Monthly Archive: January 2011

A New-Old Call to Radical Christian Community

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“Community”, “Radical Discipleship”, “Prophetic Witness”: An urgent and self-giving Christianity has taken hold of the imaginations of a new generation of the faithful. Group houses of sincere young folks earnestly desiring to live for Christ and serve the poor are springing up like daisies after a summer rain.

It is humbling to witness the movement of the Spirit in their work. Yet it is mournfully apparent that the language, aims, and means of our Christian communities are often defined by a narrow contingent of the movement or what might be the movement if our communities were accountable to anti-oppression work and in solidarity with those under the foot of kyriarchy in its many forms. In fact, the voices of women, queer people, people of color, those of immigrant or non-North American status, the economically disadvantaged, and the disabled are often secondary to the voices of celebrated white heterosexual North American men. And while certainly, our God’s cause is the cause of the poor, there is something troubling about our communities’ rhetoric and movement “to the margins”: it is a dangerous sense of entitlement that gives some of us the notion to obtain property and create ministries and services- often while lacking training or outside accountability. Many community houses have been started without the members having first developed a meaningful relationship with the community leaders and projects already underway, without having been invited to come nor having undertaken a serious analysis of the kinds of unjustly gained power that make some service providers and others receivers of services.

Yes, our God’s cause is the cause of the poor and the inspiration to give one’s life for God’s people- especially the most obviously vulnerable among us- is right and good. But the desire to give one’s life must not overcome a commitment to give that gift with a holy indifference that might lead one another way. (I am reminded of priests on foreign mission returning home, having been told that it was in disarming U.S. imperialism that they could best care for their beloved congregations abroad.) And while the lack of representation- and accountability- in our movements is casually acknowledged by many (“Sure, we’re mostly white, middle class, and male”), acknowledging it without committing to changing it perpetuates the unexamined privilege that underlies so many of our communities. It feeds the supremacy of whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality and class privilege in our most compelling “radical” North American Christian experiments and recreates the dynamics of oppression we name as sin.

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Mennonite Church USA, Phoenix 2013 convention and Anabaptist networks and alliances

Goose Sunset on Hampstead Heath

On Saturday, the Mennonite Church USA executive board decided to hold the MC-USA 2013 convention in Phoenix, thus saving the $300,000 deposit $460,994 (source: MCUSA staff) that otherwise would have been lost. Any delegates who feel unsafe (or uncomfortable) meeting in Phoenix due to Arizona’s targeting of the Latino community will be shepherded to a “satellite” gathering at an unspecified location. Thus, their marginalization will move from the realm of metaphor to a literal, physical fact. The decision is a real triumph of institutional logic.

As I read the news in my inbox this morning, I felt something inside me drop. I realized that I had let myself hope that the executive board might listen to the clear message from Iglesia Mennonita Hispana and many others. I had let myself hope that this decision would be different from the decision to move ahead with the building in Elkhart last year. I let myself hope that the institution could re-member itself as the beloved community and take a prophetic stand with a real cost.

If you’re looking for a further critique and de-construction of the decision, I recommend, Andy Alexis-Baker’s piece Becoming Anabaptist: A Protest to the Mennonite Church. I want to focus elsewhere in the remainder of this piece.

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Lifelines and the Happy Gospel

Church Marquee

Before I begin, let me offer full disclosure: I have suffered from depression and anxiety on and off for more than five years. Granted, my illness falls fairly low on the spectrum, but the fact that I’ve left a couple jobs because of the overwhelming experiences of anxiety shows you that this has caused a serious and ongoing struggle in my life.

For me, there has been no life experience more isolating and terrifying than the severe, debilitating moments of a panic attack.

I have been fortunate enough in my journey to be comforted and supported by loved ones—my wife, family, friends, counselors—in the midst of despair, many of whom were also members of the faith community to which I belonged.

But I am at the same time painfully aware that many who have walked the same journey through depression and other mental and emotional ailments have not experienced the same level of grace within their congregation.

While most haven’t been outright rejected, a common experience for many of us with mental illnesses is to feel marginalized, judged—or, worst of all, avoided—as if our ailments fall low on the priority list of concerns, they are a result of a lack of faith or selfish ignorance of the obvious blessings in our lives, or they create too much uncertainty, discomfort or risk to address. (more…)