Politics

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle…unless you live in la ceiba

Author’s Note: Just to give some context; I’m a mission worker with Eastern Mennonite Missions in La Ceiba, Honduras. I in conjunction with the local Mennonite congregation, work in Los Laureles, a community built in and around the municipal garbage dump. If you’d like to read or see more about our work there you can visit my blog here.

So here’s an example of injustice, greed, political corruption and a general screwing of the poor and powerless and it just fills me with raw anger. Stay with me here because some of this gets tedious but I think it’s necessary for understanding the problem we’re facing. Very often I get asked about how the people here in the garbage dump survive, what do they do for a living? Here’s the long version. Many men work as day laborers in construction, a few as night watchmen and quite a large number buy green bananas that come in from the plantations of Tocoa and then sell them throughout the La Ceiba area on the back of rusting-out pickup trucks. However, the largest form of income by far here in the community is connected in some way or other to the garbage collection process. No one scavenges directly off the dump anymore, those days ended almost 10 years ago when the city privatized the dump had it covered over, converted into a landfill and barred the residents from intruding onto the new dumping area.

The garbage though has continued to be a major and vital part of the economy here in the community, much to the chagrin of both the mayor’s office and the private waste treatment company (I’ll explain why in a bit). The company itself is not responsible for the collection of the garbage, they simply control what passes through their gates at the far end of the community and are then responsible for the treatment of the waste that is constantly being interred. The collection then, falls to the mayor and his cronies in the form of contracts; the mayor awards collection contracts to the people he owes political favors and those people in turn use a portion of that money to buy “garbage trucks” (converted, massive and pitifully old delivery trucks), hire truck drivers and a few assistants who actually collect the garbage. The drivers and assistants, usually 2-3 per truck, are also joined by scavengers who make a living by sorting through the garbage as it travels en route to the dump. They look for plastic bottles, metal scraps, car batteries and anything else that might be of worth (I’m talking everything from bed frames to clothing to half-used perfume bottles), sort it into separate bags and then upon arrival to the community and just before the truck passes through the gates into the no-entry zone of the new landfill, the scavengers disembark and sell their findings to a group of families who have made their living buying these items, sorting them, weighing them and then re-selling them to the local recycling company or interested parties, whichever the case may be. These people are perhaps the most resilient and hard-scrabble of the whole collection lot for they live and die by what the trucks bring in and what price the recyclers set; they work long hours, Monday through Saturday in the baking sun and torrential rain bent over and sifting through plastics for next to nothing in terms of compensation. In fact most of the workers at the collection and weighing site make no money at all, this is their “family farm”, it’s how the family survives, so what little money comes in is given directly to mother and father.

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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…)

James Brenneman, J. Lawrence Burkholder and a new Mennonite theology of “loyal opposition” for Goshen College

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
– Francis Scott Key, Start Spangled Banner, 1814

Happy 4th of July! The American Flag in Fireworks by Beverly & Pack, flicrk user walkadog

Last week my alma mater, Goshen College, announced that it would begin playing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events. Their press release frames the decision as an exciting new theological and socio-political adventure for the college. Make sure to read the press release especially the quotes from GC president James Breneman and the GC Presidential Council.

I should say up front that this issue is fairly new to me. I wasn’t much of an athlete, so the playing of the national anthem was not an issue for me growing up. For a thoughtful perspective on GC’s decision from someone who has thought about this all their life, read a Open Letter to GC from Britt Kaufmann, longtime Mennonite athlete, coach and GC alum.

I’m mainly interested in this decision because of the way it was rolled out as part of a broader vision emerging from GC President James Brenneman. See his recent sermon Brenneman calls for new ‘school of thought’ at Goshen of positive engagement in the world.

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Listening to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and James Cone

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled.

