Author Archive: TimN

The Sikh temple massacre, Islamophobia and Samaritans

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

It’s been less than 24 hours sine the tragic shooting this Sunday in Wisconsin. We grieve for all the victims, their family and their communities. The LA Times is reporting that the gunman had tattoos and biographical details which lead officials to conclude he had a “political agenda”. While we don’t know for sure what that political agenda is, the attack does fit a pattern that in which Sikhs have been mistaken for Muslims in attacks by Islamophobic extremists since the 9/11 attacks.

This is another opportunity for Christians in the US to reflect on our response to the ugly Islamophobia that bubbles just beneath the surface and spills out in attacks against all people that appear Middle Eastern.

There would plenty of examples I could cite, but the prominent Christian leader Franklin Graham exemplifies this anti-Muslim trend. From 2002 through 2011, Graham has consistently made comments that stoke fear and paranoia towards Muslims in the US, saying that Islam “preaches violence” (2002) and is “evil” (2009). Last year he offered this:

“The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active in our country. It’s infiltrated every level of our government. Right now we have many of these people that are advising the US military and State Department on how to respond in the Middle East, and it’s like asking a fox, like a farmer asking a fox, “How do I protect my henhouse from foxes?” We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries. And many of these people we’ve brought in, I’m afraid, are under the Muslim Brotherhood.”

(all quotes from Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse, Sheila Musaji)

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The practice of bioregional discipleship: herbalism, murals, bible study, permaculture, and Wolf’ems, oh my!

It’s been a month since Charletta and I arrived in the Los Angeles airport direct from our time with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia. Now that we’ve caught our breath, I wanted to share with you a window into our first two whirlwind weeks here in the Ojai valley working with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. Charletta and I were part of preparing for and hosting the July Bartimaeus Institute entitled “Rooting Faith: Theology and Practices of Bioregional Discipleship.” I focused on documenting the week for a wider audience through photography and video. This is my first experiment in Youtube journalism. Rather than write a lot about the week, I’ll give a basic introduction and then share the videos that I created:

Gathered round the fire

On the first night of the institute we gathered around the fire to sing songs and talk together at dusk (above). Aside from lodging, the event was hosted by Ched Myers and Elaine Enns in their house and their yard, which is entirely given over to vegetables, fruit trees and native plants. Mornings were spent doing Bible study and studying permaculture and afternoons were spent doing hands on learning of permaculture techniques in the garden. Evenings were practical workshops on a variety of subjects. Chris Grataski and Melissa Shank taught us about permaculture and herbalism.

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The GC/MC dance of authority and autonomy: An interview with Lin Garber

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled (with different introduction)

Dancing at Living Water

Over the years here on YAR, discussions about the differences between the approach of the (Old) Mennonite Conference (MC) and General Conference (GC) have cropped up now and again. This comment from AlanS from 2010 is probably one of the most insightful. For non-Mennonites or those who have joined in the last 12 years, these reference are mysterious. Nevertheless, for those of of us working for change in the Mennonite church, understanding these differences are critical. To that end, here is my interview with Lin Garber, the convener of Mennoneighbors and a writer and editor. Lin graduated from Goshen College in 1957 and is a member of The Mennonite Congregation of Boston.

Tim: Lin, in a comment on The Mennonite website* you discussed the differering approaches of General Conference (GC) and the “Old” Mennonite Church (MC) to Section III (“Clarification on some issues related to homosexuality and membership”) of Membership Guidelines for the formation of Mennonite Church USA (2001). For those who have never heard of the terms GC and MC, can you briefly explain some of the history?

Lin: Today’s Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada) and Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) took their present forms around 2000 in what was termed a “transformation” (as opposed to discarded language like merger and integration). What had been the Mennonite Church, often informally and unofficially referred to as the “Old” Mennonites (MC), stemmed largely from 18th-century immigrants to North America with Swiss and south German origins. It had conferences in both the United States and Canada, a few of which had congregations on both sides of the border, but the bulk of its membership was in the United States.

What had been the General Conference Mennonite Church came out of a movement within the “Old” Mennonites of southeastern Pennsylvania in 1847 that in 1860 organized as the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. A main stated goal of the group was to unite all Mennonites into one body. It grew slowly over the next dozen years as a few congregations decided to join it, but starting in 1874 its membership exploded with the influx of immigrants from central Europe and especially from southern Russia, mostly the Ukraine. The bulk of these immigrants were of Dutch-Prussian (i.e., north German) descent, and those cultural influences came to dominate. At the time of the “transformation” around 2000, the membership of the GC was roughly balanced between the United States and Canada, with the United States having a slight edge.

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Review of “Pink Smoke over the Vatican”

“Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” tells the story of the struggle for women to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. Through interviews and historical vignettes, it portrays the tragedy of deeply gifted women, called by the spirit, but rejected by their own leaders.

In watching the movie, it was tempting at times to distance myself from the Roman Catholic Church. After all, I’m Anabaptist, and we don’t believe in the church hierarchy or that priests are a necessary bridge to reach God. But I realized that the story of the men in this documentary is my story as a Christian man.

