Thursday, January 8, 2015

In honor of Mom

From Toledo, IA
Me and Mom, 1985
Maytag Park in Newton, Iowa
Last summer I wrote out a meandering post, "Following and Straying: The paths of my ancestors," where I was trying to weave together a number of things related to place, vocation, and ancestry and the difficulty of such things in our late modern world. The principal subjects were my two grandfathers, my father, and me. I soon realized that I had only talked about my male ancestors in the post, which kind of nagged at me.

Well, a few days ago my mom reached a significant age milestone. I won't say which milestone, but I'm 35 so that should limit your guesses. It wasn't a particularly enjoyable birthday, as her and my father are both very sick. (Get well soon you two!) And I'm a horrible gift giver but a passable writer, so this post is about adding nuance to my previous musings about family influences and honoring my mother on her birthday. So here's to you, mom...


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hope when nothing changes

From Toledo, IA
"Nothing changes on New Year's Day" -U2 (video)

Trellech on New Year's Day 2009
Photo by Keith Moseley via Flickr
I am more than happy to bid adieu to 2014. It was a dismal year in ways both personal, societal, and global. As a recent article at Wired suggested, "2014 proved to be a year in which long-festering social, environmental, and political problems were exposed in ways we have not seen in a very long time."

That this statement appeared in Wired is itself telling, given that publication's raison d'etre, promoting the belief in progress via science and technology. It's not exactly known for its sober reflection on how those articles of faith might not actually be bringing about global progress and prosperity.

So anyway, yes: Goodbye to the year when I experienced my first psychosomatic breakdown/panic attack. Goodbye to the year that saw the parodies of justice around police brutality and racial profiling, showing how far we've not come in terms of our society's history of racism. Goodbye to the year that saw an increasing acknowledgment (thanks to folks like Naomi Klein) of the link between environmental degradation and our globalized consumer-capitalist order.

If the Christian imagination is one that should be marked by the embodied virtues of faith, love, hope, and joy (i.e. the fruits of the Spirit), then the grounds for those virtues to be cultivated in communities of Jesus' disciples seem to me to be more elusive than ever before. But maybe my sense of that is more my own white boy problems than anything. Or maybe not...

Either way, in 2015 I hope for less anxiety about personal, local, societal, and global issues (while not inoculating myself from them). I hope to be better attuned to seeing God's love for us and all creation at work, and for seeing it despite the fact that, in some very real ways, "Nothing changes on New Year's Day."

And yet marking new years is itself a sign that humans seem to be creatures prone to a rugged and resilient kind of faith and hope, seen in American culture by our various and silly "resolutions."

For my part, I resolve to be loved more freely and to love more faithfully as a child of God. Or to continue the Bono-channeling...
Say it's true, it's true
We can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The joys of being a parent

From Toledo, IA
I don't talk much about my family here on the blog, and that's somewhat intentional. But this is one of those "daddy moments" that I can't pass up commenting on here.

Our daughter has a good bit of musical talent that she comes by from both her mother and I, which we've cultivated over the course of her life with music lessons, first on piano and then for the past six years, violin. She also plays flute in school concert band, is learning the electric bass for jazz band, and is quite a good singer and actress. She is, at 14, an accomplished fine arts nerd (which I mean in the endearing sense). As parents we're very proud.

Last week she asked me to get out my recording equipment so she could start messing around with multi-track recording. With very minimal guidance and instruction from me, she quickly picked up the requisite tools and produced this little lo-fi music video, a cover of the song "I'll Think of You" (aka the "Epic Patty Cake Song") by Kurt Schneider & Sam Tsui...



Friday, December 12, 2014

Your scapegoat "pacifism": A response to Matthew Schmitz

"The Fog of War"
Matt Hinsta via Flickr/CC license
Yesterday, a deputy editor of First Things, Matthew Schmitz, posted a rather unusual piece...

Our Partial Pacifism - Which starts out with the bold statement, "I am inclined to blame pacifism for our embrace of torture."

I say it's an unusual piece because it took me numerous readings and conversations with a number of (pacifist) friends to figure out just what Schmitz was trying to get at in his brief post. My initial reaction was confusion. Granted, it was early this morning when I started reading it so my coffee hadn't perhaps kicked in yet. But I was profoundly bewildered as to how one could connect the dots of a claim like that, i.e. blaming pacifism for "our" embrace of torture. (The collective "we" obviously being the entire United States of America, which was my first red flag.)