Last evening I sat around our living room with 22 other Living Water Community Church folks and had a frank conversation about racism. The conversation was passionate and open. It ranged from personal stories to talk of definitions of racism and even touched on the practical. It was a new conversation to have with so many people in our congregation. My hope is that our sharing together will the start of a serious process that will include our whole church and not just a one Sunday event in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As most of you well know, the vision of Martin Luther King was not simply dreams of black and white children playing together. It was not just about sitting down and being friends. Some of us have heard of his radical critique of the triple evils of poverty, racism and war. But in Malcolm & Martin & America: a Dream or a Nightmare?, James Cone goes far beyond the quotes and the sound bites to look at the grain of King’s life and shows how his life path and vision was and is inextricably linked with that of Malcolm X.

I highly recommend Malcolm & Martin & America for Christian who recognizes that the problem of racism in the United States did not go away with the election of Barack Obama. It is a surprisingly readable history that tells the story of both men in the context of the history of black nationalism and integration struggles. I’m not qualified to write an overall review of the book, but I will share a few quotes from the book that stood out for me along with a few of my own thoughts.

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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?

A window into the reality of a 36 hour curfew in Honduras

As you may have heard, Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras and is in the Brazilian embassy. The government has responded to wide spread protests by imposing a curfew that has been extended repeatedly. Andrew Clouse, a friend of mine serving with MCC in Honduras, has a eye opening reminder of how devastating a curfew can be for those with only enough money to buy food a day at a time. From his post, Laying Siege:

Consider that many people here live day to day, buying only what they need for the day because it is all they can afford. Additionally, many people depend on the wages they receive every single day selling tortillas, fruit, vegetables, housewhares, etc., in order to buy the food they need. If everyone is in curfew, they don’t sell. Add to that the fact that many of the corner stores where many people buy their rice and beans are running out of food, because the distribution trucks are not allowed on the streets. This is after only one day.

Supposedly, the curfew is supposed to be ending right about now (6 am Honduras time). It seems like the situation is at boiling point and the future of the coup government will be decided in the next 24 hours or so.

Honduras protest at Brazil Embassy by vredeseilanden

Protests at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa on Sept. 21 by vredeseilanden / CC BY-NC 2.0

I’ve been following the coup in Honduras and the resistance to it quite closely this summer, although I haven’t written much about it since I didn’t feel like I had much original to say. I still don’t have anything profound, but I do have accumulated links, images and videos that you might find interesting.

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Corporations, Scriptural Sacrilege and Saucepan Revolutions

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Every once in a while, I stumble across a bunch of links all at once that don’t quite have the coherence to link together in one story, but each offer a compelling perspective. Here are the links that caught my eye this week with brief summaries of the stories:

  • Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back – I first became aware of Douglas Rushkoff last month after he published two of the best articles on the financial crisis I’ve read (here and here). Now he has a new book out on corporatism that lucidly illuminates the ruthless role of corporations in our economy as they extract maximum value while giving as little as possible in return. The article above includes brilliant excerpts from chapter 8 and chapter 9 of his book.
  • Onward, Christian Soldiers – GQ magazine got their hands on cover sheets from Donald Rumsfeld’s reports to Bush featuring bible verses superimposed on images of war machinery. I don’t use the term lightly, but these images are sickeningly sacrilegious. In the lower left hand corner you can see the dates of each report. They were used during the first days and months of the Iraq invasion. These images go along way to cement the invasion in people’s minds as the face of US Christianity.

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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…)

Inauguration Thoughts: The State is Still the State

Yesterday was truly a big day in U.S. history. The inauguration of the first African-American President is truly a turning point for our nation, especially given our abysmal history on race. Moreover, it was encouraging to hear Senator Dianne Feinstein’s reflections on the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, President Obama’s message that we need not choose “between our safety and ideals” and his call to diplomacy and international aid over sheer violent force and military power, and Reverend Joseph Lowery’s prayer that one day we will “beat our tanks into tractors.”

Nevertheless, I had a difficult time getting too emotional or excited over this change of guard. For, while yesterday was historical from the perspective of the United States, it was a pretty small speck when history is viewed rightly. As John Howard Yoder tirelessly argued, the locus of history is not with the state but with God’s work through his church. The state is merely the context in which the real drama of history can unfold.

