Monthly Archive: June 2008

Everything Must Change Conference

In May, I attended Brian McLaren’s conference for his new book Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. I was hungry for the ways he articulated the dangers and opportunities we face in this century. Attending Brian’s conference was so refreshing, just to see people talking about these issues. There’s a further summary of the conference content by ST.

Much of the ideas in his book are not new to the faith-based peace activists I know. However, there is a lot we need to face in the inconvenient truths of environmental issues, and crises connected to humanity’s overconsumption. When activists talk about these issues, people are put off by the stark realities we expose them to, those realities being hard enough to face as it is.

McLaren talked about these painful issues in a way that was easily understandable for mainstream evangelicals or folks on the fringe of the church. He applied the example of Jesus and his relevance to our times, naming the social and political backdrop of Jesus’ life during a period of Empire, inequality, and injustice.

What was so important for me, was the chance to go deeper than intellectual discussion of crisis scenarios, deeper than fix-it mode. It was an opportunity to feel, to grieve and to struggle with hope through worship and the arts. (more…)

Jesus for President: Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

I know it’s old hat for many of you radical anabaptists to talk about how Jesus is political. But, none the less, I thought I’d invite ya’ll to an event we’re having down here in North Carolina. A couple of my friends will be making a stop in Raleigh for an event. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw are touring the country for their new book and holding rallies along the way. I know the Triangle (i.e., Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) is far away from Menno country. But if you go through the hassle to get down here, I’ll find somewhere for you to stay. The campaign stop is sponsored by our Mennonite district churches (ECD) and the North Carolina Council of Churches. Here’s an edgy blurb for the event:

On Tuesday evening, July 22nd, we will celebrate the political campaign that has lasted 2,000 years. But this movement of the people is quite different from what the current American democratic parties are up to. It all started in a Palestinian village: a woman from the wrong side of the tracks birthed someone who would change the world. This boy grew up and started a campaign that ignited a revolutionary fire of love across the land. Sure, the empire killed him, like they do all revolutionaries. But the rumor is that his followers are still at it; they have kept the memory alive. Come hear the good news; and maybe pledge allegiance to a very different king. It’s free, so show up early if you want a seat.

Jesus for President: 7pm, July 22nd, Raleigh, First Baptist Church (101 S. Wilmington Street)

Spread the word.

Here’s their website: Jesus for President

** Update **

CNN just did a piece on the Jesus for President campaign. Look here

McCain’s Sacred Violence

Gun rights activists in DC
As many of you may have read, the Supreme Court today made the tragic decision to overturn the hand gun ban in Washington D.C.

I’ve written here before about America’s view of the gun as holy. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by Senator McCain’s response:

“Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today’s ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right — sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly.”

But it made me wonder. What other things does McCain see as a sacred? (more…)

PAPA Fest 2008: A Gramatically Radical Report

Cross posted from As of Yet Untitled.

From Thursday through Saturday of last week, Charletta and I attended PAPA festival. This is the People Against Poverty and Apathy festival that is a "convergence of communities and movements coming together to share, dream, and create." The gathering has happened twice before, first in 1997 and then again in 2006.

Storm and tents at PAPA fest

Plow Creek Mennonite Church and Fellowship hosted the event on their. I’ve visited Plow Creek a number of times over years, but the PAPAfarians had trasnformed the place. When we arrived on Thursday morning, the stubble on the oat fields was still visible between the veggie fueled bus campers and the 500 gallon water tank. But by that evening, the fields had sprouted tents like mushrooms in warm manure. Over 750 people showed up for the four day gathering that all told. Our entrance fee was on a donation basis since the event was run completely by volunteers, including most of the attendees themselves.

On Thursday afternoon we gathered to watch the opening festivities on the main stage, two hay wagons pushed together in a field. The welcome events which included an address by Tony Campolo (via cell phone) and an anarchist beat poetry band from St. Louis. More eccentric musical combinations were to follow in the ensuing days with musical acts ranging from a celestial harpist to a wild concert by the Psalters, a traveller/tribal/punk band that played hymns, folk songs and very loud worship songs. (more…)

Envision 08: Toward Christian Unity in the Public Square

Is Christian unity in the public square an important goal to work toward? Here at seminary there are many people thinking about denominationalism as a theological issue/concern. I went to a conference to think about some of these issues. It was called Envision 08 ( I helped out with a workshop on Sexuality and Faith. There were many young evangelical Christians who are freeing themselves from the grip of right wing politics there. The conversation was familiar to an Anabaptist like me, but it was like watching people hear the Good News for the first time. Everyone was so excited that faith meant more than rigid rules, hierarchy, and supporting the U.S.A.

The Declaration below, coming from “Envision: the Gospel, Politics, and the Future” at Princeton University June 8-10, 2008, began with an online dialogue of approximately 100 participants on June 2 about religion, social change, and politics. On June 8, a diverse panel of scholars discussed the results of the dialogue.

