This poem was written two and a half years ago when I heard of the assasination of Michael J Sharp in the Congo. This poem previously published here. MJ was a contributor here on YAR for a few years. You can read his blog posts here.
Lima Bean Eulogy
We planted lima beans the morning after
villagers found MJ’s body.
The rotund little green dumplings
nestling to the damp earth
He nestled in a shallow grave with Zaida and Betu
along the road from from Bukonde to Tshimbulu in Kasai.
In a few weeks those dumplings will bust up, burst out
and wind their way above our highest hedges.
So this is what it feels like when a friend
(smiling smart blackjack shark, wisecracking lark, goofball genius, fingernail biting adventurer, rainbow vacuum salesman, globe-trotting strategist, adorable hunk, creative critical mind, mass grave documenter, consummate UN professional, Johnny Walker philosopher, lock picking ninja, Mennonite golden boy, rebel leader networker (at church), slightly bespectacled gadget nerd (according to the New York Times if you trust them), loyal comrade, Hot Doug’s line-waiter, burnt out social justice warrior, charismatic conversationalist, noble old soul, pugnacious puppy trainer, binge watching Netflix enthusiast, reconciliator, frequent flier, subversive prankster punk, bright brave peace worker, canny researcher, francophone fish, dummie teller, smooth talking soccer jock, sarcastic lover, humble impresario, fast talking militia deserter recruiter, board game geek, persistent investigator, fiercely independent expert, earnest-really-doing-that-swords-to-plowshares-thing-we-all-talk-about-doing-in-a-way-that-makes-us-feel-a-little-awkward-but-we’d-never-admit-it type, tuxedoed porsche driver, cherry eating long-distance trekker, bantering buddy, authoritarian undermining report writer, box free thinker, charming diplomat, cool calm calculated political operator, lovable troublemaker and texas hold-em chip supplier)*
becomes a seed.
*Thanks to all of you who have contributed to this compilation of memories of MJ on social media and elsewhere over the past two days. Each story shines new light on his life for the rest of us. This poem is expandable. Feel free to leave your own alliterative adjective and noun pairs in the footer.
September 18, 2019
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I was a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams living in London in 2005 during the kidnapping of Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Tom Fox. Today is the 13th anniversary of the date they were taken.
On that last day of ordinary time
Norman, Harmeet, Jim and Tom walk across a parking lot
in Baghdad and get into a van.
Years later, Jim can’t remember “those last, unremarkable motions.”
The next morning (the first Sunday of Advent)
The BBC called me at noon.
The voice at the other end of the line was chasing rumors:
We heard that four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were kidnapped.
What do you know?
What if Christians took the same risks for peace…
The van exits the lot, abruptly stops;
Men with big guns open the door,
shove the four to the floor
and into the tomb.
November 26, 2018
Peace & Peacemaking, Poetry
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This is the first in a four part series from my essay entitled, “The Early Anabaptist Movement through the Lens of Social Movement Theory.”
By way of introduction to my piece, I wrote the following poem. I invite you to read it as an exercise of imagining what the emerging Anabaptist movement must have felt like to a new believer.
Movement of the Word, 1525-1535
The word spreads on farms,
in taverns and barns, in sewing circles
the fold grows, stitch by stitch.
Behind the looms we whisper
good news and now dozens come to sit
on stumps and stone, our forest pews.
We dare not learn our leaders’ names,
for fear that tortured tongues might speak;
we know the brothers when they say,
“The Lord’s peace remain with thee.”
‘Til He returns to vanquish our foes,
many join Christ’s agony. (more…)
March 15, 2014
Anabaptism, History, Martyrdom, Poetry, Politics, Social movements
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You can read Response by Ervin Stutzman here, if you missed it.
Several days ago I noticed a flurry of activity – a letter signed by 150 pastors calling for welcome of LGBTQ folks, the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA in response “earnestly desir[ing] that our church be faithful to scripture and God’s call,” articles about these developments, and comment section dust-ups. It seemed appropriate for me to acknowledge this flurry on behalf of my queer Mennonite self, and to make an initial response to the hopes and Menno-speak voiced within that flurry.
First of all, I receive the letter from the pastors as an example of allies (and I believe, a member or two of the LGBTQ community!) in positions of power and with legitimizing credentials standing in the gap for queer folks like myself whose voices are nearly always marginalized in any discussion about our lives and spirits in the Mennonite Church. I receive Ervin’s response as difficult to decipher Menno-speak backed by his authority as Executive Director, and positioned as (perceived) gatekeeper to the Mennonite Church.
