Blog

Embracing the Foolish

When I look at my life so far, I realize that I really shouldn’t be a Christian. I grew up in a culturally Christian environment, where neither of my parents really cared about religion, and the few experiences I did have with the church growing up were not good ones. Add to that the fact that I am part of the generation called “Millennials,” which tends to be less religious than previous generations. In all respects, I really shouldn’t be a Christian.

What changed was that I discovered Jesus. I found the radical, subversive, Sermon-on-the-Mount Jesus, and I just couldn’t let him go. My mother, who dislikes religion, has found my affection for this strange character particularly frustrating. She wanted me to be a teacher, or perhaps a professor. I chose to be a pastor. She wanted me to be concerned for material goods and financial stability like she is. I have a habit of not caring much for money. I also collect different Bible translations and theology books, which also annoys her. My faith is foolishness to her. (more…)

I once was raised a Feminist, but now I’ve found Feminism

This post was originally featured on The Jesus Event, and is part of a series entitled “I once was raised… but now I’ve found…” where some of the author’s favorite writers, bloggers, scholars, and theologians explain the transitions they have encountered along their own faith journey.

Below is an interview with The Jesus Event’s Tyler Tully and the Femonite’s Hannah Heinzekehr

Tyler- There are a lot of misconceptions out there about being a Mennonite and being raised as a Mennonite. You seemed to have been raised by parents who made room for good theological frameworks. How would you explain what it is like being raised as a Mennonite?

Hannah- Well, for me, being raised as a Mennonite didn’t mean looking “outwardly different” at all. For me, what it meant to grow up Mennonite was that there was always an emphasis on Jesus’ story and what that meant for how we lived. And some of the ways that this got expressed were through baptism later in life — baptism occurred when you were old enough to make a conscious choice that you have to make on your own to follow Jesus. It also included an emphasis on peace and nonviolence as part of the way that we were meant to live in the world. For my family, being Mennonite also meant being pacifist and resisting violence in all its many forms. This doesn’t mean that we are passive — I think we also strongly believed that we were meant to protest against injustice in the world — but we weren’t going to use violence to do this work. And the third thing that I often think of is that being Mennonite, for my family, meant being part of a church community that was active in each other’s lives and not just on Sundays.
I think there was a strong emphasis on communal decision making and being willing to give and receive counsel to one another.

(more…)

Wanted: Stories of Women & Leadership in Mennonite Church USA (which I always think sounds like a sports team)

“I will tell you something about stories . . . They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.”
~Leslie Marmon Silko

I truly believe that sharing our stories–including the actual process of writing them out–is one of our most powerful tools–a small act that starts a transformation in ourselves and the world around us. What if sharing our stories could help future generations of both men and women? What if a story could “overturn a table” in the various Temples of our day– including in the bellies of our own communities and congregations? Social media’s given more women affiliated with Mennonite Church USA a chance to get a glimpse of the diversity and reality present in our national congregations and communities–a reality and diversity that’s not always heard or lived out, let alone celebrated.

Let’s change that. Every step and every story counts.

Wanted: Stories from any woman or girl who considers herself Mennonite or shaped by the Anabaptist-Mennonite traditions. Check out the newly launched Mennonite Monologues web site where stories can be told through essays, poems, art, songs, photographs, and other forms of creative expression. The Women and Leadership Project needs stories that speak to your truth and experience: joy and gratitude, as well as stories of lament and pain. Multiple stories are encouraged. Whatever story you wish to tell, it is welcome. All will be collected on our blog and may be submitted with a name or anonymously.

“Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”
~Adrienne Rich


Prompts to help get you started

-As a woman, what are the stories that have shaped your sense of leadership?
-What are your experiences of being called (or not called) to leadership in Mennonite Church USA?
-How have you been empowered by the church to lead?
-How have you been discouraged from taking on leadership roles?
-Do you think there is a difference in the ways women and men are cultivated to be leaders?
-Did you grow up seeing women in leadership?
-Who were your mentors?
-What is your ideal vision of church leadership in the future? Where do you fit in?

YAR, we need your awesomely radical selves! Thanks for helping to spread the word. ~Women in Leadership Project, Mennonite Monologues team

More with Much Less: An Anorexic’s Guide to Mennonite Cooking

Since becoming Mennonite, I have thought more about the ethics of consumption than I had previously as a generically evangelical Christian. I have been challenged to analyze the impact of how I spend my money (and how much I spend), where I shop for clothes, what food I eat, etc. I imagine that–like me–many Mennonites (and other Anabaptists and fellow Christians) had these issues brought to their attention through such classics as Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger or Doris Janzen Longacre’s More with Less cookbook. While I have found the Mennonite emphasis on simplicity to be one of its more attractive (albeit challenging) features, it wasn’t until I met my anorexic friend, Michelle, at our local Mennonite church that I saw the potentially damaging effects this teaching could have on those who already struggle with food-related issues. For those interesting in thinking through these difficult questions, I commend to you Michelle’s new blog, More with Much Less: An Anorexic’s Guide to Mennonite Cooking. In the meantime, here’s hoping that she’ll invite me over for some of Janzen Longacre’s recipes!

