Author Archive: TimN

“Wow. What a ride!” – in memory of Gene Stoltzfus


“None of us is promised tomorrow, which makes me wonder if maybe we all shouldn’t be living as if we’re on our final journey home… Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow. What a ride!’ – Barbara Baumgardner in My Fantastic Final Journey

I came across this quote this morning while I was reading an article by Joan Hershberger in the latest issue of the Mennonite. It made my laugh out load and think of Gene. It was such a life he lived. And he died on the first warm day of the year, enthusiastically pedaling his bike to town, back home, and beyond.

Godspeed, brother. Godspeed.

Reflections on the 4th anniversary of Tom Fox’s death

Today is the fourth anniversary of Tom Fox’s death. Tom was killed by his kidnappers in Iraq on March 9, 2006, 104 days after Harmeet, Norman, Jim and Tom were driving back from a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation visit when their car was pulled over by armed men and they were kidnapped. Since I didn’t know Tom personally, I can only really write about my experience of his loss. For a more intimate portrait of Tom, see these eulogies by my colleagues.

I found out about Tom’s death two days after he was killed. It was a Saturday morning. When I walked into the living room at the London Mennonite Centre and Charletta told me "There’s terrible news from Iraq." 

Four years later its hard to put myself back in the space I was in when I heard the news. I, along with thousands of others around the world had been working so hard for our colleague’s release. Every Wednesday for months, a group of us in London stood holding  photos of Tom, Harmeet, Normand and Jim and candles in Trafalgar square. At times we had spent days answering phone call after phone call from press and then worked hard to keep the story alive after coverage of our four colleagues dried up. We tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to talk about the thousands of Iraqis who were being held in similar conditions to our four friends. 


Avatar for real: Colonel Quaritch wins, Aka-Bo exterminated

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled.

In January, Boa Sr died. At 85 years old, she was the last speaker of Aka-Bo. Until the 1850’s those who spoke Aka-Bo were one of 10 Great Andamanese tribes living their traditional life ways in the Andaman islands. Today, there are only 52 members of the remaining Great Andamanese tribes still living.

While the extinction of animal species receives considerable attention, the extinction of human cultures often goes unnoticed. Yet the loss of a people group and their cultural life ways is just as definitive as the loss of a species.

This is a tragic loss for the human family at many levels. Survival International has this haunting recording of Boa Sr singing:

What happened to the Aka-Bo? Hegemonizing civilization happened. It did its best to co-opt, pacify and manipulate the Great Andamanese after the British arrived on the island in the 1850s. When “pacification” of the indigenous people didn’t work, the British killed them by the hundreds and disease killed many more. The civilizing project was wildly successful. Within 50 years, the number of Great Andamanese went from 5,000 to 600. By 1961, there were only 19 indigenous Great Andamanese left. (Sources: Wikipedia and Survival International)

It would be nice to imagine that this cultural arrogance is a thing of the imperial past, relegated to material for the plot lines of Hollywood blockbusters. But the expansion of Western civilization continues at a breakneck pace. Here’s a story from just last year about a resort that is threatening the survival of another Adaman tribe, the Jarawa.

I’m reminded of this quote from Wade Davis:

We don’t think of ourselves as a culture in the West. We think that we somehow exist outside of time and culture. We’re the real world moving inexorably forward: Get with it or lose the train…

… we think that this economic system of ours exists out of culture, out of time, and is the inexorable wave of history when, by definition, it is simply the product of a certain set of human beings: our lineage.

With the death of Boa Sr, another people group died under the train of that lineage.

P.S. If you were looking for a review of Avatar or confused about why its mentioned in the headline, go read this excellent analysis by Nekeisha Alexis-Baker.

James Brenneman, J. Lawrence Burkholder and a new Mennonite theology of “loyal opposition” for Goshen College

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
– Francis Scott Key, Start Spangled Banner, 1814

Happy 4th of July! The American Flag in Fireworks by Beverly & Pack, flicrk user walkadog

Last week my alma mater, Goshen College, announced that it would begin playing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events. Their press release frames the decision as an exciting new theological and socio-political adventure for the college. Make sure to read the press release especially the quotes from GC president James Breneman and the GC Presidential Council.

