Civilization

Babel No More

Crossposted from A Bible and a Bat’leth

Sermon preached on May 5, 2013 at Mississauga Mennonite Fellowship. In my introduction, I acknowledge the land and the many nations who have used, shared and lived on it since time immemorial, especially the Mississauga people. I introduce Christian Peacemaker Teams Aboriginal Justice Team and thank the congregation for inviting us to speak.

The following scripture texts have already been read: Genesis 11:1-9 and John 8:31-43

In her 2009 TED talk, entitled The Danger of the Single Story, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie, starts by identifying the stories she read as a child. Growing up in Nigeria, she began to read early on, and she read the books she could get; British and American children’s books. At the age of seven she began write her own stories.
“All my characters were white, blue eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples. And they talked a lot about the weather. How lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria, had never been outside of Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangos, and we never talked about the weather because there was no need to.”

The stories she read as a child only featured foreigners, so she wrote about foreigners, without even thinking that literature could be about Nigerian children until she encountered Nigerian writers.

Later, attending University in the USA, her roommate is surprised that she speaks English so well, that she knows how to use a stove. When she asks to listen to some of her tribal music, the roommate is disappointed to be given a cassette tape of Mariah Carey.

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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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Manifesto of the Mennonite Anti-Mission Association

We are Mennonites (and fellow travelers) who reject the church’s mission activities.

We believe Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural destruction. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic crusades and mission boards that proselytize, no matter how well-meaning they claim to be.

We reject the authenticity of the so-called “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:19-20). We simply don’t think Jesus said it. Most New Testament scholars doubt its authenticity as well, for a couple reasons. Firstly, any statements supposedly made by Jesus after his death must be called into question. Secondly, if Jesus told his followers to go out and convert the world, then the debate about the inclusion of Gentiles during Paul’s time makes little sense. To modern scholars, the “Great Commission” sounds more like the post-70-A.D. church talking than the historical Jesus.
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Save Buddhism from Christian Missionaries: A Manifesto

Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are some of the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus. But those concepts didn’t originate with Jesus.

He found them tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the Torah. Almost every saying in the Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. The genius of Jesus was the way in which he put his own “spin” on the Scriptures, highlighting and elevating the positive aspects of God’s personality, while ignoring and rejecting the negative aspects.

The ideals of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity weren’t the unique property of the Judaic tradition, however. They could also be found earlier, and further east, in what is now India, Nepal, Bhutan. In the Fifth Century before Jesus, a man named Gotoma developed a body of teachings based on what are called “The Four Immeasurables”: (more…)

The Golden Thread: The promise of universal salvation throughout the Jewish bible (Bronx Streets Translation)

“God says: I’m gonna have mercy on whoever I’m gonna have mercy on. And I’m gonna have compassion on whoever I’m gonna have compassion on.” (Exodus 33:19)

“God got mad mercy. Mad grace too. She don’t get pissed off much. Her love stretches down through the years. She lets people off the hook pretty easy.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

“God is one merciful dude. He won’t kick you to da curb. Won’t mess you up. Won’t off you neither.” (Deuteronomy 4:31)
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Bruderville 2020: An urban anabaptist odyssey

Picture this:

As the new millennium dawns, anabaptists do a new thing in the city: Build a communal neighborhood populated by tens of thousands of simple-living sectarians.

The project is initiated by the Bruderhof and some Old Order Amish, partly for practical reasons: (1) the Amish and Bruderhof population explosions, making it necessary to continually branch out and establish new settlements; and (2) the shortage of affordable farmland, making it difficult to maintain a rural way of life.

More importantly, the initiative stems from a “quickening” amongst these plain people, who realize they’ve lost their ancestral impulse for going into the marketplaces & street corners, inviting others to become co-workers in God’s kingdom. They also realize geographical isolation no longer protects them against worldly influences. So they branch out to the Bronx, where they can influence the world instead.

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Mennonites on the Bowery

Photo of Weaverland Choir by CharlieK

There’s a building boom on the Bowery these days. It’s been happening for a while, but the last couple years have witnessed an escalation in development, turning the neighborhood into a hip destination point.

