Author Archive: TimN

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

Four Streams of Anabaptism

This is a cross-posting of a piece first posted eight years ago on my blog for The Mennonite. Since then we organized a series here on YAR looking at some of the historical groups that Sawatsky highlights. You can read the articles in that series here.

What if rather than one unified view of Anabaptist we instead looked at our tradition as containing many different streams, in the same way that Richard Foster finds different streams of Christian spiritual practice in Streams of Living Water.

Last week on Young Anabaptist Radicals I wrote about Gregory Boyd’s discovery of Mennonites as well as his dismay at our falling away from our roots. It provoked a lively discussion about percieved divisions in the Mennonite church and deviation by Mennonites from core Anabaptist values. One of the things that became clear in the discussion is that there are many different views of what the core Anabaptist values are and how they should be lived out.

Growing up as a Mennonite, I learned that the way we live our faith is tied to the experience of our predecessors in 16th Century Europe. Though I didn’t study it until college, Harold S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision informed much of what I viewed as Mennonite. Writing in 1944, Bender defined the Swiss Brethren tradition as “the original evangelical and constructive Anabaptism” as opposed to the other streams of Anabaptism “which came and went like the flowers of the field.”

And so it was the story of the Swiss Brethren re-baptizing one another in 1525 in Zurich that I learned at the Mennonite high school I attended. Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock were the founding fathers of our faith. As Mennonites today we should look to their example.

This summer at the Mennonite convention in San Jose, I heard an alternative to this model. At a workshop I attended, Dale Schrag introduced four different types of Anabaptism first proposed in 1992 by Rodney Sawatsky “The One and the Many: The Recovery of Mennonite Pluralism” published in Anabaptism Revisited; Essays on Anabaptist/Mennonite Studies in Honor of C. J. Dyck.

In the essay, Sawatsky acknowledges the dominance of Bender’s vision, but offers an alternative model for contemporary Anabaptism based on more than just the story of the Swiss Brethren. He identifies the emphasis of each stream and connects it with a different leader or group of 16th century Anabaptists.

Here’s what it looks like:

Anabaptist Stream
Emphasis
16th Century Corollary
Separationist
Social/cultural non-conformity to the world
Swiss Brethren with Schleitheim Confession
Establishment
Biblical nonresistance/personal holiness
Menno Simons
Reformist
Discipleship of Christ/service to the world
Pilgram Marpeck
Transformationist
Political/ideological nonconformity to the political powers
Hans Hut and apocalyptic Anabaptists

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C. Henry Smith on Mennonite church splits and schisms

C. Henry Smith

In his 1941 book, The Story of the Mennonites, historian C. Henry Smith describes the 1847 church conflict that led to a group of Mennonites leaving Franconia Conference to create Eastern Pennsylvania District of Mennonites. This new group eventually launched the General Conference Mennonite Church. In describing this schism among Mennonites, Smith observed a broader pattern:

It will be observed that the questions in dispute did not concern themselves with fundamental Mennonite doctrine. Mennonite quarrels never do. The new party did not differ from the old in its belief in adult baptism, non-resistance, opposition to the oath, rejection of secret societies, and for a time even in the retention of footwashing. The chief distinction lay rather in a more tolerant attitude of the “News,” as they were called by the “Olds,” toward the non-Mennonite world, both political and religious. (p. 602-603)

The “News,” led by John H. Oberholtzer, went on to adopt such radical innovations as Sunday School.

The roots of our ruptures

Why are Mennonites so prone to church divisions? (more…)

7 Radical Discipleship communities that have shaped my journey as an Anabaptist

Sapling growing in rock in forest

This was first posted on Geez Magazine. From February 16-20, 2015, I was immersed in the Between Seminary, Sanctuary, Streets and Soil: A Festival of Radical Discipleship. The gathering featured over 80 presenters from communities around the U.S. Their stories of radical discipleship inspired me to put together this primer of seven communities that I have visited and interacted with over the past decade. Each of them were represented at the Festival.

Beloved Community Center

Joyce and Nelson Johnson have lead the Beloved Community Center for over 20 years based on the vision and mode of Dr. Martin Luther King and inextricably rooted in the Greensboro, North Carolina. When I visited their community for in June 2011 I sat in on their “Wednesday table” where BCC staff and interns sit down with supporters and fellow organizers from the community to talk about what’s going on. I also joined one of the Bible studies and worship services that are a foundation of the centre’s life and work.

Their organizing work includes police accountability, economic justice, environmental justice, and community organizing. They see themselves as a “levelling place” for people from different racial and economic groups around the city of which 30% is African-American, 40% is white, and 30% is other (Latino, Asian and others). They were also instrumental in organizing the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked deeply into the November 3, 1979 Greensboro Massacre. Five members in an anti-Klan protest were killed by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. Nelson Johnson was one of the leaders of the march and his 2011 account of the event includes footage from the massacre itself taken by news crews at the time.

