Author Archive: TimN

A study in Tweaking: Steve Jobs, Vincent Harding and Mennonites

DSC_0276

This month Malcom Gladwell had an article in the New Yorker looking at the legacy of Steve Jobs. His central thesis is that Jobs’ gift was not originality, but rather tweaking: the ability to take the inventions of others and refine and improve them dramatically. Gladwell points out that the iPod came out 5 years after the first digital music players and the iPhone more than a decade after the first smart phones hit the market.

Gladwell is building on the work of economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr who used this lens to look at the industrial revolution in Britain. For example, they point out the importance of the many engineers who improved on Samuel Crompton’s original invention of the spinning mule. These “tweakers” dramatically improving its productivity through minor changes.

Likewise, Gladwell says, “Jobs’ sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it.” Gladwell makes his point with many episodes from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs. Job’s particular way of tweaking made him very difficult to get along with, even as he was dying of cancer:

At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated… Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.

(more…)

Beyond Obamaism: Occupy Wall Street and the Capacity to Hope

DSC_0264

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

It’s been a month since I wrote a piece on Young Anabaptist Radicals about my experience of visiting Occupy Chicago. It was three days after they had started camping in front of the Federal Reserve of Chicago and 10 days after Occupy Wall Street (OWS) kicked off in New York. At the time, I wrote with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism. The visit gave me a glimpse into the sense of possibility that I remember from watching the Seattle protests but also a dose of skepticism bordering on cynicism. What could such a small group of people really do?

A month later, the answer seems clear: plenty. It still seems miraculous in many ways. While announcing the death of apathy and despair in the United States (as Michael Moore did at Occupy Oakland on Friday) is probably premature, the OWS movement has gone a long way towards tearing down the barriers that prevent so many of us from working together for change.

I’d like to share a few observations building on the framework that Steve Kryss developed in his article for the Mennonite Weekly Review. He named these parallels between the OWS movement and the Anabaptist movement that sprung up across cities in Europe nearly 500 years ago:

The Anabaptist movement emerged largely among the young. It moved through the urban contexts of educated Europeans without clarity but with a clear bent toward justice for the poor.

It emerged in and around the Peasant Revolts, which threatened established governments and religious perspectives. The radical Anabaptists were sympathetic to those whose lives were controlled by overlords.

Early Anabaptism was a movement of conversing, addressing powers and protesting. It was met with ridicule and with sympathy. There were dialogues and diatribes.

I notice three other parallels with early Anabaptism that inspire me: (more…)

A visit to Occupy Chicago

Yesterday I went downtown to visit the new Occupy Chicago encampment in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The loose gathering of activist began their occupation on Friday and continued through a raining weekend. They were inspired by the Occupy Together movement which started at Wall Street in New York two weeks ago.

On a rainy Monday morning I found them still enthusiastically yelling slogans up through the vast canyon walls shaped on one side by the Chicago Board of Trade building and the Reserve bank on the other. Here’s a slideshow of the photos I took:


Click the full screen button in the lower right hand corner for best viewing.

I’m still pondering this Occupy Together movement. It’s easy for me to get excited about people standing up to corporations, but (more…)

Thunderbirds and Airshow Evangelism for Empire

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

This weekend has seen the death of 10 people in two different crashes at air shows. My own experience at the Chicago Air and Water show this summer has had me reflecting on this cultural phenomenon and its importance to U.S. patriots. If you want to skip the philosophical background, you can jump to the Thunderbirds as Evangelists section below.

This summer I read the Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. I’ve found his lens of the five moral foundation theory to be a quite useful framework over the last few years for understanding liberal and conservative morality. In this book he looks at the things that make for happiness, drawing on ancient religious texts as well as the philosophical traditions juxtaposed with modern science and changing views of human psychology.

Haidt, a Jewish atheist, also looks at the emotions and sense experienced in conjunction with our sense of the divine, a sentiment closely linked with that of purity. Divinity and purity are contrasted with those things that are disgusting and unclean. This is a vocabulary that is familiar to Christians from the Levitical purity codes all the way through Revelation.

