Community

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…)

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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What I learned at the Open Door

This article was originally published in the October 2011 issue of Hospitality, the newspaper of the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia

Last year was not my best year. Looking back I understand much of my dissatisfaction, but I would be lying if I said I have it all figured out, and I never expect to fully understand it. The biggest thing I came to realize last year was that I felt stagnant, in relationships, in my studies, with God. Wrapped up in my routine and my self-pity and my selfishness, toward the middle of first semester, I realized that I needed to do something really different from my usual activity for the summer.  I wanted to immerse myself in a different community and a different lifestyle.  I wanted people who would challenge my faith and the comfortable life I live. And I wanted to serve, to completely break off from my normal routine and just focus on serving others and looking for the face of God in those around me. I was lucky enough to get all of this and more. I came away from my SIP experience teeming with the love, knowledge of injustice, and will for justice that abounds in the community I found, but I also came away with the faces of our friends from the street imprinted in my mind and with the heartbreak of less than three months’ time living among Atlanta’s disinherited. The only other time I had more than passed through Atlanta in my life was in 2003 when I spent a week there for the Mennonite youth convention. The theme of that year’s convention was “God’s table-ya’ll come.” Now, 8 years later and after my second stay in Atlanta, I think I have finally learned what that phrase really means. (more…)

Young Adults & Church: BikeMovement 5 years later

Five years ago I joined a group of young adults called BikeMovement that biked from the Pacific Coast in Oregon to the Atlantic Shore in New Jersey. We stopped at churches along the way holding conversation about what it meant to be a young adult in the church. The journey started July 10, 2006 and ended August 25th, 46 days, 23 churches, and 3,585 miles later.
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Active, Effective Theology: A Response to J. Denny Weaver

Recently, J. Denny Weaver spoke of his conversion from “passive” non-resistance and two-kingdom theology to an active stance against evil (reflection: can Mennonites use the term “evil”?) in Wisconsin. http://www.themennonite.org/issues/14-4/articles/Protesting_and_the_reign_of_God
While I approve of his stand, I must disagree with the theological conclusions of his article.

In speaking of two kingdom theology, Professor Weaver emphasizes the passive inaction of the theology. That it has nothing to say to oppression, that God is the God who empowers violence and the non-resistant have nothing to respond to injustice. Perhaps this is the form of two-kingdom theology that Professor Weaver learned, and I can see with a title like “non-resistance”, a theology might be prone to inaction. Certainly passivity is a concern among many who are raised “non-resistant”.

But two-kingdom theology is not about passivity. Certainly there is a passive aspect to it, even as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting.” So there are actions that those of Jesus’ kingdom do not take. However, the foundational law of the kingdom of Jesus is active: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love isn’t passive, but active. Like the Samaritan in Jesus story, the one of Jesus’ kingdom cannot look at one hurt in the gutter and not act. (more…)

I refuse to give thanks

This Sunday, I just couldn’t bear church service any longer.

These last days, I followed the horrible news from Japan closely: First, the strongest earth quake, in recorded history causing a tsunami that swept away half a city. Together these two disasters already took at least ten thousand lives. Then comes the nuclear melt down, or not melt down, the news and officials contradict each other, but even the most harmless descriptions of what happens in Fukushima sound horrible.

And then there’s also still Gaddaffi, who slaughters his own people and injustices we don’t even see anymore because we’ve become so used to them. Oh, and I have my Abitur (final German high school exams) coming, which doesn’t really scare me, but should actually have all my attention right now.

So this Sunday morning I’m watching the news and again I’m praying for Japan, praying for the nuclear plant not to melt down but I’m also just f*&%ing afraid of what the speaker is saying next, because all he’s saying conjures a worse and worse picture in my mind. The speaker of the German government talks about how we can’t have a tsunami in Germany and that nuclear power is only a „bridge technology“ meant to be replaced by alternative energies in a few years, but does not say how we ever get passed nuclear energy if we allow the owners of these plants to take all the profits while the state pays for the damages and for the development of alternative energies. The opposition is being critized as „lacking sympathy for the dead and politicising this catastrophe because of the near election“ for demanding we finally shut down our own nuclear plants.

