Theology

The Union Project

For a few months, I’ve heard a smattering of chatter about something in Pittsburgh called The Union Project. It’s a neat group of young people, many of them Mennonite (and some are alumni of Goshen College), who have purchased an old church building in a once-great, now-going downhill neighbhorhood. Their work promoting geographical and spiritual community in their neighborhood is refreshing. Among their projects are a cafe, which employs students from a local high school’s culinary arts program, a stained-glass business, and office and meeting places for local organizations. These include a church called The Open Door, which seems to be part of the “emerging church” conversation.

The Union Project promotes art exhibitions as fundraisers and partners with the city of Pittsburgh in community redevelopment. They are also located one block away from MennoCorps’ Pittsburgh unit, which is called Pulse. And those of us who have participated in BikeMovement might be interested to know that a local bike shop in their neighborhood sponsors a bicycle team. And some of you may know Brad Yoder, a locally-based “singer-songmaker” who lives in their neighborhood and first came to Pittsburgh through Pulse.

the numbers game: a cranky opinion

I spoke at a small Church of the Brethren congregation in Napannee, Indiana last Sunday. The church seems to be an older congregation, which was interesting mainly because in Sunday School, a somewhat skeptical older gentleman turned to me, and out of the blue, said that while the numbers of non-denominational churches are rising, the Church of the Brethren (and, he presumed, the Mennonite Church) is shrinking. He asked me why I thought that was. I didn’t say that I think it’s dangerous to assume that growth is always the best indicator of the health of anything (take obesity as a prime example). (more…)

Revival, anyone?

Perhaps I am writing this because where I live, I have to explain at least once a week what a Mennonite is, our core values and goals, and this makes me long to see more of us practicing them. Perhaps I am writing this because I am tired of silences and homogeny of so many different kinds…who knows? I’m just glad that YAR offers a chance to talk…

Here in Athens, Ohio, we take pride in many things: our farmers’ market, fair trade coffee shops, beautiful hiking trails and rock formations, and the obvious diversity in our population: undergrads known for making O.U. the on-again-off-again #1 party school, international grad students, professors in tweed jackets, and colorful Appalachian locals. I revel in the atmosphere of a college town, especially one so “progressive,” at least for Ohio. I have to face it; I like to feel “different,” on the “verge” of something, and Athens allows me to have this faith in Humanity’s ability to create and evolve. Speaking of the “p” word (“progressive,” in case you are confused), one would think that being Mennonite would immediately peg us as “different” in the larger society. But the kind of Mennonite I want to be–actively seeking out peace and justice according to Christ’s example, accountable simple living and community, and heck–maybe even preaching one day– does not involve head coverings or long hair and dresses. So what distinguishes my “sect” of Mennos, those who have greatly assimilated back into the dominating culture out of fear, comfort, or for some other reason? (more…)

Maeyken Wens: One face of Early Anabaptism

There’s been a couple of posts today referencing early Anabaptists and discussing what exactly they stood for. As Jonny pointed out, they are far from homogenous. I always like pointing out the example of the Batenburgers, survivors of the Muensterites who basically turned terrorist. I always like pointing out their infidel-hating, cow-massacring ways to counterbalance any overly pious view of early Anabaptists.

But I’m not here to write more about the Batenburgers. Instead I’d like to look at a woman named Maeyken Wens who was burned at the stake in Antwerp on October 6th, 1573. If you’ve ever flipped through the Martyr’s Mirror, you may have come across the image that goes with her story (at right). Unlike most of the Martyr’s Mirror etchings, its not an image of death or persecution, but of the aftermath. Her son Adriaen is sifting through the ashes looking for the tongue screw that clamped her tongue so she couldn’t sing or testify. I first heard her story from John Sharp, Mennonite historian, storyteller and father of Michael J. If you grew up Mennonite, you’ve probably heard it too and you may have even seen the tongue screw, carefully handed down from generation to generation to remind us of our persecuted past.

But it isn’t the story of the tonge screw that I want to write about either. It’s the letters Maeyken wrote to her husband and her son that interest me most. (more…)

Mennonite Church (global?) identity

(This was originally written as a response to Eric’s article on “Calling the church to go pee pee,” but I decided that I don’t really want to be associated with Eric, and my post brings up some new issues. So I deserve my own [first ever] post. And since it’s my first post, I apologize if this topic has already been discussed enough. I haven’t been keeping up with all the posts over the past months.)

Good thoughts, bro. Like you, I wonder about the drive to look back to the “original” Anabaptists as a model for our developing church identity. A few weeks ago, Brian McLaren came to Goshen College and hosted a meal for a select group of AMBS and GC students interested in the future of the Mennonite Church. The discussion quickly turned to the developing identity of the Mennonite Church, and the growing feeling among young people that there’s a lack of intentionality about the formation of that identity. Not surprisingly, pacifism was the first thing mentioned as the central point of Anabaptist/Mennonite identity, and Brian encouraged us to emphasize that aspect in the future. There was a clear sense that what the Mennonite Church really needs is to return to the perfect example of the 16th century Anabaptists.

Let’s not be nostalgiac about the early Anabaptists. (more…)

Recommendation for free Election Night soundtrack

A few weeks ago, Nathan suggested that the singer/songwriter Derek Webb was trumpeting Anabaptist values. I haven’t checked out a new artist Christian music field for quite sometime now, but upon looking at his website I discovered that he was offering his all of latest album, Mockingbird, free to download. As a properly frugal Mennonite, I decided it was my duty to download it. Today I finally got around to listening to it.

