Author Archive: TimN

An invitation to Mennonites to the 2019 Bartimaeus Kinsler Institute

BCM staff member Chris Wight speaks on the opening night of the Bartimaeus Kinsler Institute 2019

Two years after the election of Donald Trump as the next president in the U.S. it is easy to feel like there’s nothing left to say. However, I want to engage with my family of faith: Mennonites stretched across this country and far beyond who are committed to living out Jesus’ call to shalom: peace with justice.

Understanding where we are

One way of understanding the transition we are in is that we have moved to a higher awareness of the structural injustice we have in the U.S. over the last two years. For some of us, this is very scary. For others of us, it might be energizing to realize that now everyone can clearly and unmistakably see the power of white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism and homophobia in our country. At the same time, it’s clear that LGBTQ people, women, immigrants, people of color, and those with high health care needs are bearing the brunt of the Trump presidency.

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Poem: Advent’s Eve, 2005

I was a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams living in London in 2005 during the kidnapping of Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Tom Fox. Today is the 13th anniversary of the date they were taken.

On that last day of ordinary time
Norman, Harmeet, Jim and Tom walk across a parking lot
in Baghdad and get into a van.
Years later, Jim can’t remember “those last, unremarkable motions.”

The next morning (the first Sunday of Advent)
The BBC called me at noon.
The voice at the other end of the line was chasing rumors:
We heard that four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were kidnapped.
What do you know?

What if Christians took the same risks for peace…

The van exits the lot, abruptly stops;
Men with big guns open the door,
shove the four to the floor
and into the tomb.

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Mennonites and #MeToo: 4 Ways to Challenge Rape Culture

Three boxes of tea on the window sill with flowers

This post was originally published on my blog for The Mennonite two years ago

This week we’ve seen audio of Donald Trump’s bragging about sexual assault open up a nationwide conversation about rape culture, which is the set of beliefs and ideologies which blame victims of sexualized violence and normalize sexualized violence, often by men (for more, see this series of definitions).

U.S. Presidential elections are like conversations around a giant water cooler. For a brief time the themes in the elections shape our conversations in the U.S. (and beyond) for better or for worse. These spaces are an opportunity for us.

In the last day, three more women have stepped forward to describe Trump groping, assaulting and kissing them without consent. These accounts join a long list of existing allegations against Trump by women. Two of these stories were reported in The New York Times and one in People magazine.

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Divisiveness and nonviolent direct action

Note: This piece was first published two years ago on my blog for The Mennonite. It was written in response to the 2016 shooting of police offers in Dallas by Michael Xavier Johnson.

In the wake of the shootings of police and civilians in Dallas, many voices are blaming the Black Lives Matter movement and the growing opposition to police violence and white supremacy. But now more than ever we need movements of committed, militant nonviolence.

Shootings like the one in Dallas grow out of what scholar Ron Mock calls corrosive grievance. These are grievances that build up over time around injustice that is not addressed: the injustice of the mass incarceration of black men in our country, racial inequality in of the U.S. education system and the healthcare system and many other layers of systemic racism. For more, watch this 2 minute video from Mennonite training organization Roots of Justice:

Grievances about these injustices become corrosive when people feel powerless and unheard. In his blog post yesterday Mennonite activist theologian Ched Myers reminded us of John F. Kennedy’s observation along these lines 55 years ago: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

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Social Media as a tool for holding those with power accountable

Grashopper on a blade of grass

This blog post was originally published on my blog for The Mennonite two years ago.

In his address to graduating students at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) on May 2, President Loren Swartzendruber complained about social media. On May 2, the Daily News-Record quoted him:

“Here’s the challenge we face,” he said, “namely the question of how we engage in meaningful, life-changing, civil conversations in a world that’s impatient for quick answers … and is all-too ready to vilify those who disagree.”

He said important discussions “are extremely difficult to conduct via social media,” and require intra-personal relationships.

There’s plenty of reasons to be concerned about social media, but there’s a story and a pattern behind this complaint that needs a closer look. Swartzendruber’s critique comes after months of pressure on his administration around its handling of Luke Hartman’s employment at EMU. Social media played an important role in that pressure.

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The silencing of Mennonite women and feminists who speak up

Burned Tree on Dennison Grade

This post was originally published on my blog for The Mennonite two years ago.

On Sunday, March 6, 2016, Ruth Krall wrote “A Considered Response to Lambelet and Hamilton: Vis-à-vis the topic of being made invisible…one more time” on her repeated experience of invisibilization by male Mennonite colleagues who pigeonhole her as a “very angry woman who hates the church.” She outlines a series of other ways in which both male and female scholars perpetuate male supremacy from ignoring feminist work to ridiculing it.

Krall isn’t alone in this experiencing this silencing. In the comments on Krall’s article, Mennonite pastor Sylvia Krauser describers her own experience of having her academic career buried by male scholars. Last year George Dupuy wrote for this publication about his experience of silencing by the Virginia Conference of Mennonite Church USA. There are many many stories of silencing of queer folks by Mennonite leaders, most recently Mennonite Central Committee worker Wendi O’Neal. I wrote in October about the way Moderate Mennonite Male Managers seek to control and manage marginalized people. Carol Wise, director of Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, names this dynamic as a “deep resistance to including the experience and voices of those most impacted by harmful exercises of power.”

