Ethics

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.

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New Wine New Wineskins

The “final” meetings of the New Wine/New Wineskins Inquiry Task Force (ITF) committee were last weekend in Winnipeg. I thought some of you may want to know about it. MCC is trying to deepen existing bonds of connection and respond to world in a new way through modification of its vision, mission, priorities, values, and approaches…as well as its structure. The New Wine/New Wineskins process was a broad consultation to help think through how we do this.

A number of church leaders, former MCC directors, and others invested in this process have expressed concerns around:

· the fragmentation of international program into national entities. How can we maintain (and improve) MCC’s ability to carry out its mission if international program is given to national MCCs?

· denominations not having sufficient representation on the governance of the proposed national MCC entities, nor the central entity.

· The fact that MCCBN and MCCC tensions have not been adequately addressed in order to be able to move forward. (more…)

Jesus Radicals! Anarchism and Christianity

New Heaven, New Earth: Anarchism and Christianity Beyond Empire
August 14 & 15, 2009

Location
Caritas Village
2509 Harvard Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38112

This year’s anarchism and Christianity conference, hosted by Jesus Radicals, will look squarely at the economic and ecological crisis facing the globe, and point to signs of hope for creativity, for alternative living, for radical sharing, for faithfulness, for a new way of being. We are living in a karios moment that will either break us or compel us to finally strive for a new, sane way of life. The question we face at this pivotal time is not if our empires will fall apart, but when they will fall–and how will we face it? We hope you will join the conversation. (more…)

Love and Smoke

So I am really in love for the first time in a while. He’s a radical activist. He’s Mennonite. He’s brilliant. He would probably read and write on this blog if he was from the USA. But there is a big problem, he smokes tobacco (a lot). Or is that not a problem? I need your help, my radical friends…to help me think through the issues of smoking and tobacco usage. I can only really take love advice seriously from people who are in the movement for positive social change…people who understand a deep commitment to values that call us to put our “personal” love lives in perspective with the greater struggle of promotion of love and justice all over the world. I listen to others who I feel are be people of integrity on all levels of life.

What follows is what I think about smoking/what I’m struggling with/the questions I have. Please, if you have any wisdom to share…SHARE IT. As a feminist I am willing to put this out in the public because I do believe the personal is political. And I know that the relationships that individuals have also effect the collective.

I realized again that I’m a “God-geek” when I wanted to know something marriage a few weeks ago and so I looked at C. Arnold Snyder’s chapter titled “Anabaptist Marriage” in Anabaptist History and Theology textbook. My point was to see how these young activists handled marriage in the context of an intense social movement. (more…)

Recession Revolution

This is part of a discussion on the PNMC Peace And Justice Forum:

I think it is time for the church to reconsider its politics.. I’m not advocating that we all try to get elected or take over the government necessarily. But I do think we might be entering a 1930’s scenario where if we think things have been bad for the middle-class and poor through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I know I’m going to hear it from those who like to keep Jesus out of politics (and I do still harbor many healthy anabaptist political hesitations myself) but I’m becoming equally angry with a church that seems more interested in building new administrative centers and benefiting from our MMA retirement portfolios (well, up until 6mo. ago at least), but seems less interested in walking the neighborhood, asking how people are doing and searching for real ways to bring hope and healing to those who know first hand what it feels like to search for scraps beneath the “master’s” table. I’ve recently been inspired by reading about church leaders of the 1930s who searched for ways to move beyond insular spiritualism to both care for the poor AND passionately advocate for significant social change. I wonder if the coming revolt might need some committed nonviolent Mennonites who can help keep it nonviolent.
-Matt F.

