Editor’s Note: 10 years ago today, we held the founding meeting of Young Anabaptist Radicals and kicked off this blog. Over the coming months, we’ll be posting a series of posts reflecting back on the last 10 years. At the end of that series, this blog will be converted into a personal blog for my own writing hither and yon on the internet. Thanks to Luke Miller for starting us off with this reflection. Contribution from other YAR contributors are welcome! – Tim Nafziger
I noticed, back in the day, that newcomers to YAR would often feel compelled to explain how they felt those three word applied to them: Young, Anabaptist, and Radical. These statements usually read as confessions, how they might not be able to fully claim all these three traits without qualifications or complications. Yet there was always something so intriguing and right about their combination that drew people into conversation. For me, coming upon the site (I forget how that happened really) I felt I was continuing the conversations I had started in college (at Goshen) about the way faith and action could create social change. Indeed, in many cases that was literally true, as a number of the founders and main contributors to YAR were friends from college, and I relived how cool it felt to be joining with interesting folks in talking about changing the world. Now, looking back years later, it’s interesting that I find my instincts drawing me to reflect on precisely how these words strike me now, and try them on for size. Young? Mid thirties definitely doesn’t feel as young as mid twenties. Anabaptism has continued to gradually fade in my life as the central dominant frame of reference, although it still has a strong role. I was never quite sure exactly how I was or wasn’t radical – that term always felt like a playful one to me, and that anyone who claimed it seriously was a bit naive.
Beyond these words, my other main reflection in thinking about YAR is how painful the fragility of online conversations and communities can be, especially the noble experiments that attempt openness to everyone. While my initial years at YAR consisted of intriguing conversations and healthy exchange, my last times at YAR were dominated by the destruction and ultimate dissolution that one voice could reek in the setting of a web forum where anyone can type any amount on any comment thread. One person with a particular taste for antagonizing the social justice-loving leftward-leaning people who frequented YAR began to dominate all conversations, and it felt like the entire energy of the forum became about responding to, attempting to engage, and reeling from his various posts. It felt sad to me, that one individual who seemed determined to never truly sense where his voice might fit into a broader conversation, but just keep electronically shouting down everyone around him, can actually have the power to shut down a whole community. What’s especially true is how the safety of a space for those who are marginalized in other parts of society can be violated and erased by such a figure. It’s a lesson I feel I’ve learned, unfortunately, in multiple settings in my life, both related to the church and to my career; when individuals with the taste for others’ discomfort or anger are given a powerful voice, there’s a lot they can destroy. It’s sad, but it seems to be how the world works.
Still, there’s a part of me that will always want to be nothing but a YAR, and my continued involvement with Pink Menno allows me times and places where I feel exactly that; fully a part of a group of amazing, smart, and cool young Anabaptists working our radical change on the world to make it a better place. We might even do it, someday.
Joyce and Nelson Johnson have lead the Beloved Community Center for over 20 years based on the vision and mode of Dr. Martin Luther King and inextricably rooted in the Greensboro, North Carolina. When I visited their community for in June 2011 I sat in on their “Wednesday table” where BCC staff and interns sit down with supporters and fellow organizers from the community to talk about what’s going on. I also joined one of the Bible studies and worship services that are a foundation of the centre’s life and work.
Their organizing work includes police accountability, economic justice, environmental justice, and community organizing. They see themselves as a “levelling place” for people from different racial and economic groups around the city of which 30% is African-American, 40% is white, and 30% is other (Latino, Asian and others). They were also instrumental in organizing the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked deeply into the November 3, 1979 Greensboro Massacre. Five members in an anti-Klan protest were killed by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. Nelson Johnson was one of the leaders of the march and his 2011 account of the event includes footage from the massacre itself taken by news crews at the time.
