Beware the Amish pirates

Remembering Our Identity

August 20th, 2014 by JasonS

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.

A few years ago my wife and I and our two young children departed from our home in Brooklyn, New York, to travel more than halfway across country to South Dakota to visit the place where my Hutterite ancestors settled in this country in the 1870s. For many centuries my ancestors were Hutterites. My paternal great-great uncle led the Hutterites to this country and his younger brother, my great-great grandfather, Johann Feta (Father John) was the first of the Hutterites to experience the new birth.

After his born again experience he helped to found the Mennonite Brethren denomination with Jacob Wiebe, a Russian Mennonite reformer. I grew up hearing stories of persecution and sacrifice about our Anabaptist ancestors. The most recent story is that of my grandfather’s uncles who were tortured and martyred by the U.S. government in the prison at Fort Leavenworth because they resisted participation in the First World War. These stories shaped my early spiritual formation.

When we visited Hutterite colonies I was disheartened to learn that many of the Hutterites I met had moved far from their radical roots. All who we met were kind and generous and lived in deep community, but I was surprised upon visiting the schoolhouse to see art projects dedicated to the U.S. flag by lower school children. And while fellowshipping I learned that most of the adult Hutterites vote, which at one time may have been perceived as endorsement of a fallen system.

Whether or not one lives in a Christian intentional community, attends an Anabaptist church, or can trace their ancestry to early movement leaders, the aim should not be to find our primary identity in our religion, ancestry or any other thing, but in Christ.

It is important to visit and revisit stories and places to recognize the myriad ways that the Kingdom of God enters into this world, through individuals, families, communities, and movements. We do not need to live under tyranny and the threat of persecution to be faithful disciples of Christ. Yet it is important to remember the price paid by Christ and by all the witnesses who have suffered for the faith over the last two thousand years. These martyrs, these witnesses, point to the truth of the Gospel message. The blood of the Lamb reminds us of the cost of Christ’s conviction and moves us from a place of complacency to a place of devotion and active participation in the body of Christ.

Too often, as Christians, we forget those who came before us who lived sacrificially, who were true witnesses to a living faith. When we forget their stories, we become weak and numb and distracted. We suffer due to our forgetfulness and lack of mindfulness. It is often said that the church thrives in places where she is persecuted. It is in these places of pain and persecution where she most intimately remembers the Gospel story, and it is in these places where we are most inspired to live out even the most challenging of Jesus’ teachings.

Jason Storbakken is cofounder of the Radical Living Christian community in Brooklyn, New York, and Chapel Director of The Bowery Mission. Jason’s first book, “Radical Spirituality: Repentance, Resistance, Revolution” (Orbis) is now available.

Membership is Not Cheap

May 27th, 2014 by SteveK

The Third World is alive and well within North America. The poor are in the apartments with black mold; they are in the food stamp offices and being run out from under bridges. Difficulty and disease and shame mark their lives; they’re stigmatized like lepers. Jesus is among these people; living with them, encouraging them and doing miracles among them.

But you’d never know this by looking at the churches of North America.

A few churches cater to the upper class, but the massive majority of churches throughout North America see themselves as ministering to “communities”, by which they mean communities of the middle class. The poor are left out of the equation of the normal, everyday life of the church. And because of this, the church itself is poorer. Below are four areas in which the poor are marginalized in most modern churches:

1. Cultural uniqueness
The third world of North America is unique, and has unique features. For one thing, its inhabitants tend to use foul language, even the most religious of them. More poor people smoke than middle class people, and they are also more likely to have obvious addiction issues. Poor people tend to be less educated and focus more on survival. But, paradoxically, the poor are more likely to give their last dollar to someone else in need. Poor folks are more likely to rely on God instead of a system or even their own work. These are unique cultural characteristics, not right or wrong, just different. There are weaknesses and strengths in this culture, just as there are in the cultures of the middle or upper classes (or, indeed, in any culture).

