Monthly Archive: November 2007

Midwest going through hard times

The housing bubble has way-popped over here in Elkhart. There are a ton of houses around here for sale and no one with enough money (even with subsidies) to buy them. And last week an organization that supports housing for low-income folks had to close its doors as the result of circumstances, no operating costs and its board looking out for its own interests instead of the common good. So many foreclosures! :(

So for the folks in the Elkhart MVS unit, it’s been a tough week. But the South central community is still strong…and we believe, getting stronger.

One way we are getting stronger is that we are learning to support one another through these tough times. The NY Times said that foreclosure rates are on the rise, and if communities aren’t organized to pull together, the vacant houses will rip gaping holes in its social fabric. We are also reaching across ethnic boundaries, and learning together to look beyond capitalist assets to enrich our lives. Two examples of the budding community economy: (more…)

Why Gus got arrested last weekend

School of the Americas Protest 2007This past weekend, my friend Gus was arrested in Georgia. Now before you worry too much, let me further explain that he was arrested after an act of civil disobedience as part of the annual protest against the School of the Americas (a.k.a. Western Hemiphere Institute for Security Cooperation), a notorious training school for some of the worst human rights abusers in Latin America.

Gus was one of 11 people who trespassed across the line into Fort Benning, where the School of the Americas is housed. Thousands of others marched outside the gates of Fort Benning in what was the 18th Annual Protest against the school and the US foreign policy it stands for.

In 2005 the story of the SOA came particularly close to home for me when eight members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community in Uraba, Colombia were killed while I was in the country with Christian Peacemaker Teams. According to witnesses, the assasins were members of the Colombian military’s 17th Brigade, commanded by an SOA graduate. Ironically, Luis Eduardo Guerra, one of the leaders who was killed, spoke at the November 2002 vigil outside the gates of the School of the Americas.

It was the first time Gus had attended the vigil, but not the first time he had risked arrested. This year he was arrested twice while occupying Senator Durban’s office to encourage him to end the occupation of Iraq. But Gus isn’t your average peace activist type. He does janitorial work for the building where I live, working alongside my wife to sweep the floors and the was the windows here. He does not often talk about his convictions unless pushed.

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“Covenantal Christians”: Beyond Evangelical and Liberal

For years, I’ve had discussions about the term “Evangelical” with other Christians who see peace and justice as a core part of the gospel. I always argue that the term is too far gone and they argue that we should reclaim it. That it is theologically accurate and the best word to describe who we are.

At the same time, I’ve never been very comfortable with the label “Liberal” either. Coming of age with Clinton bombing countries right and left (7 or 8 depending on how you count) in the name of liberalism probably had something to do with it.

This week over on Revolution in Jesusland, Zack Exley used the term Covenantal Christians to describe a category that I instinctively identify with. (more…)

Something to Remember this Advent

A young man called out to Jesus from the crowd and said, “Teacher, command the trustee of my father’s will to give me my share of the inheritance!” Jesus replied, “I am not a lawyer or a judge—why should I get involved?” Then Jesus told everyone, “Guard yourself from every form of trying to get more in the world. When you finally get everything you want and more, then you finally realize too late that stuff is not what life is about.”

“There was an entrepreneur who ran his own business. One year, he did exceptionally well, and found that his business had outgrown his little store. So he was contemplating what he would do with his surplus profit, so, talking to himself, he said, ‘I know! I will rent a larger store, hire a couple of employees and the business will practically run itself! Then, over a few years I will have a tidy nest egg stored up and I’ll say to myself, “You have found the good life. Now it’s time to relax, and enjoy your retirement.”’ In that instant, however, God’s voice spoke to the man, ‘You are such an idiot. This very night your life is to be taken from you. So who will enjoy what you are planning?’ This is what happens to a person who works for himself and his family, but who never gives to God by giving to the poor.”…

