Grieving and Honoring 5 years of Young Anabaptist Radicals

Grasshopper with Dew Drops on Clover at Sunrise

Yesterday was 5 years to the day since my first post here on YAR, a week after Eric opened things up.

I was writing a little over a month after I returned to the United States from two and a half years in the United Kingdom, where Anabaptism was a set of values and relationships rather than a bunch of denominations. I longed for something similar in the US. I first started sending emails out to people about the idea of starting a blog in October 2005, when I was still in England. As I said in my first post:

The people I talked with shared an interest in a space where they could explore Anabaptist values and how they apply to broad areas like economics, war and society and more specific issues like abortion, homosexuality and the “war on terror.” They wanted a space to disagree or agree openly with the church,with society and with each other.

This is attempt to build that space.


I followed those conversation up with this email to the Menno Progressives email list, a sort of precursor to YAR started in 2004 by Michael J. Sharp (and Andy Gingerich I believe) :

What: Young Anabaptist Progressives blog (I’m open to better name suggestions) where anyone who identifies with that label would be welcome to post their thoughts about current events, faith, the church, politics or whatever they think would be interesting.

Why: We’ve discussed on this list the need for a more visible forum for young Mennonites and this blog could be a clear space to do that. This would be an opportunity for us to publish material that will be available to a wider audience.

When I got back to the US, five of us sat down together at the Electric Brew in Goshen, Indiana to talk. Some of the group were freshly back from BikeMovement 2006, a trip across the US that visited Mennonite churches along the way. We were fired up. As I reported 5 years ago:

We talked about three broad questions to explore:
1) What does Anabaptism mean?
2) What are the political implications?
3) What does that mean for how we live?

We also shared a common goal of disagreeing with each other. And laughing together.

Five years less young than I was then, I am still am attracted to the vision we talked about at the Electric Brew, but everyone else from that group moved on from YAR. As have most others who joined in those heady first 3 months after we kicked off. Some have said why here on YAR, some have not. Over time the group of active YAR authors has become more male and more white, although we’ve added at least one regular contributor from outside the US.

Instead of a group to consult with on admin decisions, it’s fallen to me. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s worth continuing the blog. But I’m always reminded of a comment by jdaniel a few years back when he said that YAR would still be a good place even if no one posted for months. So I’ve stumbled along, aided hugely by free server space and sysadmin help from my cousin David. I’ve learned to find the balance in moderation between lively debate and trolling. And coming to turns with the fact that one of the the most persistent community member reveled in dancing around that line.

While my vision was always a site that would attract those outside of the Mennonite community, the longest discussions on this site have usually been on posts discussing of internal Mennonite Church USA politics. Our sister sites Jesus Manifesto and Jesus Radicals (now merged) have more effectively attracted Christian radicals outside the Mennonite Church.

Grieving the loss of women’s voices

As Amy pointed out yesterday one clear theme over the last 5 years on YAR is the steady loss of women’s voices on this blog. I’ve noticed this over the last week as I’ve read over past YAR posts.

I’ve stopped asking women why fewer women are active on YAR, because my question has been answered pretty clearly and repeatedly. Katie stated it most strongly three and a half years ago in her post Tired:

But I got tired. I got tired of the same stupid discussions over and over with basically the same person (actually different people, but it started to feel so familiar). I got tired of watching my friends and allies get tired and burned out (sometimes they just got quieter, sometimes they gave up and walked away in frustration), I got tired of having to defend my own existence and belief to straight white men who, as a friend of mine so aptly described it, “come on the blog for a while and do the virtual equivalent of beating their chests and yelling.”*

I’d like to share some quotes from YAR posts by women who have been regular contributors here on over the years. Click on names for a list of their posts on YAR:

Angie Lederach:

Prayer is peacework, yes—but it should also call us into uncomfortable places, committed action—as Emmanuel went on to say: “Faith that is not translated on the ground for social change as we see in the social teaching of the church, has no meaning.” In the context of Northern Ghana, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cote D’Ivoire (all places Emmanuel works), this is a powerful statement. Perhaps it is even a statement of dissent—dissent from a church that refuses to act—whose fear refuses to allow conformity to Christ translate into nonconformity to the world. This is, for me, the challenge in America, where apathy runs high, where the fear of the loss of comfort drowns out the true call of prayer, the true call of Christ. Here, dissent is necessary. (from a comment on Dissent)