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Towards an Anabaptist Response to Terrorism?

I originally published this review in with the Anabaptist Network in November of 2005 while working with them in London, England. I’ve been surprised how often the themes in this book have come back to me over the years and its one of the few books that made its way with me all the way from London to Chicago and then to Oak View.

Loving without Giving in: Christian Responses to Terrorism and Tyranny
Ron Mock (Telford: Cascadia Publishing House, 2004) £14.50

In the wake of the 7 July bombings and the response of the British Government, Christians in the United Kingdom would do well to consider this book. Ron Mock begins by working through five aspects of terrorism: violence, lawlessness, political motivation, targeting of civilians and operation through fear. In each area he looks at examples of terrorism that fall within his criteria and case studies that do not.

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What if we let subversive play leak into our lives?

Carnival de Resistance spread in Geez Magazine December 2015

This article was originally published two years ago today in Geez Magazine two years ago today. The photos in the spread above and the slideshows below are from my role in the the Carnival de Resistance as resident clown and constantly conflicted documentarian. The Carnival is coming to Philadelphia, PA in July and August 2018!

If life is a broken record and the only tune we play is the song of the empire, this past September I jumped out of the groove for 10 days when I joined a theatre troupe called the Carnival de Resistance.

See a big version of the Carnival spread above here.

The Carnival is a project that has been experimenting in re-wilding in the way of Jesus since 2013, with month-long residencies in Virginia and a shorter presence at the Wild Goose Festival in 2014.

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Holding sexual predators and those who protect them accountable in Mennonite Church USA

This article was originally published two years ago on my blog for The Mennonite here.

On December 1st, Mennonite Church USA’s (MCUSA) Executive Board staff cabinet announced the members of a new sexual abuse prevention panel. This panel is a direct response to the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse passed by the delegate assembly this summer at the MCUSA convention in Kansas City. Here’s its conclusion:

“We resolve to tell the truth about sexual abuse; hold abusers accountable; acknowledge the seriousness of their sin; listen with care to those who have been wounded; protect vulnerable persons from injury; work restoratively for justice; and hold out hope that wounds will be healed…”

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Transformationist Anabaptism: the missing fourth stream from the Mennonite Church USA imagination

Arbor Day 2012 tree planting in Camden, New Jersey with community members and Word and World participants

This post was originally published two years ago as MMMMs: Expanding our Churchly imagination in my blog for The Mennonite. Thanks to Hannah Heinzekehr for adding photos to illustrate this piece.

In the wake of this summer’s Mennonite Church USA convention and the pending departure of Lancaster Conference, I am reflecting on the role of “Moderate Mennonite Male Managers” (MMMM’s) in our institutions. This recent essay by John Rempel inspired me to look specifically at a blind spot common among the the “Moderate Mennonite Male Managers” (MMMM’s) of our institutions. For those of you who haven’t read it, this quote summarizes Rempel’s thesis well:

Each type of church brings different gifts to the table. Moderates bring the willingness and capacity for meaningful compromise. Liberals bring the capacity to live with ambiguity and with matters that are presently incapable of solution. Conservatives bring a deep trust in the Bible and the Holy Spirit as sources of clear positions in matters of faith and life.

I resonate with Rempel’s 1 Corinthians 12 inspired vision of the different gifts of the body of Christ that he outlines. However, Rempel’s paradigm, focused around liberals, moderates and conservatives, misses a whole swath of our community and Anabaptist tradition.

To understand more about this missing community, I turn to the model of four streams of Anabaptism that Rodney Sawatsky outlined in 1992. In summary, he traces four contemporary streams of Anabaptism back to our 15th century origins: Separationist, Establishment, Reformist and Transformationist. I will focus in this article on the transformationist, but you can see Sawatsky’s table with all four in my 2007 blog post. These streams do not map perfectly onto Rempel’s model of liberals, moderates and conservatives, but however you slice the cantaloupe, the transformationist stream is glaringly absent.

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The interview with Leah Wenger that helped launch the MCUSA Step Up program

Leah Wenger portrait by Photo by Madeline Hostetler

I published this interview with Leah Wenger two years ago today on my blog for The Mennonite under the title Moving beyond the belittlement of the youth: An interview with Leah Wenger. Glen Guyton and other Mennonite Church USA convention staff rose to Leah’s challenge and worked with Leah and others to launch the Step Up program at the convention in Orlando this past summer that invited 3 youth from each Mennonite conference to the delegate assembly.

1. What led you to attend the Mennonite convention in Kansas City?

I have always loved spending time with my youth group, and that was one of the main things I was looking forward to in going to Kansas City 2015. I love spending time with this group of people that I would not hang out with normally. We are truly a group with no judgment, and always have been, so I never feel like I have to be someone else. We have such a strong connection as youth at CMC, and I was looking forward to building that connection throughout the week.

