activism

Haunting straight Mennonites moderates, pt 2: crisis and conciliation

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I’ve been reading the thread of comments in response to my post on Anabaptist Ghosts on The Mennonite. I think the concerns by the Aaron Kauffman (read his comment) and Harold Miller (read his comment) are shared by others as well and need to be addressed.

As I understand them, one of the key arguments that Kauffman and Miller are making is that my focus on social advocacy and confrontation is “cutting [me] off from any word of wisdom that other parts of the Body of Christ might have to offer.” In other words, their claim is that the haunting social advocacy and confrontation, as I am describing it, does not leave room for dialogue.

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Active, Effective Theology: A Response to J. Denny Weaver

Recently, J. Denny Weaver spoke of his conversion from “passive” non-resistance and two-kingdom theology to an active stance against evil (reflection: can Mennonites use the term “evil”?) in Wisconsin. http://www.themennonite.org/issues/14-4/articles/Protesting_and_the_reign_of_God
While I approve of his stand, I must disagree with the theological conclusions of his article.

In speaking of two kingdom theology, Professor Weaver emphasizes the passive inaction of the theology. That it has nothing to say to oppression, that God is the God who empowers violence and the non-resistant have nothing to respond to injustice. Perhaps this is the form of two-kingdom theology that Professor Weaver learned, and I can see with a title like “non-resistance”, a theology might be prone to inaction. Certainly passivity is a concern among many who are raised “non-resistant”.

But two-kingdom theology is not about passivity. Certainly there is a passive aspect to it, even as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting.” So there are actions that those of Jesus’ kingdom do not take. However, the foundational law of the kingdom of Jesus is active: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love isn’t passive, but active. Like the Samaritan in Jesus story, the one of Jesus’ kingdom cannot look at one hurt in the gutter and not act. (more…)

Peace Chaplain, Part 1

A seminarian contributed this chapter about learning to love her enemies after a direct action at a military base to Radical Peace: People Refusing Waredited by William T. Hathaway. Because of her activism, this piece is posted anonymously to Young Anabaptist Radicals.

To celebrate Armed Forces Day the military base near my seminary held an open house, a public relations extravaganza to improve their image and boost recruiting. They invited the public in for a marching band parade, a precision flying show, and a sky diving demonstration. They even offered free lemonade and cookies.

A subversive seminarian, namely me, decided to disrupt the festivities and remind people that the military’s job is murder. I bought a jump suit and dyed it orange like the uniforms the prisoners in Guantánamo have to wear. I bought two U-shaped bike locks, three diapers, and a pair of rubber underpants.

All suited up, I had a friend drive me onto the base before people started arriving for the celebration. She dropped me off at the traffic circle just inside the main gate, kissed me on the cheek for good luck, and drove back out the gate. In the center of the traffic circle stood a flagpole flying the Stars and Stripes. I ran to the pole, fastened my foot to it with one bike lock and my neck to it with the other — pretty uncomfortable — and started shouting, “Close Guantánamo! No More Abu Ghraibs! Free the Prisoners!” People gawked as they drove by, some laughing like I was part of the show, some waving, some giving me the finger.

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Now I Understand

This last year our church determined that we would open to shelter the local homeless each time the weather went below freezing, but the city wouldn’t permit other churches to open up. We live in a fairly temperate climate, but the winter was cold, and most homeless weren’t prepared for it. After opening more than 15 nights, the city shut us down. Here is my reaction to my conversation with the city. If you are interested in our church and what our focus is, please check us out at www.NowhereToLayHisHead.org

I had a mysterious conversation with the emergency services manager of Gresham and the fire marshal a couple weeks ago. I was talking to them about the need of people sleeping on the street and how much danger they are in, especially when it gets below freezing. I spoke of Fred, whose leg was cut off a couple months ago because he had slept outside in freezing conditions. I spoke of the sixteen year old girls who have been sleeping outside all winter. And about a father and his sixteen year old pregant daughter who found themselves desperate without shelter.

And the response I recieved from them is a lot of fire codes, and how we can’t open because we don’t have 200 square feet per person and how it is acceptable to have a standard of only opening churches when it gets below 22 degrees. And they told me, “This is not a social problem,” and they said, “This is not an emergency,” and they said, “You should just let other people deal with this.” This was a foreign language to me, so I spoke of fire code with them, because it seemed to be the only language we could both understand. (more…)

Stories from National Anthem Conscientious Objectors

Last year many of you were saddened to learn that the administration at Goshen College decided to begin playing the national anthem before sporting events.  A group of faculty, staff and students at the college is hosting a new website for those opposed to the decision to share life experiences that have shaped their convictions.  See http://anthemCOstories.posterous.com/ .