Fifty years ago the Bowery was the largest skid row in the world. There were gin joints and flophouses on every block. That’s all gone now, thanks to the forces of gentrification. In their place are condos, art galleries and upscale eateries. Only one skid-row relic remains: the Bowery Mission.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind the Mission’s pulpit in the 1960s, looking onto a sea of expectant faces while my father preached. In retrospect I realize the men behind those faces were awaiting the sermon’s conclusion so they could get their grub. (more…)

The end of the world

In January I saw an article in the Wichita Eagle about a woman who was thoroughly convinced that the rapture and the end of the world would be on May 21, 2011.  At 6pm to be exact.  Well, this Saturday is the fateful day and, as one would expect, the story has been picked up by various news outlets.

Now forgive me if I sound a little cynical, but I know my history.  From the very first moments that Jesus walked the earth people have been predicting his return, and thus the end of the world with it.  So far, no one has been right.

What’s more, I know what happened at Münster.  To recap, a group of Anabaptists violently took over the town of Münster and swiftly began killing people, running around naked and doing a whole bunch of other things all because they were certain that Jesus was coming back right then and there.

That was 477 years ago. (more…)

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…)

Avatar for real: Colonel Quaritch wins, Aka-Bo exterminated

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled.

In January, Boa Sr died. At 85 years old, she was the last speaker of Aka-Bo. Until the 1850’s those who spoke Aka-Bo were one of 10 Great Andamanese tribes living their traditional life ways in the Andaman islands. Today, there are only 52 members of the remaining Great Andamanese tribes still living.

While the extinction of animal species receives considerable attention, the extinction of human cultures often goes unnoticed. Yet the loss of a people group and their cultural life ways is just as definitive as the loss of a species.

This is a tragic loss for the human family at many levels. Survival International has this haunting recording of Boa Sr singing:

What happened to the Aka-Bo? Hegemonizing civilization happened. It did its best to co-opt, pacify and manipulate the Great Andamanese after the British arrived on the island in the 1850s. When “pacification” of the indigenous people didn’t work, the British killed them by the hundreds and disease killed many more. The civilizing project was wildly successful. Within 50 years, the number of Great Andamanese went from 5,000 to 600. By 1961, there were only 19 indigenous Great Andamanese left. (Sources: Wikipedia and Survival International)

It would be nice to imagine that this cultural arrogance is a thing of the imperial past, relegated to material for the plot lines of Hollywood blockbusters. But the expansion of Western civilization continues at a breakneck pace. Here’s a story from just last year about a resort that is threatening the survival of another Adaman tribe, the Jarawa.

I’m reminded of this quote from Wade Davis:

We don’t think of ourselves as a culture in the West. We think that we somehow exist outside of time and culture. We’re the real world moving inexorably forward: Get with it or lose the train…

… we think that this economic system of ours exists out of culture, out of time, and is the inexorable wave of history when, by definition, it is simply the product of a certain set of human beings: our lineage.

With the death of Boa Sr, another people group died under the train of that lineage.

P.S. If you were looking for a review of Avatar or confused about why its mentioned in the headline, go read this excellent analysis by Nekeisha Alexis-Baker.

Ancient Paths: The Way Forward

This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

I just returned from the Gathering Around the Unhewn Stone, an event that took place this last weekend in Philadelphia. The purpose of the gathering was to explore the connections between Anarcho-Primitivism and Christianity. Ched Myers was the main speaker, leading us all through a crash course in biblical primitivism. There is so much I could write about, but I know that in this space I can only scratch the surface. Many secular and religious scholars alike are beginning to read the Hebrew-Christian bible from an archeological/historical perspective. Instead of reading the stories as metaphors or “lessons of old,” many are starting to take them more seriously and view them as factual. The Paradise of Eden is then understood not as fable of moral decline, but as a historical recollection of a time when human animals lived in balance with the earth. As ecological disaster ripens, it becomes fascinating to read these stories through this lens. As we look at it more closely, the bible begins to read like a manual of Anarcho-Primitivism. Of course that term wasn’t around back then, but the principles are so similar that it is incredible. For those unfamiliar, Anarcho-Primitivism is a form of anarchism that takes it’s critique of society all the way back to origins, citing civilization as the culprit of our current crisis. This brand of thinking values indigenous cultures and earth-based people groups as teachers and elders who hold wisdom long forgotten (or violently silenced). Our hunter-gatherer ancestors laid out for us a way of being that is truly sustainable. It was the norm forever, until the rise of agriculture, which changed the landscape of things and paved the way for civilization. As the towers rose and power centralized, most people got the short end of the stick. This is the context in which the Hebrew-Christian tradition developed. “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic”. Numbers 11:5. (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…)

