Author Archive: TimN

Pass the Toothpicks: Becoming an Ally with the Beatitudes

DSC_0057This is the sequel to Our most bitter opponents: the Christians who fought against Dr. King and also to Oppression is Bad, Now What?. Thanks to Sharon William’s comment on The Mennonite for my title.

As we think about what it means to be an ally and look at the continuing legacy of white supremacist Christianity, the Beattitudes in Matthew and Luke have a lot to offer us.

Too often, when we read differing version of Jesus’ words in different gospels, we try to ignore them. But I think these two passages speak deeply to beautiful, complimentary truths about the movement that Jesus invites us into.

In short, the beatitudes in Matthew focus on spiritual and emotional virtues: poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, thirsting for righteousness, mercy, pureness of heart, peacemaking and the being persecuted for righteousness.

As I grew up learning these, I thought of these as things I do on my own. It was up to me, as an individual, with God’s help to be merciful, pure in heart and meek. It might be hard, but it was fundamentally a personal struggle that God and I worked on.

It’s easy for us to look at the beatitudes and say, as the Bishop of London did, “This is just a spiritual thing. Jesus wasn’t concerned with people’s economic or political well being. All he cared about was their spiritual virtues.”

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Our most bitter opponents: the Christians who fought against Dr. King

Warning: This blog post contains some graphic images.

MLK day is day when we appropiately focus a lot on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Christianity and the prophetic witness of the movement he led against racism and white supremacy.

We sometimes forget that most of the white people who Dr. King challenged were Christians. I think it is as important for me as a white person to understand the faith of the segregationists as it is to understand Dr. King’s faith. This is one way I can do my work and understand whiteness in the work of anti-racism.

Let’s start by taking one step back and looking at slaveholder Christianity. Specifically, the faith of white Christians who owned African-American slaves here in the United States. (more…)

Peacemaking informed by 500 years in prison

On Dec. 16, I went to see The Interrupters. It follows three violence interrupters who work on the south and west sides of Chicago with Ceasefire—an organization with a proven record of reducing shootings in neighborhoods around Chicago. The Englewood neighborhood saw a 34% reduction in shootings through Ceasefire’s work.

Violence interrupter Cobe Williams + Lil’ Mikey
Photo by Aaron Wickenden/Courtesy of Kartemquin FilmsThe movie is a slice of day-to-day life for Ceasefire staff, known as Violence Interrupters. From the summer of 2009 through the spring of 2010, we watch Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra as they seek to personally engage with victims and perpetrators and, perhaps most importantly, victims and their friends on the edge of becoming perpetrators.

All three of the interrupters have a personal history of involvement with gangs and violence themselves. They understand what’s going on for the kids and young adults (age 14-25), but they also have credibility. Ameena is the daugher of Jeff Fort, a high profile gang leader, and she made her own name for herself. Cobe and Eddie both served prison time. At one point at a staff meeting, a Ceasefire leaders says there is "500 years of jail represented here, that’s a lot of wisdom."

As someone who has spent my whole life in the Mennonite Church and many years with Christian Peacemaker Teams, The Interrupters is an introduction to peacemaking done in a very different way.

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

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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.

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Beyond Obamaism: Occupy Wall Street and the Capacity to Hope

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.