“Don’t be afraid to surrender your possessions, my dear students. You Father has happily determined that you are to have the whole kingdom of God—what do you need of useless trinkets? Go ahead and sell your stuff and give freely to those in need. Then you will have a savings that you can never use up, and is much safer than a bank, a mattress or your penny-pinching aunt. God will preserve it for you. But take this proposal seriously, and don’t blow it off—because what you use your money on is what you are devoting yourself to. (more…)

Young Adult Ecumenical Project

I wanted to share this project that we started as a Sunday school class as a way to get to know other young adults in the area across denominations. Out of this project we hope to develop a website in our area for local young adults to list events and network better. I’d challenge other young adults groups to consider doing something similar as way of connecting with your local community by joining forces with other Christian brother and sisters.
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No Country for Old Men and the Depravity of Violence

No Country for Old Men is released today in select theaters, which leaves me wanting to live in a more important city.Nonetheless, I have only to wait two more weeks before the nationwide release.

Reviews are already rolling out and I highly suggest to all of you that you see the film if you are able. I have been anticipating this one for quite some time. Los Angeles Times movie reviewer Kenneth Turan describes the moral underpinnings of the film:

The story of stolen drug money and the horrific carnage it precipitates, “No Country for Old Men” doesn’t celebrate or smile at violence, it despairs of it, despairs of its randomness, pervasiveness, its inescapable nature, of the way it eats at the soul of society and the individuals in it.

No one should go into “No Country for Old Men” underestimating the unnerving intensity of its moments of on-screen violence, its parade of corpses and geysers of spurting blood. But as the story unfolds with the awful inevitability of a modern myth, it’s clear that the Coen brothers and McCarthy are not interested in violence for its own sake but for what it says about the world we happen to live in. “I got it under control,” a confident deputy says, and in moments he is dead. He didn’t have anywhere near the mastery he imagined, and in this truly despairing vision, neither does anyone else.

Commenting on the transience of life – particularly in the context of the war in Iraq, AIDS crises in Africa, and the genocide in Darfur – is an apt reflection on our current condition.
I think ‘No Country for Old Men’ will turn out to be a ghastly film filled with horrid violence. But that’s it’s exactly why it should be seen by Americans – who too often forget that war entails blowing someone’s head off, repeatedly. This is a call to renewal in our understanding of the depravity of violence, to understanding exactly what violence means: without romantic, cathartic, or exciting character.

Watch the Trailer here

Biblical Message for the Day

Feeding the Hungry

I serve as a full-time volunteer with an agency that coordinates homeless services. I thought a reflection on poverty would be apt, particularly given that we don’t have a “poverty” category yet on this blog.
Nehemiah 5 (NIrV)

1 Some men and their wives cried out against their Jewish brothers and sisters. 2 Some of them were saying, “We and our sons and daughters have increased our numbers. Now there are many of us. We have to get some grain so we can eat and stay alive.”

3 Others were saying, “We’re being forced to sell our fields, vineyards and homes. We have to do it to buy grain. There isn’t enough food for everyone.”

4 Still others were saying, “We’ve had to borrow money. We needed it to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 We belong to the same family lines as the rest of our people. Our sons and daughters are as good as theirs. But we’ve had to sell them off as slaves. Some of our daughters have already been made slaves. But we can’t do anything about it. That’s because our fields and vineyards now belong to others.” (more…)

Advice time! What should I know or do before going to Bolivia?

It looks like I’ll be spending some time in a different hemisphere before too long. Details aren’t finalized, but I think it’s safe to say I’ll be going to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for about four months starting in January. My church has been supporting an orphanage there for longer than I can remember. I’ve been hearing about this children’s home since I was 12 years old and seriously thought about going there at other decision points in my life. This time, I’m actually going and not just listing it in my options.

If we had smilies on YAR, I’d use the one where the character jumps up and down excitedly with a giant grin.

Since this will be my first trip to the Third Word—technically I was in central Jamaica when I was three, but I don’t remember it—I know I have a lot of mental work to do in the next two months. I can never be fully prepared. I expect to be changed a lot while I’m there. But there’s no reason I can’t start that personal process in the mean time.

