History

A study in Tweaking: Steve Jobs, Vincent Harding and Mennonites

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This month Malcom Gladwell had an article in the New Yorker looking at the legacy of Steve Jobs. His central thesis is that Jobs’ gift was not originality, but rather tweaking: the ability to take the inventions of others and refine and improve them dramatically. Gladwell points out that the iPod came out 5 years after the first digital music players and the iPhone more than a decade after the first smart phones hit the market.

Gladwell is building on the work of economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr who used this lens to look at the industrial revolution in Britain. For example, they point out the importance of the many engineers who improved on Samuel Crompton’s original invention of the spinning mule. These “tweakers” dramatically improving its productivity through minor changes.

Likewise, Gladwell says, “Jobs’ sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it.” Gladwell makes his point with many episodes from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs. Job’s particular way of tweaking made him very difficult to get along with, even as he was dying of cancer:

At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated… Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.

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Jesus sayings from the Sermon on the Mount (the Marginal Mennonite version)

(Revised November 2011)

The Sermon on the Mount is defined as the 40+ sayings of Jesus found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. About half of those sayings are considered by scholars to be non-authentic (meaning they were likely created by the early church rather than originating with Jesus). Non-authentic sayings are not included here. Most Sermon sayings have parallels in other gospels (Mark, Luke & Thomas). Sometimes the parallels are in simpler form, and thus probably closer to what Jesus actually said. Listed below are 21 of the most authentic Sermon sayings, along with Torah passages that Jesus probably had in mind when formulating them. Similar sayings from other traditions are offered as well.

Luke 6:20: “Congratulations, you poor! God’s kingdom belongs to you.”

Compare to:

Matthew 5:3: “Congratulations to the poor in spirit! Heaven’s domain belongs to them.”

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Manifesto of the Marginal Mennonite Society

We are Marginal Mennonites, and we are not ashamed.

We are marginal because no self-respecting Mennonite organization would have us. (Not that we care about no stinkin’ respect anyway.)

We reject all creeds, doctrines, dogmas and rituals, because they’re man-made and were created for the purpose of excluding people. Their primary function is to determine who’s in (those who accept the creeds) and who’s out (those who don’t). The earliest anabaptists were also non-creedal.

We are inclusive. There are no dues or fees for membership. The only requirement is the desire to identify oneself as a Marginal Mennonite. We have no protocol for exclusion.

We are universalists. We believe every person who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. No questions asked! Mystic-humanist (and anabaptist) Hans Denck was quoted saying that “even demons in the end will be saved.”

We reject missionary activity. Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural extermination. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic campaigns and mission boards, no matter how innocuous or charitable they claim to be.

We like Jesus. A lot. The real Jesus, not the supernatural one. We like the one who was 100% human, who moved around in space and time. The one who enjoyed the company of women and was obsessed with the kingdom of God. The one who said “Become passersby!” (Gospel of Thomas 42), which we interpret as an anti-automobile sentiment. (more…)

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…)

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.

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.

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…)

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.

Minarets, church towers and Babel

British anti-minaret posterSwiss anti-minaret posterI don’t know whether in the States you have noticed the debate about the Swiss people’s decision last Sunday (29th of November) to amend their constitution to forbid minarets. Here in Germany and the rest of Europe fascists and right-leaners are celebrating and want plebiscites on these issues as well(check out their posters!). Swiss politicians are shocked as no one would have anticipated such a result and are now checking if they can squirm out of it, by saying that basic liberties cannot be changed, not even by the will of the people. Analysis shows that the most votes for the ban came from the rural areas where there are almost no Muslims, and most votes against the ban came from the cities where there is a relatively high Muslim population, still not high. In all of Switzerland there are four mosques…

To me, this shows a fundamental flaw in democracy as good as it maybe: Democracy does not mean the rule of people, it means rule of the majority and if the majority should decide not to tolerate the minority -like the case with Switzerland – so be it. Ok, in order to correct this there are things like independent judges and not directly elected secretaries, but that is exactly what the SVP, the “Swiss People’s Party”, wants to change next. Democracy is not an absolute value.