(more…)

Grieving and Honoring 5 years of Young Anabaptist Radicals

Grasshopper with Dew Drops on Clover at Sunrise

Yesterday was 5 years to the day since my first post here on YAR, a week after Eric opened things up.

I was writing a little over a month after I returned to the United States from two and a half years in the United Kingdom, where Anabaptism was a set of values and relationships rather than a bunch of denominations. I longed for something similar in the US. I first started sending emails out to people about the idea of starting a blog in October 2005, when I was still in England. As I said in my first post:

The people I talked with shared an interest in a space where they could explore Anabaptist values and how they apply to broad areas like economics, war and society and more specific issues like abortion, homosexuality and the “war on terror.” They wanted a space to disagree or agree openly with the church,with society and with each other.

This is attempt to build that space.

(more…)

Herding sheep and video games

This morning the sheep got loose here on Crazy Rooster Farm. One figured out that the fence wasn’t electrified and the rest followed it over. Rounding them up was harder than I expected, but also much more fund. It got me thinking about video game mechanics and the way they reflect real world challenges that our brains love handling. Four or five of us struggled to strategicall walk and yell so as to get these independent but herd-minded sheep to go into a pasture they didn’t want to be in (because they’d eaten all the grass they liked the day before).

I re-imagined the scene as a four player game played against 31 sophisticated AI sprites with a carefully calibrated mix of herd behavior, desire for fresh grass and fear of herders. Throw in lots of movable fences and a mysterious stampede threshold and you’ve got hours of entertainment.

The video is from yesterday. This morning I was too busy chasing sheep to film it.

Bioregionalism, peacemaking, fig trees and vines

Tree in Pasture at Sunset

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

Earlier this month I was talking with my friend Chris about a talk he heard last weekend by Ched Myers on bio-regionalism. One of the key concepts from the presentation was: “You can’t save what you don’t love and you can’t love what you don’t know.” In other words, instead of thinking of abstract ideas like “environmentalism” we need to get to know our own place or “bio-region”.

Ched touches on similar themes in his recent blog post titled with a similar quote: “We Won’t Save Places We Don’t Love…”. He compares the way suburbanites relate to their place to the way farmers and indigenous communities relate to the land they live and work on.

Chris has been working with Christian Peacemaker Team’s local partners in Colombia since August 2008 when he graduated from the first training that I helped with after joining CPT. He pointed out that our local partners are not struggling for abstract concepts like justice or environmentalism. They are fighting for places that they know intimately. (more…)

YAR Tag line contest for 5th anniversary

As we approach our 5th anniversary (August 31st), I’m please to announce a tag-line contest. For the last 5 years, our inconspicuous tag-line has been “A Metaphorical Molotov.” I’ve decided its time for something new and I’d like your help coming up with something suitably funny and incisive. So between now and August 26th, post your ideas here in the comments. On Friday, I’ll post the suggestions in a pole and you all get to vote on your favorite. If you no one else has any ideas, we can just spend the next 5 years watching out for Amish Pirates.

Also, think of something interesting to write about on August 31st.

What the London rioters and the early Anabaptists have in common

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled.

Tottenham High RoadTottenham High Road by Nicobobinus Some Rights Reserved

Last week, riots and looting moved through neighborhoods in London that I know well. The broken windows, fires and shouts of “I want a satnav*” were juxtaposed with a familiar map that I bicycled through to work for nearly two years. I found myself turning to Facebook to reach out to friends in those neighborhoods and processing my thoughts through comments on my favorite blog.

(more…)

Christian Peacemaker Teams 25th anniversary celebration

I haven’t posted anything in the last month, partly because I’ve been doing planning and prep work for our upcoming Peacemaker Congress this fall (October 13-16). The theme is Re-imagining Partnerships for Peace: A 25th anniversary celebration. It’s going to be a wonderful opportunities to connect with others who care about peacemaking on the margins and help CPT think about its next 25 years. Come join us! http://www.cpt.org/participate/peacemaker-congress-2011.