I was also looking forward to simply being in the Mennonite realm for a week. I was excited to be together with all these people as so many different parts of the same body of Christ. I wanted to be there to renew my faith in God and in the Mennonite church, and to remind myself about how incredible of a privilege it is to be a part of a family of faith such as this. I wanted to find a place where I felt the spirit moving in a large way.

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Hope in the face of apocalypse: A review of Inhabit movie

This review was originally posted two years ago on radicaldiscipleship.net

8 years ago, I showed “What a Way to Go” to my family. I hope they would, as the movie tag line says, come to grips “with Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Extinction, Population Overshoot and the demise of the American lifestyle.”

Halfway through the movie my sister walked out. It wasn’t so much that she was opposed to the message of the movie. She just couldn’t take how relentlessly depressing it was.

I suspect all of us in the radical discipleship movement have been there at one time or another. We go through some form of the transformation that Tommy is documenting in his post-evangelical series. In one way or another we begin to grasp that catastrophic path our civilization is on. Which begs the question: How do we get others to recognize it to?

Broadly speaking, this is a question of pedagogy, or how people learn. Watching an accurate, though deeply demoralizing documentary was not the way to go for my sister. Messages of doom just aren’t that effective at winning converts.

The producers of the new documentary Inhabit clearly understand this. As one person interviewed in the film puts it, focusing on catastrophe has limited change potential. Their documentary is a lush, alluring opposite to “What a Way to Go”in many ways except one: the message is the same: ultimately industrial agriculture will destroy us all and we need an alternative.

From there the two films diverge dramatically: Inhabit opens by focusing on the hopeful, human-centered framework of regeneration: putting positive things back into the land. “We can actually be healing forces,” says permaculturalist Ben Falk.

“What could it be like if humans could make this place sing with life?” asks Lisa Fernandes, director of the The Resilience Hub. “That gets me really fired up.”

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“We did it in Detroit”: Working for racial justice in Mennonite Church USA is not done

Mennonite Pastor Kelly Bates Oglesby

This interview, originally published two years ago, was the eighth interview in my ongoing Anabaptist Camp Follower series in which I interview people who have been drawn to Anabaptism and Mennonites. Kelly Bates Oglesby is pastor at Park View Mennonite Church in Kokomo, Ind. Our interview happened before the massacre of nine Black Christians in Charleston on June 17. That act makes her words all the more important.

Can you share about your journey with Mennonite Church USA and becoming pastor at Parkview Mennonite Church?

As a requirement of my seminary study I needed to complete an internship in a faith community that was dissimilar from my own. As I perused the available openings I was drawn to one at First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis. The Mennonite setting was certainly dissimilar from my Free Will Baptist tradition even though both are Anabaptist in grounding.

Until I came to seminary and met Dr. Wilma Bailey, I had no personal interactions with Black Mennonites. My discussions with her and observations of her had piqued my interest. I submitted my application to First Mennonite Church and completed the process to become an intern. Unlike some learning sites, FMC wanted me to learn about the congregation and conference. Moreover, they allowed me to experience and experiment with ministry development.

During my initial year, I met weekly with the lead pastor to discuss theology and polity. Regular small group interactions helped me to learn to know the congregation. As part of my student work I initiated a project each semester to broaden the ecumenical witness of the congregation.

At the end of my first year, I was invited to complete my second internship year with the congregation. This was thrilling and concerning: I realized I was beginning to feel at home.

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Wrestling with the Evasiveness of the Evana Network

This blog post was originally published two years ago soon after the launch of the Evana Network

On April 13, 2015 the Evana Network officially announced its new name and its first staff person, John Troyer, in The Mennonite.

For those who haven’t been following things, the Evana Network may simply be a network of churches inside and outside Mennonite Church USA that is not a denomination, according to Mennonite World Review, or it may be a “conservative alternative to the Mennonite Church USA,” according to Christianity Today.

Open Book Communications, which Evana hired to help with its branding, originally described it as “a new denominational home for Mennonites and Anabaptists” that sought to “position [itself] in the denominational landscape around them” (see archive of page on Wayback machine).

After I shared the page in the Mennonerds Facebook group, Troyer asked Open Book to change the language in its page to language that emphasized community building more than branding.

The ambiguity is intentional.

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Transitioning Young Anabaptist Radicals to personal blog

The last few years here at Young Anabaptist Radicals have been fairly quiet apart from two anniversary posts, in part because I made a decision to stop cross-posting my blog posts from my blog for The Mennonite here after the YAR blog was hacked in the spring of 2015. I’ve since transitioned the site to a new host where I have stronger security support.

After a two year break with minimal posts from the broader YAR community, I’ve decided to transition this blog to mainly a space to post pieces I’ve written elsewhere. If people are interested in guest blogging occasionally, they are welcome to reach out, but clearly the time of this being a team blog have ended and so I am repurposing this space.

I will continue to curate a wide variety of blog posts on the Young Anabaptist Radicals Facebook page which has continued to be active over the past few years.

– Tim Nafziger