Partly as a result of this (perceived) gatekeeper role, Ervin believes the 150 pastors’ beliefs and experiences are his and the board’s to judge and deem worthy of rightness or wrongness. Stutzman declares that he “lament[s] that the individuals and groups at opposite ends of the spectrum of concerns related to sexual identity and orientation are no longer willing to be in patient forbearance with each other.” He sat at the table with members of the LGBTQ community (or as he calls it, people on the LGBTQ spectrum), and believes that his recounting – from a position of power and authority – of these conversations with folks accurately represents LGBTQ and allied experiences in the Mennonite Church, and he bases his conclusion on that belief. His conclusion is that “even among the closest family members of individuals with LGBTQ identity there is no consensus on the moral and theological implications.” I am assuming he means the moral and theological implications of being a member of the LGBTQ community, but the sentence is unclear.
Secondly, I receive the letter from the pastors as a plea to the church to find a better way of addressing our differences. I receive the letter from Ervin as a plea for members of the LGBTQ community to continue bearing the brunt of hatred, of silent treatment, of being ignored, passed over, and mistreated while members of our community stand by, and to be patient all the while. I also receive it as a plea for those who have a deeply held, unmovable, unchangeable belief that acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community is a sign of the spiritual downfall of the church to sit back down in the pews, and forebear.
February 6, 2014
LGBTQ, Mennonite Church USA, Poetry, Power, Privilege, Social justice
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We do have a poetry category and I thought I’d invite it out of the dusty corner to join us for a little conversation today with Mennonite poet, Jeff Gundy. I’ll open the space by sharing a poem of his, a bit of a story from him to go with it and then a chance to ask him questions in the comments.
When Madonna Met Menno
“You’re a slut,” he said, “but God loves you anyway.”
She took a long pull on her beer. “Don’t be simple,”
she said. “I was a Catholic schoolgirl. I’ve known that
since I was twelve.” She was all knees and ankles,
and he was a river toad, the two of them crammed
into a tiny booth among the hard-drinking yuppies.
“Besides, I’ve got babies now,” she said, “and all that
whore stuff was for sales anyway.” “I know what you mean,” (more…)
September 20, 2013
History, Martyrdom, Poetry, Sex
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Several months ago I drafted a post on Occupy Wall Street suggesting that people interested in thinking through issues of race and gender (re)turn to Adrienne Rich as a wise source. We so often forget those who have gone before us, outside a fairly limited range, and I thought posting a few quotations from one of Rich’s essays might provoke thought and also encourage folks to dig out college anthologies, hunt down books in the library, or do a little web-searching.
I didn’t post the little piece because I wanted it to be Just Right. Then I got busy.
And now Adrienne Rich has died, and I am reminded again of how much she has to teach us.
March 30, 2012
activism, antiracism, Books, Current Events, Economics, Gender, Group Identity, Media, Poetry, Politics, Privilege, Race, Sexism, Stories, Wealth, Writing
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….Dedicated to this dying Child.
A child dying in the streets of the crowded Warsaw Ghetto, where hunger and disease killed 43,000 in 1941 alone.
“This is your house and you can say whatever you want in it.”
Indeed it is your house
You can say whatever you want in it.
You went on
The International Jew
how they and the Freemasons
are secretly plotting
on how they
can take over the world
how Hilter must’ve
for a good reason…
because no one kills six million
people for no reason. (more…)
February 28, 2011
Bigotry, Hate, Poetry
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The Necessity of Hiroshima: why we must believe
in The Year of Decisions, our savior Harry asked
“a committee of top men”
Men all carved from the same superior
Aspen, carefully lathed of their
“to study with great care”
care. Eviscerated as children, smiling
beneath strange fruit. They died for
“the implications the new”
the new; our idolatrous messiah. Our
silicon steel colossus will consume
“weapon might have for us”
us, our civilization. As surely as
Saturn Devouring His Son.
the scientific advisers of the committee reports:
“We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war;
we see no acceptable alternative to
direct military use.”
And so, 65 years ago today, an orange cloud blossomed above a city full of them for our salvation.
August 9, 2010
Poetry, US Military
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As part of the conversation that often occurred in response to Mennonites in Northern Ghana, who were asking me “what does it mean to be Mennonite?” I would quote a snippet from Menno’s document. (I mean, only sometimes, when they asked specifically about Simons, because “church founders” are a BIG deal there). But the language was such that I always found myself changing the words. These folks loved Jesus, and they weren’t necessarily asking me about what Jesus had to say about discipleship and prayer, but they wanted to know what Menno had to say. They had only relative familiarity with British English and most are distanced from the written word. I wonder if I translated the following accurately? I wonder if it matters? How would you translate/summarize this part of Menno Simon’s Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (1539)
“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto the flesh and blood; it destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; it seeks and serves and fears God; (more…)
February 15, 2010
Anabaptism, Change, Clothing, communication, Community, culture, Death, Discipleship, Education, Ethics, Evangelism, Global Church, God, Group Identity, History, Interpretation, Language, liberation theology, Nonviolence, Peace & Peacemaking, philosophy, Poetry, Polemics, Politics, poverty, Power, Prayer, Privilege, Stewardship, The Bible, Theology, Tolerance, Tradition, Wealth, Writing, Young Folks
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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!