Somewhat YOUNG, (Neo) ANABAPTIST and Definitely RADICAL

Greetings

I am a new contributor here and I thought I would take this time to introduce myself and provide a little background information regarding myself and my journey towards Anabaptism.

I have questioned things all of my life, because of my inquisitive nature especially in the area of Christianity and religion I became an atheist at an early age. The reason for this was that I scrutinized the actions of my family. I saw how their behavior was not consistent with the Missionary Baptist faith they professed. During my late teens, I experienced some mood-associated disturbances that eventually led me down the path of faith.

While on this trek, I stopped off for the night at many spiritual inns as it where, I encountered numerous faiths and many Christian related groups.  I learned a lot in the process, at one particular spot I was introduced to the Swiss Brethren/Anabaptists. Even though it was a brief encounter, there was something about the ancient group that fascinated me.

Soon after I attempted to look more into these Anabaptists but all I could find at the most was short remarks about them in Church History texts (blink and you’ll miss it). This earnestly irritated me so I went and checked the internet and I found a plethora of information. Shortly after I began to attend Bible College at a school intimately associated with a renowned Southern Conservative evangelical theological seminary.

In the beginning, everything was fine, things even got to the point where I was receiving all sorts of assurances that I would obtain an adjunct position once I entered graduate school. However, at this time I was also delving deeper into the Anabaptist belief system, which led me to question publicly in class certain things I was taught there at the College. As a result, my “friends list” of professors became shorter and shorter. The final straw for them was when I completed my studies and started applying for graduate schools. All the professors that continued to associate with me desired for me to attend the seminary that the College was associated with but by this time, I was too far-gone. I chose a Quaker Divinity School in the area since it was the closest to an Anabaptist institution I could find.

All the promises of a teaching position went out of the window. According to some, they could not have me because those “heretics that only got baptism right” too heavily influenced me. My thinking was “okay well now I know where I belong”. I then looked into the Mennonite Church since they were supposed to be the descendants of the original Anabaptists but what I saw was completely different from the group I read about in practice and doctrine. This was a good thing because I really did not intend to join a Protestant mainline Church because that is what the present-day Mennonite Church resembles to me, at least the ones I have seen.

Presently I am 34 and trying to figure it all out, I am endeavoring to get to the “root” (radix) of Christianity.  I hold to the core convictions of Anabaptism (I know this is heavily debated but at least the ones I see as the central ones). Along the way, I have embraced theologies and practices that I think complements or improve upon those principles and teachings of my spiritual predecessors. These teachings have labeled me as an outcast as well but so be it. Since I do not have any links to the Mennonite Church through blood or even membership, I feel that I am a Neo-Anabaptist and I take it as a privilege that I have the ability to contribute to this fine group.

Greetings From a New Anabaptist

It was only recently that I have come to identify with Anabaptist Christianity, and it has only been within the last few days that I have come in contact with Young Anabaptist Radicals. Nevertheless, I have been graciously invited to share my story with you, and introduce myself.

My religious journey really started out like most Americans. I was raised in a home that was culturally Christian. We occasionally went to church (typically Christmas or Easter), were baptized at a young age, attended Sunday school every so often, and were read stories from the Bible. My family was the standard Mainline Protestant American family. Despite my early experiences with Christianity, I never did actually believe in it. Really, I was more of an agnostic on most days, and an atheist on some. I spent most of my early childhood like this.

Despite my secularism, I did eventually develop an admiration for the Buddha, and before I knew it, I was reciting the Three Refuges, reading Buddhist literature, and identifying as a Buddhist. Then, due to by brother’s influence, I developed a small interest in Christianity. I got my first Bible, and I began attending church with my brother. Unfortunately, it was an Evangelical Free megachurch that had an unholy mix of the Prosperity Gospel and Fundamentalism. It is needless to say that I did not last long in that church, but it did have an effect on me. I associated it with Christianity and returned to Buddhism.

