Author Archive: TimN

A Pink Menno case study: Tension and Nonviolent Direct Action

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. (more…)

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

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

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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

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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

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

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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

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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Legacy Mennonites and Anabaptist Camp Followers: a conversation

cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

The other day I had a good conversation with Mark Van Steenwyk, a writer and activist who lives in the Mennonite Worker community in Minneapolis, Minn. The conversation brought me back to concept of Anabaptist camp followers (ACF’s) that I first dealt with in December 2009, in Levi Miller, peace and justice and the Mennonite chattering class, a response to a piece by former Mennonite publish Levi Miller that took a jaded look at “peacenjustice” as a fading marketing ploy and coined the phrase Anabaptist camp followers. In the last paragraph of my article, I offered a challenge to Mennonites to welcome this generation’s ACF’s:

Today, we are seeing a new wave of “Anabaptist camp followers.” As with the earlier wave, many of them come from evangelical backgrounds looking for the missing peace and justice. I’ve heard many first and second hand stories of young evangelicals walking into Mennonite churches longing for the whole gospel only to find a church doing its best to blend in with all the other Christian churches in town. Will we once again blame them as naive idealists and turn our back on them as we focus on keeping those inside the fold happy?

Since then, the importance of ACF’s has become even clearer to me. I was part of the conversation that led to Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship, which is a conversation between ACF’s who have been drawn to the Mennonite church over the past 50 years and cradle Mennonites drawn to radical discipleship. From California to Georgia, the book looks at the seeds that have grown when ACFs have interacted with the Mennonite church. (more…)

Adventures in Anabaptist Comedy Improv Auctioneering

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled.

This past month has been a busy one for me, starting with two and a half weeks in Chicago to help lead training for new trainees joining Christian Peacemaker Teams. One of the highlights was this video of the public witness to close Guantanamo and end torture in which I did some videography and my first ever voice over narration.

This past weekend was the first in our two weekend Peace, Pies and Prophets west coast tour. On Friday night, Jan. 25, we raised over $5,000 at Seattle Mennonite Church. It was a rousing good time, with Tim Ruebke at his most hyper auctioneering level that I’d seen yet.

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Beyond the Geese: Six Peacemaker Portraits for the days of Christmas

Crossposted for As of Yet Untitled

For each of the 12 days of Christmas, Christian Peacemaker Teams is honoring a specific CPTer for their peacemaking work. Here are the first six honorees. I wrote the first three and the last three were written by Sarah Thompson, CPT’s outreach coordinator:

Pierre Shantz

Pierre

For the first day of Christmas we’re thanking Pierre Shantz for his 15 years of full-time service with CPT, working for peace and justice first with the team in Hebron, then in Chiapas and, since 2001, in Colombia. Pierre is the longest serving field-based peacemaker, and also the silliest CPTer. Here’s a portrait I took of him while I was visiting the Colombia team this summer. (more…)

Laughter is Sacred Space: Memoir of an Anabaptist comedian

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

This is the funniest book about the pain of suicide you’ll ever read. It may also be the most profound. By diving deep into what it means to lose your comedy partner, Ted Swartz squeezes us through windows of surprising grace, lubricated by laughter.

Scene 2 of the book tells the tragic story of how Lee Eshleman “succumbed to a fatal illness known as depression” in 2007, as Ted puts it. Lee was the other half of Ted and Lee, the only full-time professional Mennonite comedy company that I’ve ever known. His death sent Ted into a spiral of anger, guilt, debt, depression and holey underwear as his business collapsed, and he got into debt.

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Young Anabaptist Radical tweets from Goma while M23 rebels take city

Michael J (MJ) Sharp, was an occasional contributor here in the early days and the founder of a precursor to YAR, the Mennonite Progressives list. This week he was tweeting from Goma in the far east of the Democratic Republic of Congo as M23 rebels closed in on the city. It’s a great example of how Twitter can be used for first hand, grassroots reporting in conflict areas with a two way component not found in conventional media. (more…)

Time Traveling Amish Avoid Future; Take Over the World

Amish gas tank, sleds and buggy
Zack Exley, formerly of Revolution in Jesusland, shared this story on Facebook. Its a delightful slice of the Anabaptist apocalyptic imagination:

I had a dream last night that kept repeating all night. Time travel was invented. A conservative Amish-ish sect used it to swap the past for the future with everyone else. They kept going back one year so that they wouldn’t have to experience all the new developments. But this kind of time travel only worked by swapping places with people in the past. So they swapped with people who wanted to skip ahead and get their new iPhones sooner and watch the new Mad Men season earlier. This seemed like a harmless and good deal for everyone involved. But it emerged that each year (a la Groundhog day) the retro sect was using their knowledge of the future to secure enormous power over the world. But it actually turned out well because the sect used their power to prevent wars, famines, etc…

Maybe Mark Tooley was just off by one sect. Zack asks for movie credit from anyone who makes the movie.

Photo by Tim Nafziger

The Femonite: A new gathering space for Anabaptist Feminists

Charletta and the gate #2Over a year ago, I wrote about grieving the loss of women’s voices here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, a problem that has plagued this space since almost the beginning. In the last 7 months, I’ve been delighted to watch Anabaptist women (including a few former YAR contributers) coming together over at The Femonite, a blog started by Hannah Heinzekehr last spring. The blog has brought together a wonderful range of feminist voices, both men and women from across the Mennonite church.

In her introductory post, Why Femonite?, Hannah talks about her identity as a Mennonite "… I have found myself, again and again, drawn back into Mennonite and Anabaptist theology and communities, because of its continual focus on the narrative and life of Jesus, and not just his death."

Hannah’s introduction to the sexism "in earnest" came working in Mennonite institutions. Unfortunately, this fits with the stories I’ve heard from many of my Mennonite female peers working in church institutions. Hannah also names the hope she feels in so many people and communities who are finding Anabaptism for the first time and identifying with the story. This paradox captures the struggle of our generation: how do we embrace the incredible richness and potential of our faith tradition while challenging institutions shot through with oppressive patterns?

Even though this blog is only 7 months old, it’s already opened an important space to wrestle with this question. I’d like to share with you a few of the excellent posts that have been written there over the past month. In some cases I’ve added my own commentary while in others I’ve simply summarized the post. (more…)

The plank of the Forgotten War and the splinter of Muslim rage

Hiding behind the hillCrossposted from As of Yet Untitled.

Two weeks ago, Newsweek published a calculatedly inflammatory cover story in response to the “Innocence of the Muslim” protests in the Middle East. The cover featured a photo of protesters faces contorted in anger with the caption “Muslim Rage”. Newsweek also started an accompanying Twitter hashtag: #Muslimrage. Newsweek was fueling the flames that we already there: U.S. righteous disdain and disgust for the anger of Muslim protesters in response to a Youtube video.

For those of in the United States, I think this is a Matthew 7:5 moment. It’s comforting to settle into our moral high horse as we look at the killings in Libya of the U.S. ambassador. Certainly these deaths are tragic and wrong. But let’s consider what the plank in our own eye might be in this situation.

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