So, while the words and symbolism of the inauguration may be moving, the sobering fact is that the state is still the state. Yes, Obama seems more intent than Bush on using diplomatic tactics to secure peace, but his message to our “enemy” was still virtually the same: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Not much room there for Jesus’s message to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and turn the other cheek. But this is as should be expected, because the state is still the state.

Ironically, with this change of guard many of us ‘open-minded, progressive’ Christians will begin to forget that the state is still the state. We will start to put our faith in the ideals of the state and our hope in its progress. As blogger Halden recently argued, now more than ever is it imperative (though difficult) to be resolute in our anti-empire polemics. It was far too easy to maintain a prophetic witness to the state when those in charge overtly sanctioned military aggression, torture, and seemingly unbridled increase of personal power. But when those in power seem to share many of our ideals, the temptation will be to give them a pass when they deem military violence necessary in this or that situation. And it will be difficult for us to make the unfashionable charge that those in power sanction the unjust extermination of the least of those among us. Indeed, to increase the irony still further, it may be the conservative Christians who begin to recognize with more clarity the separation between church and state (as many of my students, for example, ponder whether or not Obama is the anti-Christ!). They will now be the ones to speak prophetically, though their witness will be narrow and tainted by their continual use of political means to grasp for power. (more…)

Martyrdom Through Hollywood: Book Review of The Purple Crown

Tripp York. The Purple Crown: The Politics of Martyrdom. Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 2007. Pp. 198. $19.99, US.

The Purple Crown is the first book written by Tripp York (Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University) and the second in Herald’s new series, Polyglossia: Radical Reformation Theologies, edited by Peter Dula (Assistant Professor of Bible and Culture at Eastern Mennonite University), Chris K. Huebner (Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Canadian Mennonite University), J. Alexander Sider (Assistant Professor of Religion at Bluffton University), and Jennifer L. Graber (Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Wooster College).

Probably the best and worst thing about York’s book is its accessibility—it is easy to read. Clocking in at under 200 pages (including breaks, notes, and index), one can blow through it in an afternoon. It is not encumbered by jargon or technical language academics alone understand. The argument is clear: martyrdom is part and parcel of the Church’s missionary work, which is political by virtue of its unique publicity. Politics is bound up with imitation; who you imitate or follow displays your orientation towards the good. Because Christian martyrs are the ultimate imitators of Christ, they exemplify the ultimate political act over-against the powers that kill them. And yet York is quick to connect the martyr to the church that formed her prior to death, emphasizing the social nature of this politics that makes it possible to enact.

The Purple Crown begins with an account of the martyrs of the early church, arguing that they constitute the political agent par excellence for the church. It examines the body of the martyr as the battlefield between God and Satan, intrinsically connecting salvation with the flesh. York then skips to the 16th century, when Christians martyred other Christians, arguing in favor of the Anabaptists as exemplars for the continuity of the suffering church. It is the Anabaptists that maintain a visibly social distinction from the world’s secular civil organization, yet are simultaneously able to “seek the peace of the city.” The tension of being distinct from yet engaged with the world is the embodiment of a citizenship intended to help the nation move towards its divinely oriented destiny. The final chapter is a biography of Oscar Romero, the El Salvadorian priest who displayed this kind of citizenship through his defense of the oppressed and was “martyred” as a result. (more…)

Amish for Homeland Security

I haven’t read Shane Claiborne’s book Jesus for President yet, but I borrowed the title of this post from one of the chapters.  This post actually has little to do with the Amish or homeland security, but I wanted to point out two interesting items shared with me by a friend from church.

The first is a blog entry by Greg Boyd (who is mentioned in a previous YAR post) entitled, A Word to My Mennonite Friends: “Cherish Your Treasure!”. Just let’s not let it go to our heads.

