Monthly Archive: October 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Anabaptist?

I’ve got some new friends who had never heard of anabaptism. So I wrote a summary of what I understand Anabaptism to be. Look it over. What would you add or subtract? What would you nuance differently?

And if you aren’t anabaptist, what questions would you have?

The Anabaptist tradition
In 1525 the reformation of the church in the West was just beginning. There was a lot of excitement about Luther’s reforms, not least of all in Zurich, Switzerland. Zwingli was leading the city leaders into a reform there based on Scripture alone, but many of the reformation’s supporters there didn’t think that Zwingli was going far enough. They noticed that when he spoke about certain issues, that he was more interested in his theological point, rather than actually brining the church back into obedience to Jesus. So they baptized themselves in the name of Jesus, making each other citizens of Jesus’ kingdom instead of any kingdom on earth. This movement grew, and they were called ana-baptists by their enemies, because it was claimed that they would re-baptize their members. But in reality, the Anabaptists affirmed that they were spreading the one true baptism—an entrance into God’s kingdom through true understanding and not just assent to the society of the church. This movement has continued to this day.

What Anabaptists Believe:
1. Jesus only
“No one knows the Father except the Son”
Anabaptists hold to no theology except that stated by Jesus himself. Even as Jesus supersedes the Old Testament law, Jesus also rules over all theology that the church itself created, whether that by Paul or by Calvin or by N.T. Wright. And the focus of our belief is not a Jesus we create—such as a glorified, theological Jesus or a model of a historical Jesus or a cultural Jesus—but the Jesus of the gospels. Thus, the four gospels lead us to interpret all things through the words and life of Jesus.
Since Anabaptists affirm the superiority of Jesus, we also recognize the weakness of all things human to achieve truth or justice. Thus, any particular denomination or creed is only in a process of getting closer to or further from Jesus, but no church could ever be complete in and of itself. Various governments may attempt to achieve justice, but they all fail. Schools attempt to teach truth, but no matter how precise they are, they fail to achieve the full truth that Jesus gives us. (more…)

Colombian Paramilitaries defend Multinational Corporations from “bureaucrats”

An urgent action from the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin American just arrived in my inbox. It included this quote from a new death threat from the Colombian paramilitary group Black Eagles, who are also active in Barrancabermeja, where I’ve worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams:

With the help of “Familias en Accion” “Guardabosques” and the country’s Democratic Security policy, a group of men and women worried about the state of the country. We have decided that it is necessary to start a fight against those that camouflage themselves as social organizations such as the CUT Valle, NOMADESC, Human Rights Defenders, NGOs, enemies of our democracy.

Those bureaucrats don’t allow us to progress in CAUCA, where they don’t allow multinationals to enter which would benefit the communities of SUAREZ, MORALES and BUENOS AIRES…

…Today we have decided to declare as military targets those (SOB) bureaucrats, human rights defenders, NOMADESC, CUT VALLE, PCN, The Community Council of La Toma, Cerro Tijeras, Licifredy, Eduar Villegas, Jose Goyes, Diego Escobar, Recheche, Plutarco, Meraldiño Consejal”

Claiming associations between social organizations and the guerilla is almost as old as the civil war itself, but I’ve never seen a paramilitary group so open about acting on behalf of multinationals. The Colombia CPT project has often pointed out paramilitaries clear the way for multinationals coming in to set up mines and palm oil plantations, but it now appears the paramilitaries are beginning to make the connection too. Its interesting to note the increasing similarities with right wing rhetoric in the United States. Good intentioned Multinationals vs. that SOB Bureaucracy. It sounds like a Glenn Beck special.

Ancient Paths: The Way Forward

This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

I just returned from the Gathering Around the Unhewn Stone, an event that took place this last weekend in Philadelphia. The purpose of the gathering was to explore the connections between Anarcho-Primitivism and Christianity. Ched Myers was the main speaker, leading us all through a crash course in biblical primitivism. There is so much I could write about, but I know that in this space I can only scratch the surface. Many secular and religious scholars alike are beginning to read the Hebrew-Christian bible from an archeological/historical perspective. Instead of reading the stories as metaphors or “lessons of old,” many are starting to take them more seriously and view them as factual. The Paradise of Eden is then understood not as fable of moral decline, but as a historical recollection of a time when human animals lived in balance with the earth. As ecological disaster ripens, it becomes fascinating to read these stories through this lens. As we look at it more closely, the bible begins to read like a manual of Anarcho-Primitivism. Of course that term wasn’t around back then, but the principles are so similar that it is incredible. For those unfamiliar, Anarcho-Primitivism is a form of anarchism that takes it’s critique of society all the way back to origins, citing civilization as the culprit of our current crisis. This brand of thinking values indigenous cultures and earth-based people groups as teachers and elders who hold wisdom long forgotten (or violently silenced). Our hunter-gatherer ancestors laid out for us a way of being that is truly sustainable. It was the norm forever, until the rise of agriculture, which changed the landscape of things and paved the way for civilization. As the towers rose and power centralized, most people got the short end of the stick. This is the context in which the Hebrew-Christian tradition developed. “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic”. Numbers 11:5. (more…)