The Carnival de Resistance flows out of the prophetic vision of Tevyn East and Jay Beck in conversation with many scholars, activists, and artists. In its residency form, it involves week-long convergences complete with nightly performances, a bicycle powered sound system, and a carnival midway. Sarah Thompson, Christian Peacemaker Teams executive director and CdR member, describes how the experience impacted her:
Growing up, I was often exposed to the idea that capitalism and Christianity go together. Profit and wealth were not simply compatible with Christianity, but were a sign of God’s blessing or your personal piety. I remember going to the Christian bookstore once or twice and seeing large piles of books with that topic specifically in mind, usually by Dave Ramsey, who was recently on the 700 Club for a new book of his. In that interview, one of the first things mentioned is how Ramsey and Robertson agree that wealth is a good thing, and that those who see wealth as bad are wrong, even “gnostic.” I don’t think the heretics here are the “gnostics” who believe that wealth is wrong; rather, I think the heretics here are Ramsey, Robertson, and others in their camp, who seem to have forgotten what the New Testament and early church taught concerning economics.
Ramsey likes to talk a lot about biblical finances. He claims that when he gives someone financial advice that it is done through following what the Bible says. Let’s take a look at what the Bible, specifically the New Testament, teaches Christians concerning finances.
On September 3rd, the anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ escape to freedom, Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and Word & World launched a daily-updated blog to highlight the unique strand of North American “movement” Christianity. We are committed to being collective (welcoming a multiplicity & diversity of voices), convictional (unapologetically theological), constructive (creating a new world out of the shell of the old) and concrete (covering a range of personal to political practices, from reformist to revolutionary).
A host of labels have been slapped on these various brands of Christian communities: Catholic Workers, house churches, new monastic communities, alternative communities, intentional communities, a community of communities. We could go on and on. Basically, we get our litmus test of what is authentic radical discipleship from the Prophet Micah: communities designed to strategically advocate for justice, perform daring acts of mercy & walk humbly with God (even when no one is looking).
Historically, these are followers of Jesus in North America who have prayerfully, poetically & prominently stood in solidarity with “the disinherited,” articulated by the late Howard Thurman as “those who stand with their backs against the wall.” These abolitionists, women’s suffragists, freedom riders, sanctuary providers, table-grape boycotters & marriage equalizers have nonviolently faced down scorn and come out the other side on “the right side of history.”
Some might say that these are communities dedicated to going beyond addressing symptoms by tirelessly engaging systems. Borrowing language from both addiction recovery groups and Hebrew Bible scholarship, RadicalDiscipleship.Net will be focused on showcasing communities committed to a rigorous personal inventory & a ruthless prophetic imagination. (more…)
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…)
“Of all the brothers and sisters of this congregation, none shall have anything of his own, but rather, as the Christians in the time of the apostles held all in common, and especially stored up a common fund, from which aid can be given to the poor, according as each will have need, and as in the apostles’ time permit no brother to be in need.”
“They who would enter into life must come through love, the highest commandment; there is no other way through the narrow gate, Matt. 22:34-40; John 14:1-14. Hundreds of Scriptures and many witnesses make it very clear that whoever wishes to have the precious and hidden jewel must go and sell everything, yes, hand over everything they possess, Matt. 13:45-46; Acts 2:43-47. Different interpretations of these texts have been given because people want to keep what they have, but we cannot deny the work and power of the Holy Spirit, by which the apostles set a firm example in the first church in Jerusalem and three thousand were added, Acts 2; Acts 4:32-37.”
“Whoever claims to belong to Christ in love, but cannot give their possessions to the community for the sake of Christ and the poor, cannot deny that they love worldly goods, over which they have only been placed as caretakers for a time, more than Christ. Therefore Christ says, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 5:3.” (more…)
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
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.
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. (more…)
From a television personality saying that the poor are lazy to a megachurch pastor teaching that wealth is a blessing from God, in the West today—especially in the United States—Christianity is often associated with individualism, capitalism, and personal profit. I personally believe that Christians are called to a different standard. Being Christian should mean following Jesus’ example today—it should be missional and based in radicaldiscipleship. This means that we should look to the example of Jesus and try to bring his example into our context today.