After attending the conference and hearing reports about the conversations that occurred throughout many aspects of the conference, the panel met and created the declaration. You can sign it if you want. (more…)

Two hopeful stories in the news

Sunset over the EvergladesI recently finished reading Rebecca Solinit’s Hope in the dark: untold histories, wild possibilities (find it at a library near you). It’s a small, wonderful window into hope, written in the midst of the apparent failure of the anti-war movement. It inspired me to watch a little more closely in the news for hopeful stories in the news. I came across two stories about inspiring victories that will both (hopefully) lead to large new areas of land being protected and allowed to return to their natural state. They also show case an interesting contrast in tactics. (more…)

Teach A Man To Fish?

Pam Wilson of Operation Mercy wrote an insightful article about the proverb,
“Catch a man a fish you feed him a meal,
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Besides the fact that the proverb is sexist, it holds many false assumptions of how the poor should be helped. I have always had a problem with the proverb because it assumes that one should ignore the immediate need. But Ms. Wilson has a better overall approach.

Steve K


Tim asked me to introduce myself before contributing to this blog. So here goes…

I guess I’m young–although my wife has discovered a recent influx of white hairs on my head. And I guess I’m Anabaptist–although my parents had me baptized as an infant. But I don’t think anyone wants to include me among the “radicals” since I’m a pastor. Everyone knows that pastors aren’t radical. They are (we are) just pastors.

My name is Isaac Villegas and I pastor a Mennonite congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As I’ve discovered from wearing name tags at Mennonite conferences, my last name is a giveaway: my family tree isn’t rooted in Europe. My blood flows from south of the border. I’m the child of Catholic immigrants from Latin America who settled in Los Angeles, California. My ecclesial story meanders through various traditions. But my first memory of church is set in a modern cathedral, with lavishly adorned priests walking down the center aisle, incense wafting through the rows, and Christ’s transubstantiated presence beckoning from the altar of eucharistic mysteries.

But my family was pentecostal Catholic at heart, and that kind of hybrid Catholicism didn’t happen in our LA neighborhoods. So we turned to the anarchic pentecostal and storefront charismatic movements. Then evangelicals took hold of me during college. But they left me high and dry when I wrestled with the need for a faithful response to 9/11. The Mennonites saved my faith; they offered a communal witness of peace that took seriously the bible and the miracle-working power of the Holy Spirit.

I moved to North Carolina to help start a house of hospitality called the Rutba House. When we discovered that lots of other folks were doing the same things, we invited everyone we could think of to Durham for a conversation on “a new monasticism.” (If you want more information, we put together a book of essays: Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism.)

While I experimented with what we were calling “neo-monasticism,” I worshiped with the good people at Chapel Hill Mennonite. They taught me how to do church Mennonite-style–granted, a grass roots (i.e., radical?) variety of Mennonite that makes most sense to me. And for some crazy reason they thought it was a good idea to call me as their pastor. Only the Holy Spirit does stuff that crazy.

Maybe you’re asking the wrong question

In follow up to my earlier post, the following is what I presented this past weekend at the Believers Church Conference (Believers Church includes Baptists, Penticostals, Mennonites, Brethren, etc…adult baptizers). I was the the young adult representative on a panel discussing mission and evangelism in light of denominationalism and congregationalism in the Believers church in our time. My answer is based on a personal theology of mission and recent reading as well as conversations I have had with young adults in the Mennonite church.

Question: “How do young adults desire to engage in the church’s ministry of mission and evangelism? Where do you see possibilities and problems in the church’s approach to mission in our day? Provide illustrations.

The question asked assumes that mission and evangelism exist as departments or branches owned by the church. We know that ultimately mission and evangelism belong to God and so every Christian should naturally engage the world with mission and evangelism through the way they live. The church then is a group of Christians who gather together for mutual encouragement and building up and worship of God. Therefore mission is at the heart of this group of Christians called the church. The church does not design, select, and control mission and evangelism unless the church is purely viewed as a structural organization. If the church is viewed as a body of believers living in the way of Christ, then Christians of all ages, young adult, middle-aged adult, baby adult and old adult, are part of this body and together they engage the world with mission and evangelism because it is integral to who they are as individuals and as a larger body that God has called, is calling and will continue to call. (more…)

Review of the New Conspirators

This is an expanded version of my review that first appeared on As of Yet Untitled. Available here with exclusive additional quotes from the book!

To put it simply, Tom Sine’s The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Timeis an encyclopedia of the new movement in the Evangelical church in Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States.

I received a review copy of The New Conspirators: just before leaving for Vietnam a month and a half ago. I carried the book with me through 3 long train journeys, fully intending to read it on each one. Then, quite unexpectedly I found myself with a large amount of time in a clinic room while my traveling companion recovered from a collapse due to altitude sickness.