Carnival de Resistance

The Carnival de Resistance flows out of the prophetic vision of Tevyn East and Jay Beck in conversation with many scholars, activists, and artists. In its residency form, it involves week-long convergences complete with nightly performances, a bicycle powered sound system, and a carnival midway. Sarah Thompson, Christian Peacemaker Teams executive director and CdR member, describes how the experience impacted her:

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Consistency in small things: Wrestling with the “A word”

Stamen and Petal of flower.

I wrote this piece on my blog for The Mennonite back in October 2012, but never got around to posting it here. I finished up my role of interim assistant director at 5 months ago and moved back to doing web site building. However I continue to ponder the themes in this post.

In September I accepted a position as interim assistant director with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). This role comes as a bit of a surprise, for a number of reasons.

As regular readers of the blog know, I’ve been outreach coordinator with CPT for four years now and I’ve thrived in the role. I love meeting with new people and connecting them with CPT’s work. I like coming up with creative initiatives and following them through to their conclusion. I’ve walked with all our teams in the process of finding a new mission, vision and values (and soon, a new logo). I like working with changing teams of people to accomplish shared tasks together. But I’ve never been comfortable with the term “administrator,” or the “A word” as I like to think of it. I’ve always preferred “coordinator” or “organizer” to describe my work.

But then it happened. I was sitting with Rod Stafford, long-time pastor at Portland Mennonite. We were talking through logistics of their church hosting Peace, Pies and Prophets in January. “There aren’t many peacemaker administrators out there.” he said, “I wish there were more.” And then the conversation went on.

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“Mennonite Women’s Posse”: How feminists organized for accountability for John Howard Yoder

In the new issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review, five essays look at John Howard Yoder’s systematic project of sexual harassment and abuse of women. Unless otherwise noted, the articles named below are part of the issue.

Rachel Waltner Goossen’s essay “‘Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” is the most extensive of these pieces. It is the result of an in-depth year-long study using previously inaccessible files. Her piece makes clearer then ever institutional complicity with Yoder’s abuse, starting in the late 1970s through the four year attempt to rehabilitate him that ended in 1996:

“As Marlin Miller and other Mennonite leaders learned of Yoder’s behavior, the tendency to protect institutional interests—rather than seeking redress for women reporting sexual violation—was amplified because of Yoder’s status as the foremost Mennonite theologian and because he conceptualized his behavior as an experimental form of sexual ethics.”

I’ve argued previously that this complicity continued up through the summer of 2013. At the time I asked “How do we develop a theology of power that give us ears to hear the voices of those marginalized and eyes to see the way we participate in their marginalization?”

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Why I am going to “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred” and why you should too

In 2 weeks, I’ll be attending “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred: A gathering of Anabaptist lgbtqa* community” and I think you should too. We’ll be gathering in Chicago at the Cenacle Retreat & Conference Center from the afternoon of Friday, November 21 through noon on Sunday, November 23. It’s sponsored by Pink Menno, Inclusive Pastors and the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT interests I interviewed some of the organizers about why this gathering is so important and here’s what they said:

“There is a widely-felt sense that it is time for a gathering to bring lgbtq people together for celebration, healing, and the sustenance of our vibrant community.” Annabeth Roeschly said, “While some of us have gathered at the bienneal MCUSA conventions, those events bring us together primarily in a spirit of nonviolent resistance and action.”

“Columbus 2009 is when I said yes to the Mennonite Church, when I said yes to being queer and Christian and when I began taking communion again.” said Christian Parks, “I do a lot of work outside of the Mennonite church. I come to this gathering to rest and to renew so that I can be strong. I want to connect to the experience of how resilient queer people of faith are and I want to sink into the story of the people who have come before me. This conference will be sacred space.” (more…)

Is discernment a bureaucratic or a brotherly-sisterly process for Mennonite Church USA?

Do you want a bishop?: Ceramic artist Dennis Maust with his pieces.

In a May 2014 letter in The Mennonite, C. Norman Kraus asked whether the role of Mennonite Church USA Executive Director (ED) and has begun to look like a "new papal office." He said, "…are we not loading an institutional position with official authority that our polity does not accommodate?"

By bringing the pope into it, Kraus is drawing attention to some important questions about how the ED functions. Stay with me as we take a journey through the crufty corners of Mennonite bureaucracy and bylaws. It’s hard slogging, but it matters.

The response from Executive Board and Executive Director

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Ed Diller, current MC USA moderator and a former moderator of the EB respectively, responded to Kraus in an August 2014 letter to the editor in which they stated that "…there is no papal office in Mennonite Church USA.". They went on to defend the current role of ED with this mandate from the bylaws: "an Executive Director as a primary administrative officer who shall be its principal agent in the management of Mennonite Church USA."