I should say up front that this issue is fairly new to me. I wasn’t much of an athlete, so the playing of the national anthem was not an issue for me growing up. For a thoughtful perspective on GC’s decision from someone who has thought about this all their life, read a Open Letter to GC from Britt Kaufmann, longtime Mennonite athlete, coach and GC alum.

I’m mainly interested in this decision because of the way it was rolled out as part of a broader vision emerging from GC President James Brenneman. See his recent sermon Brenneman calls for new ‘school of thought’ at Goshen of positive engagement in the world.


Listening to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and James Cone

Crossposted from my blog for The Mennonite.

Last evening I sat around our living room with 22 other Living Water Community Church folks and had a frank conversation about racism. The conversation was passionate and open. It ranged from personal stories to talk of definitions of racism and even touched on the practical. It was a new conversation to have with so many people in our congregation. My hope is that our sharing together will the start of a serious process that will include our whole church and not just a one Sunday event in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As most of you well know, the vision of Martin Luther King was not simply dreams of black and white children playing together. It was not just about sitting down and being friends. Some of us have heard of his radical critique of the triple evils of poverty, racism and war. But in Malcolm & Martin & America: a Dream or a Nightmare?, James Cone goes far beyond the quotes and the sound bites to look at the grain of King’s life and shows how his life path and vision was and is inextricably linked with that of Malcolm X.

I highly recommend Malcolm & Martin & America for Christian who recognizes that the problem of racism in the United States did not go away with the election of Barack Obama. It is a surprisingly readable history that tells the story of both men in the context of the history of black nationalism and integration struggles. I’m not qualified to write an overall review of the book, but I will share a few quotes from the book that stood out for me along with a few of my own thoughts.


Can you help out a YAR community member in need?

Jason Barr's house burning

I returned to work to work today to find an email about the complete destruction of my friend Jason Barr’s home over the holidays. Jason and his wife Gretchen didn’t have insurance, so their depending on good old Anabaptist mutual aid to recover from a loss of just about everything they owned in the fire (that’s their apartment burning in the photo above). If you can give them a few dollars to help them rent a new place and replace their stuff, it would be much appreciated:

Please give to support Jason and Gretchen

For those of you who don’t know Jason personally, he has been involved in Anabaptist circles for a number of years thinking and sharing about Christ-archy. (more…)

Levi Miller, peace and justice and the Mennonite chattering class

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Dried Love in the Mist seedpods

For the last few weeks, I’ve been wrestling with how to respond to Levi Miller’s column on "peacenjustice". My first reaction was one of anger and frustration. No wonder the Mennonite church has had such a hard time integrating peace and justice into our whole denomination! The director of our publishing house mocks it as a buzzword and sees it as a product of "cultural chatterers." Miller seems to see shalom (the bible’s word for peace and justice) as a little more then a worn out fad. It was much loved by the Sandinistas and Sojourners in the ’70s, but it is time to grow up and move on.

Over the weeks, I wrote several paragraphs expounding on my outrage at an old white guy maligning a theology of liberation that challenges the unjust status quo. (more…)

Can radical book tours change the world?

Over at Jesus Manifesto, Mark Van Steenwyck offers a challenge to the social-change-through-book-tour model:

It seems to be assumed that the way we can build a movement in our society is by wring books, building platforms, and then touring around using our amassed social capital to woo large numbers of people to being a part of the movement. This often, it seems to me, leads to a sort of coopted radical space where folks never have to go beyond the figure head who is leading the movement.