Devastated and looking for solace I went to church – where we sang praise. Songs glorifying God for his awesomeness. (more…)

A Practical Christian Community

Lately I have been doing a lot of communicating with God via the Holy Spirit; or is it that God has been doing a lot of communicating with me via the Holy Spirit or even still a combination thereof? God has been giving me a desire to become a “United Front” with my Christian Community who are literally brothers and sisters through Christ Jesus. I feel that Satan is using the technique of “divide and conquer”. I, for one, have felt isolated from Christian Fellowship and disconcerted by it.

God has been ministering to me and He has put something in my heart that I feel is very much His reasoning power. This is what my conversation with God has brought me. Isn’t it beneficial for the Christian Community to have believers that are well fortified? He has shown me the image via an analogy. It is interesting how American society has the impression that they have to fend for themselves. It is a very social Darwinistic complex. Each family member feels like they have to be responsible for providing for their own success. It is up to them to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and not “be out for a hand-out”. This attitude creates defensiveness, competitiveness, contempt, insecurity, fear, pity, strife, envy, depression, a lack of motivation, procrastination, a sense of inferiority, defeat, anger, hatred, you get the picture… It is fertile ground for negative emotions that fuel everything from “racism” to family separateness, to death i.e. suicide, addiction, etc.

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A New-Old Call to Radical Christian Community

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“Community”, “Radical Discipleship”, “Prophetic Witness”: An urgent and self-giving Christianity has taken hold of the imaginations of a new generation of the faithful. Group houses of sincere young folks earnestly desiring to live for Christ and serve the poor are springing up like daisies after a summer rain.

It is humbling to witness the movement of the Spirit in their work. Yet it is mournfully apparent that the language, aims, and means of our Christian communities are often defined by a narrow contingent of the movement or what might be the movement if our communities were accountable to anti-oppression work and in solidarity with those under the foot of kyriarchy in its many forms. In fact, the voices of women, queer people, people of color, those of immigrant or non-North American status, the economically disadvantaged, and the disabled are often secondary to the voices of celebrated white heterosexual North American men. And while certainly, our God’s cause is the cause of the poor, there is something troubling about our communities’ rhetoric and movement “to the margins”: it is a dangerous sense of entitlement that gives some of us the notion to obtain property and create ministries and services- often while lacking training or outside accountability. Many community houses have been started without the members having first developed a meaningful relationship with the community leaders and projects already underway, without having been invited to come nor having undertaken a serious analysis of the kinds of unjustly gained power that make some service providers and others receivers of services.

Yes, our God’s cause is the cause of the poor and the inspiration to give one’s life for God’s people- especially the most obviously vulnerable among us- is right and good. But the desire to give one’s life must not overcome a commitment to give that gift with a holy indifference that might lead one another way. (I am reminded of priests on foreign mission returning home, having been told that it was in disarming U.S. imperialism that they could best care for their beloved congregations abroad.) And while the lack of representation- and accountability- in our movements is casually acknowledged by many (“Sure, we’re mostly white, middle class, and male”), acknowledging it without committing to changing it perpetuates the unexamined privilege that underlies so many of our communities. It feeds the supremacy of whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality and class privilege in our most compelling “radical” North American Christian experiments and recreates the dynamics of oppression we name as sin.

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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.

Reflections from Bolivia

I just got back from Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Our church took a group of 10 high schoolers on a week and a half long service trip.  Our primary work was on the Samuelito Daycare building, a project of the Mennonite Churches in Bolivia.  Our church here in Harper, Ks has had a relationship with the Bolivian Mennonites for going on 20 years.  For a fairly typical rural Mennonite church, it’s a partnership that is pretty special and really quite amazing.

