I do believe that a politically engaged and informed citizenry is crucial to the well-being of us all.
So, Mom and Dad, 40 years later, that’s why I campaigned for Finkbeiner.