Introducing Hilary

Dearest all, my name is Hilary. Perhaps, this will allow you to get to know me a little bit: I love cutting vegetables and baking bread. There is something about getting my hands entangled in earth-turned-food that reminds me of what is important in life. One of my favorite things to do is to come home and sit with my neighbors on their front porches.  Becoming entangled in the lives of created human beings makes my own roots grow deeper into the ground. I cannot remember one time in my life (since the 8th grade) when I turned down an opportunity to go dancing! Moving my body, giving my body the right to take space in the world and the space to create its own story has been a tool for healing that has never failed me. And that considered, I have recently been breaking into the world of body prayer… and I am loving it.

COLOR. My soul is suffocated without color. When I was little, I used to refer to different buildings and stores according to the color of the light in them (pink light, yellow light, blue light…). Recently, at a time of extreme stress and hardship in my life, I impulsively went to a convenience store (the sort of store I never step foot in) and bought 6 different colors of bright nail polish (without checking to see if they were tested on animals and without letting myself think about where the money was going..). When I was home and my nails were flaunting the obnoxious hues, the pressure in my bones drained, and my own breath returned. If I could have a canvas the size of an entire wall, and gallons upon gallons of natural paint, the joys of my life.. color, bodies, movement, creation, relationships.. would all fold in on each other in one beautiful act of worship.

I care about lots of things. I care about wholeness in communities, in our congregations, in our global relationships and in our personal selves. I care deeply about respect and justice. Without these, we condemn ourselves to eternal brokenness. (more…)

The things that make for peace

This piece is cross-posted from Electronic Intifada

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:41-42

Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem is the name of a church and a site of pilgrimage for many Christian travelers to the “Holy Land.” Literally, Dominus Flevit means “the Lord wept” in Latin and is remembered as the site where Jesus stopped to look out over Jerusalem to weep and ask this striking question to all who would follow him.

An unavoidable question: Do we recognize the things that make for peace? Are they right in front of us, hidden from our eyes?

The language of peace often surrounds us. In a place like Palestine, the language of peace gets thrown around on a regular basis. One can see it when surveying the expanding colonization of the occupied West Bank in recent decades, in particular during those times of “peace” process. Or when one passes through an Israeli military checkpoint and is greeted with “shalom” — the Hebrew word for peace. And one also encounters it on the International Day of Prayer for Peace, where Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike gather to resist the daily violence they experience through prayer and protest.

When I read a text such as this one from Luke’s gospel, I cannot help but feel like Jesus is speaking directly to me, to us. Indeed, these words are a challenge to all of us who would make use of the language of peace.

This is a subversive text. And it reminds me of a story about what the language of peace in Palestine-Israel looks like, a story from Hedy Sawadsky, a relief worker with the Mennonite Central Committee in the Middle East in the 1960s who was challenged by a Palestinian woman: “what you’re doing here is fine, but it is only band-aid work … go home and work for peace and get at the root causes of evil and war.” (more…)

Justice & Unity: Reflections on Mennonite World Conference

“Will you forgive us?” they said from the platform at Global Youth Summit. “As North Americans, if, through pride or selfish independence, we have said, ‘I am not part of the body…’ Will you forgive us? If we have known that other parts of Christ’s body suffer, and have refused to share their pain… Will you forgive us? If in place of Christ, the head of the body, we have served our own theology, tradition, or prejudice, and loved only those who loved or looked like us… Will you forgive us?” As I reflect back on my experience at the 15th Assembly of Mennonite World Conference, this litany, shared by North American young people, remains at the forefront of my mind. It was an important reminder to me that true unity is not possible without a recognition of power inequalities in the church.