The cultural uniqueness of being poor isn’t celebrated, but preached against in the everyday church. Not that every facet of poor culture should be celebrated; but the same is true of the middle and upper class cultures. When we praise the middle and upper class trait of making and following a reasonable budget, for example, why can we not also praise the lower class trait of sacrificial generosity? The church cannot be a culture-free environment, but in our middle-class model of church, where can the poor worship in a manner cohesive to their culture? read more »

The Social Upheaval of the Kingdom

March 14th, 2014 by KevinD

Recently, I started rereading Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. It’s been a long time since I have read Paul, and the last time I really read him, I spiritualized him. By that, I mean that I made Paul’s words the words of an Anglo-Saxon Puritan. Coming from a Protestant (Reformed) background, it is really easy to see Paul’s talk of election in the meaning Calvinists give to it, and it is easy to see Paul as some modern German theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther. I was easily able to look at the material, political, and societal implications of Jesus’ teachings, but Paul was harder for me, due to that connection with Reformed Protestantism.

Going into First Corinthians anew, I learned that Paul’s epistle was written to a very special community of believers. Corinth was a deeply Roman and deeply cosmopolitan city. It was really the entire Greco-Roman world present in one place. This means that the Corinthian church was diverse, and part of that diversity involved Paul having converted both rich and poor, elite and common. The division of rich and poor in the Corinthian church was one of the reasons Paul wrote the letter. For example, in 11:17-34 we see Paul rebuking those were were treating the poor unfairly in communion. A passage that is particularly important in discussion these class relationships is 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5: read more »

An Open Letter to the MCUSA

January 3rd, 2014 by TylerT

When I began looking for an Anabaptist congregation, I was immediately drawn to the San Antonio Mennonite Church here in the Alamo City. Truth be told, I probably would have stayed within our house-church if it weren’t for the fact that many of our families were moving. But as necessity compelled me to search for a tribe, the Anabaptist emphasis on Jesus discipleship, servant minded non-violence, and its history of persecution welcomed me. I’m glad we found a home in the MCUSA.

Having grown up as the son of an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, I was frightfully aware of the denominational politics our family encountered having served under two SBC Presidents. But Anabaptism offered more than that, with less, or so it seemed.

Theda Good’s recent ordination seems to have served as a sort of catalyst in the ever growing divide between the young and old, urban and rural MCUSA membership. But from my location, these reactionary reverberations seem to find their epicenter on the conservative side of the aisle while the almost certainly inevitable LGBTQ ordination seems to originate on the progressive side. Regrettably, I feign to even use the binary language associated with progressive versus conservative politics, but it seems that such language indicates that we have already bought in to the us vs. them mentality that dominates our American culture.

What about the Third Way?

I’m perplexed as to why we’re having this conversation in the first place. Looking at arguments from “both sides,” I keep asking myself, “where is Jesus in this?” I see Jesus in the calls for humility and servanthood. I see Jesus in the cautionary language encouraging dialogue instead of schism. But I don’t see Jesus in the Soddom and Gommorah rhetoric, and neither do I see it in the practice of ordination.

read more »

Pitfalls and Proposals for the Post Christendom Reformation

October 9th, 2013 by TylerT

There is a growing movement of pastors, church planters, and churches around the globe who have become convinced that the center of the Gospel is a Jesus-looking God who calls his people to partner with him to advance a Jesus-looking kingdom.  They sense that God is pouring out “new kingdom wine” that is bursting apart the tired old wineskins of Christendom. They sense we are at the cusp of a rising kingdom revolution that is going to radically alter what people identity as “the Christian faith” and “the Church.”  The majority of these leaders are both encouraged and discouraged. They are encouraged by the Jesus-looking kingdom revolution they see rising up,  but discouraged by the lack of networking and partnership amongst others who share their convictions. –Greg Boyd and Mark Moore

Several weeks ago, Greg Boyd and Mark Moore hosted a network exploration meeting for Neo Anabaptist types in the hours leading up to the conference on “Faith, Doubt and the Idol of Certainty.” The conference, hosted by Woodland Hills Church, was slated to coincide with the recent release of Boyd’s latest book, Benefit of the Doubt. (which I hear is highly worth reading)

But it was the Neo Anabaptist “network exploration meeting” that became the basis of buzz amongst online Anabaptist circles as of late.

There certainly seems to be a need for cohesion among the emerging Neo Anabaptist churches and pastors across the country–something that goes beyond denominationalism, but can work in tandem with existing avenues (such as denominations) that many of us already have relationships with. Many think we have an opportunity to create a missional organization or association that empowers “the boots on the ground,” so to speak–a platform for Post Christendom theology and praxis.