The most moving scene in the film is the ordination of women as priests by a woman bishop. The scene brought unexpected tears to my eyes. My mother experienced deep pain from the Mennonite church where I grew up. Her call to leadership as Sunday school superintendent led to some members leaving the church, and she felt abandoned by male leaders. The story of these women joyfully entering the priesthood is my mother’s story and it is my story.

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Peacemaking and Land in Colombia

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

I’ve been here in Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for a week and a half. This week I’ll be visiting Las Pavas, where CPT has been working with 123 families since 2009. They have been struggling to get title to the land where they have lived for decades while A palm oil company has been trying to push them off.

My colleague and I will be a presence with Las Pavas during an official visit by INCODER, the Colombian agency who grants land titles. I’m looking forward to meeting the community personally for the first time since I’ve been hearing about them for so many years.

Here’s a brief summary of the Las Pavas story from an article last year by the Colombia team.

The people of Las Pavas are a sustainable farming community in the southern Bolivar department (province) of Colombia. Through the years, paramilitary violence has forced community members to leave the land but each time they have returned. In 2006, the community was in the process of claiming its land rights under Colombian law when a Daabon consortium bought the land from absentee owner, who had lost his rights to the land due to years of abandonment. On 14 July 2009, the Colombian riot police forcefully removed the community of Las Pavas.

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Moving to California

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On May 23, Charletta and I will be leaving Chicago for a year’s sojourn in California. As I sit down to share this with you, I realize that most of my writing on this blog is opinion or analytical. And I usually only post photos on my blog for The Mennonite. It’s rare that I write about developments in my life. But this one is too big not to mention.

Some of you may remember my post, “In the garden after the rain in California,” from more than a year ago. That trip began a discernment process for Charletta and me on whether to move to live and work with Ched Myers and Elaine Enns. They live in Oak View, Calif., a small town on the edge of Los Padres National Forest and 70 miles west (and a bit north) of Los Angeles. To the right is the view of the mountains in the National Forest from their house.

During our year in California, I will continue in my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), web design and photography. Charletta will work with Ched and Elaine as part of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, part time in their office and part time as a counselor with the Peace and Justice Academy in Pasadena. The year will also be a space of discernment about what’s next for the two of us.

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First Anabaptist conference on Occupy movement plus American Spring

This spring will see the first Mennonite conference on the Occupy movement (at least that I’m aware of). The Anabaptist Missional Project will be hosting #Occupy Empire: Anabaptism in God’s Mission at Eastern Mennonite Unversity on April 13-14,. They have an impressive line-up of Anabaptist-minded peace and justice activists and thinkers: Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, Janna Hunter-Bowman, Isaac Villegas and Chris Haw.

The last speaker to be announced was Paulette Moore, one of the leaders of Occupy Harrisonburg. Moore is a documentary film maker, a professor at EMU and one of the writers at the Occupy Harrisonburg blog. She’s been involved with the group since the beginning.

“We definitely started out with the use of the word [Occupy] as an appropriation and a creative theological reinterpretation,” said Brian Gumm, one of the two organizers of the conference. “Before Paulette was on the schedule, we didn’t have explicit references to the movement itself. So by adding Paulette’s voice and the experience of the local movement here, we can make that connection explicity and have a more robust, multi-voiced conversation about Occupy.”

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Protest, performance and pottery: Interview with a Mennonite ceramics artist

On March 10, I visited my uncle Dennis Maust in his studio in northern Lancaster, Pa. It was a beautiful sunny day and the windows of his studio look out across rolling farmland to the hills of the northern border of the county. While he worked on his latest pieces, I asked him some questions about his work as a ceramics artist. But first I had a read through his essay “Living the Patchwork” in the latest issue of The Studio Potter for some background. This interview draws on themes from that piece. Dennis’s next show is in Lancaster for the month of July at Laporte Jewelers on Harrisburg Pike in Lancaster (across from F&M University). It is opening July 6th.

Found somewhere  near father Abrahams birthplace (unexploded)

Found somewhere near Father Abrahams birthplace (unexploded), 2004. Photo by Dennis Maust

Tim: In the article in Studio Potter you talk about the period where you were building “protest-oriented pieces.” Can you say more about this?

Dennis: During the lead up to the latest Iraq war and during the early stages of the war, I was looking a lot at historic Iraqi pots and thinking about the tremendous loss of the antiquities when the U.S. troops first went in and didn’t protect the museums. So I was thinking about both the loss of antiquities and the human loss. And I was doing this series of pieces that were based loosely on historical Middle Easter forms and that particular piece seemed to be a bomb canister form, so I thought about where Abraham was born and the thought that something of this sort may have been found unexploded as a bomb canister. It’s about the loss and the danger and the cost of this war. I wanted to have people look at it as something that could have been found.

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Reviving the wake: being present with those who mourn

CRW_0981On Saturday, Feb. 4, Charletta and I had just left a day-long church meeting when we got word from her father that their pastor, Mick Murray, had been killed in a car accident. Mick was pastor at the Kalona (Iowa) Mennonite Church where Charletta’s family has attended for 16 years.