I think, Matt, that you’re barking up the wrong tree. I feel I can say this as a person who is deeply involved in my communities here in Portland. I personally think that the governments and corporations and banks are so full of their own self interest, especially in maintaining whatever status quo there is, that the system itself is unreliable. I believe that if we as Christians took over the system, then we would do no better than those who hold it now (or previously). Part of the problem is the structure of the system itself, whether that be the U.S. government, capitalism, the banking system, or modern labor being controlled by large corporations. What is needed is a complete breakdown of the systems– which we will get when Jesus returns. (more…)

A bicycle pilgrimage

Hey! These folks are riding from Harrisonburg, VA to the Asuncion, Paraguay for the Global Youth Summit of Mennonite World Conference. Check them out!

http://americas.bikemovement.org/

As anyone who has been on a bike for an extended amount of time for their primary form of transportation knows, it is a life-altering experience. Godspeed to Lars and Jon and Love to all whom they will visit. I am in the process of encouraging the youth group from my church to bike to the Mennonite Youth Convention in Columbus, Ohio June 30-July 6. I hope it works out…it will definitely be life-altering. Besides saving money and petroleum, getting some fresh air and exercise, biking together is a great self-esteem and group-building opportunity. It generates an equality among races and genders through the creation of a camaraderie and shared intense, rewarding experience.

But there is some resistance. Sometimes I get so excited about something I can’t embrace alternatives. Pray for me as I discern how much to push and where to step-back….And DO visit bikemovement America’s website.

The Trouble with Thanksgiving: A Reflection by Nekeisha

Thanksgiving makes me nervous.

For years, I’ve gotten a sinking feeling in my stomach as the month of November draws to a close and this day looms. On the one hand, Thanksgiving is about joy and gratitude. It is a time when I travel to see family and friends, welcome a few days of rest and look forward to the holiday season. In my mind, I know it is a good thing to have a day where the sole emphasis is to give thanks to God for all God has done. I also appreciate the opportunity to celebrate all my loved ones do and are to one another.

And yet Thanksgiving reminds me of a beautiful but altogether itchy sweater. Sure it looks good on the rack in my closet. It is slimming, well-made, gorgeous color—everything you could hope for in a sweater. But if I put it on I’m guaranteed to spend the whole day tugging, scratching and feeling downright uncomfortable. Try as I might, I can’t shake that weird feeling about that good ole holiday. It gets to the point where weeks in advance I’m trying to come up with other things to say besides “Happy Thanksgiving.” And since “Happy Day Off” doesn’t cut it I go ahead and mutter the greeting anyway, wheels still turning for a suitable substitute. (more…)

When will they update the 12 marks?

In class we’ve been studying a lot about New Monastics. Lots of good stuff that you can read about it in many places, some even on this blog. Since it’s a fluid movement, I was wondering when they are going to update, change, or adjust their 12 marks. I have some comments on a few, and I’m sure others do as well, so when is the next conference? Or do we just email somebody like Johnathan W-H?

I agree (in thought and action) with a lot of what is said in the 12 points and what I see in the daily lives of the community around me and my interaction with some of these folks. But my particular question is spurred with regards to mark 1, which says that they relocate to abandoned places of Empire.” Some think that I am doing the “new monastic thing…” I’m not sure about that, but I do know that I am in my home area…and it fits many of the descriptions, but it’s not abandoned by Empire. Or do they mean that it’s abandoned by Empire because no (or hardly any) white people live in the area? There is a beautiful organic culture here and I don’t want to discount that by saying it’s abandoned. I think it is important to affirm the initiative of persons rather than possibly falling into “white savior” complexes again. I see that many New Monastics are very aware of race and class dynamics, so I’m hoping that mark 1 can be articulated in a more antiracist way. (more…)

Leviticus 3:16b “All fat is the Lord’s.”

Hi Friends!
It is time for the 2nd preach-off between Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Goshen College. The first one was in 2006 (organized by some YARs) and it was very successful.

For the preach-off, folks will give three-minute sermons on scriptures they’ve received 24 hours prior. People can vote with their donations, and a panel judges will give humorous feedback.

