Beware the Amish pirates

Race, Mutuality and Anabaptist Community

June 11th, 2014 by TimN

Today a friend shared his experience when he was a young white teenager hanging out with young Latino men. When there was a possibility of encountering the police, they would say, "act white" and my friend would be asked to do the talking. What does "acting white" look like? If you’re asking that question, you’re probably white. For people of color in the United States there is often a "constant background processing" to empathize with white people around them and deal with their stereotypes. Strategies may range from dressing impeccably to whistling Vivaldi.

This week I’m preparing for a panel with Mennonerds on Race, Mutuality and Anabaptist Community. This blog post is a brief look at some of the themes I’m hoping we can discuss as practices for white people developing lenses to see differently through listening with humility.

Let’s start with changing lenses as Jesus talked about in this classic Sunday school passage, Matthew 18:1-5:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." (NIV)

Immediately in my mind’s eye I see this image or one of a thousand like it:

Let the Little Children Come Unto me

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Report from Christian Peacemaker Teams in Greece

April 14th, 2014 by TimN

For the last week, I have been part of a delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Europe to Greece to listen to the stories of refugees into Europe and those working with them here. Here are a few windows into our time so far.

Thursday morning our boat arrived to Lesbos. We rented a car and have been visiting people and places. From Lesbos, you can literally see Turkey on the other side of the straits.

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The view across the water from Lesbos to Turkey

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CPT delegate Kathryn and I on the boat from Athens

We drove up to the village of Kalloni (central Lesbos) to meet with Father Stratis, a Greek orthodox priest who has been helping refugees for 10 years. Refugees arrive to the village soaking wet and exhausted, often having walked many hours. Greek citizens face jail time if they pick up the migrants (similar to U.S. citizens at the border with Mexico). If they know their way it is 10 hours from the beach to Kalloni. If they don’t know the way, it may take days. George described how their shoes are usually completely destroyed between the water and the walking. The balcony of Father Stratis’s church is filled with donations of clothes that he and three volunteers sort and process for handing out.

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Made for such a moment as this?: From Fundamentalist to Anabaptist

March 2nd, 2014 by TimN

This week in my seventh post in my ongoing Anabaptist Camp Followers series, I interview Benjamin Corey. He is a retired US Air Force instructor turned Anabaptist speaker and writer. He blogs at Formely Fundie and is author of the upcoming book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

photo of Benjamin L. Corey Can you share about your first encounter with Anabaptist thought and practice?

I first encountered Anabaptism when I was studying church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, but it was only in the context of their role in Church history— we didn’t get much into Anabaptist thought and certainly didn’t delve into the existence of Neo-Anabaptism, so at that time I had no idea how deeply I would connect with it.

As I continued to make my way through seminary I went through a massive paradigm shift as I realized that even though I had been a Christian for more than 20 years, Jesus himself was the missing aspect to my faith. Once I made this realization, I went through a reorientation of my faith not around Christian religion but simply around Jesus— a process that is the topic of my upcoming book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. During this reorientation, my views on a host of issues changed— I embraced nonviolence, gender equality, rediscovered the need to live out faith in authentic community and a host of other new discoveries.

I had no idea what to call myself anymore- I felt like a misfit in Christianity because I knew I wanted to follow Jesus, but didn’t know where I fit in. One day I picked up the book Naked Anabaptist and started reading about the tenants of the Anabaptist Network and it was a lightbulb moment for my wife and I, because it articulated our new worldview in a way that felt like someone was inside our head. In that process, we realized that Anabaptist ins’t necessarily something you become but something you realize you already became. Being able to "label" who we were was incredibly freeing for us and helped us realize that we weren’t alone anymore.

What are some of the ways you’ve connected with the wider Anabaptist community that have helped you feel like you are not alone?

Once I realized that I had been an Anabaptist all along, I started to seek out others like me and stumbled upon MennoNerds and folks like my friend Kurt Willems. While an online community is often a poor substitute for real-life interpersonal community, the Anabaptist community online is pretty darn good. It’s the first "tribe" that I’ve ever had where I felt like I belonged and like I was accepted— flaws and all. I think what I love about it is that it is diverse enough to allow for a "big tent" feeling yet we all share several core values to our faith that keep us all linked together. It’s something I haven’t quite experienced before— there’s definitely a kinship factor with the Anabaptist community. Ironically, the only other place I’ve ever experienced this was during my ten years in the military.