One thing to know about our group is that the majority of the kids that we took aren’t particularly involved in church.  Also, most of them haven’t really been out of the state or even our county, let alone to another country.  That to say that this trip was the first profound experience of the working of God on a global scale for most of our kids.  As with most service trips, yes we did do some amount of good work on the building project.  However, we certainly received more than we gave and were changed in some profound ways.

As part of our reporting back to the congregation, I offered the sermon below.  Hopefully it’s a helpful reflection.  It’s specific to this trip and to Bolivia, but I think it really should to many cross-cultural situations.

Oh, yeah and it’s cross posted here.

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I went to the Grand Canyon with my family when I was in High School.  As my family toured various parts of the canyon and different times of the day it felt as though I was seeing new things about every 10 minutes.  And of course, I felt compelled to take picture of every new thing that I saw.  When we got back home and had our pictures developed I remember looking at all of the pictures and thinking, “yep, that’s a hole in the ground.  Yep, another hole in the ground.”  What had been so vivid when I was experiencing it lost it’s uniqueness when I tried to put it on film. (more…)

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…)

How would you translate Menno’s TEF?

As part of the conversation that often occurred in response to Mennonites in Northern Ghana, who were asking me “what does it mean to be Mennonite?” I would quote a snippet from Menno’s document. (I mean, only sometimes, when they asked specifically about Simons, because “church founders” are a BIG deal there). But the language was such that I always found myself changing the words. These folks loved Jesus, and they weren’t necessarily asking me about what Jesus had to say about discipleship and prayer, but they wanted to know what Menno had to say. They had only relative familiarity with British English and most are distanced from the written word. I wonder if I translated the following accurately? I wonder if it matters? How would you translate/summarize this part of Menno Simon’s Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (1539)

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto the flesh and blood; it destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; it seeks and serves and fears God; (more…)

Anawim Theology and Avatar

Anawim theology is the biblical theology of God’s salvation of the poor and outcast. It is strongly linked to anabaptist theology. “Anawim” is a Hebrew term that means “the poor seeking the Lord for deliverance”, is used in the Psalms extensively and is referred to in the Magnificat and the Beatitudes. If you are interested in reading a popular theology of it you can read the book Unexpected News: Reading The Bible Through Third World Eyes or check out this website: http://www.nowheretolayhishead.org/teachings.html

But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about Avatar.

I understand that some feel that there is some racism in Avatar, and I can see their point, but it would be deeply embedded and certainly not obvious to the masses throughout the world watching it. However, I believe that part of the reason that Avatar is so popular is because of the open Anawim-like theology involved. There is a general morality throughout the world that the underdog should be supported and that God is on the side of the oppressed. Avatar not only supports this, but has a pretty strong morality/spirituality. As I sat and watched it a couple times, I wrote the following principles down that I think describes Avatar’s basic support of Anawim theology:

There is a empire, ruling the world, and its focus is to increase the wealth of a limited few, even if that hurts others. Everyone within the empire is a part of this system of greed, even if they superficially attempt to oppose it. (more…)

Anabaptist Rosary

As a note: This is also posted at The Wandering Road

So I’ve recently run across the Catholic Rosary.  While I’m drawn to it’s structure and it’s ability to help people pray, as a good Anabaptist, I take issue with some of it’s theology.  So here is my initial thoughts and proposal for an Anabaptist Rosary.

First- An orientation to the actual Rosary.

How to pray the Rosary
1. Make the Sign of the Cross and say the “Apostles Creed.”
2. Say the “Our Father.”
3. Say three “Hail Marys.”
4. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
5. Announce the First Mystery; then say
the “Our Father.”
6. Say ten “Hail Marys,” while meditating on the Mystery.
7. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
8. Announce the Second Mystery: then say the “Our Father.” Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Mysteries in the same manner.
9. Say the ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ on the medal after the five decades are completed.
As a general rule, depending on the season, the Joyful Mysteries are said on Monday and Saturday; the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday and Friday; the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday and Sunday; and the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday. (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.