Several stories are being posted each week, and we encourage more submissions.  Stories currently posted share experiences from the U.S. as well as from conflicts in Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, and Vietnam.  Events of other stories originated in Costa Rica, Uruguay, Trinidad, and Haiti.  Take a look and consider sharing with others the experiences that forged your convictions about civil religion.

School of the Americas Protest Coverage

I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed right now, on the personal level. Yet I have this perpetual desire to never let the personal woes and difficulties overwhelm the big picture.

So, in an effort to keep things in perspective, I wanted to at least highlight = lift up for prayer everything that is going on down in Georgia right now, as human rights activists, Catholic Worker members, and really a whole bunch of folks (many of them Christians on discipleship journeys that take them to the gates of Ft. Benning after being with people affected by US foreign policy) from across the country gather to celebrate resistance to the school of the americas (WHINSEC) which has trained a number of people in doing the dirty work of US american politics through the last number of decades. check it out at: www.soaw.org .

Please pray for reconciliation and a decrease in militarism. And pass the world along about this celebration of resistance and mercy. (more…)

Mennonite Takeover?

Just read this article. I feel misunderstood; but in a way they do call us out on some stuff. It’s called “Mennonite Takeover?.” What do you think?

An excerpt:

All these neo-Anabaptists denounce traditional American Christianity for its supposed seduction by American civil religion and ostensible support for the “empire.” They reject and identify America with the reputed fatal accommodation between Christianity and the Roman Emperor Constantine capturing the Church as a supposed instrument of state power. Conservative Christians are neo-Anabaptists’ favorite targets for their alleged usurpation by Republican Party politics. But the neo-Anabaptists increasingly offer their own fairly aggressive politics aligned with the Democratic Party, in a way that should trouble traditional Mennonites. Although the neo-Anabaptists sort of subscribe to a tradition that rejects or, at most, passively abides state power, they now demand a greatly expanded and more coercive state commandeering health care, regulating the environment, and punishing wicked industries.

Even more strangely, though maybe unsurprisingly, mainstream religious liberals now echo the Anabaptist message, especially its pacifism. The Evangelical Left especially appreciates that the neo-Anabaptist claim to offer the very simple “politics of Jesus” appeals to young evangelicals disenchanted with old-style conservatives but reluctant to align directly with the Left. Most famously, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, once a clear-cut old style Religious Left activist who championed Students for a Democratic Society and Marxist liberationist movements like the Sandinistas, now speaks in neo-Anabaptist tones.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Chicago Style: More then Funny Signs?

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I just got back from the satellite Rally to Restory Sanity and/or Fear here in Chicago. I’ve been reading the confused articles leading up to the rally. Is it all about irony? Is it about moderation? Is it about progressive politics? Is this the millennial generation’s Woodstock?

After spending half an hour wondering around the edges of the rally here in Grant Park, it’s clear that those in attendance weren’t sure either. On the stage were Chicago progressive (trying their best to show enthusiasm and commitment to making a difference in challenging Chicago’s corrupt politics) competing with a Chicago comedians making jokes about sandwiches.

Alongside the stage was a muted jumbotron showing Comedy Central’s live coverage of the D.C. rally. The most unifying cry the crowd could get behind while I was there was shouting, “Audio! Audio!” when Jon Stewart came on screen. That’s right: They’d come to stand with thousands of other people in the middle of Grant Park on a beautiful October day so that they could all watch television together. And the funny thing is that they weren’t trying to be ironic.

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Reduce, Re-use, Recycle…unless you live in la ceiba

Author’s Note: Just to give some context; I’m a mission worker with Eastern Mennonite Missions in La Ceiba, Honduras. I in conjunction with the local Mennonite congregation, work in Los Laureles, a community built in and around the municipal garbage dump. If you’d like to read or see more about our work there you can visit my blog here.

So here’s an example of injustice, greed, political corruption and a general screwing of the poor and powerless and it just fills me with raw anger. Stay with me here because some of this gets tedious but I think it’s necessary for understanding the problem we’re facing. Very often I get asked about how the people here in the garbage dump survive, what do they do for a living? Here’s the long version. Many men work as day laborers in construction, a few as night watchmen and quite a large number buy green bananas that come in from the plantations of Tocoa and then sell them throughout the La Ceiba area on the back of rusting-out pickup trucks. However, the largest form of income by far here in the community is connected in some way or other to the garbage collection process. No one scavenges directly off the dump anymore, those days ended almost 10 years ago when the city privatized the dump had it covered over, converted into a landfill and barred the residents from intruding onto the new dumping area.