We were in the mountain village of Sapa (see photos). A fog hung over the region the whole day, broken occasionally by rain. Indigenous people were the main clients of the medical facility and their colorful woven clothing gave the place a distinctly exotic feel. I found the setting infused my reading of The New Conpirators with a certain immediacy. His chapter on “Coming Home” stood out to me in particular. (more…)

Immigration Through the Lens of Anabaptist History

This piece was originally published in the AMIGOS Update for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada for May (see their archive for more info about AMIGOS).

“To authentically respond to immigration,” according to the recent MCC US Immigration Listening Report, “whites must start by seeing immigrants as ‘us’ instead of ‘them.’ White communities and churches who until now have taken little action on behalf of immigrants, must start viewing newcomers as esteemed members of God’s family — just as deserving of justice and love as church friends and immediate family members.”

How do those of us then, who fall into this category, work toward a change in perspective? Could it be that we Mennonites of European descent have forgotten our own history? Perhaps in comparing current themes — government guidelines for immigration, stereotypes faced by recent immigrants, and the role of economic instability in causing people to leave their homes — to our own immigrant histories, the categories of “us” and “them” may become much less distinct. Although the family stories of long-time immigrants are not identical to what is happening today, our history connects us in striking ways with the stories of recent immigrants.

Therefore, as we engage the narratives of our past, first we move to Switzerland in the seventeenth century where government officials did their best to suppress the Swiss Mennonites through heavy fines, land seizure, the threat of capital punishment, and deportations. John Roth notes in Letters of the Amish Division, how a few decades later some Mennonites “defied the mandates and threats of the Swiss government and secretly returned to Switzerland to rejoin their families or to claim their possessions.” (more…)

The Body of Christ

I also plan to attend the Believers’ Church Conference that Hinke mentioned a few days ago, at Canadian Mennonite University. (Hopefully, Hinke, we can meet up at some point!) I’m presenting a paper on Michael Sattler—everybody’s favorite Anabaptist, right?—and I plan to write up a little blurb on his understanding of the church for discussion here sometime in the next week. For now, though, I want to pose this question: What does it mean to call the church the body of Christ?

The theme of that conference, as Hinke hinted, is “Congregationalism, Denominationalism, and the Body of Christ.” It’s raising questions about what it means for the church to be, supposedly, one body, and what the implications are for church structures, practices, and self-understanding. For now, we can keep the question even broader. For you, is “the body of Christ” a meaningful description of the church? What specifically does it suggest? Where has it been used correctly or incorrectly?

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor 12:12–13)

New buttons to make commenting easier

I’m pleased to announce a new feature on YAR. When adding a comment you can click the “>>” button above the text field and you will see a whole row of useful buttons pop out. These buttons will allow you to do all sorts of nice things, like easily add links (“link” button) or put nice styling around quotes (“B-quote” to open and “/B-quote” to close). Try it out and experiment. Remember that you often need to close a tag after you open it. Just don’t overdo the styling.

In need of other young adult opinions on “Assesing Believers Churches’ approaches to evangelism and mission in our time”

Hi All, I need your help. I will be presenting at a North American Believer’s Church Conference in about a week and will be representing young adults….ha! This is an impossible task and an enormous responsibility. The context of the overall conference is, I believe, the “tension” between the individual congregation and the denomination. The theme of this particular workshop I’m presenting at is “Missional vision and practice of denominations together with congregations in the Believers Church family: Present-day issues and opportunities.”

The specific questions are:
1. How do young adults desire to engage in the church’s ministry of mission and evangelism?
2. Where do you see possibilities and problems in the church’s approach to mission in our day? Provide illustrations.

Well I have PLENTY to say on these topics but I desperately need the counsel of others of my generation/culture or those who are “young adult” at heart. Questions like these should be answered in community and not by an individual. If you have problems with the language in these questions, by all means, provide alternative language as you answer the question as you understand it. These questions are asked in the context of a discussion about the local (congregational) and global (denominational) roles of the mission of the church and a trend toward “local-centred” mission initiative and the way that a Believer’s Church self-understanding intersects with missional ecclesiology.

I don’t think I’ve ever introduced myself on YAR properly before. I was born in Canada, grew up in E. Africa, went to the US for college (EMU), then worked in Virginia, went to seminary in Manitoba, Canada, spent some time in Mozambique, worked for Mennonite Church Canada and am now headed for Israel/Palestine soon as an international worker for Mennonite Church Canada. Faith-wise, I consider myself Christian anabaptist, from a Mennonite/Methodist family and am currently inspired by emergent/missional writings when they’re real and down to earth. I am often disillusioned with the church but hopeful at the same time.

I’ll post some of my opinions on my topic once a discussion starts :) And I really would appreciate feedback.