October 17, 2008
Anabaptism, Anniversary, Awesome Stuff, Change, Church, communication, Community, Current Events, Dumb Stuff., Economics, Ethics, Evangelism, Fair, Faith, Fun, Global Church, God, Group Identity, Interpretation, Language, Leadership, Love, Objective, philosophy, Poetry, Poll, Sports, The Bible, Theatre, Theology, Tolerance, Wealth, Writing, Young Folks
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This week I got an email from Cliff Kindy saying that he’s returning to Iraq for four months as part of a CPT Team. Cliff’s work as a Christian Peacemaker has been mentioned a few times before on YAR.
In his letter announcing his return to Iraq he said:
A friend asked why I go to Iraq at a time when the situation is deteriorating even further. I go in expectation, trusting that the Jesus way of nonviolence always brings more creativity and positive change to situations of injustice and violence than the tools of war. The resurrection for me is a sign that life trumps death. Yes, it is a high risk project, but a project that participates already in the future for which we pray and yearn!
September 20, 2007
Nonviolence, Peace & Peacemaking, Poetry
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YAR – [a work in progress]
scattered strangers –
glasses half-empty, but mostly half-full
fingers fire across keys
punching out the truth
will ease the loneliness
of living as black sheep
or the cramp
of working out the pearl from the sand
– together forming community.
August 27, 2007
Community, Meta (YAR), Poetry
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Hi, folks. If you are a fellow Menno who would love to hear more sermons on how we can show our peace church roots on a local and national level during times of war, read this article. It warmed my ever-reaching heart.
It’s easy to fall into “Acedia” (being so overwhelmed that we do nothing). But there are oodles of things one person can do for peace and justice. Here are just a few of those oodles:
-support the Peace Tax Foundation in various ways
-buy a consistent fair trade item (like coffee, wedding gifts, etc. etc.)
-dialogue and connect face-to-face (I’ve gotten to know a classmate whose husband is a soldier in Afghanistan…it’s been challenging and humbling)
-read poetry! :) OK, I’m a poet. I’m biased. But words do powerful, lifechanging things to people!
May 5, 2007
Awesome Stuff, Church, Contemplation, Food, Peace & Peacemaking, Poetry
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Today the Writer’s Almanac featured another “Mennonite” poem. You can read it online at the Writer’s Almanac Archive. I will also copy it below:
“First TV in a Mennonite Family” by Julia Kasdorf, from Sleeping Preacher. © University of Pittsburgh Press.
The lid of the Chevy trunk couldn’t close
on that wooden console with a jade screen
and gold flecks in the fabric over the speaker.
They sent us to bed then set it up
in the basement, as far from our rooms
and the dinner table as they could get, (more…)
April 25, 2007
Art, Change, Community, History, Poetry, Tradition, Writing
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Have you ever experienced something so overwhelming that it takes a while to sink into a place where it can be digested? (I’m hoping the American people are going through a “writer’s block,” so to speak, and will very soon rise up with their voices, pens, and withdrawn tax dollars to stop the worship of war in our country! But I digress…)
I spent last July in Monrovia, Liberia with my parents (they were there on a two-yr. humanitarian term with MMN, years that tested their marriage and their faith–but that’s a whole other entry!). A collapsed infrastructure is astounding and brutal to see face to face; so is the result of centuries of violence, corruption, and struggle…It’s taken me 8 months to put my experiences in Liberia onto paper…and even so, they are so hard to capture or revisit. Anyway, here are some new poems. I’d love to read others’ travel writing!
TO THE GIRL ON SOMALIA DRIVE
I am not prepared to see her on Somalia Drive.
We have the car windows closed, partly
so that no arm can reach in, see what white skin
has to offer, partly to block out the loudest fumes.
Diesel trucks and busloads in front of us mimic
slowly rolling waves (children have been lost
in the mahogany puddles of rainy season potholes.)
Roads pulse with people, dogs with teats dragging, lines
of goats. We crawl past a slaughterhouse, a Coca Cola factory,
a trailer packed with workers singing
of the Promised Land.
We are some sort of horrible royalty.
After all, we are from America,
that real Promised Land that sent freed slaves here
to start Liberia, also the home of “freedom.” We are tied
to these people outside our car windows
by blood and sweat and quiet
greed. Men suck their teeth
at my mother and me, their way of getting
our unnerved attention. Looks of longing,
money signs, and awe. Babies often cry—
to them, we are ghosts.
I have learned to be overly interested in my shoes.
When I do glance up this day, I see a flash of white,
and there she is: a blue-black body
all treble clef curves, a bucket of bananas
cocked on her head. We look
at one another, five seconds
at the most.
I am becoming numb to seeing more and more
young men with missing limbs or hands,
the sickening artwork of civil war.
But meeting eyes with a faceless girl—where cheeks
and nose should be, only white, only white—
who can ever get used to that? (more…)
April 5, 2007
Poetry, Race, Travel, Writing
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