As the sun hovered at the horizon, I got into the big canoe with 20 people from Las Pavas. We were mostly men with a few woman and one young boy. We pulled away from the bank of the river and began motoring towards the sunset, racing against the light.
It’s difficult to know where to begin reporting on the #Occupy Empire mini conference that took place at Eastern Mennonite Seminary back in April. Though the conference was short, there was nothing “mini” about the content lined up by the conference planners, Brian Gumm and Aaron Kauffman. Thus what I offer here is a reflection on the themes that stood out to me. Others might have noticed different threads woven throughout the weekend, or simply have been alert and listening carefully during those moments when I distracted by refilling my coffee mug. I won’t pretend to hit on every single presenter and every important theme that was brought up. This is simply what challenged me, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the conference.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next, I pet them and promise them I’ll try to get extra food though I know there isn’t any.
No reaction. (more…)
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…)
August 22, 2011 Anabaptism, Biographical, Change, Church, City, Civilization, Consumerism, culture, Current Events, Economics, Education, Ethics, Evangelism, Exclusion, God, Group Identity, History, Interfaith, Love, Mennonite Church USA, Mental health, Nonviolence, philosophy, Polarization, poverty, Power, Privilege, Race, Schism, Sex, Spiritual Life, Stewardship, Stories, The Bible, Theology, Tolerance, Tradition, Urban Ministry, Wealth 2 Read more >
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…)
In the first article of this series, I did a broad overview of the bureaucratization trends in the Mennonite Church. In the second article, I looked specifically at the philosophy of institutions put forth by J. Lawrence Burkholder and practiced by James Brenneman and Howard Brenneman as presidents of Goshen (Ind.) College and Mennonite Mutual Aid respectively. In this third part I’ll look at the history of this thought in the Anabaptist tradition as well as Mennonite and feminist critique of Neihbur and Burkholder. I’ll continue to draw heavily from The Limits of Perfection: A Conversation with J. Lawrence Burkholder as well as The Feminist Case against Bureaucracy.
Is Gandhi in hell? What’s more, what is hell? Or heaven, for that matter?
These are some of the questions that have sparked a bit of a firestorm around Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: a book about heaven hell and the fate of everyone who ever lived. This first came across my radar screen when I read a post on Tony Jones’s blog late last week about the growing attention and criticism about this book. Then I did some searching and saw that it has even made a splash on the national news scene from CNN to ABC.
Here’s the book promo video:
Controversy in and of itself isn’t surprising with Rob Bell. That’s happened before. What is striking is that judgment has been leveled by a number of people who haven’t even read the book yet because it has not yet been released!
Ultimately the controversy stems from the fact that Bell is raising core questions about issues that are central to the Christian faith. He has posed the questions in ways that have led some to conclude that Bell is promoting something called Universalism; a doctrine where everyone gets saved, no matter what. Again, these are all assumptions because none of his critics have actually read the book yet. The only worthwhile critique I’ve read so far is Greg Boyd’s, namely because he actually has read the book. (As a side note, as an Anabaptist, it’s worth paying attention to Boyd partly because he’s grown very close to Mennonites in recent years, even flirting with the idea of joining MCUSA.) (more…)
March 8, 2011 Bias, Blog, Books, Church, culture, Current Events, Emerging Church, End Times, Exclusion, Excommunication, Faith, God, Interpretation, Media, Mennonite Church USA, Power, Spiritual Life, The Bible, Theology 14 Read more >
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?
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.
November 14, 2010 activism, Anabaptism, Bias, Biographical, Blog, Change, Church, communication, Community, Conscientious Objection, culture, Current Events, Discipleship, Ethics, Evangelism, Group Identity, History, Mennonite Church USA, Nonviolence, Peace & Peacemaking, philosophy, Polarization, Polemics, Power, Theology, Tolerance, Tradition 25 Read more >
The recent revelations about U.S. and British forces in Iraq uncover a stunning darkness. According to The Guardian, the 400,000 documents made available last week through WikiLeaks reveal “15,000 previously unreported civilian deaths.” The number of deaths kept secret by the leaders of our government exposes the sickening violence of war. While I would rather ignore the stories of killing and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am reminded of the words of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In 1934 he wrote to a friend, “Only complete truth and truthfulness will help us now.”
Here are two stories that I can’t get out of my head as I think about the truth of war. In 2006, in the town 60 miles north of Baghdad, Khalib and his pregnant sister Nabiha were in a rush to get to the hospital. As they made their way down the usual streets, they came upon a new U.S. military checkpoint. The soldiers perceived the approaching vehicle as a threat, so they opened fire and killed Nabiha and the child in her womb. She was 35, and the dead baby was a boy.
War is never kind to women and children, especially to pregnant women. Neither is war kind to the mentally disabled, who are some of the most vulnerable among us. (more…)
by Tim Nafziger and Mark Van Steenwyk
In July, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman blogged some reflections on his visit with Mennonites from various Native groups in Ashland, Montana. He clearly describes the way white settlers’ sense of manifest destiny led to the clearing of the Cheyenne and other groups from their land. He acknowledges the deep trauma these communities have experience. He shares the effect this had on him personally. In other words, he knows that oppression is bad and that he as part of the dominant group, is complicit in it.
Stutzman concludes the article with a commitment to “walk alongside our Native American brothers and sisters as they seek God’s way for their future.” What does this mean, exactly? What does it look like to take the the tragic knowledge of history of oppression and the analysis of how this oppression continues and do something to make a difference?
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.
For the last few months I haven’t been as active on Young Anabaptist Radicals as usual. Aside from my normal work doing web design and work for Christian Peacemaker Teams, I took a class on Anabaptist History and Theology. I’ve also been part of organizing a gathering in conjunction with the US Social Forum in Detroit. It’s called Becoming Undone: a gathering of Christians drawn to Anabaptism and the continuing work of Undoing Opressions. Follow the link for more details. There’s still room if you register now!
I’ve also been very involved in a movement called Spark Renewal.
For many years, I’ve been fascinated (and disturbed) by the way that institutions tend to drift away from their original mission and towards self-preservation. I started writing about it in back in 2004, but the decision by Goshen College to start playing the anthem got me thinking about it a lot more. Around the same time friends started sharing their concerns and frustrations with the “Joining Together” campaign to build a new Mennonite Church office building on the campus of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries. (more…)