This would all change when I came across a book by my favorite Buddhist scholar and activist — Thich Nhat Hanh. His book Living Buddha, Living Christ completely changed my understanding of Christianity. It introduced me to St. Francis of Assisi, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, Elaine Pagels, and numerous others. For the first time in my life, I was introduced to some good theology. Not a theology of greed or hate, but one of social justice and love. So with this book, I developed an interest in Christianity again.

(more…)

Love Wins

Is Gandhi in hell?  What’s more, what is hell?  Or heaven, for that matter?

These are some of the questions that have sparked a bit of a firestorm around Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: a book about heaven hell and the fate of everyone who ever lived.  This first came across my radar screen when I read a post on Tony Jones’s blog late last week about the growing attention and criticism about this book.  Then I did some searching and saw that it has even made a splash on the national news scene from CNN to ABC.

Here’s the book promo video:

Controversy in and of itself isn’t surprising with Rob Bell.  That’s happened before.  What is striking is that judgment has been leveled by a number of people who haven’t even read the book yet because it has not yet been released!

Ultimately the controversy stems from the fact that Bell is raising core questions about issues that are central to the Christian faith.  He has posed the questions in ways that have led some to conclude that Bell is promoting something called Universalism; a doctrine where everyone gets saved, no matter what.  Again, these are all assumptions because none of his critics have actually read the book yet.  The only worthwhile critique I’ve read so far is Greg Boyd’s, namely because he actually has read the book.  (As a side note, as an Anabaptist, it’s worth paying attention to Boyd partly because he’s grown very close to Mennonites in recent years, even flirting with the idea of joining MCUSA.) (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.

Why I left YAR, and why I’m not likely to come back regularly

Looks like Folknotions paved the way for me on this one. I’d pretty much forgotten about YAR until yesterday TimN sent me a new incoming comment on a post I’d put up well over two years ago.

Like Folknotions, I didn’t leave YAR because I thought YAR was a bad place or because anyone had angered me. Rather…

1. I’m not Mennonite anymore, even though Anabaptism still influences my thinking and theology.

I started attending a Mennonite church with my family when I was 12. I left that church a little over a year ago, at 25, because of some undesirable circumstances that culminated and made clear to me in an instant that it wasn’t the church for me anymore. I haven’t set foot in that building for anything church-y since, and have had only limited contact with its members since. (My family still goes there, though, and I have lots of contact with them.)

When I left initially, I took a few weeks off from faith communities. I decided to check out a United Church of Christ congregation in the small town where I was living at the time. My dad’s side of the family is all UCC, so I felt a little more comfortable checking out a UCC church than the Methodist church next door, to which I had no pre-existing connection. I felt a need to participate in a faith community, but my finances had become such that I needed a church to which I could walk. Since I was planning on moving from that small town, I knew from the start that this congregation would be a transitional church for me.

It was a relatively “safe” place for me to be at that time in my life. I had broken off an engagement to someone I loved very much, and he was still making me miserable through stalking me and some other measures. In contrast to the Mennonite church I’d left, where there was an insanely high percentage of twentysomethings, this UCC church was highly concentrated with people above 70 years of age. It had the “new and different” appeal to me of being a fairly liturgical church and following a more formalized pattern of rituals than the Mennonite congregation. I know it’s backwards to most people for anyone to “discover” liturgy as something “new and different,” but I guess you’ll get that when every church you’ve regularly attended your entire life has eschewed any connection to the lectionary. (more…)

An Introduction

[NB: This post originally served as my "application" to YAR, and Tim thought it would be good for me to share with you all as well.]

Hi. My name is David Cramer, and I’m the newest member of the Young Anabaptist Radicals.

I’m young because I’m 25 and because I’ve only been Anabaptist for about the last 2 of those 25 years. Before that I attended a church and a college (the Missionary Church / Bethel College, IN) with Anabaptist roots that were remembered by only a few. I still worship in that denomination and now teach at that college and have become one of the few that remember those Anabaptist roots.

It was during my time in seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School that I began to realize, much to the chagrin of many of my professors, I’m sure, that Christianity didn’t make much sense without an Anabaptist Christology and ecclesiology. I have since formalized those thoughts through much reading of John Howard Yoder and the like.

I blog somewhat frequently at http://cramercomments.blogspot.com/, which has been featured on Christian Century blogs (www.ccblogs.org) and elsewhere. My blog traces my subtle transition from a standard-stock Arminian evangelical to an Anabaptist (with an Arminian-evangelical flavor). I have yet to do much explicit blogging on Anabaptism, as I am still learning the ins and outs. Since finishing seminary and moving back from Chicago to Northern Indiana, I have, however, started a local group called the Evangelical Anabaptist Revolution (EAR), which includes other Bethel grads, some Associate Mennonite Biblical Seminary students, and a miscellany from Goshen College, Grace College, etc. If anyone is interested in joining the Revolution, just let me know. (Currently we exist as a “hidden” facebook group, so I would have to befriend and then invite anyone interested.)