The early followers of Jesus were far removed from our American culture of rigid individualism and capitalism. On the one hand, they came from a pre-modern society, and on the other hand, they practiced a radical form of community—one that is described throughout the New Testament and several early church documents, and has been revived many times throughout church history. (more…)
Mark Van Steenwyk has written a thoughtful reflection on the significance of Jesus and his in-breaking Kingdom as an alternative way of being in our society that is marred by evil forces, social structures, death-dealing oppression, and coercive violence. the UNkingdom of God is a subversive and anti-imperial vision for a repentant life concretely following after Jesus, that doesn’t attempt domestication or try to mince words. The book reflects the radicalism of an Anabaptist vision, as well as a liberative and prophetic witness that takes seriously the abandoning of empire while walking humbly in the footsteps and Way of Jesus.
One of the most important things about the UNkingdom of God is the way that he exposes how America and Christianity have merged so profoundly, being so deeply intertwined, that it has merely become an imperial puppet and tool. This is primarily done through personal stories as he retells his own story of being indoctrinated with American Christianity, awaking from it, and then ultimately repenting from it. It is primarily his own lived experience being told, often humorously, that I believe will resonate with many that consider themselves Christian while also a part of the dominant culture. For example he begins in the introduction explaining his infatuation with America and its ‘Dream’, and how he responded when he heard the song “God Bless the USA” as he watched fireworks in the sky. He explains:
At this point, I could no longer sing along. With tears in my eyes and a sob in my throat, I broke down weeping. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and pride. I wept as the song played out, and I continued to weep as the fireworks began to fill the night sky. It was like a mystical experience.
Clearly, Mark Van Steenwyk understands what it is like to be enthralled with America and American Christianity. However, he didn’t remain there. The goal of the book is to call people to repentance. And this is the particular strength of this book. I am not sure I have read a book that has so clearly and powerfully called people to repentance in a way that resonates with the way that Jesus did so. We are challenged to repent of our Christianity and how we have been unwilling to experience God because we have him figured out already. He names the issue. It is that “We think we are open to learning the way of Jesus, but our cup is already full of our own ideas.” It is something that we are not conscious of, therefore, we go on engaging scripture and sermons as though we are growing in Christ, when in reality our cups are already full, so everything else just spills out. Steenwyk reminds us that “We need to empty our cups. We need to repent of the myths that crowd our imaginations. We need to repent of our Christianity.” Ultimately, Steenwyk describes that we need to even release and let go of our image and understanding of Jesus before we can truly “be the love of Christ in our world.”
“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.”
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
I was not raised in the Christian religion. Like many from the First World, I was raised in a Christian culture, but I was not raised in the church or with a knowledge of the Christian religion. I spent most of my childhood as an agnostic with some Buddhist flavor, and when I was exposed to the Bible, it was through a children’s storybook. As a result, I associated the Bible with fairy tales. This would eventually come to change as I felt the desire to actually study religion. Part of it due to my brother’s influence.
My brother was like me. He was not raised in Christianity, but later converted to it as a teenager. He originally came to Christ through the Pentecostals, then he became an Evangelical. It was when he was attending an Evangelical Free church that I first came to truly appreciate Christianity again. It was also during this time that I got my first Bible, which was the New Living Translation. I did not believe in Christianity during this time, but it was something interesting to study and do on the weekends.
One thing that I learned from Evangelical Protestantism was that everything is personal and private. We are supposed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. We are supposed to personally convert to Christianity, and salvation was all about personal redemption from sin and death. Even the Bible was to be read and interpreted privately. Even in economics, Evangelicals tend to stress capitalism and enterprise over community and charity. Then, I began to study Catholic theology, and I started to use a New American Bible.
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…)
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.
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. (more…)
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…)