The garbage though has continued to be a major and vital part of the economy here in the community, much to the chagrin of both the mayor’s office and the private waste treatment company (I’ll explain why in a bit). The company itself is not responsible for the collection of the garbage, they simply control what passes through their gates at the far end of the community and are then responsible for the treatment of the waste that is constantly being interred. The collection then, falls to the mayor and his cronies in the form of contracts; the mayor awards collection contracts to the people he owes political favors and those people in turn use a portion of that money to buy “garbage trucks” (converted, massive and pitifully old delivery trucks), hire truck drivers and a few assistants who actually collect the garbage. The drivers and assistants, usually 2-3 per truck, are also joined by scavengers who make a living by sorting through the garbage as it travels en route to the dump. They look for plastic bottles, metal scraps, car batteries and anything else that might be of worth (I’m talking everything from bed frames to clothing to half-used perfume bottles), sort it into separate bags and then upon arrival to the community and just before the truck passes through the gates into the no-entry zone of the new landfill, the scavengers disembark and sell their findings to a group of families who have made their living buying these items, sorting them, weighing them and then re-selling them to the local recycling company or interested parties, whichever the case may be. These people are perhaps the most resilient and hard-scrabble of the whole collection lot for they live and die by what the trucks bring in and what price the recyclers set; they work long hours, Monday through Saturday in the baking sun and torrential rain bent over and sifting through plastics for next to nothing in terms of compensation. In fact most of the workers at the collection and weighing site make no money at all, this is their “family farm”, it’s how the family survives, so what little money comes in is given directly to mother and father.

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Toothbrush Revolution

Yesterday I was at the dentist‘s and they gave me a toothbrush. Now I hear in the States that‘s not an usual thing, but in Germany it‘s actually really strange and so after the dentist thought she had put her fingers in my mouth long enough and I was allowed to go, I was carrying a toothbrush in the pocket of my jeans and somehow the toothbrush kept coming up in my mind and with it the chorus of a song.
A song my father always sang with us when I was a little boy. It‘s about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he said to kids who also wanted to participate in the demonstrations. He told them they could participate, if they had a toothbrush with them. Because if you get arrested you have to empty your pockets and all is taken away from you. Only your toothbrush you can keep. So keep your toothbrush as a sign of your willingness to go to jail for freedom. The song was written in Eastern Germany and was a famous song amongst Christian youth in the protest movement against the state-socialist regime.

In my head, I heard my eight year old self singing the chorus over and over again, the rough translation would be:”Do you have your toothbrush with you? You will need still need it. Still today people are put in jail who are against oppression.”

I was really amazed by this, on the one hand because I rarely remember anything from my childhood, but on the other hand because of the radical message this song was giving.

It‘s paraphrasing Jesus, “Take your cross upon you and follow me” into words children can understand and that I still remember ten years after I last sang the song…

To me, taking up my cross or carrying my toothbrush around is a daily struggle because although it feels good to be really critical of the state and school and be the radical guy in school who challenges basically every opinion, my radical activity is usually done there (sometimes I also translate stuff for the German CPT branch…). How can I live a life where it makes sense to carry my toothbrush with me all the time, because I challenge the world so much, that it can’t stand me, it wants to put me in prison?

I sometimes lead Sunday school classes in my congregation at home, and I’d love to sing that song with the kids, but I feel like I have to carry my toothbrush with me for some time, till I can do that.

The last line is:”I have my tooth brush with me and I will still need it. Still today people are put in jail who are against oppression.” – this I will try to do…

The messy meaning of Easter

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Over the years, I’ve been a semi-regular reader of Revolution in Jesusland (now archived at http://zackexley.com/), a blog by Zack Exley. Zack was a secular progressive activist who discovered the church a few years ago and was blown away by what he describes as "the fourth great awakening", that is, the church discovering and acting on God’s heart for justice. The blog was an attempt to tell the story of this movement to secular progressives.

When I visited the blog again today after a long absence, I was introduced to his new baby daughter Esther and this powerful passage:

… one side effect of Esther’s arrival was that I had to take over some of Elizabeth’s responsibilities to friends in need. She was eight months pregnant but calls kept coming in from refugee families needing help with medical, legal, financial and paperwork emergencies. So I finally crossed the line that I had been resisting for 20 years: I started getting wrapped up in the messy details of other people’s hard lives — as opposed to "organizing" them, or advocating for "policy" to help them.