My primary interests are in moral theology and philosophy of religion, including nonviolence, gender issues, and religious pluralism. Look forward to interacting with you all.

Peace,

David

Amish for Homeland Security

I haven’t read Shane Claiborne’s book Jesus for President yet, but I borrowed the title of this post from one of the chapters.  This post actually has little to do with the Amish or homeland security, but I wanted to point out two interesting items shared with me by a friend from church.

The first is a blog entry by Greg Boyd (who is mentioned in a previous YAR post) entitled, A Word to My Mennonite Friends: “Cherish Your Treasure!”. Just let’s not let it go to our heads.

The second is a segment from American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith (R) called Evangelical Politics: 3 Generations which features Charles Colson, Greg Boyd and Shane Claiborne.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this segment and would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

What happens in church on a Thursday night when you are not looking.

The church basement’s cinder block walls radiate the cold. Coffee permeates the air. Two dozen people or so sit at 8′ X 3′ wooden folding tables, set up in a circle, eating cake and drinking the aforementioned coffee. Another dozen or more sit at chairs placed around the room. My friend, we’ll call him Brian, sits at the front, the Serenity Prayer scrawled on a plaque on his right.

God, Grant me the serenity,
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

This is an A.A. meeting.

Brian is celebrating one year. He is chairing the meeting, which means he gets to tell his story, speak however long he likes, and call on any member he sees fit to call on. Before any of that can begin, though, the various “officers” read off various lists of A.A. “rules”, “codes of conduct”, and other bureaucratic regulations. You would think these to be many considering A.A. has a reported 1,867,212 members worldwide with 106,202 meetings.

To put this in perspective A.A. is about the same size as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and larger than the Assemblies of God in the USA. (more…)

Owning women you’ve never met.

I have a confession to make: I’ve never looked at porn. Okay, that’s a lie. But here’s the truth…….I’ve never sought out porn. Ever. Sure, there have been times in High School when a guy flipped me a rag, or in college when I went to a party and some guys were watching porn. And, like the rest of the 21st century world, I’ve accidently googled it from time to time. But I’ve never bought it, rented it, or pay-per-viewed it.

When I admit this fact about myself I get asked “Don’t you like it?”, “Are you not into chicks?”, “What’s the deal?”. Honestly, I never thought porn was good thing. I became a Christian at 19 so I had plenty of heathen years to look at this shit but I never thought it was right. Yeah, I’d probably like it. I’d probably like crack too.

I consider myself lucky. I’ve never met a guy who is in my position; who by 28 has been so “clean” of the stuff. Women might not know it, and maybe I’m letting the cat out of the bag here, but nearly all guys, universally, look at porn. Sorry to blow your cover fellas.

Anyway, an old Pastor of mine moved out to Arizona a couple years ago to start yet another church. He met this girl who used to be a very successful porn star. She comes to his church and is very vocal about her past. I’d post her myspace and what-have-you but I don’t feel like it’d be appropiate. So my old Pastor likes to make movies and they thought it’d be cool to make sort of an “inspired on a true story” type flick about this girl. They posted a “making of” online. (more…)

It’s all meaningless.

It’s been a month since my father died. It doesn’t seem long. When I was told the news by a police officer at my door I thought I’d take this sort of thing in some dramatic way. I’d drop to my knees, arms outstretched to the sky, it would be cloudy, birds would fly overhead. I’d sob uncontrollably. No. I took it like a lot of other things in life. News. Bad news. I called my boss first to let him know I wouldn’t make it to work for a few days. Made my rounds calling uncles and aunts and cousins. I have no siblings.

It was a great service. Lots of people showed up. My father, extremely active in AA for nearly 20 years, had lots of drunks show up. We had an AA meeting during one of the viewings. My pastor said it was one of the most spiritual things he’d ever been too. A kid from church played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes at the cemetary. It was all very surreal. (more…)

Tired

A little while ago, I got an email from Tim relating to the latest poll. He wanted to know if I had any thoughts to share on the issue of gender balance and women’s participation in particular on YAR. This has been discussed some before on YAR but it continues to be an issue. This is pretty much what I sent him, but he’s currently out of the country and I felt compelled to share it now.

As many of you know, I used to write more and now I don’t at all. This is largely due to being back in school and spending a lot less time in front of my computer and thinking about being young, anabaptist, or radical. If I really wanted to, I could make time to read YAR more than I do, even comment and contribute.

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.”* (more…)