In order to bring about this unity based on reconciliation, power imbalances in the church must be named. In Mennonite Church USA we recognize that this means questioning our institutional structures and the ways in which they favor white, Euro-centric styles of leadership over the leadership styles of other groups of people. As a denomination we have committed ourselves to being anti-racist and we recognize that it will take much time and effort to overcome the oppression that is embedded in our structures. (more…)

“In the world…”

I’m embarking on an interesting adventure this fall, one of my choosing (to borrow some terms and phrases from Wayne Speigle’s sermon this past week). See, I love movies. I like to watch the characters unfold, the plot thicken, and all those little surprises and such that come up. But I’ve also recently learned to love to hear the messages that movies try to tell us. The filmmakers (directors, producers, screenwriters, actors, etc) are telling us a story in a rather fascinating medium that allows elves to live on screen, dragons to fly, robots to laugh, and monsters (both “real” and figurative) to be overcome. Through that story, they are trying to convey ideas, theories, and worldviews in a hope that we will understand them and where they are coming from. Some filmmakers even do so to try and “convert” us (watch “Gorillas in the Mist” sometime…). So, this fall, I’ll be leading a Sunday School hour discussion time on film, the stories they tell, the messages they speak, and our responses to them. I’m looking forward to this adventure. (Shameless plug: If you’re going to be in the Bally/Boyertown area anytime during the months of September through November, come on by Bally Mennonite Church at 10:45 AM and join us!).

One criticism that I’m bound to get on this (and I’ve heard some of this already from a few places) is “Why are we talking about watching some of these movies from Hollywood? Why not show and talk about Christian movies?” This bothers me somewhat (lots of things bother me, as many of you already know). I recently read a blog article from someone else (I can’t remember where and if you’re reading this and you’re the culprit, please speak up) about the “ghettoizing” of Christianity. Music is performed and Christians historically have done one of two things. Either we have denounced it as “from the devil” and called for boycotts and other protest means (and this is not relegated only to “Rock ‘n’ Roll”… read up on Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach sometime) or we’ve “redeemed” it and made our own music and made it “OK” to listen to. Books are written and the same things are said and done. Poems are made. TV programs are made. And now, suddenly, we want to do the same with movies. (more…)

Confronting Racism in Mennonite Central Committee

Friends,

At the urging of others, I am making my first YAR appearance.

I am part of a group of constituents pushing MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) to address patterns of institutional racism.  Members of the group include Tim Barr, Calenthia Dowdy, Brenda Zook Friesen, Karissa Ortman Loewen, Conrad Moore, Yvonne Platts, Tobin Miller Shearer, Regina Shands Stoltzfus. We are especially concerned about how MCC relates to staff.  There has been a decades-long pattern of staff of color leaving MCC on bad terms, a pattern which has intensified in the last few years.  Many people in this group have been in conversation with leaders in MCC about this issue for decades, and they feel that it is time to take a new approach.

At this time, we are calling for people to sign our letter to MCC leaders and to withhold half of their normal contributions to MCC until MCC makes significant steps toward real change in addressing internal racism.  (see our blog & petition).

Here are three steps that we believe would move MCC forward in its journey toward inter-cultural health:

1)    MCC follows through on its current intention to undergo an independent anti-racism audit of both existing and proposed structures of the entire institution;

It is hard for any institution (or individual) to see themselves clearly.  People within the organization are sometimes not in a position to be fully honest about their experiences as it affects their work environment and could even feel threatening to their position. (more…)

Introducing Rusty…

Greetings everyone,

I am the newest contributor to the YAR blog, and as is the custom here, I was asked to introduced myself. I won’t bore you with my life story. I’ll keep it short and relevant.

My life is a complex journey, as all of ours tend to be in this day and age. I am a suburban southern kid who was raised during the corporate take over my once rural town. I watched the wild playground of my youth become paved and replaced with shopping malls. All the tree forts and hideouts we built as kids were replaced one-by-one with ‘real’ shelters, housing wealthy neighbors with well-manicured lawns. The whole infrastructure of my town shifted, and slowly, so did the income level and mindset of my family. The innocence of my youth was not only interrupted by all the normal challenges of adolescence, but also the rising consciousness of suburbia, consumerism, wealth, competition… capitalism.

For years I have been trying to forget what I know and remember what life was like before the corporate takeover of my town and my mind. Isn’t this the journey we are all on, trying to reconnect with our primal selves, our young innocence, our wide-eyed hope? This search has brought me so many places, literally and figuratively. I am currently living in Chicago, the third largest city in the country. I hate it. It’s a big concrete jungle, devoid of anything wild or natural. What keeps me here is the community house that I live in. But as the winter moves in, I will be moving out and navigating back to Florida, where I grew up.  I thrive in wild spaces, under stars, below trees. Though, I will say that as a student of herbal medicine, I love seeing tough healing plants rising between the cracks of abandoned factories. It gives me a glimpse of the coming kingdom of god. “A tree shall sprout in the middle of the city, and it’s leaves shall bring healing.” Revelation 22:2 (more…)