New Monasticism

Remembering Our Identity

We are Anabaptists. We are Mennonites. We are distinct from other Protestants and denominations. We care about peace, justice, community. We are a unique and special people.

Many of us feel this way or at least I know, at times, I do. There is a special quality of Christianity that is evidenced in Anabaptism. Yes, we were persecuted by the Holy Catholic Church, but we were also persecuted by fellow Protestants. There is severity and deep conviction in our confession of faith.

Yet, in truth, too often we rest on the laurels of our Anabaptist forebears. We recall or express nostalgia for the countercultural, anti-empire sentiments and actions of those who came before us, all the while colluding with the current empire on many levels in our life. Some of us (even unwittingly) invest in stocks for pharmaceutical corporations and weapons manufacturers, thus endorsing a system that benefit from death and destruction.

Many persons and whole churches have substituted absolute pacifism with Just War Theory. In that regard we have embraced Augustinean Christianity to the detriment of Jesus’ command to love even our enemies who persecute and abuse us. We claim a Mennonite identity, but too often embrace an American identity or political ideology (whether left or right). We fail to recognize the radical calling upon our lives, which is to root ourselves in a Christ identity.

Some of us need a fresh baptism, a next baptism to awaken us to Christ’s calling upon our lives. We may have been baptized in water, but now we need a fire baptism to burn out the iniquity and inequality that pervades our lives. Like a prairie fire that burns the dead things and promotes richer soil, so too do we need the Spirit of fire to prepare us to live more deeply and richly. (more…)

Anabaptist Revival in Allegheny County

It is strange that I live in Pennsylvania, a state with a strong Anabaptist population and history, but in my county (Allegheny) there was very little presence. Part of the problem is that I live in western Pennsylvania, while the historic Anabaptist populations primarily settled in the east, on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. Until the 1960′s, there were no Mennonite congregations in my county—the nearest Mennonite community was in the next county. There were a couple Brethren congregations, but it was still mostly the same.

It was in the late sixties, when a small community from various backgrounds and denominations began to meet that things started to change. This small community admired the Anabaptist—specifically Mennonite—vision, and the called themselves “Pittsburgh Mennonite Church,” even though they did not belong to a Mennonite denomination at this point. A little while later, they decided to join the Allegheny Mennonite Conference of the Mennonite Church, and it was with them that an Anabaptist movement started in my area. (more…)

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…)

Becoming Franciscan

When my Christian faith first began to radicalize, I became very interested in the Franciscan tradition. The advocacy for radical discipleship, peace, and social and environmental justice that is associated with the ministry of Francis of Assisi naturally appealed to me. At first, I did as many do, and associated the Franciscan tradition with Roman Catholicism, but as I studied more, I found that the Franciscan movement is actually surprisingly diverse.

Back when Francis first started out, there were already a few different sects that identified with his movement, and some were so radical that they were even expelled as heretics. To be honest, I am surprised that Francis was not expelled as a heretic, like so many similar figures were. Even today, there are multiple Franciscan orders in the Roman Catholic Church, and there are numerous Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, and ecumenical Franciscan orders. When I first started investigating the Franciscan tradition, and considered joining it, it was the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans that appealed to me. I actually planned on joining this order. I had spoken with one of their members about it, and even had the application ready to send in, but other events in my life caused me to put that on hold. I started to study other radical traditions, such as the Anabaptists, instead.

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All Or Nothing!

I am a fan of Greg Boyd’s books and sermons; I really appreciate his stand against Christendom or Constantinianism. Moreover, I value how he is one of the godfathers of contemporary Open Theism since I am an Open Theist as well. However, I recently heard a sermon entitled “We The Church” where his reasoning falls noticeably short. It appears that he forgoes thinking and looking at the matter all the way through because his criticism of others in this area could very well apply to himself. Let me explain the matter fully before continuing with the main point that I want to make.

