Nonviolence

Time is short … until 1700 years shall have been completed!

My young, my very young anabaptist radical friends,

you’re all much too young to remember this, so let me – as an ancient of days – tell you about something that is much older than you. …

No actually, I don’t want to talk about the past, but rather about how a past event is being overcome by the present and future! This October it will have been (note the future perfect tense!), yes this October the 28th of 2012 it will have been 1700 years since Constantine won the battle of the Milvian Bridge bearing on his standard the sign of the cross. He raised the severed head of his enemy on a spit as a sign that the “Christian god” had shown him favour.

This occasion is a sad day for many followers of Jesus who regret that our church leadership decided to accept the offer of the Emperor to endorse his military victory and accept the generous sinecures of the state. They laid down the cross and took up the sword. The unholy alliance between Constantine and the bishops of the Roman empire is the most significant (human) event of church history. As a consequence, the Church aided in the violent aggression against Jews and Muslims, against Africans and other peoples, against so-called witches and heretics. The medieval church believed that pope and emperor were entrusted with the two swords of Christ (Luke 22:38). Unfortunately, the repercussions persist to this day. (more…)

First Anabaptist conference on Occupy movement plus American Spring

This spring will see the first Mennonite conference on the Occupy movement (at least that I’m aware of). The Anabaptist Missional Project will be hosting #Occupy Empire: Anabaptism in God’s Mission at Eastern Mennonite Unversity on April 13-14,. They have an impressive line-up of Anabaptist-minded peace and justice activists and thinkers: Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, Janna Hunter-Bowman, Isaac Villegas and Chris Haw.

The last speaker to be announced was Paulette Moore, one of the leaders of Occupy Harrisonburg. Moore is a documentary film maker, a professor at EMU and one of the writers at the Occupy Harrisonburg blog. She’s been involved with the group since the beginning.

“We definitely started out with the use of the word [Occupy] as an appropriation and a creative theological reinterpretation,” said Brian Gumm, one of the two organizers of the conference. “Before Paulette was on the schedule, we didn’t have explicit references to the movement itself. So by adding Paulette’s voice and the experience of the local movement here, we can make that connection explicity and have a more robust, multi-voiced conversation about Occupy.”

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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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Peacemaking informed by 500 years in prison

On Dec. 16, I went to see The Interrupters. It follows three violence interrupters who work on the south and west sides of Chicago with Ceasefire—an organization with a proven record of reducing shootings in neighborhoods around Chicago. The Englewood neighborhood saw a 34% reduction in shootings through Ceasefire’s work.

Violence interrupter Cobe Williams + Lil’ Mikey
Photo by Aaron Wickenden/Courtesy of Kartemquin FilmsThe movie is a slice of day-to-day life for Ceasefire staff, known as Violence Interrupters. From the summer of 2009 through the spring of 2010, we watch Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra as they seek to personally engage with victims and perpetrators and, perhaps most importantly, victims and their friends on the edge of becoming perpetrators.

All three of the interrupters have a personal history of involvement with gangs and violence themselves. They understand what’s going on for the kids and young adults (age 14-25), but they also have credibility. Ameena is the daugher of Jeff Fort, a high profile gang leader, and she made her own name for herself. Cobe and Eddie both served prison time. At one point at a staff meeting, a Ceasefire leaders says there is "500 years of jail represented here, that’s a lot of wisdom."

As someone who has spent my whole life in the Mennonite Church and many years with Christian Peacemaker Teams, The Interrupters is an introduction to peacemaking done in a very different way.

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An In-Between Place

Last Friday, the city of Philadelphia handed out eviction notices to Occupy Philadelphia, notifying the residents that they had to leave by Sunday at 5pm, or they would be removed.

While, I haven’t been a part of this movement, I’ve been observing them from the edges.  And, when I heard about the eviction, I was anxious.  I saw the UC Davis footage, I read stories about violent evictions in other cities—I was worried about Occupy Philadelphia.

The Interfaith Clergy group called on Philadelphia pastors to go to City Hall on Sunday night, to stand as a witness and reminder that we are called to the way of peace.  So, my colleague and I headed downtown.

It was obvious that we were clergy—some people would walk by us, and thank us for coming, but mostly we were relegated to the edges of the event.  We were marginalized, and that was ok.  We were observers, not participants.

When the Eagles football game let out, we saw more movement around the Occupy Philadelphia encampment.  Disappointed sports fans were coming up from the subway, and streaming into the square.  Many were intoxicated.  A few were very angry with the Occupiers.

One group of young men concerned me right away.  I heard them making plans to pick a fight with the protestors, to get themselves on the news.  They were convinced that they would be hometown heroes.

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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…)

Beyond Obamaism: Occupy Wall Street and the Capacity to Hope

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Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

It’s been a month since I wrote a piece on Young Anabaptist Radicals about my experience of visiting Occupy Chicago. It was three days after they had started camping in front of the Federal Reserve of Chicago and 10 days after Occupy Wall Street (OWS) kicked off in New York. At the time, I wrote with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism. The visit gave me a glimpse into the sense of possibility that I remember from watching the Seattle protests but also a dose of skepticism bordering on cynicism. What could such a small group of people really do?

A month later, the answer seems clear: plenty. It still seems miraculous in many ways. While announcing the death of apathy and despair in the United States (as Michael Moore did at Occupy Oakland on Friday) is probably premature, the OWS movement has gone a long way towards tearing down the barriers that prevent so many of us from working together for change.