So here's what my friends and I came up with on Schmitz's reasoning:

  • There is a utilitarian "ends justify the means" frame being used to discuss torture in the post-9/11, GWOT context, especially now in light of the recent senate report on CIA torture released this week.
  • We need a different moral vocabulary to make better judgments about what is and is not just conduct in war. (Implication being that torture is morally wrong, at all times everywhere. Which I of course agree!)
  • The Christian just war tradition is one such vocabulary about making sound moral judgments, including that torture is wrong.
  • Christian pacifism is a form of moral absolutism ("all war is evil—that it is hell, so we must stay the hell out of it") and is therefore unable to make nuanced moral judgments about action in war.
  • While many/most may not embrace pacifism, "we" seem to have generally embraced the "pacifist conclusion" that "all war is hell...so we must stay the hell out of it," including in any and all attempts to make moral judgments about conduct in war.
Therefore, pacifism (albeit a partial one) is to blame for our inability to make nuanced moral judgments about conduct in war. Pardon me for being colloquial and crude, but WTF?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My race/police story


This is a Google Maps snapshot of the north side and east side of Des Moines, separated by I-235. See E University Ave there on the right? If you follow that east you'd hit my hometown of Prairie City in about 20 minutes. My folks worked in downtown Des Moines when I was growing up and I worked at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in high school, so I spent a lot of time on the east side.

Last year at a football game tailgate, I met a Des Moines cop through a mutual friend. I asked him about where he worked and he said the east side. He then proceeded to talk about how he likes the east side because people there seem to be more laid back and easier to work with than people on the other side of I-235. He said he did not like that "genre" of people.

As he walked away to another conversation, my friend leaned over to me and asked, "Did that guy just use the word 'genre' as a way to avoid saying he doesn't like black people?"

Indeed. Check out the census data on race for the same piece of territory...

Source: The Racial Dot Map, demographics.coopercenter.org/DotMap/

Monday, December 8, 2014

Economics and spiritual calling

(This is a kind of part 2 to my last post...)

As I said in my previous post, we live in an age of stagnant wages and widening economic inequality, and more and more intelligent people are starting to point out that this isn't some kind of technical glitch in the global capitalist system, but it is rather this way by design. The old "rich get richer/poor get poorer" line is what makes this whole thing tick. Or to use Thomas Piketty's recent formula: r > g. Return on revenue (r) will always outpace economic growth (g) in the current system, or at least that's how it's worked in the past few hundred years of the current system.

So the middle class in the US today is getting pinched harder than ever. People have to work harder and harder just to get by. A pretty standard middle class lifestyle is now incredibly difficult to finance. Professional clergy have traditionally been members of the middle class.

We've been hearing in recent years that "bi-vocational ministry" is going to be the wave of the future, and my denomination says they want to plant a crazy high number of churches in coming years, so we've got the church planting bug. Not that that's a bad thing, but...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book release: A Living Alternative

From Toledo, IA

Over the past year, a group of Anabaptist-minded folks, mostly culled from the ranks of the MennoNerds, collaborated on a book project. I was honored to be part of that project and now our book is out! Check it out on Amazon...
A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World

My chapter will sound familiar to anyone who's read my blog posts over the past two years. It's called "Seeking the Peace of the Farm Town: Anabaptist Mission and Ministry in the Rural Midwest." In fact, the chapter is collected and edited from blog posts and sermons that I wrote over the first year of living back in rural Iowa. As I say at the start of the chapter:
Don't let the subtitle fool you: I am not a seasoned expert on Anabaptist mission and ministry in the rural Midwest. This is not a reflection written after many years of experience, trial and error, and critical assessment. I will not be offering advice, sage-like or otherwise. Rather, this piece is best thought of as being in the genre of theological memoir, and constitutes a kind of “preliminary field notes” document. It is memoir in that it sketches the story of how my family and I ended up in the small farm town of Toledo, Iowa, where we have been taking root for the past year. It is theological in that our mindset and practices, before and throughout our time here, have emerged out of a place of intense and sometimes (often?) painful spiritual discernment.