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Voices for LGBTQ inclusion from Pink Mennos

February 16th, 2014 by TimN

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

The Mennonite Church USA executive board meetings in Harrisonburg wrapped up yesterday. It’s been an intense two weeks. On Feb. 4, the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) website posted Ervin Stutzman’s response to the “Rule of Love” letter from 150 pastors calling for MC USA “make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jesus-followers.”

As one of those responsible for managing Pink Menno’s social media presence, I’ve watched over the last few days as the community has responded to Stutzman in anticipation of the MC USA Executive Board meetings next week. This post curates different voices and perspectives from those who participate in the Pink Menno community. This is not an official Pink Menno statement.

As the MC USA Executive Board met, I hope they considered these voices.

Shift in tone and wording

A number of people appreciated the shift in tone they saw in Stutzman’s letter. The most obvious was his use of the term “people on the LGBTQ spectrum” rather than “gays” or “same sex attraction.” His use of this term acknowledges the existence of transgendered people (the T in LGBTQ). “He is naming that there is a problem with how we relate,” says Cynthia Lapp. “He is naming the pain. Small steps and yet coming from Ervin it is an important shift.”

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Privilege, Appropriation and Leadership among the neo-Anabaptists

October 26th, 2013 by TimN

Earlier this month, Charity Erickson wrote an article, "Peace Reformation = Humble Leaders" that offered some questions and challenges for neo-Anabaptists around leadership and the roots of this growing movement. The response, in the comments on her post and on social media, was cantankerous. I followed up with her to do an interview, the fifth in my Anabaptist camp followers series. My questions are in bold. Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Charity EricksonWhat does neo-Anabaptism mean to you?

Charity: I understand neo-Anabaptism to be an ecumenical movement that is inspired and influenced by Anabaptist thought. This influence isn’t confined to traditional Anabaptist thought as expressed in documents like the Schleitheim Confession; it includes the critique of power that we get from post-modernism and post-colonialism. These critiques are not native to Anabaptist thought. In many ways, they are not native to Western thought. But they are good critiques; they are Spirit-guided, I think.

How did you first come across neo-Anabaptist thought and practice?

Charity: When I was 11—around 1996—I joined the Bible Quiz team at my Christian Missionary Alliance church. We memorized a lot of scripture; but we also had these t-shirts that we inherited from a group that had recently split off from our church to focus on their urban ministry in Minneapolis, which included communal living, serving those struggling with poverty, and fostering interfaith dialogue. The t-shirts were black with an anarchic kind-of symbol on the front, and the words, “Resistance is Futile.”

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David Joris, Part 2: Early Mennonites through an Anabaptist rival

September 26th, 2013 by TimN

Today, we tend to think of Mennonites as descended from all early Anabaptists. However, the followers of Menno Simons had some distinctive practices that set them apart from other Anabaptists of their era. Looking at them through the eyes of David Joris and his disciples can help us to understand what set them apart more clearly.

Joris’ approach clashed dramatically with the leadership style of Menno Simons. As I discussed in part one of this series, Joris was charismatic; people were drawn to him.

He excelled at accommodation, diplomacy and mediation between different Anabaptist sects, "ranging from the peaceful followers of Obbe Philips to the marauding adherents of Jan van Batenburg." (Zijlstra 251). Simons, on the other hand, was a rural priest whose focus on the purity didn’t make any sense to Nikolaas Meyndertsz Blesdijk, the primary lieutenant of Joris:

Blesdijk pictures the Mennonite elders as hostile and closed-minded, both unwilling and unable to carry on a religious discussion with orderly marshalling of evidence and in the spirit of gentleness (sachtmoedicheyt) that distinguish a true teacher.

Instead of behaving civilly and honorably, argues Blesdijk, the Mennonites are hypocritically preoccupied with distinguishing and separating themselves, whether by manner of dress, appearance or words …

Since they shun their opponents, forbidding all moral human contact with them, in total disregard of the initiation of the ban in Matthew 18 and the New Testament examples of its use, it is not surprising that they are so fixed in their opinions: they seldom speak with anyone who thinks otherwise than they. (Stayer, "Davidite vs. Mennonite" 464)

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From poet Jeff Gundy: “When Madonna Met Menno”

September 20th, 2013 by TimN

We do have a poetry category and I thought I’d invite it out of the dusty corner to join us for a little conversation today with Mennonite poet, Jeff Gundy. I’ll open the space by sharing a poem of his, a bit of a story from him to go with it and then a chance to ask him questions in the comments.