Speakers and presenters include: Tony Brown, Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, Elaine Enns, Ched Myers, Fathiyeh Gainey, Angela Castellanos and Mohammed Salah.

The event will be hosted by Reba Place Church in Evanston, Illinois, USA.

A report on the Anabaptist Missional project gathering at Laurelville

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

This weekend I was at Laurelville Retreat Center in Mt. Pleasant, Pa., participating in "Renewing the Story: Anabaptism and Mission for Today," a gathering organized by the Anabaptist Missional Project. The Mennonite had an article about this group of young adults a few months ago.

DSC_1309

On the first evening of the gathering, founding member Matt Krabill introduced some of the history of the group. They first met together as a group in November 2009 in Harrisonburg, Va.

"We noticed that we were predominantly Anglo, male and seminary students, and that this wasn’t ideal for our goal of being a church in mission and so its something we want to change," said Kraybill, speaking of this first meeting. "We were paralyzed by the fact that we weren’t diverse, but at the same time we didn’t want to not talk."

Anabaptist Missional Project (AMP) has had two regional gatherings since then, as well in Elkhart, Ind., and Lancaster, Pa., respectively. Kraybill also shared a list of issues that have come up through those meetings.

  • mass exodus of young adults from rural areas
  • widespread nominalism (disaffection and driftedness)
  • political polarization
  • false dichotomy between peace church and missional church
  • waning peace position in some/many churches
  • Mennonite identity in light of "newer membership"

(more…)

Haunting straight Mennonites moderates, pt 2: crisis and conciliation

DSC_0132

I’ve been reading the thread of comments in response to my post on Anabaptist Ghosts on The Mennonite. I think the concerns by the Aaron Kauffman (read his comment) and Harold Miller (read his comment) are shared by others as well and need to be addressed.

As I understand them, one of the key arguments that Kauffman and Miller are making is that my focus on social advocacy and confrontation is “cutting [me] off from any word of wisdom that other parts of the Body of Christ might have to offer.” In other words, their claim is that the haunting social advocacy and confrontation, as I am describing it, does not leave room for dialogue.

(more…)

Haunting straight Mennonite moderates: the Christian tradition of confrontation

This piece is cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

In this month’s editorial in The Mennonite, editor Everett Thomas quoted Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman as follows:

“The experience of Pink Mennos at Columbus in 2009,” Stutzman said, “introduced a new level of engagement in controversial matters … The techniques of social advocacy and confrontation that we have taught young adults in our schools has come to haunt our church’s most visible gathering, to the end that convention-goers feel immense pressure to take up sides against one another on [homosexuality].”

Mennonite pastor Amy Yoder McGloughlin has already written quite eloquently and diplomatically on how Ervin’s words ignore the real ghosts who haunt the Mennonite convention. So I’d like to focus particularly on Ervin’s use of the term, “haunt,” to refer to the use of social advocacy and confrontation by Pink Mennos. As a Mennonite, I find social advocacy and confrontation at the heart of the gospel and at the roots of my Anabaptist tradition. To suggest that those of us who sought to embody this tradition as Pink Mennos at Colombus were “haunting” the convention is highly problematic.

(more…)

Report from CPT Aboriginal Justice Delegation

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

One of the things I’ve noticed in my work as outreach coordinator for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is that the least well known project is CPT’s work with aboriginal peoples here in North America. So this spring I decided to spend time on the Aboriginal Justice team in order to support the team better and understand the struggles of our indigenous partners.

I just returned from Kenora, Ontario, home of one of Ontario’s major paper mills and supply town for many indigenous communities in the area. We also spent a week at Grassy Narrows, also known as (the reserve of the) Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabe.

During my time at Grassy Narrows, for the first time in my life I saw first hand the continuing effects of the 500-year history of colonization and genocide on this continent. It’s a testimony to the effectiveness of white settlement and ethnic cleansing; I had never come face to face with these realities before in a personal way.

(more…)