In the sermon, he relates to his listeners how Woodland Hills Church identifies itself with Anabaptism. He provides a short history lesson on Anabaptistica and he focuses on the nature of the universal Ekklesia from the perspective of the Anabaptists. Eventually he addresses how post-first century Christianity in due course allowed the world to squeeze it “into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips). Resulting in the aligned Constantinian Ekklesia to become analogs of Roman and Grecian worshippers of pagan gods even adopting elaborate temples to worship their god, in other words they started to build elaborate cathedrals. Boyd goes on to admit that the Anabaptists met in homes to worship and that they viewed “the people as the Church” or God’s temple in place of a building in the same fashion as the first-century Christians (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Now we come to the problem, Woodland Hills is a 2,500-member church; technically this church would be qualified as a megachurch. A 2,000 + capacity facility hardly qualifies as someone’s living room. A megachurch is not someone’s home; it is a few marble statues or one ostentatious mural away from being called a cathedral. Just because you are not a member of some form of the Catholic Church that does not give you, a free pass if you know the truth of the matter.

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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…)

Remembering the Diggers

There is a group from England that many people do not know of, but more people should — the True Levellers or Diggers. As Anabaptists or other radical Christians, I think that this short-lived group of English radicals has a lot to offer us, and it is a shame that they have been largely forgotten. So, I wanted to write a short blog on here so that people can get to know this wonderful group.

The Diggers were one of the many nonconformist Christian groups that arose in seventeenth century England (like the Baptists, Puritans, or Quakers). They were largely centered around Gerrard Winstanley, who also went on to become one of the first Quakers and Universalists.

What makes the Diggers so interesting is their radical economic polices. The Diggers strongly emphasized the Christian ethic expressed in the Book of Acts, and building off of Acts 2:44 and 4:32, they practiced communism. Specifically, they sought to do as modern Marxist and anarchist communists do, and eliminate private ownership of real property (what Marxists and anarchists call “private property in the means of production”). In many ways, the Diggers were a sort of precursor for the Catholic Worker Movement or Bruderhof Communities, because they hoped to achieve their vision by using pacifism, charity, and working of the land (hence the name “Diggers”). (more…)

So I Finally Read The Naked Anabaptist

I have been identifying with the Anabaptist tradition of Christianity for a few months now, though I have been interested in it for much longer. When I first began to associate with Anabaptism, it was largely superficial, so I have been hesitant to identify with Anabaptism. Recently, however, I have been actually going in-depth into Anabaptist theology. I have mostly been reading about Menno Simons and Hans Denck, but three days ago I finally got a copy of Stuart Murray’s The Naked Anabaptist.

Typically, whenever I read a book, I will read it in sections rather than in one single attempt — for some reason I will get bored and have to regain my interest — but this was not the case for The Naked Anabaptist. I only got this book three days ago and I consumed it in only a couple of hours worth of reading. I found it to be one of those books that just keeps your attention (Gustavo Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation also had this effect on me). (more…)

Intentional Community: A Reflection, My Journey, and Shalom House

PART 1. INVITATION AND REFLECTION

So, you have read about intentional community in Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution years ago and new monasticism has now become a part of your everyday vocabulary. Maybe you are nearing the end of your college career, or maybe you are facing another life transition and wondering how to integrate your values in to those exciting next steps. In other words, what now?

Or, perhaps you are someone who has been living “in community” for some time now, but the experience has increased your skepticism and cynicism rather than given you new life-giving perspective. Your expectations were not met, probably because you carried too many expectations with you. Your impression of “community” has officially been sobered. As Bonheoffer says in Life Together, the earlier a community can let go of its wish dream, the better for the community.

This post is for the excited college graduate, eager to combine faith and practice. It is also to the sobered young adult who has already faced some of the world’s harshest realities, and to anyone in between who is still somehow interested in this word (more…)

Widening the Circle Book Discussion and Signing

YAR contributors ST and TimN have chapters in the new book, Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship edited by Joanna Shenk, also a YAR writer. If you are near Goshen, Indiana, we’d love to have you join Joanna, Tim and other chapter authors for discussion and a book signing on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm at Waterford Mennonite Church, 65975 State Road 15.

