Power

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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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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Sparking Renewal and Becoming Undone: What I’ve been up to recently

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!

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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…)

Kairos and Lent in the “Holy Land”

Crossposted from Ekklesia, UK by ST with permission of Tim Siedel

Experiencing the Lenten season in Palestine is unique. It carries with it incredible feelings of closeness and concreteness as one visits sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem — the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected. Yet, those feelings of closeness are easily swallowed up by a sense of separation and forsakenness as one considers the current situation.

In the recently released Kairos Palestine Document, Palestinian Christians take this situation as their starting point in challenging theological interpretations of those “who use the Bible to threaten our existence as Christian and Muslim Palestinians,” trying to “attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights.”

Though Easter and its celebration of resurrection and new life defines Christianity, in a place like Palestine the season of Lent always seems more appropriate. (more…)

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…)

Global Anabaptist Wiki

The Global Anabaptist Wiki is an interactive community of Anabaptist-Mennonite groups from around the world. Initiated by the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College, the site is committed to helping individual groups: 1) tell their own story; 2) post and preserve electronic archives; and 3) become better informed about other groups in the global Anabaptist fellowship. Like all wiki-based projects, this is a collaborative venture that relies on the local expertise of many people.

This project is still in its early stages of construction. John Roth and others led a workshop at Mennonite World Conference Assembly Gathered (Paraguay 2009) about it…listening to perspectives and discerning whether or not it was a good idea. What do you think about the idea? Will you use it as a resource?

I think this is a good idea because everyone around the world can contribute to create collective knowledge. Some of the things written by people in their home churches about themselves may make North Americans (perhaps especially mission agencies) uncomfortable. This could be a good thing for dialogue. Wiki creates a space that is not owned by anyone. Following up on Alan’s initial post, this decentralization of “ownership of the story” could be a healthy thing. Since young people are more tech saavy, it can be a way that we connect to the background stories of our Anabaptist friends from around the world.

If you want to collaborate with the project in a substantial way, (it needs volunteers to help monitor it and encourage posting) feel free to contact John directly at johndr@goshen.edu

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…)

Love and Smoke

So I am really in love for the first time in a while. He’s a radical activist. He’s Mennonite. He’s brilliant. He would probably read and write on this blog if he was from the USA. But there is a big problem, he smokes tobacco (a lot). Or is that not a problem? I need your help, my radical friends…to help me think through the issues of smoking and tobacco usage. I can only really take love advice seriously from people who are in the movement for positive social change…people who understand a deep commitment to values that call us to put our “personal” love lives in perspective with the greater struggle of promotion of love and justice all over the world. I listen to others who I feel are be people of integrity on all levels of life.

What follows is what I think about smoking/what I’m struggling with/the questions I have. Please, if you have any wisdom to share…SHARE IT. As a feminist I am willing to put this out in the public because I do believe the personal is political. And I know that the relationships that individuals have also effect the collective.

I realized again that I’m a “God-geek” when I wanted to know something marriage a few weeks ago and so I looked at C. Arnold Snyder’s chapter titled “Anabaptist Marriage” in Anabaptist History and Theology textbook. My point was to see how these young activists handled marriage in the context of an intense social movement. (more…)

Christians: the vanguard of American anti-capitalist sentiment?

Shane Claiborne breathes fire

I’ve been wanting to write up a longer introduction to this link for two weeks, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Zach over at Revolution in Jesusland was visiting European lefties and told them that Christians are on the vanguard of American anti-capitalist sentiment:

So when I bring up the “Revolutionaries” of the American church, people over here completely freak out. They cannot believe it. They will not believe it. Their faces wince up, because they know I can’t be making this up completely, but it’s just too much to process. They dismiss it. There’s a strong stereotype of the “ignorant protestant preacher” and they can’t reconcile it with what I’m saying.

Somehow, eventually, these two mainstream forces that are questioning capitalism on both sides of the Atlantic will have to get to know each other, but that’s probably a while off.

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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…)

It’s someone else’s problem…or it’s not.

(A Debbie Downer post. Sorry about your luck.)

For several months I’ve been making posts that suggest (though I don’t think I’ve said it), that the idea that people are somehow different than they were before is probably a little idealist. I don’t think people are progressive (as in, moving forward or evolving either physically or emotionally/spiritually/physcologically). Perhaps the best time I’ve come out and said it would be the shit-disrupter of a post I made on Christarchy, Humanity on the Fringes of a Moshpit. Essentially, in a long winded tirade, I compare the progressive anarchist/art-school kids to the famed large browed Geico Spokesmen. Such a thing was a dare, especialy among my more liberally minded brethern. But I did it. I did it because I don’t think humanity is really all that different than it was 2,000 years ago. Or 4,000. Or 6,000. We can pretend lots of things, like those people back then were all stupid, ignorant, inbred maruaders, raping the land for everything it was worth. Besides for the inbred thing, I don’t think we are far removed. (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…)

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…)

What happens in church on a Thursday night when you are not looking.

The church basement’s cinder block walls radiate the cold. Coffee permeates the air. Two dozen people or so sit at 8′ X 3′ wooden folding tables, set up in a circle, eating cake and drinking the aforementioned coffee. Another dozen or more sit at chairs placed around the room. My friend, we’ll call him Brian, sits at the front, the Serenity Prayer scrawled on a plaque on his right.

God, Grant me the serenity,
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

This is an A.A. meeting.

Brian is celebrating one year. He is chairing the meeting, which means he gets to tell his story, speak however long he likes, and call on any member he sees fit to call on. Before any of that can begin, though, the various “officers” read off various lists of A.A. “rules”, “codes of conduct”, and other bureaucratic regulations. You would think these to be many considering A.A. has a reported 1,867,212 members worldwide with 106,202 meetings.

To put this in perspective A.A. is about the same size as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and larger than the Assemblies of God in the USA. (more…)

Three Interesting Articles on the Subject of Whiteness

I have found a few interesting articles that have come out from person of color perspectives on aspects of Christian “progressivism” or “monasticism”.

Here’s one by Chanequa Walker-Barnes on New Monasticism and White Privelege

Here’s one by Anthony Smith at Emergent Village on the tendency for “not voting” in progressive circles
Here are responses by Brian McClaren and David Fitch.

Then there’s this piece by Tim Wise on how white privelege is manifesting itself in the US presidential election.