But how is the Anabaptist view on this, is there one at all? In the beginning, Anabaptists didn’t gather in fancy churches, they met in houses or caves in the forest to prevent being sent to prison. The only time one would find them in the usual churches was to storm the pulpit and preach the gospel. When Anabaptists were allowed to settle in Southern Germany after the 30 years war they weren’t allowed to build church towers.

The bells in church towers have often been melted in times of war to make swords and guns, a reversion of Micah 4,1-4 so to say.

During the campaigning for the ban on minarets the initiators always claimed not to be anti-Islamic, but that they were only against radical Islamists and that Islam didn’t need minarets, therefore a  minaret was a political extremist statement and it’s ban would not interfere with the right to religious freedom.

Let’s look at Christianity then, I did find one story in my Bible, where people wanted to build a tower. But after God “came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building” Gen.11,5 he didn’t like it too much and confused their languages.

In the New Testament there is not a single reference of towers… So, are towers needed in Christianity? Shouldn’t the Swiss people perhaps also ban church towers?

Or maybe Swiss Mennonites and Mennonites in general should build “mennorates” in solidarity with the Swiss Muslims?

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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Search for next Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA

Given all that we’ve talked about here, maybe there are some opinions on what the next Executive Director should do? Who it should be? How they should act? What salary (if any) they should be paid?

This is a chance to weigh in to the process. The search committee is consulting far and wide across the Mennonite church. Feel free to add your voice in the comment section below. (more…)

The Trouble with Thanksgiving: A Reflection by Nekeisha

Thanksgiving makes me nervous.

For years, I’ve gotten a sinking feeling in my stomach as the month of November draws to a close and this day looms. On the one hand, Thanksgiving is about joy and gratitude. It is a time when I travel to see family and friends, welcome a few days of rest and look forward to the holiday season. In my mind, I know it is a good thing to have a day where the sole emphasis is to give thanks to God for all God has done. I also appreciate the opportunity to celebrate all my loved ones do and are to one another.

And yet Thanksgiving reminds me of a beautiful but altogether itchy sweater. Sure it looks good on the rack in my closet. It is slimming, well-made, gorgeous color—everything you could hope for in a sweater. But if I put it on I’m guaranteed to spend the whole day tugging, scratching and feeling downright uncomfortable. Try as I might, I can’t shake that weird feeling about that good ole holiday. It gets to the point where weeks in advance I’m trying to come up with other things to say besides “Happy Thanksgiving.” And since “Happy Day Off” doesn’t cut it I go ahead and mutter the greeting anyway, wheels still turning for a suitable substitute. (more…)

Biking part of Chicago on election night 2008

TimN encouraged me to post this reflection from Tuesday, when we met up in Grant Park with CharlettaE and others; sorry for the delay in getting it up here.

Rather than join the rally crowds you saw on TV on Tuesday — I didn’t try to get tickets; they were limited and I felt others deserved them more, among other reasons — I watched returns with friends and joined the group in Grant Park after Obama was declared the victor.

I biked with several friends from our neighborhood, Pilsen, about three miles through East Pilsen and the South Loop on the unusually warm November night. It takes about 30 minutes to bike to the Loop. We passed the entrance to the Dan Ryan Expressway and the cars were bumper to bumper, yet people looked happy. I was leading our group of five bikers, and one woman in her car looked at me and somewhat tentatively said, “Obama.” I yelled back, “Obama!”

The memory I will most take with me is talking with traffic management authority officials once we got closer to the Loop. Usually a staid bunch at best, and surly at worst, I saw a huge smile on the face of a middle-aged woman as we waited at a stoplight. She seemed not to mind in the slightest that she was working at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday. She smiled and smiled at our bunch of young bikers, and said, “Yes, indeed.” We clapped for her and her co-worker, and for people passing, coming from downtown.

The only other time I have smiled at so many people in such a short period of time was at my wedding. Once we reached Grant Park and walked through, large groups of teenagers smiled at us, and cheered, and we smiled back. People of all ages and ethnicities enjoyed camaraderie with strangers. There is no previous experience to which I can compare it.