Skylark:

I’m torn between the capitalist/elitist and the humanitarian in me. I hear my parents and grandparents in one ear saying they have the right to keep the land they bought and prosper if able. I hear people like YARs in the other ear talking about systems of oppression that keep people down and with little chance to improve their situations. I like the image of the downtrodden trumping over The Man, but I hate it when that image is painted in blood. – (from So about this rich guy I know)

ST:

I am reminded on the necessity to invite anyone and everyone with whatever ethnicity or background (age, sexuality, religion, political persuasion) to participate in the work of healing (and radical positive social change and happiness creation) in our society. There is enough pain to go around. Everyone can have a hand in creating peace.

How can we create a new type of culture which benefits all and has the flexible institutions necessary to recognize diverse historic backgrounds, and has sets of values that explain and facilitate that peace and justice we so desire? This is why I’m a transnational radical black feminist and it’s also why I’m a spiritual person. The creation of any society (or even a small community of this sort) will need to embody feminist and spiritual values of safety, ethics, conflict resolution, play, education, politics, and cycle of life understandings.(from Inspirational Lunch

BeccaJayne:

Diesel trucks and busloads in front of us mimic
slowly rolling waves (children have been lost
in the mahogany puddles of rainy season potholes.)
Roads pulse with people, dogs with teats dragging, lines
of goats. We crawl past a slaughterhouse, a Coca Cola factory,
a trailer packed with workers singing
of the Promised Land.

We are some sort of horrible royalty.

After all, we are from America,
that real Promised Land that sent freed slaves here
to start Liberia, also the home of “freedom.” We are tied
to these people outside our car windows
by blood and sweat and quiet
greed. (from Breaking my writer’s block!

Joanna:

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.(a href=”http://young.anabaptistradicals.org/2009/10/10/justice-unity-reflections-on-mennonite-world-conference/”>Justice & Unity: Reflections on Mennonite World Conference

Even as I spent the afternoon pulling together these fragments, I found myself touching the grief I feel in knowing that none of these women write here on YAR anymore. In the last six months, there have only been two posts by women on YAR (Confessions of a white anti-racist and I have Power)

I’ll close some words from a woman who has never written on Young Anabaptist Radicals, though she has been an inspiration to me and many others who grew up in the Mennonite church with questions. Here’s what Julia Kasdorf says about dialogue with humility in her essay, “Bodies and Boundaries” (published in The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life: Essays and Poems):

[Paulo] Freire insists that Dialogue is impossible without humility. That is a word that I find both familiar and difficult to use, since traditional injunctions to be humble have at times served to silence the voices of some while protecting the authority of others in the Mennonite community. Nevertheless, I claim the best kind of humility our tradition can teach–the kind symbolized by the physical practice of footwashing, which points as much to the Last Supper as to Mary Magdalene’s daring demonstration of love. (Is it any wonder that she was the first to see Jesus embodied after his death?) This kind of humility is characterized by a commitment to listening to the other and to serving the other. This humility is St. Francis kissing the leper and his plan to speak with the infidel, to perhaps even convert rather than slay him. It is the loving conversation that adds meaning to another’s life and reconciles a fallen individual to the community and to God rather than angering and alienating him. It is antithetical to pride, which ultimately is the belief that individual or communities do not need to consider the perspectives of others in order to understand and define themselves.

What does it look like for the men who are active on this blog to commit to listening to and serving in a way that opens this space for women again?

Photo is “Grasshopper watching Sunrise from Clover with Dew” by Tim Nafziger

Comments (8)

  1. Jonny

    Thanks for these reflections, Tim. As one of the original “Electric Brew 5″ who has since moved from being a poster to a lurker, I really appreciate you taking the time to step back and look at the broader changes in YAR over the past five years. I’d also observe that since its beginning, along with becoming more white, straight, and male, YAR has become less radical in many ways. Or perhaps just radical in a different way; I don’t know (it’s a vague term, I suppose).