As more and more Christians in the US begin to wake up to the radical message, the question of “So what next?” becomes more and more important. Though Mark names Pete Rollins as the inspiration for his post, he just as easily could be talking about Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson Hart-Groves, the authors of the New Monasticism movement. It seems that every couple of months, I see a new book out from Jonathan or Shane. I’m sure they are all quite good, but I’m not convinced they are pushing the envelope much beyond Irresistible Revolution, a book that clearly reached a new evangelical audience with a message of radical, Jesus-centered Christianity. Many new Christian Peacemaker Teams recruits continue to tell me Shane’s first book was the where they first heard about CPT.

So, you say that social change isn’t about writing books and touring (or blogging for that matter)? Then what is it about?? (more…)

Anabaptist Geek Comic strip of the Year: Parade of ever fancier toys

I’m not sure if I’ve ever posted a cartoon on YAR before, but today’s xkcd 3 panel brought together a rare combination of critique in the spirit of Anabaptism and geek cynicism (not to be confused with Diogenes).

Anabaptist Droid comic


For those non-geeks among you, the Droid is Motorola’s latest cell phone response to Apple’s I-phone. App is slang for applications that run on those two phones. Oh, and Diogenes was a Greek who founded the Cynic school of philosophy. He lived in a tub.

In Other News

Maple City Health Care Clinic wins the Anabaptist clinic of the year award. From the NPR story:

Last fall, when the unemployment rate in Elkhart County, Indiana, topped 10 percent, clinic workers began noticing that patients weren’t showing up for appointments. Turns out they couldn’t even come up with a few bucks for an office visit.

So James Gingrich, the clinic’s medical director, decided to tap his patients’ skills and resources instead. The clinic began offering $10 an hour toward health care if a patient volunteered at another non-profit organization.

Lord of the Rings and Star Wars geek honey pot

Colombian Paramilitaries defend Multinational Corporations from “bureaucrats”

An urgent action from the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin American just arrived in my inbox. It included this quote from a new death threat from the Colombian paramilitary group Black Eagles, who are also active in Barrancabermeja, where I’ve worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams:

With the help of “Familias en Accion” “Guardabosques” and the country’s Democratic Security policy, a group of men and women worried about the state of the country. We have decided that it is necessary to start a fight against those that camouflage themselves as social organizations such as the CUT Valle, NOMADESC, Human Rights Defenders, NGOs, enemies of our democracy.

Those bureaucrats don’t allow us to progress in CAUCA, where they don’t allow multinationals to enter which would benefit the communities of SUAREZ, MORALES and BUENOS AIRES…

…Today we have decided to declare as military targets those (SOB) bureaucrats, human rights defenders, NOMADESC, CUT VALLE, PCN, The Community Council of La Toma, Cerro Tijeras, Licifredy, Eduar Villegas, Jose Goyes, Diego Escobar, Recheche, Plutarco, Meraldiño Consejal”

Claiming associations between social organizations and the guerilla is almost as old as the civil war itself, but I’ve never seen a paramilitary group so open about acting on behalf of multinationals. The Colombia CPT project has often pointed out paramilitaries clear the way for multinationals coming in to set up mines and palm oil plantations, but it now appears the paramilitaries are beginning to make the connection too. Its interesting to note the increasing similarities with right wing rhetoric in the United States. Good intentioned Multinationals vs. that SOB Bureaucracy. It sounds like a Glenn Beck special.

A window into the reality of a 36 hour curfew in Honduras

As you may have heard, Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras and is in the Brazilian embassy. The government has responded to wide spread protests by imposing a curfew that has been extended repeatedly. Andrew Clouse, a friend of mine serving with MCC in Honduras, has a eye opening reminder of how devastating a curfew can be for those with only enough money to buy food a day at a time. From his post, Laying Siege:

Consider that many people here live day to day, buying only what they need for the day because it is all they can afford. Additionally, many people depend on the wages they receive every single day selling tortillas, fruit, vegetables, housewhares, etc., in order to buy the food they need. If everyone is in curfew, they don’t sell. Add to that the fact that many of the corner stores where many people buy their rice and beans are running out of food, because the distribution trucks are not allowed on the streets. This is after only one day.