The second is a segment from American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith (R) called Evangelical Politics: 3 Generations which features Charles Colson, Greg Boyd and Shane Claiborne.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this segment and would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

The morning after: politics beyond an election

Now what? I woke up the morning after Election Day politically disoriented. The empty feeling in my stomach didn’t go away after eating my usual yogurt and granola. What would I do in a world without politics? Do I have to wait another four years to fill that gnawing political void?

Not according to Romand Coles and Stanley Hauerwas in their new book: Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary (Cascade, 2008). Politics is not restricted to something that happens when we vote, they argue. Instead, politics involves all the ways we tend to “common goods” which exceed “settled institutional forms” (3). In other words, politics happens outside the voting booth as well. Politics happens in our neighborhoods, not just in Washington, D.C. Democracy involves “a multitude of peoples enacting myriad forms of the politics of the radical ordinary in ways,” they write (8). For Coles and Hauerwas, democracy is everyday politics that turns us to the importance of “concrete practices of tending to one another” (8).

Coles describes the Civil Rights movement as a story of everyday democracy. He does not focus on the familiar story of Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead Coles turns our gaze from powerful pulpits to the ordinary African-American churchwomen who gave Dr. King something to talk about. (more…)

My governor: the WWF wrestler

Adapted from As of Yet Untitled.

This morning I turned on NPR during breakfast and heard the news that the governor of Illinois was arrested at his house this morning in his blue and black jogging suit. Throughout the day today, in the car, on the train platform and over lunch I’ve had conversation with friends and strangers, all Illinoisans (yep, that’s how it’s spelled). The consensus was clear: we are all absolutely staggered by how stupid this man has been.

For those of you who haven’t been following Illinois politics for the last few years: Thank You. The news has been nothing but embarrassment to those of us who live in this state. For the last 3 years, the governor’s office has been under heavy investigation. The governor carried on defiant and self-righteous. Just yesterday he said, “If anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it. I appreciate anybody who wants to tape me openly and notoriously. And those who feel like they wanna sneakily and wear taping devices, I would remind them that it kinda smells like Nixon and Watergate.” according to the Washington Post. (more…)

“We are the agents of our own change” – Arthur Mutambara

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

This week Zimbabwe has wrestled its way back into the news with reports of over 600 dead of Cholera and as many as 60,000 cases feared in coming weeks. Inflation is so high that at restaurants you pay before the meal because the food will cost more when you finish. Unpaid soldiers are looting and rioting in the streets.

On Monday I was part of a gathering to hear from Arthur Mutambara, the leader of the smaller faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), one of two opposition parties currently in negotiation with the Zanu PF, the governing party. On September 15, the two parties signed a power sharing agreement that, if ratified, will make Robert Mugabe president, Morgan Tsvangirai (leader of the larger MDC faction) prime minister and Mutambara deputy prime minister.

Mutambara sees the power sharing agreement as the only path forward for Zimbabwe. In a country deeply traumatized by the violence before the June 27 election, a coalition government, Mutambara said, would offer the stability for a national healing process, a return to economic stability and could oversee the process for fair elections.

"We cannot wish away Mugabe," Mutambara said. "He has the presidency in his hands and the power that goes with it." The economic crisis alone is not enough to topple Mugabe and the country is far too traumatized for an uprising, violent or otherwise.  It very painful to imagine an election, let alone a free and fair one. In any election held now, traumatized voters would re-elect Mugabe.

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Proposition Hate

Tuesday was quite the night. Like Celeste, I found my way to Grant Park (coveted tickets for the official campaign event in hand) and joined the crowd of a hundred thousand gathered to scream, cry, hug, and jump our way into a new spirit of hopefulness that is solidifying around us.

Besides Obama’s victory, there was another vote that meant a lot to me on Tuesday, and left a lingering bittersweetness to the otherwise perfect night: Proposition 8 amended the California constitution to define legal marriage as exclusive to opposite-sex couples, overturning the decision of the Supreme Court and ending the right of California same-sex couples to the legal protections of marriage for the near future.

Initial reaction: rage. I found someone who expressed this very very well:

Ultimately, though, rage against injustice must energize something else, something life-affirming.

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