I’d like to share a few observations building on the framework that Steve Kryss developed in his article for the Mennonite Weekly Review. He named these parallels between the OWS movement and the Anabaptist movement that sprung up across cities in Europe nearly 500 years ago:

The Anabaptist movement emerged largely among the young. It moved through the urban contexts of educated Europeans without clarity but with a clear bent toward justice for the poor.

It emerged in and around the Peasant Revolts, which threatened established governments and religious perspectives. The radical Anabaptists were sympathetic to those whose lives were controlled by overlords.

Early Anabaptism was a movement of conversing, addressing powers and protesting. It was met with ridicule and with sympathy. There were dialogues and diatribes.

I notice three other parallels with early Anabaptism that inspire me: (more…)

Occupy Wall Street: Interview with Eli Robert and Riley

Amtrak crosses the county carrying overnight passengers, strangers who engage each other as little or as much as they want. I overhear the social analysis of foreigners, business owners, union workers, environmentalists, activists and Amish. Wide seats, scenic cars, and café tables host a unique social atmosphere, literally a meeting in between places with a cross-section of the world.

Last night I returned from New York State via Amtrak, following a weekend of faith-based social justice fellowship with the Word and World mentoring program. I heard three young men relate their weekend experience of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. Computer speakers played Colbert’s speech at the White House Press Dinner. Elderly voices discussed political debates in Iowa, “Those politicians are all liars” … “Well that should not attract votes the way they argue.”

Tim spotted the chance for a window into the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement from its source in New York City. We invited the activists to the café car for an interview. Eli Fender (23), from Seattle joined the camp for two weeks. Robert Smith (20) and Riley O’Neil (20) both originally from Rogers Park in Chicago (small world) both visited the camp over the weekend.

Charletta: Tell us about the movement’s shape. What are some of the tools that are important at OWS?

Eli: There’s the people’s microphone, which a lot of people know about. There’s also working groups such as the facilitation working group who guides the General assembly. In democracy you worry about where power starts welling up. So I joined the facilitation group meeting.

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Canine disobedience

Since almost two months now I am working on a Palestinian farm surrounded by settlements – more on the project maybe in another article. Today I want to share with you an observation I have made about my relationship with the animals I am taking care of. All our animals have a very strong will for freedom and since it’s not only my job to feed and clean them, but also to lock them in their cages and repairing the fences, this will for freedom conflicts with my role.
But while the goats ram me with their head and the horses sometimes try to run away, or even kick me, our dogs have employed a different strategy:

They always break out of their cage either during lunch or dinner to protest the lack of food I am giving them and run around barking. So, I need to interrupt my meal and catch them. Now the strange thing happens. While sometimes they’ll run away, when I catch them, they always just lie numb on the ground and stretch their feet out towards me. They don’t try to bite me, they’re just lying there. I try to convince them by telling them it is my duty to lock them up and I’m sorry I can’t give them more food, but I can only give them as much food as possible.
No reaction.
Next, I pet them and promise them I’ll try to get extra food though I know there isn’t any.
No reaction. (more…)

Letter from Jeju Island


Caption: Villagers and Protestors chant for the release of village leader Kang on Jeju island during the events described below

This letter was sent out by Paco this morning in an email to supporters of the campaign to Save Jeju Island in South Korea. I’m posting it under Paco’s author account here on YAR – TimN

Hello Again,

Things have gotten very crazy around here. Yesterday we had a 10 hour long stand off against around 300 riot police. I apologize for bad grammer and spelling but I’m very tired.

Here is a short summary of the last 23 hours of our still on going struggle. If you want to follow more closely, as well as see pictures and videos, check the facebook links that I gave you before [http://www.facebook.com/groups/Saveprofyang/], or if you are a twitterer follow #gangjung or #savejejuisland (many of the posts are in korean but there are also pictures)

None of this is sensitive information so it can be shared freely.

Shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday the navy/police made what we believe to be a trap to arrest Village Leader Kang. They began assembling an illegal crane in the construction area. This led Village Leader Kang and several activists and village people to the area where they began to argue that this crane was illegal. (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…)

Haunting straight Mennonites moderates, pt 2: crisis and conciliation

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I’ve been reading the thread of comments in response to my post on Anabaptist Ghosts on The Mennonite. I think the concerns by the Aaron Kauffman (read his comment) and Harold Miller (read his comment) are shared by others as well and need to be addressed.

As I understand them, one of the key arguments that Kauffman and Miller are making is that my focus on social advocacy and confrontation is “cutting [me] off from any word of wisdom that other parts of the Body of Christ might have to offer.” In other words, their claim is that the haunting social advocacy and confrontation, as I am describing it, does not leave room for dialogue.

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Haunting straight Mennonite moderates: the Christian tradition of confrontation

This piece is cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

In this month’s editorial in The Mennonite, editor Everett Thomas quoted Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman as follows:

“The experience of Pink Mennos at Columbus in 2009,” Stutzman said, “introduced a new level of engagement in controversial matters … The techniques of social advocacy and confrontation that we have taught young adults in our schools has come to haunt our church’s most visible gathering, to the end that convention-goers feel immense pressure to take up sides against one another on [homosexuality].”

Mennonite pastor Amy Yoder McGloughlin has already written quite eloquently and diplomatically on how Ervin’s words ignore the real ghosts who haunt the Mennonite convention. So I’d like to focus particularly on Ervin’s use of the term, “haunt,” to refer to the use of social advocacy and confrontation by Pink Mennos. As a Mennonite, I find social advocacy and confrontation at the heart of the gospel and at the roots of my Anabaptist tradition. To suggest that those of us who sought to embody this tradition as Pink Mennos at Colombus were “haunting” the convention is highly problematic.

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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…)