Supposedly, the curfew is supposed to be ending right about now (6 am Honduras time). It seems like the situation is at boiling point and the future of the coup government will be decided in the next 24 hours or so.

Honduras protest at Brazil Embassy by vredeseilanden

Protests at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa on Sept. 21 by vredeseilanden / CC BY-NC 2.0

I’ve been following the coup in Honduras and the resistance to it quite closely this summer, although I haven’t written much about it since I didn’t feel like I had much original to say. I still don’t have anything profound, but I do have accumulated links, images and videos that you might find interesting.


A novel about anime, peacemaking and kidnapping

This is a letter to YAR readers from Kathleen Kern, a colleague of mine at Christian Peacemaker Teams as well as a novelist. I was a fan of her first novel, Where Such Unmaking Reigns and I’ve also read the manuscript she describes below.


Last year, I completed a second novel featuring the work of a fictitious group called Reformed Anabaptist Peace Teams. I’ve posted the following on a number of anime websites, and checked with the local anime club at Rochester Institute of Technology, but have had still had no takers for more
than year. A YAR suggested I post my request here:

This year, I completed my second novel, the main character of which, Spike Darbyfield is emotionally invested in only two things: her younger sister, Margie, and higher end Japanese Anime series [the ones I mention the most are Blood+, Samurai Champloo, and Cowboy Bebop.] From others in her family,
colleagues, clientele, and the rest of humanity, she maintains an ironic or contemptuous detachment. When an Iraqi militant group kidnaps Margie while she is working for a human rights organization in Iraq, the crisis creates openings in what Spike has perceived as her invulnerable exterior, allowing
those who care about her to begin relating to her (and her to them) in different ways. (more…)

3 Years of YAR: Curate your own top 6 list

Three years ago today, Eric wrote the first post here on YAR. We’ve been through all sorts of interesting things in the past 3 years. I think we’re old enough now that we can start doing some looking back. In celebration of those 3 years, I’d like to invite YAR authors to curate their own top 6 lists of past blog posts. For example, what are your top 6 funniest YAR posts or most discussed. Or most provocative. Or most outrageous. Be imaginative.

Here’s an example for you. It’s a modified list of the most often viewed posts on YAR over the last little while. You’ll notice in reading this list that some of those with the most views are ones that happened to connect with popular Google search terms. I also only included one blog post per author, so we can spread around the love. Two other notes: I’ve adjusted for length of time that the post has been up and the recording of page views started on June 8, 2008.

Top 6 most viewed blog posts on YAR in the last 15 months

#1 pink Menno campaign

This one paragraph post by Luke owes its top spot on this list to its high positioning in the Google results when one searches for Pink Menno. At one point it came in second to the main Pink Menno site. It received a couple hundred of hits after Pink Menno made the Associated Press at the Columbus convention. It’s also had its share of drive by comments by ticked off Mennonites. Luke’s longer high page view piece was his review of Love is an Orientation. (more…)

What do you know about Ervin Stutzman?

Yesterday, the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board named Ervin R. Stutzman the next executive director of Mennonite Church USA. Given that we’ve had three posts (by ST, by me and by Steve K) and 15 comments here on YAR about the search process for this position, I thought it would be worth talking about whether or not this appointment meets your expectations and hopes.

But the first step is finding out more about Ervin. I, for one, have never heard of him before. Do any of you know much about him? The highlights from his official bio in the Mennonite article include:

Bullet holes and Resurrection Ivy

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

On Wednesday morning at 3:33 am, Charletta woke up and said that she had heard a noise. I blearily nodded. She was gone for a minute or two and I tried to go back to sleep. Then she came back and said, "I think there’s a bullet hole in the window." Hmm, I thought, that’s unexpected. My brain gradually began to wake up.

I walked out into the living room and woke up all the way (or as much as is possible at such an hour). Our apartment is on the fourth floor, so the bullet had come in through the window and gone out the ceiling 4 feet away. It had plowed through a tight stack of venetian blinds which had exploded across the room, leaving little white pieces of plastic on every visible surface.