What/who do my fellow YARs recommend I read, listen to, watch or talk to before I go? If you’ve been to Bolivia, or Santa Cruz, or even this orphanage (like Denver), what do you wish you would have known before you went? What should I pay close attention to while I’m there? What surprised you the most? What do you wish people would ask you about? (more…)

Anti-Materialism

The struggle against materialism is one many of us (but for the weakness of our flesh) are happy to join. Consumption has become something of a cultural obsession, a sick habit that eats away even at those of us who admit its depravity. More deeply, ours is a culture that measures value according to consumption, in both directions: the more valuable you are, the more you should be allowed to consume (so CEOs and entertainers deserve the money they make); the more you consume, the more attention you command. Most on this blog are past denial: we confess our sickness. And at least we work hard to check ourselves against reckless buying.

But I want to suggest that another materialism has pervaded our perspective, a much more insidious philosophical materialism which only admits of a theological solution. This materialism is visible precisely in our inability to speak theologically about the world, and in our refusal to recognize higher values than the material ones. As much as we oppose the idea that material is the measure of human worth, we nonetheless rarely allow anything other than material criteria into our discussions of what is good and right. “Justice-talk” is separate from and outweighs “God-talk”–because justice, which has to do with the right ordering of human society towards the good, has been reduced to a material condition. Theology is dismissed as abstract rather than concrete, but only because we’ve been trained by modernity to think that only the material is real and that talk of God and grace is just theoretical.

The only way to counteract this deeper materialism–which is the root of all crass consumerism–is to regain a sense of theological realism. The point is not to denigrate the material as unimportant, but to re-situate it in a theological context. The point is to refuse to allow the material the last word, as if it created its own meaning. Rather, the goodness of the world comes from the God who created it, and God is truly at work in the world.

Political Assimilation

We’ve had quite a few flabbergasted mentions over the months of the shocking recognition that so many Mennonites vote Republican, wondering helplessly what to do about their ignorant collusion with oppression, and Tim mentioned in his post on Gregory Boyd the converse fear that the new generation of Mennonites and their teachers (at least) have similarly sold out to a left-wing political program and forsaken the gospel for social activism. Both fears, I admit, seem to me deeply right. Whether by overlooking the horrors of war and sidestepping the political example of our crucified Lord, or by flattening salvation to a social phenomenon and forgetting that the truth of Christ transcends every political concern, Mennonites of all political stripes have given up the principle of nonconformity that’s necessary for the church to be the church.

That’s my contention: that the problem across the board is that we’ve lost the principle of nonconformity. And more specifically, we’ve forgotten that nonconformity is a theological principal. It’s not that we refuse to conform to this or that bad policy, but that we refuse to conform to the world, this fallen, deathly, blasphemous, and violent world, this world whose goodness has been disfigured by sin. And we are joined instead not to justice or righteousness or fairness in the abstract, but to Jesus Christ: ‘joined’ as an apprentice to her master, ‘joined’ as a child to her mother, ‘joined’ as any person to her own spirit and power. Being so joined to God passes judgment on every political program, certainly, because it reshapes the notion of the political itself. No political agenda is untouched by the good news of Jesus’ resurrection–because Jesus is resurrected as Lord–and every form of praise and discipleship becomes a political act. Judgment on so-called conservatives: by ‘conserving’ what remains wrapped up in the powers of violence, you serve the prince of darkness rather than the prince of peace. Judgment on so-called radicals: by preaching justice rather than Jesus,* you cut the world off from the root of true life and condemn it to self-destruction, meaninglessness, and hell.

Of course, this suggestion seems sectarian to the right and absolutist to the left. But this is precisely what I mean: nonconformity to the world. We must constantly and seriously consider in what ways our commitment to Christ pronounces judgment on every political commitment–for Christ alone is Lord.

* This is no better, of course, than preaching Jesus rather than justice–as if the two could truly be split. But it must be admitted that the radical ‘program’ often quite explicitly renounces actually preaching Jesus, thinking justice a near enough equivalent.