Power

The GC/MC dance of authority and autonomy: An interview with Lin Garber

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled (with different introduction)

Dancing at Living Water

Over the years here on YAR, discussions about the differences between the approach of the (Old) Mennonite Conference (MC) and General Conference (GC) have cropped up now and again. This comment from AlanS from 2010 is probably one of the most insightful. For non-Mennonites or those who have joined in the last 12 years, these reference are mysterious. Nevertheless, for those of of us working for change in the Mennonite church, understanding these differences are critical. To that end, here is my interview with Lin Garber, the convener of Mennoneighbors and a writer and editor. Lin graduated from Goshen College in 1957 and is a member of The Mennonite Congregation of Boston.

Tim: Lin, in a comment on The Mennonite website* you discussed the differering approaches of General Conference (GC) and the "Old" Mennonite Church (MC) to Section III ("Clarification on some issues related to homosexuality and membership") of Membership Guidelines for the formation of Mennonite Church USA (2001). For those who have never heard of the terms GC and MC, can you briefly explain some of the history?

Lin: Today’s Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada) and Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) took their present forms around 2000 in what was termed a "transformation" (as opposed to discarded language like merger and integration). What had been the Mennonite Church, often informally and unofficially referred to as the "Old" Mennonites (MC), stemmed largely from 18th-century immigrants to North America with Swiss and south German origins. It had conferences in both the United States and Canada, a few of which had congregations on both sides of the border, but the bulk of its membership was in the United States.

What had been the General Conference Mennonite Church came out of a movement within the "Old" Mennonites of southeastern Pennsylvania in 1847 that in 1860 organized as the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. A main stated goal of the group was to unite all Mennonites into one body. It grew slowly over the next dozen years as a few congregations decided to join it, but starting in 1874 its membership exploded with the influx of immigrants from central Europe and especially from southern Russia, mostly the Ukraine. The bulk of these immigrants were of Dutch-Prussian (i.e., north German) descent, and those cultural influences came to dominate. At the time of the "transformation" around 2000, the membership of the GC was roughly balanced between the United States and Canada, with the United States having a slight edge.

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A Report on #Occupy Empire: Anabaptism and God’s Mission

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

DSC_0276

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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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…)

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…)

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…)

Patterns of this World, part 3: Patriarchy, Pacifism and Powerlessness

Stained Glass at Cathedralis SS. Michaelis et GuduLae

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.

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Love Wins

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…)

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.

Revelations from WikiLeaks

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…)

Oppression analysis on its own isn’t enough: Becoming an Ally

Gears of Iowa

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?

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