If you’re on Facebook, you can sign up here. At the event Regina Shands Stoltzfus, professor at Goshen College, will give input about her chapter which explores issues of racial diversity and Mennonite identity. Andre Gingerich Stoner, staff with Mennonite Church USA, will share about his experience at the Sojourners community in DC in the 80s and how that has continued to shape his vocation. James Nelson Gingerich, medical doctor in Goshen, will share about the founding and ongoing work of Maple City Health Care Center as the organization has chosen to be mission driven rather than survival driven. (more…)

“New Monkery”

My father is doing research on the history of Anabaptist in Augsburg, Germany, the town the Confessio Augustana was proclaimed in 1530, in which the new Lutheran church proclaimed its faith and also some condemning of Anabaptists. The dialogue between Lutherans and Mennonites is still suffering from this. During World Conference Assembly in Asunción this year Ishmael Noko said “[the Lutheran church] is like a scorpion, we still have this poison [the articles about condemning Anabaptists] we just didn’t use it for a long time, but it’s still there” Recently the Lutheran World Federation officially apologized.

But that’s actually not what I wanted to write about. Augsburg was also a major Anabaptist center in the 16th century. That’s why the local reformator Urbanus Rhegius wrote a pamphlet “against the new baptist order” in which he claims that the Anabaptists are actually just a “new monkery”, an argument made in many writings against the Anabaptists. The claim is that they only make the same things as the monastic orders did, just with families.

I don’t know too much about the New Monasticism movement, I read Shane’s first book, but I guess the name wasn’t knowingly a reminiscence on the Anabaptists.

Can radical book tours change the world?

Over at Jesus Manifesto, Mark Van Steenwyck offers a challenge to the social-change-through-book-tour model:

It seems to be assumed that the way we can build a movement in our society is by wring books, building platforms, and then touring around using our amassed social capital to woo large numbers of people to being a part of the movement. This often, it seems to me, leads to a sort of coopted radical space where folks never have to go beyond the figure head who is leading the movement.

As more and more Christians in the US begin to wake up to the radical message, the question of “So what next?” becomes more and more important. Though Mark names Pete Rollins as the inspiration for his post, he just as easily could be talking about Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson Hart-Groves, the authors of the New Monasticism movement. It seems that every couple of months, I see a new book out from Jonathan or Shane. I’m sure they are all quite good, but I’m not convinced they are pushing the envelope much beyond Irresistible Revolution, a book that clearly reached a new evangelical audience with a message of radical, Jesus-centered Christianity. Many new Christian Peacemaker Teams recruits continue to tell me Shane’s first book was the where they first heard about CPT.

So, you say that social change isn’t about writing books and touring (or blogging for that matter)? Then what is it about?? (more…)

Does size really matter?

People have asked me if I grew up in the country or in town.  Well, kinda.  I technically lived within the city limits of Goessel but I could see a wheat field from my back yard.  In addition, while Goessel was an official town (signified by it’s own telephone prefix and a post office) the booming Mennonite metropolis of roughly 500 people isn’t exactly what I’d call “urban”.  Being the biggest football player, not only in my high school but my entire league, I followed the natural progression and went to Bethel College in North Newton, Ks to play ball.  Eventually I wound up with a Bible and Religion degree.  After college I worked for Buhler Mennonite Church as a youth pastor as I began studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Great Plains Extension (AMBS).  After four years at Buhler I finished up my degree at the AMBS main campus in Elkhart, In.  This last spring my wonderful, and patient, wife and I moved to Harper, Ks where I now work at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church as the solo pastor.  Even though Harper is three times the size of my hometown (1,500 people) living here would still place us firmly in the rural category.  My wife works as a nurse at the local hospital which has a whopping 25 beds and an emergency room that is literally has a sign “ring bell for service”.  We’re not quite in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from where we live.

That being said, if you have never been to the prairies to witness the great expansive and dynamic sky, then you are really missing out.  One can hardly question the awesome power of God watching a massive thunderhead develop in the hot summer evening.  With beauty comes power.  These storms that give life through their rain and are so beautiful to watch from a distance are also the same ones that have been known to destroy entire towns. (more…)

Jesus Radicals! Anarchism and Christianity

New Heaven, New Earth: Anarchism and Christianity Beyond Empire
August 14 & 15, 2009

Location
Caritas Village
2509 Harvard Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38112

This year’s anarchism and Christianity conference, hosted by Jesus Radicals, will look squarely at the economic and ecological crisis facing the globe, and point to signs of hope for creativity, for alternative living, for radical sharing, for faithfulness, for a new way of being. We are living in a karios moment that will either break us or compel us to finally strive for a new, sane way of life. The question we face at this pivotal time is not if our empires will fall apart, but when they will fall–and how will we face it? We hope you will join the conversation. (more…)