The donations benefit up and coming young adult leaders from the Global South by giving them a full scholarship to attend the Global Youth Summit (July 10-12 in Asunción, Paraguay).

In addition to the fun of preach-off, we realize that the lives of many people in Northern Indiana have been enriched by connections with the global church. So this event will be interspersed with short testimonies from people in the area, celebrating these ties as we raise funds to support the next generation of Anabaptist leaders from around the globe.

So, YARs…we’re collecting crazy passages. If you know of one, please write the reference as a comment. Your help is appreciated…and if you’re in Northern Indiana at 6pm on Dec. 6 you are warmly invited to materialize and participate!

Ministry to the Outcast

In every society there are the rejected that Jesus is intensely interested in assisting. But the church often is in the place of judging the outcast at the side of the rest of society. Below is my vision, based on Jesus’ ministry, of how the church should look when they are responding to the outcast as they should. These are also the principles on which my ministry is based:
All true ministry has the goal of leading a people to faith in Jesus as Lord and living that out in their lives.

Identification—I Cor. 9:19-23
Some within a congregation that will take on the role of an outcast in order to reach them. Get rid of the separation between the “server” and the “served”.

Offer to be Family—Mark 2:15-17; Luke 15.
Total love of the “sinner”, and an offer to partake in acceptance. This is the major felt need of the outcast—social acceptability. To offer acceptance is not to have the outcast feel that acceptance—this only comes with an acceptance of forgiveness and inclusion in the community. This sense of family cannot be created by a program, but one can use a program as a base-point to increase this acceptance.

Listening—James 1:19
You cannot meet anyone’s needs until you know what they are. Get past the first hurdles in order to discover their real needs (e.g. no one needs money, money is a means to meet the real need)

Benevolence
Trying to meet their needs, but doing so with dependence on God. Those with resources, give what you have (Luke 12:33); those without, pray for healing (Matt 10). To give what we have, may be to offer what God alone has to give, instead of the petty resources we have (Acts 3:1-8). (more…)

technology and worship: part 2

Part 2 (look here for part 1)

If Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “the medium is the message,” is helpful (as Shane Hipps argues), then we must go all the way down; we must dig into the materiality of the medium. We must investigate the conditions that make possible the process of production. Hidden powers are physically remembered in the pieces of technology we use.

Most popular discussions of technology and worship fail to explore the realities of material production–the where, when, why, and how of invention and assembly. From reading these books on media and worship, one would assume that technologies magically appear–created out of nothing. Since electronic devices are available, we have to figure out ways to make them liturgically productive. The problem, according to Eileen D. Crowley, is that “Most churches lag at least twenty years or more behind the art world in the kind of media art they create or purchase and in how they imagine that media might be integrated within worship” (32). Our churches are not on the cutting edge of media. Our liturgical media is passé. We have failed to encourage the development of artists who makes use of anything at their disposal to lead us into an “experience of the Holy” (32) (more…)

Body Image and Second-Hand Pants for Big Men

I’m going to start by saying that everything that follows is totally disputable, as in the words of Paul:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” – Romans 14:1

Mark Van Steenwyk has written a series on “hipster” culture and what he calls the “style of subversion”, over at Jesus Manifesto. It’s great and I highly recommend it, it has been helpful for me (thanks Mark).

Something that struck me was in Part I, when Mark notes:

You see, I came of age in the mid 90s. The commodification of the counter-culture was well under way, but it could hardly be called mainstream yet. Because of this, most of the “alternative” folks that I knew were social outcasts, or at least were socially akward. Like me. To put it indelicately, most of the counter cultural types I knew weren’t academic enough to be nerds, weren’t athletic enough to be jocks, and weren’t attractive enough to be popular. The counter cultural types tended to hang out together with all the other lower-order social groupings. And since I was unpopular (in fact, one poll that the girls did in junior high put me as the 3rd from the bottom in the social pecking order).