Managing Mennonite Church USA… sounds pretty dramatic, eh? They left out the next point, which makes the organizational scope of the role sound a bit less grandiose: "The Executive Director shall conduct the administrative affairs of the Executive Board, serve as an officer, and supervise employees of Mennonite Church USA." The Mennonite Church USA being managed is an organization with a staff of 25 people, not the 90,000+ members of the denomination.

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Race, Mutuality and Anabaptist Community

Today a friend shared his experience when he was a young white teenager hanging out with young Latino men. When there was a possibility of encountering the police, they would say, “act white” and my friend would be asked to do the talking. What does “acting white” look like? If you’re asking that question, you’re probably white. For people of color in the United States there is often a “constant background processing” to empathize with white people around them and deal with their stereotypes. Strategies may range from dressing impeccably to whistling Vivaldi.

This week I’m preparing for a panel with Mennonerds on Race, Mutuality and Anabaptist Community. This blog post is a brief look at some of the themes I’m hoping we can discuss as practices for white people developing lenses to see differently through listening with humility.

Let’s start with changing lenses as Jesus talked about in this classic Sunday school passage, Matthew 18:1-5:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (NIV)

Immediately in my mind’s eye I see this image or one of a thousand like it:

Let the Little Children Come Unto me

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Report from Christian Peacemaker Teams in Greece

For the last week, I have been part of a delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Europe to Greece to listen to the stories of refugees into Europe and those working with them here. Here are a few windows into our time so far.

Thursday morning our boat arrived to Lesbos. We rented a car and have been visiting people and places. From Lesbos, you can literally see Turkey on the other side of the straits.

image

The view across the water from Lesbos to Turkey

image

CPT delegate Kathryn and I on the boat from Athens

We drove up to the village of Kalloni (central Lesbos) to meet with Father Stratis, a Greek orthodox priest who has been helping refugees for 10 years. Refugees arrive to the village soaking wet and exhausted, often having walked many hours. Greek citizens face jail time if they pick up the migrants (similar to U.S. citizens at the border with Mexico). If they know their way it is 10 hours from the beach to Kalloni. If they don’t know the way, it may take days. George described how their shoes are usually completely destroyed between the water and the walking. The balcony of Father Stratis’s church is filled with donations of clothes that he and three volunteers sort and process for handing out.

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Made for such a moment as this?: From Fundamentalist to Anabaptist

This week in my seventh post in my ongoing Anabaptist Camp Followers series, I interview Benjamin Corey. He is a retired US Air Force instructor turned Anabaptist speaker and writer. He blogs at Formely Fundie and is author of the upcoming book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

photo of Benjamin L. Corey Can you share about your first encounter with Anabaptist thought and practice?

I first encountered Anabaptism when I was studying church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, but it was only in the context of their role in Church history— we didn’t get much into Anabaptist thought and certainly didn’t delve into the existence of Neo-Anabaptism, so at that time I had no idea how deeply I would connect with it.

As I continued to make my way through seminary I went through a massive paradigm shift as I realized that even though I had been a Christian for more than 20 years, Jesus himself was the missing aspect to my faith. Once I made this realization, I went through a reorientation of my faith not around Christian religion but simply around Jesus— a process that is the topic of my upcoming book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. During this reorientation, my views on a host of issues changed— I embraced nonviolence, gender equality, rediscovered the need to live out faith in authentic community and a host of other new discoveries.

I had no idea what to call myself anymore- I felt like a misfit in Christianity because I knew I wanted to follow Jesus, but didn’t know where I fit in. One day I picked up the book Naked Anabaptist and started reading about the tenants of the Anabaptist Network and it was a lightbulb moment for my wife and I, because it articulated our new worldview in a way that felt like someone was inside our head. In that process, we realized that Anabaptist ins’t necessarily something you become but something you realize you already became. Being able to "label" who we were was incredibly freeing for us and helped us realize that we weren’t alone anymore.

What are some of the ways you’ve connected with the wider Anabaptist community that have helped you feel like you are not alone?

Once I realized that I had been an Anabaptist all along, I started to seek out others like me and stumbled upon MennoNerds and folks like my friend Kurt Willems. While an online community is often a poor substitute for real-life interpersonal community, the Anabaptist community online is pretty darn good. It’s the first "tribe" that I’ve ever had where I felt like I belonged and like I was accepted— flaws and all. I think what I love about it is that it is diverse enough to allow for a "big tent" feeling yet we all share several core values to our faith that keep us all linked together. It’s something I haven’t quite experienced before— there’s definitely a kinship factor with the Anabaptist community. Ironically, the only other place I’ve ever experienced this was during my ten years in the military.

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