When Madonna Met Menno

“You’re a slut,” he said, “but God loves you anyway.”
She took a long pull on her beer. “Don’t be simple,”
she said. “I was a Catholic schoolgirl. I’ve known that
since I was twelve.” She was all knees and ankles,

and he was a river toad, the two of them crammed
into a tiny booth among the hard-drinking yuppies.
“Besides, I’ve got babies now,” she said, “and all that
whore stuff was for sales anyway.” “I know what you mean,”

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The Politics of John Howard Yoder: 41 years of tiptoeing around power

September 10th, 2013 by TimN

This is cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

The last two months have seen a growing number of articles on John Howard Yoder’s sexual harassment and abuse of women (for a list of articles, see the Women in Learship Project’s timeline and annotated bibliography) led by Barbra Graber’s July 17 article on Our Stories Untold. Many of these pieces have been in conversation with Dr. Ruth Krall’s important book, The Elephants in God’s Living Room, Volume Three: The Mennonite Church and John Howard Yoder, Collected Essays, which I draw on heavily in this article. I especially recommend her sixth chapter, “John Howard Yoder, D. Theol. 1927-1997: Believer’s Church Theologian and Ordained Mennonite Clergyman,” which looks in detail at Yoder as a case study.

In joining this conversation, I’d like to look particularly at how systemic issues of power and privilege played out in the tiptoeing response of Mennonite church institutions and their leaders to Yoder’s persistent sexual harassment and sexual abuse of women. In her introduction, Krall succinctly names the many power layers of systemic privilege from which Yoder benefitted. He was a “clan-protected, powerful, tenured, white married male.” (Krall, 16) We have much to learn from looking at those layers.

The problem with sexual misconduct

In her introduction to the collection, Krall points out that the term “sexual misconduct,” which has been used to describe Yoder’s behavior, is unhelpful because it does not differentiate between consenting adultery and coercive, violent and dominating behaviors. (Krall, 6).

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A Pink Menno case study: Tension and Nonviolent Direct Action

July 11th, 2013 by TimN

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

An energetic mix of excitement and anxiety hung in the air. It was 10 pm on July 4, the second-to-last night of the Mennonite Church USA convention in the Pink Menno space. I was sitting with 40 others as we talked through the following morning. We planned to enter the national delegate assembly of Mennonite Church USA and use our bodies to make a visible, silent witness challenging the church to repent from its treatment of LGBTQ people. We didn’t know what would happen, but we knew that we had to take a stand.

Only 24 hours earlier, seven Pink Menno planners had developed the vision for the witness. It was our third convention organizing Pink Menno hymn sings and they had become a fun, familiar presence outside the worship spaces. We had our space a block and a half from the convention center. We had hundreds of people coming to seminars we hosted. However, we were a known quantity that could be too easily ignored. It was a situation that has been faced by many social change movements over the years.

Tension and MLK

Tension is a crucial part of nonviolent social change work, whether in the church or in broader society.

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Establishment Anabaptists, part 1: David Joris’ authority and Menno Simons

June 23rd, 2013 by TimN

This multi-part post is the first in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It will feature different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream.

In this article (and two following) I’ll focus on the Davidites, a little known Anabaptist sect that had a tremendous impact on Menno Simons and the group that became the Mennonites, what Sawatsky identifies as the establishment stream. The Davidites were the followers of David Joris, an urban prophet responding to massive disruption of the traditional social fabric, what Ferdinand Tönnies called Gemeinschaft (Graham and Haidt, 376). Understanding Joris can help us understand Mennonites and how they became who they are today. I’ll be drawing heavily on Gary Waite’s David Joris and Dutch Anabaptism, 1524-1543.

David JorisDavid Joris, painted between 1635 and 1665. From Wikipedia

We’ll start by looking at how Joris established his authority as a leader. Anabaptists as a movement rejected traditional sources of authority, so the question of how to organize their own communities was constantly evolving.

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The Occupy movement through the lens of love

May 15th, 2013 by TimN

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Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Occupy Love is an ambitious documentary. In an hour and 30 minutes, it attempts to offer a short history of Occupy Wall Street. It traces the roots of the movement back to the streets of Tunisia in December 2010 and through the plazas in Spain in the summer of 2011. In parallel to these clips from recent history, its interviews plumb the big ideas that undergird the Occupy movement. Interviews with activists, writers and thinkers run the gamut from the gift economy to western civilization’s estrangement from the natural world.

Through this eccentric tapestry, the film traces the thread of love. The filmmaker, Velcrow Ripper, asks everyone he interviews, "How could the crisis we’re facing be a love story?"

Ripper’s question brings unexpected responses. Clayton Thomas-Muller, a First Nations leader and an environmental activist, pulls aside his shirt to reveal a tattoo that says, "Love is a Movement."