So, my brain was confounded by what I saw at PAPA Fest. Most of the 20 something crowd was attractive. There were young men aplenty with chiseled, shirtless, chest throwing footballs in a perfect spiral to other young men with similarly perfectly chiseled chests. In fact, if it weren’t for their dreads, I would swear that they were jocks.

Mark goes on to say:

Members of a majority or dominant group may (perhaps) achieve alterity by being ostracized as a subversive or deviant. However, we live in a culture where it is easy for mainstream twenty-somethings (and younger) to embrace the style of subversion. And because they speak a certain lingo, wear certain clothes, and use certain products, it is socially understood that these stylish subversives care about social outcasts, the poor, and the downtrodden, even if no tangible evidence exists of that care. In other words: it is great when people begin to challenge the status quo as they pursue justice and mercy, but how excited should we be when it is very easy in our society to look, sound, and act radical without it costing anything?

Even more, what happens when hipsterism gets so tied into consumer capitalism (you know: Messenger Bags, Hot Topic, Ipod, Apple, Moleskine, American Apparel…) that you become a radical in appearance, but a profound reinforcer of the status quo in your way of life?

I want to take this in an entirely different direction than Mark might have taken it but his thoughts got me thinking. Up until two years ago, I was a fat guy. I was 6’3 and 280 pounds. I was not healthy and it had a lot to do with a cycle of poor body image mixed with eating to feel better and drinking alcohol excessively to forget how hopelessly unattractive I felt.

But a couple of years ago, I was called by Christ, and have lost a lot of weight and stopped drinking heavily (no… this is not one of those “testimonies”, I’m just telling it like it happened). (more…)

People’s Summit in Winnipeg – Why is it we gather?

After attending the “People’s Summit for Faithful Living,” in Winnipeg a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about the reasons we gather.

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Some fine reports were written on the summit, here and here. The only things I would add or highlight would be…

In addition to Canadians, white people were also over-represented. (Out of 570 participants, I’d estimate around 550 were white.) Not to say that such numbers preclude valuable interactions or prove tokenism – I greatly appreciated some the learning tracks that connected indigenous traditions with relating to our creator and caring for creation – but I think it’s important to notice.

I also had a notable conversation with a young pastor who’s drawn to working with suburban youth – creating vibrant alternatives to our destructive culture and showing them there can be more to life than what we consume. I’m glad to know those conversations are happening.

~ ~ ~

So as a participant I got some ideas and resources, met some cool folks, and ate off compostable plates. But I’m still not sure that conferences like this are justifiable in their current form. (more…)

“We Must Look at the Context”

I want to start by saying that I understand that a number of you have an extensive Christian education. By this I mean you have some background in Christian philosophy and theology. I, however, do not. I am mostly self-educated on these matters, bringing my experience and my studies to bear on the issues I’m about to discuss.

So, if this is something you have heard before or there is some technical term for what I am describing, then just bear with me.

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Envision 08: Toward Christian Unity in the Public Square

Is Christian unity in the public square an important goal to work toward? Here at seminary there are many people thinking about denominationalism as a theological issue/concern. I went to a conference to think about some of these issues. It was called Envision 08 (www.ev08.org) I helped out with a workshop on Sexuality and Faith. There were many young evangelical Christians who are freeing themselves from the grip of right wing politics there. The conversation was familiar to an Anabaptist like me, but it was like watching people hear the Good News for the first time. Everyone was so excited that faith meant more than rigid rules, hierarchy, and supporting the U.S.A.

The Declaration below, coming from “Envision: the Gospel, Politics, and the Future” at Princeton University June 8-10, 2008, began with an online dialogue of approximately 100 participants on June 2 about religion, social change, and politics. On June 8, a diverse panel of scholars discussed the results of the dialogue.

After attending the conference and hearing reports about the conversations that occurred throughout many aspects of the conference, the panel met and created the declaration. You can sign it if you want. (more…)