What I discovered was a pleasant surprise: the first sarcastic Anabaptist “Christian Music” artist I’ve ever come across (though admittedly I don’t know that many). Here’s a sample:

don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus)
i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

– from “A New Law”

(more…)

Living in a world of Post-s, -ists, and –isms

[I have been invited to share this with you all and look forward to joining the conversations. Please note that this is NOT in edited form, that it is merely a spewing of thoughts. I look forward to further feedback and discussions. Please note also that I’m eager to find a different phrase to encapsulate what I love about the movement of the post-Christendom church … perhaps “grassroots christianity” or “grassroots Christ-living” …]

Living in a world of Post-s, -ists, and –isms:
What the Emerging Church movement can teach Anabaptism

Mennonites in the United States are slowly realizing that we live in drastically different times and in drastically different ways than our Anabaptist leaders lived. Are we living in such a way due to evolving revelation or have we let go of our fundamental radical roots? (more…)

Tempting Faith shows Bush exploitation of Christians

I’m not usually one to post videos on blogs, but this two part series on the Keith Olbermann show covers the new book by David Kuo, a longtime conservative Christian political operative and deputy director of White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction appears to be just what its title claims: a thorough expose of the way the Bush administration has strung along Christian leaders over the last 6 years. The general themes of broken promises to conservatives won’t come as a surprise, but the specifics coming from an insider are still very disturbing. One minor, but telling quote from the book:

[Christian leaders] were given passes to be in the crowd greeting the president or tickets for a speech he was giving. Little trinkets like cufflinks or pens or pads of paper. Christian leaders could give them to their congregations or donors or friends to show just how influential they were. Making politically active Christian personally happy meant having to worry far less about the political Christian agenda.

But you can watch it all in gory glory for yourself in Part 1:

and Part 2: (more…)

Bearing Gifts

Those who attended the Mennonite Youth Convention in Orlando, FL in 1997, may recall Tony Campolo commenting that ironically, “In the Catholic Church the wine turns into Jesus’ blood, but in the Mennonite Church, the wine turns into grape juice.” This past Saturday, at the wedding of two of our friends my wife and I participated in our first Catholic Mass. Not only did we partake in the ceremony of the Eucharist, but we had been asked to be the “Gift Bearers” (not to be confused with the “gift receivers” who collect presents for the bride & groom). The gift bearers carry the gifts- that is, the bread and wine – to the altar and present it to the priest. We considered it an honor to be asked to take on such an important role in the service. (more…)

The ‘Reign of God’ is among you…

The Associated Press reported, on October 8, that 75 people attended the funeral of Charles C. Roberts. About half of the “mourners” were Amish.

In a world run by retaliatory violence, a community near Lancaster PA took a chance on the Reign of God.

That’s history. It’s irrefutable. It’s staggeringly convicting. It’s Anabaptism – lived.

Dr. Dobson Makes New Hamartiological Breakthrough!

Dr. Dobson of Focus on the Family has made a new breakthrough in Hamartiology that I just had to share with you:

“Culture bends and sways with the outcome of elections,” he said. “If you can find a politician who understands the institution of the family, … who understands that we are at war with those who want to destroy us utterly, who understands that liberal judges … need to be reined in, and if you can find a politician who lives by a strong moral code and believes in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten son, … it would be a sin not to vote for him.” (Star Tribue)

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it is now officially a sin to vote for a anti-war candidate. Jesus couldn’t have said it better himself.

This reminds me of when I was a kid and had a subscription to Club House (and later Breakaway magazine). And I was a devoted listener of Adventures in Odyssey and Mr. Whittaker (featured above) back in the 80’s. Its wierd to try to reconcile the warm and nostalgic memories I have of that show with the outrage I now feel at quotes like these from Dr. Dobson. Anyone else out there who finds themselves robbed of their childhood icons?

Rauschenbusch on the church

“The Kingdom of God breeds prophets; the Church breeds priests and theologians. The Church runs to tradition and dogma; the Kingdom of God rejoices in forecasts and boundless horizons. The men who have contributed the most fruitful impulses to Christian thought have been men of prophetic vision, and their theology has proved most effective for future times where it has been most concerned with past history, with present social problems, and with the future of human society. The Kingdom of God is to theology what outdoor colour and light are to art. It is impossible to estimate what inspirational impulses have been lost to theology and to the Church, because it did not develop the doctrine of the Kingdom of God and see the world and its redemption from that point of view.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, 1917.

Mennonites Notes from a Catholic University

  • There is a more penetrating paradox of joy and sorrow in receiving a eucharistic blessing than I have ever elsewhere felt. The gentle yet commanding touch of the priest, the exaggerated sign of the cross he imprints on my body, the quiet murmur of a trinitarian blessing intended directly for me: this is surely how it must feel to be embraced and sent by the church! Yet my fellow faithful have just joined a deeper blessing that not only signifies but embodies their unity with each other, with the whole history of the Church, and most especially with the Christ whom they touch, feel, and taste. The sign of my embrace is the sign of my exclusion, not out of malice or in error but because all we can do from our wounded distance is to touch. To touch is to hope for healing.
  • ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Radical’ tend toward the same root, which is the right praise of God. It is all the same tragedy whether Catholics (by assuming that God is contained in their liturgy) ignore the disruptive grace that emerges from proper doxology, or whether Mennonites (by assuming pretentious airs of ‘newness’) undermine the long history of faithful prayer that encompasses every true justice and every true church. There is no Christian doxology without justice and no Christian justice without doxology.
  • A doctrinaire simplicity will never know the wonder of God’s presence inside a building erected with all the extravagance due God’s name, where every detail is molded with care and every resource is quickly marshalled to express our praise. Unflinching extravagance will never discover that a material renunciation for the sake of each other, for the sake of the poor, makes possible the real presence of Christ among all the faithful who have meanwhile become friends. Neither the cathedral nor the house church can be too quickly rejected. Both are beautiful.