Charletta and I decided to drive home to Iowa to be with her family that night. Not long after we arrived, Mick’s wife Julie died of her injuries. Charletta and her mother attended a tear-filled church service at Kalona Mennonite. Afterwards, we sat down to eat lunch with Gary and Sylvia. Afterwards we sat together in the living room for awhile. It wasn’t dramatic. It was just a space to be with one another. That evening, we drove back to Chicago.

CRW_0997This past Thursday, Feb. 9, I was sitting in my office at Christian Peacemaker Teams when my colleague walked up and told me that Claire Evans had passed away. Five weeks ago Claire was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two weeks ago those of us in the CPT Chicago office gathered around her bed to say good bye as she moved to Lansing, Mich., to be with her sister and enter Hospice care. Now she is gone.

Claire and I worked on the same floor of our office in CPT Chicago where she coordinated all our delegations. When I came in in the morning, I’d walk past her desk. Claire was a fellow reader. She and I would compare notes on novels we’d read and make recommendations to each other. She also carried with her many stories of CPT’s journey over the last 13 years. She was also part of a small community that deeply shaped my practices around undoing racism through our weekly office meetings over nearly three and a half years. She was never afraid to offer a thoughtful challenge or noticing.

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Pass the Toothpicks: Becoming an Ally with the Beatitudes

DSC_0057This is the sequel to Our most bitter opponents: the Christians who fought against Dr. King and also to Oppression is Bad, Now What?. Thanks to Sharon William’s comment on The Mennonite for my title.

As we think about what it means to be an ally and look at the continuing legacy of white supremacist Christianity, the Beattitudes in Matthew and Luke have a lot to offer us.

Too often, when we read differing version of Jesus’ words in different gospels, we try to ignore them. But I think these two passages speak deeply to beautiful, complimentary truths about the movement that Jesus invites us into.

In short, the beatitudes in Matthew focus on spiritual and emotional virtues: poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, thirsting for righteousness, mercy, pureness of heart, peacemaking and the being persecuted for righteousness.

As I grew up learning these, I thought of these as things I do on my own. It was up to me, as an individual, with God’s help to be merciful, pure in heart and meek. It might be hard, but it was fundamentally a personal struggle that God and I worked on.

It’s easy for us to look at the beatitudes and say, as the Bishop of London did, “This is just a spiritual thing. Jesus wasn’t concerned with people’s economic or political well being. All he cared about was their spiritual virtues.”

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Our most bitter opponents: the Christians who fought against Dr. King

Warning: This blog post contains some graphic images.

MLK day is day when we appropiately focus a lot on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Christianity and the prophetic witness of the movement he led against racism and white supremacy.

We sometimes forget that most of the white people who Dr. King challenged were Christians. I think it is as important for me as a white person to understand the faith of the segregationists as it is to understand Dr. King’s faith. This is one way I can do my work and understand whiteness in the work of anti-racism.

Let’s start by taking one step back and looking at slaveholder Christianity. Specifically, the faith of white Christians who owned African-American slaves here in the United States. (more…)

Peacemaking informed by 500 years in prison

On Dec. 16, I went to see The Interrupters. It follows three violence interrupters who work on the south and west sides of Chicago with Ceasefire—an organization with a proven record of reducing shootings in neighborhoods around Chicago. The Englewood neighborhood saw a 34% reduction in shootings through Ceasefire’s work.

Violence interrupter Cobe Williams + Lil’ Mikey
Photo by Aaron Wickenden/Courtesy of Kartemquin FilmsThe movie is a slice of day-to-day life for Ceasefire staff, known as Violence Interrupters. From the summer of 2009 through the spring of 2010, we watch Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra as they seek to personally engage with victims and perpetrators and, perhaps most importantly, victims and their friends on the edge of becoming perpetrators.

All three of the interrupters have a personal history of involvement with gangs and violence themselves. They understand what’s going on for the kids and young adults (age 14-25), but they also have credibility. Ameena is the daugher of Jeff Fort, a high profile gang leader, and she made her own name for herself. Cobe and Eddie both served prison time. At one point at a staff meeting, a Ceasefire leaders says there is "500 years of jail represented here, that’s a lot of wisdom."

As someone who has spent my whole life in the Mennonite Church and many years with Christian Peacemaker Teams, The Interrupters is an introduction to peacemaking done in a very different way.

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A study in Tweaking: Steve Jobs, Vincent Harding and Mennonites

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This month Malcom Gladwell had an article in the New Yorker looking at the legacy of Steve Jobs. His central thesis is that Jobs’ gift was not originality, but rather tweaking: the ability to take the inventions of others and refine and improve them dramatically. Gladwell points out that the iPod came out 5 years after the first digital music players and the iPhone more than a decade after the first smart phones hit the market.

Gladwell is building on the work of economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr who used this lens to look at the industrial revolution in Britain. For example, they point out the importance of the many engineers who improved on Samuel Crompton’s original invention of the spinning mule. These “tweakers” dramatically improving its productivity through minor changes.

Likewise, Gladwell says, “Jobs’ sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it.” Gladwell makes his point with many episodes from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs. Job’s particular way of tweaking made him very difficult to get along with, even as he was dying of cancer:

At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated… Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.

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