Perhaps it is time to start bringing together minds and bodies in order to create a space for open resources, networking, and mutual affirmation. Still, the conversation thus far has given me pause, and so I want to highlight a few pitfalls to I think we should avoid as well as present a few proposals that cast some vision for the Post Christendom Reformation.

The Pitfalls

1) We need to acknowledge our privilege:

What I am not seeing so far is a space that creates agency for women, minorities, the marginalized as well as those who aren’t “big” theological personalities in the current Neo Anabaptist discussion. Let’s be honest: while I applaud Mark Moore and Greg Boyd for taking the initiative to invite Neo Anabaptist types into  dialogue as an aside to this conference, I fail to see how hosting a “network exploration meeting” opens the space for the diversity the movement is already composed of, when the only ones who could attend such a meeting must have either

a) been conference town locals, or

b) have the time and means to fly to the Twin Cities and attend Greg’s conference. read more »

“I once was raised, but now I’ve found” featuring Drew GI Hart

August 24th, 2013 by TylerT

Today continues with the series, “I once was raised… but now I’ve found…” where some of my favorite authors, bloggers, scholars, and theologians explain the transitions they have encountered along their own faith journey. As the series continues, you’ll find me interviewing the guest bloggers below, as they answer questions I’ve posed about their experiences.

My interview with Drew proved to be too intense and too important to try and cram into one long blog post, so I’ll be posting part II in the near future. I hope you enjoy it, and learn from them as much as I have.

c080aa545d1fe8b9368b6379e87a272a“I once was raised African American Evangelical, but now I’ve found Jesus through the Black Prophetic Church tradition and Anabaptism.”–Drew G.I. Hart


Tyler- Evangelical is a word thrown around a lot in the media and in Christian circles. One rarely hears the phrase “African American Evangelical”–can you share what makes African American Evangelicalism and what its like being raised in that environment?

Great question, although in reality, I think people are probably a lot more familiar with what I call ‘African American Evangelicalism’ than they realize. However, I will start with a definition before I go there. As I see it, African American Evangelicalism is the by-product of Evangelical theology and African American experience blending together. So, in this sense, African American Evangelicalism would not be an exact duplicate of most dominant cultural expressions of evangelicalism. And yet still, they are closely related. Most African Americans share a lot in common theologically with evangelicals already, which is no surprise given that Black faith at the core is significantly shaped by the reinterpretation of white southern Baptist and southern Methodist traditions, in which Africans converted to in mass in the midst of slavery. read more »

Blessed Are the Poor

August 9th, 2013 by KevinD

This post originally appeared on my blog, Koinonia Revolution.

I was reading a really interesting and really disappointing article about poverty and our perception of it yesterday. It does not say anything I did not already know, but it did get me thinking about something when I read this:

Prejudice against the poor increases during hard economic times, said John Dovidio, a Yale University psychology professor.

“Our society is based on the idea that if you work hard, you get more, and if you have less, you deserve less,” Dovidio said.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the case, and you can just turn on one of the major news stations or a political talk show to see it. I personally see it even among members of my own family, which is funny because my family is not very prosperous to begin with. Our society has the assumption that everything is the result of an individual’s actions, which seems to be product of our emphasis on individualism to me. If you are poor, it is because you are lazy, not because you might be mentally ill, handicapped, born into poverty, or unemployed. And if you are rich, it is because you are a “job creator” who works hard. It literally saturates American culture and media. read more »

Talking with Granny about the London Riots

December 6th, 2011 by JoFrew

This article was originally published in the Autumn newsletter of the London Catholic Worker

After having the inevitable and frustrating conversation with my Granny about the riots - the one where she says,“it wasn’t like this in the 1930s, children did what their parents said”, “why do you want to live in Hackney?” etc, and I can’t argue because she’s my Gran – I needed to write something…
 
According to my Gran, there used to be lines of starving, emaciated men waiting in queues patiently to find work. Nowadays, the young don’t even want to work. In the old days you would never have gone out if your parents told you to stay in, nowadays kids have no respect. They’re not starving, they’ve got loads of stuff – they’re just greedy, lazy and selfish.
 
So why the change, what has happened to make us (and she does still include in me in ‘the youth’!) so disrespectful and selfish? And, depending on which media you read/watch, are these rioters disrespectful, selfish thugs who’ve never had it so good? Or are they victims of a era of austerity cuts, unemployment and a Tory government? read more »