A Review of After the Mayflower, We Shall Remain

Chris Eyre working with cast while filming at Red Clay. (c) Billy Weeks

adapted from As of Yet Untitled

Sunday evening I watched the first episode of We Shall Remain, a five part PBS series you can watch for free on their website. If you have 75 minutes to spare, don’t bother reading this review, just go watch After the Mayflower, the first episode, for yourself.

Contrary to its name, After the Mayflower starts slightly before the Pilgrims made landfall in Plymouth and provides a brief, but rich window into the way of life for the Wampanoag, the local Native American tribe near Plymouth, before the Pilgrims arrived. What was it like to be Wampanoag, the people of the first light, stretched out along the ocean, clearly aware of your place in the continent, welcoming the sun before all others? We also learn about the broad strokes of their political relationships with other local tribes as well as the plague that arrived just before the pilgrims killing 9 in 10 Wampanoag.

The documentary goes on to span the first 60 years of Native American and English relations, beginning with the first treaty between Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag and ending with King Philip’s war, one of the bloodiest wars in North American history proportional to the population. It offers some challenging questions for pacifists. Especially Christian pacifists.
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Love and Smoke

So I am really in love for the first time in a while. He’s a radical activist. He’s Mennonite. He’s brilliant. He would probably read and write on this blog if he was from the USA. But there is a big problem, he smokes tobacco (a lot). Or is that not a problem? I need your help, my radical friends…to help me think through the issues of smoking and tobacco usage. I can only really take love advice seriously from people who are in the movement for positive social change…people who understand a deep commitment to values that call us to put our “personal” love lives in perspective with the greater struggle of promotion of love and justice all over the world. I listen to others who I feel are be people of integrity on all levels of life.

What follows is what I think about smoking/what I’m struggling with/the questions I have. Please, if you have any wisdom to share…SHARE IT. As a feminist I am willing to put this out in the public because I do believe the personal is political. And I know that the relationships that individuals have also effect the collective.

I realized again that I’m a “God-geek” when I wanted to know something marriage a few weeks ago and so I looked at C. Arnold Snyder’s chapter titled “Anabaptist Marriage” in Anabaptist History and Theology textbook. My point was to see how these young activists handled marriage in the context of an intense social movement. (more…)

technology and worship: part 3

(I’m still thinking about our use of technology in worship. This post continues my earlier thoughts: Part 1 and Part 2)

The best books on technology and worship offer methods for carefully appropriating devices that contribute to the unique form of a congregation’s worship. Technologies should not be imposed from above, but should arise from the communal discernment of the church. I’ve already offered two authors who take this route (see links above).

While I appreciate these critical investigations into the liturgical use of technology, they aren’t haunted by the voices that I can’t get out of my head. They haven’t yet exorcised the histories of terror that come with each bit of technology. From their explorations, one is left assuming that devices magically appear in catalogs and electronic stores like Best Buy and Circuit City. But we know that technologies are not creatio ex nihilo. They have a history; they come from somewhere; and they materially remember what we would like to forget.

Walter Benjamin, the tormented Jewish Philosopher, teaches us to be honest about the history of oppression that produces the cultural achievements that we enjoy. In his essay, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (see Illuminations, pp. 253-264), Benjamin describes how the barbarism of progress delivers to our doorstep the useful fruits of civilization:

Whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers step over those who are lying prostrate. According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures… For without exception the cultural treasures [the observer] surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another.

The record of civilization is also a record of barbarism. (more…)