"When you are born in a community that has been completely devastated by the energy infrastructure that’s been built on the back of our people all across continental North America," Thomas-Muller says, "you don’t choose to get involved in this work. You’re born to it."

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Changing the World Inside of Us: Undoing Sexism among the Mennonites

May 1st, 2013 by TimN

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crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

It was five years ago in May 2008 when the Mennonite bishops of Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference finally allowed minsterial credentialing of women in their churches. Notably, they stipulated that women were still not allowed to become bishops.

I followed this story closely because I grew up in the Lancaster Conference until I was 13. I watched the damaging impact the anti-women culture had on my mother when she became Sunday school superintendent in the church where I grew up. Shortly after my grandmother’s brother left the church as a result of my mother’s new role, my grandmother came to visit. I’ll never forget listening to my mother tearfully explaining to my grandmother why she’d taken on the role. "No one else wanted to do it," she explained. She had hoped that the male leaders in the church would back her up, but they did not. They were both crying by the end of the conversation.

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Disillusioned conservative evangelicals in Texas drawn to Anabaptism

April 10th, 2013 by TimN

In my role as administrator for the Young Anabaptist Radicals, I sometimes get emails from people with general questions about Anabaptism. Two weeks ago, I got an email from a professor at a college in Texas who shared the following thoughts with me. The questions I asked the professor are in bold.

For more background on these themes, see my post, Anabaptist Camp follower revisited.

Two of my students have recently found a spiritual home in the radical Anabaptist tradition, having both become disillusioned with conservative non-denominational evangelical Christianity.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had several students over the past several years who have been leaving more conservative churches (Southern Baptist and Evangelical, in particular) for progressive peace churches. I don’t know what to attribute this to, but I certainly welcome it.

Could you share any more about this?

Well, this is a very conservative area, as you can imagine, and the vast majority of students at my university belong to extremely right-wing Southern Baptist and evangelical churches. Since I started working here in 2008, I’ve had something like eight or nine students come to me expressing their deep dissatisfaction with these kinds of churches. In at least two cases, the students were actually expelled from their congregations for questioning the pastors’ teachings.

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Stories Long Untold: The Yuckiness of the Cross and Sexualized Violence

March 30th, 2013 by TimN

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As I attempt to focus on the death of Jesus today, on Good Friday, I find it difficult. I’d rather check Facebook, read a magazine or stare out the window. Tonight there’s a church service that I’ll go to, but for now the ugly reality of death and violence feels far away.

What happens if I look more closely at that aversion: that sense of yuckiness? Recently, Rachel Halder of Our Stories Untold, shared with me a story that got me thinking about this in a different way. Rachel is a survivor of sexual abuse who has become an speaker and organizer around the issue of sexualized violence within the Mennonite Church in the U.S. She shared this story about an experience working with women in a Mennonite related project:

I brought up the fact that we needed to collect stories of women who have been abused. Again, as they always are, people were very hesitant about this. They were (perhaps rightfully?) worried that older women in the church would be turned off by overt language about abuse and they wouldn’t be willing to talk about any of their stories because of that "yucky" topic.

I too often find myself avoiding the topic of rape, sexualized violence or sexual abuse. These are topics that are extremely uncomfortable. I know they are important, but I’d rather let someone else talk about them. And this is where the yuckiness of the cross challenges me. In Philippians 2:7-8, we read that Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross."

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The evil, rotten core of US war and empire and why it should make us all angry as hell

March 7th, 2013 by TimN

Geleyn Corneliss being tortured while his torturers played cards illustration from Martyrs Mirror modified by Third Way Cafe

A page from the Martyr’s mirror depicting Geleyn Corneliss, who was hung by his thumb while his torturers played cards. Modified illustration from Third Way Cafe

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Yesterday, March 6, 2013, we in the US learned in The Guardian that our government put torture and death at the center of our policy in Iraq. According to the article, Jim Steele, who was heavily involved in the El Salvadoran death squads, was called in to replicate the model in Iraq in 2004 with millions of dollars at his disposal. This strategy, known as the “Salvador Option” was apparently known and discussed at the highest levels of the US government and supervised closely by General David Petraeus. These actions are consistent with US policy since the end of World War II: torture and mass murder in support of US economic interests.

This is no aberration: it is the norm for empire. Nevertheless, many will hem and haw, rationalize and suggest this is still a few bad apples, albeit 4 star general apples. Tragically, most in the United States will simply ignore it. But what about us, as Mennonites: as Anabaptist Christians? What will we do?

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