Finally getting my hands dirty in various hopeless situations stunned me into silence. What it actually did was give me TOO MUCH to say, and left me tongue tied.

For the past 20 years, I witnessed and condemned systemic injustice. I thrived on the drama of “organizing” against it. But I carefully avoided ever getting my hands dirty in the messy business of merely surviving in the face of it.

For me, the temptation to focus on the systemic injustice and to miss the personal is very real. (more…)

Bodies Matter: a footwashing protest

For Holy Thursday a bunch of gathered at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Cary, North Carolina, and held a footwashing worship service—we told them we wanted to wash the feet of the people detained inside. If you haven’t heard about these ICE detention centers, that means the federal government is good at what it does: Obama is turning out to be just as good as Bush in keeping secrets from U.S. citizens. ICE sets up field offices in unmarked buildings, tucked away in business parks throughout suburbia. Once citizens find out about a particular site, ICE closes up shop and moves to another unmarked building, tucked away in one of the other many business parks in a different suburb. The detention center in Cary we visited is next door to the offices of Oxford University Press, the publisher of many of the books on my shelves. (For more information on ICE detention centers, read this article from The Nation: America’s Secret ICE Castles).

Here’s some local media coverage of our worship service and protest: “Protesters hold demonstration,” and “Taking the Cross to the streets.”

And here’s an excerpt from the short sermon I preached at the detention center as a Cary police officer kept telling me to stop preaching and leave the premises:

This chair here will remain empty as a sign of all the bodies that the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement have hidden from us, the bodies that law enforcement agents have torn from our communities and our families in the middle of the night, the bodies that they have ripped away from our churches. By refusing to let us wash the feet of the people hidden in their detention centers, the federal government has dismembered the body of Christ, they have torn apart the church, they have pierced and severed the body of Jesus.

For the rest of the sermon, follow this link to my church website: “Bodies Matter, part 1

Kairos and Lent in the “Holy Land”

Crossposted from Ekklesia, UK by ST with permission of Tim Siedel

Experiencing the Lenten season in Palestine is unique. It carries with it incredible feelings of closeness and concreteness as one visits sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem — the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected. Yet, those feelings of closeness are easily swallowed up by a sense of separation and forsakenness as one considers the current situation.

In the recently released Kairos Palestine Document, Palestinian Christians take this situation as their starting point in challenging theological interpretations of those “who use the Bible to threaten our existence as Christian and Muslim Palestinians,” trying to “attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights.”

Though Easter and its celebration of resurrection and new life defines Christianity, in a place like Palestine the season of Lent always seems more appropriate. (more…)

Levi Miller, peace and justice and the Mennonite chattering class

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Dried Love in the Mist seedpods

For the last few weeks, I’ve been wrestling with how to respond to Levi Miller’s column on "peacenjustice". My first reaction was one of anger and frustration. No wonder the Mennonite church has had such a hard time integrating peace and justice into our whole denomination! The director of our publishing house mocks it as a buzzword and sees it as a product of "cultural chatterers." Miller seems to see shalom (the bible’s word for peace and justice) as a little more then a worn out fad. It was much loved by the Sandinistas and Sojourners in the ’70s, but it is time to grow up and move on.

Over the weeks, I wrote several paragraphs expounding on my outrage at an old white guy maligning a theology of liberation that challenges the unjust status quo. (more…)

BUY NOTHING CHRISTMAS

The day is soon approaching when people all over America will be rushing to the malls and shopping centers to get the best deals of the year. Black Friday- the day stores move from red to black in their sales margin, fueled by a culture of over-consumption (and perhaps also the left over energy from a day of over-eating). Millions will wake up before the sunrise to fill their carts with the latest gadgets, half-price sweatshirts, and 3-for-1 boxes of chocolate. A lot could be said about the cultural ideology that makes such a bizarre event seem normal, but instead I want to offer a constructive alternative. If you would rather sleep in on Friday and save money by not spending it in the first place, then you should check out this link:

BUY NOTHING CHRISTMAS

Buy Nothing Christmas is a Mennonite-run campaign that stems from the Buy Nothing Day campaign of Adbusters magazine. Buy Nothing Day challenges the consumerism of Black Friday by asking people to buy nothing the whole day. Inspired by this challenge, a group of Canadian Mennonites decided to take it even further by asking people of faith and conscience to make no Christmas-related purchases throughout the whole season, addressing both the over-consumption of our culture and the fact that Santa gets more attention than Jesus these days. Instead they advocate making your own presents or offering gifts of time. The website is full of beautiful ideas to fill the holiday season with true joy, the kind that comes from family and friends, not stuff.