    I still appreciate many of the posts here, including your regular cross-posting from The Mennonite, Tim. I’m not likely going to become a regular poster any time soon, but I’ll keep lurking…

    Reply
  2. Joseph P

    I really enjoyed learning the YAR history here. And Tim, I’ve observed for awhile that you probably have a somewhat complex mix of frustration and blessing associated with running this blog. I want to express gratitude that you’ve carried it on even us the four others have left. Whatever the frustrations and complications, I have appreciated the existence of YAR.

    Also, thanks for sharing the female voices that have been heard in the past and for the challenge to humility. I confess that it’s hard for me to get past just wishing that women would step up and contribute, but I can see how many have been burned as a result of that. How much of the problem comes from men that are regular members of the “YAR community” and how much is from the periodic lurker?

    I do have a suggestion. What if the men of YAR agreed to take a complete sabbatical from all posting and commenting for a pre-determined time frame (say 3-6 months)? That might give women a chance to reclaim ownership in the blog and men a chance to actually listen without letting their “chest-thumping” instincts kick in.

    On a separate note, my personal Anabaptist identity was primarily cultivated by a Russian-Mennonite cultural ancestry and by my experiences in four years at Bethel College. I’ve often felt like something of an outsider on this blog, which seems to be mostly made up of graduates of Goshen College and EMU. How often are whoopie and shoo-fly pie referenced as “cultural Mennonite food” on this site (without mention of zweibach or verenike) and how often are Elkhart, Lancaster, and Harrisonburg referenced as “Mennonite population cores” (without mention of Newton, Freeman, or Mt. Lake)? Those are things that from time to time have made me feel like I don’t really belong here at YAR.

    But I say this to highlight the fact that in recent years there has been more involvement of Bethel College alums. Most notably from AlanS and SamuelS. For that I am grateful. So though we should rightfully grieve the decline in participation of women and minorities, I think YAR can celebrate a slight expansion into a different and vaguely distinct Mennonite circle.

    Reply
  3. John Ballard

    Five years slips by so fast. It seems like just a short time ago that I came across this blog and have followed it off and on ever since. I put together a post about YAR at my old blog home…

    http://hootsbuddy.blogspot.com/2006/11/mennonite-girl-experiences-raman.html

    …and left a comment at your third month anniversary post under my old screen name “Hootsbuddy.”

    http://young.anabaptistradicals.org/2006/12/02/celebrating-yars-month-anniversary/#comments

    Be encouraged and keep working and seeking together. The role of peace congregations is destined to always be a small one in the Kingdom but if any value is to be treasured above all the rest, the role of non-violence and peaceful conflict resolution must be the one guarded most of all.

    Congratulations on your fifth year. Keep up the good work. Special thanks to Charlie Kraybill for his reflections in “Mennonites on the Bowery” and do try to make your blog environment again more welcoming to women.

    Reply
  4. Callie

    Hey folks,
    I’ve been a consistent reader of YAR for awhile (3 years at least I think). I think Tim even gave me a bloggy name thing to post on YAR and I still haven’t posted yet. As a staff person for Brethren Volunteer Service running the 3 week orientations for incoming volunteers 3-4 times a year, coupled with a mostly hectic travel schedule, I find that reading YAR posts is much more enjoyable than posting well written and thought out entries.

    I’ll always come back to this forum to read up and get inspired by the work others are doing and living through.

    Reply
  5. ST

    Thanks for your reflections, and the shout-out. It’s good to read one’s writing again from such a long time ago. And, from where I am now…adjusting to a new place where building community is going very slowly…it’s helpful to be reminded of what I said I believed in, and still do.

    I haven’t visited YAR for awhile, but I came here to read because I plan on posting tomorrow…some stuff I’ve learned since 9/11/01 and an inspiring story about forgiveness.

    Reply
  6. CharlieK

    I’d like to add a suggestion. Seems to me part of the problem is that people have to remind themselves to come in here to see what’s happening. Why not have a Facebook page presence, so that when things get posted, people get a notification via email? I think that might serve to bring people back into the YAR site on a more frequent basis.

    Reply
  7. TimN (Post author)

    Charlie,

    There actually is a page on Facebook:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Young-Anabaptist-Radicals/131225733607986

    I announced it a few months ago, but I haven’t gotten around to adding the link to the sidebar. Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: The Femonite: A new gathering space for Anabaptist Feminists » Young Anabaptist Radicals

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