Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A restorative response to the Veishea riot

in Toledo, IA
Not a new problem, apparently. (ISU student paper, 1940s ed.)
I'll never forget the Sunday afternoon during high school I came back to Iowa from a youth retreat in Kansas, and my dad telling me one of my high school classmates had been murdered at a party during Iowa State University's annual celebration, Veisha. It set off the most intense week of my entire high school experience, where every day felt like living in slow motion. That was 17 years ago.

But for the past 30 years or so, ISU's Veisha celebration has had a bit of an identity problem. What started out as a celebration of education at ISU had turned into an excuse for people to come from across the state, crash in their friends'/siblings' dorm rooms or apartments, and get really, really drunk. Riots have occurred enough times at Veisha for them to no longer be a surprise. - So when I heard this morning that there was yet another riot last night at Veisha (I didn't even know it was going on), I thought "Hmm," and went back to sipping my coffee.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

By the rivers of Babylon?

in Toledo, IA
"By the Waters of Babylon" - Evelyn de Morgan, 1882-1883 (via Wikipedia)
When I was in high school the band Sublime was cool. I graduated the year after their lead singer died of a drug overdose just weeks before their major label album released and became wildly popular. The summer after high school the rock band I was in with my friends, Honnold, played a number of shows with a punk band from southeast Iowa, Blank Skeme, who often played "Rivers of Babylon" by Sublime at their shows. I loved that song (still do).

Little did I know then (despite having grown up in the church), the song was based on another "song," Psalm 137, a lament by the people of Israel who were exiled to Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. The people are asked by their captors to sing a song of Zion, which only brings to their mind images of Jerusalem burning. The people can only sit down and weep.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wendell Berry and Mennonite online education

in Toledo, IA

This post is simply to cross-reference a few other posts I've written elsewhere in the past week, both relating to my work in Mennonite higher education, particularly in online programs. Each are at my work blog, Ed-tech at EMU:

Here's an excerpt from the end of the second post:
What I find compelling about the potential for online education within the Mennonite tradition and its various institutions of higher education (including both EMU & Tabor College), is the possibility of a radical online education. One that’s “subversive” in the sense that it uses the tools of the digital age but calls out their contingency, questions their inevitability, highlights their pitfalls and ultimate limits. I’m talking about deconstruction. – But deconstruction on the way to developing attitudes and practices which can help re-construct something more life-giving than what our consumer culture can provide: Affection for self and neighbors – friends and enemies, affection for place, and ultimately (in the Christian context) affection for our creating and sustaining God. And when we do this in collaboration with each other - rather than mimicking the logic of consumer capitalism – the radical potential only increases, deepening roots and establishing routes/linkages that contribute to the common good of Mennonite communities and institutions, and those whom we serve (i.e. “the world.”)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Comin' down the mountain...

in Prairie City, IA
Pastor Tim Peter, signing my home congregation's ordination gift to me
It's been just over a week now since I was ordained as a minister in the Church of the Brethren, an event which took place at my home congregation south of Prairie City, Iowa. It was a joyous day that felt much like the best possible family reunion. There were beloved people - family, friends, pastors, all sisters & brothers in Christ - from all points along my life and ministerial journey. Two of my friends that I used to play music with surprised me during worship with a run-through of "Amazing Grace." Everyone gathered around me to lay their hands on me and petition God's guidance, correction, and provision for my ongoing ministry and that of my family. We ate together and celebrated Communion together... And on and on. It was a lovely day that truly felt like the sublime gift that it was.

A particular gift was my former professor/pastor, Sara Wenger Shenk, president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, preaching the sermon during worship. The sermon text was taken from the lectionary: Matthew 17:1-9, the Transfiguration of Jesus. Sara's title was: "Moments of Clear Shining," and her treatment of the text with respect to the notion of ordination for ministry in the church, and how it impacts me, my family, the faith communities and neighborhoods in which we serve & worship - it all had the ring of Gospel truth. I heartily recommend giving it a listen...



Her main image/theme was the notion of "mountaintop experiences," and how they can become temptations to dwell in the glow, as Peter was keen to do upon seeing Jesus transformed before his eyes into his full glory - but that Jesus models well that we must come down, back into the "valley" of the everyday, the hurly burly of the radical ordinary. God's redemptive mission in the world is to be found there, with only brief and periodic flashes, or "moments of clear shining."

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hope: Whence, whither, and if

in Toledo, IA
Sophia to Rascal: Hoping against hope that friendship is possible.
As I mentioned in the previous post, co-blogger and friend Jon Swartz is in his last semester in EMU's dual degree program between the Seminary and Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, the same program I completed nearly two years ago. It is therefore senior capstone season for him and he's apparently working on a project about hope. I don't know the particulars of his project yet (can't wait to read that paper, Jon!) - but his work includes a survey tool that he sent out and invited me and a number of others to complete.

It was a good exercise for me, and with Jon's permission I'd like to share an edited version of my responses to his survey, because I don't think I've ever written much here about hope and yet it strikes me as central to the Christian faith. So here's what happened in my head as I responded to Jon yesterday...

Monday, February 3, 2014

An already slow read takes a rest

Tajumulco in Guatemala
(Photo src: UNDP)
Last summer when the Jonathans and I set out to book-blog Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary by Romand Coles and Stanley Hauerwas, we set ourselves a pretty ambitious schedule: Each chapter getting a post by each of us. Well, that lasted for two chapters. Then the fall semester started for Jon, and other things were going on for John and I, so we rolled it back to a post per chapter by each of us, rotating. That held up pretty well, but slowed down our pace a bit, which has been fine.

Now we're just going to go ahead and take a break from the project for the whole month of February. John's in Guatemala right now, at an intensive Spanish school (and hiking the volcano pictured to the right), Jon's a month into his final semester at EMU, and I'm starting a 3-week teaching gig this week at Grinnell College, which is just 30 minutes from where we are in Toledo. I was fortunate enough to see both of these guys when I was back on campus at EMU for a work trip two weeks ago, and the sense is that we still think this book is awesome and look forward to finishing it out when we pick it back up, probably in March.

Thanks to all the people who've been tracking along with us on this project, for great comments and encouragement. See you again soon!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Border at the Core: Radical Democracy and Christianity

in Harrisonburg, VA, USA
This post is part of an ongoing series on the book Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, by Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles. This series is being authored by Jonathan McRay, Jonathan Swartz, and Brian Gumm. This post covers Ch. 9, "Gentled Into Being"


As in earlier chapters, Coles names the profundities in the writings of his friend, Stanley Hauerwas – he clearly appreciates that Hauerwas wants gentleness to be “constitutive of any politics that would be just” (208). Further, Coles sees gentleness as a current sweeping through Hauerwas’ writings (influenced by Vanier of course, but Coles thinks John Howard Yoder is just as important to Hauerwas’ gentleness) even though this gentleness is sometimes obscured by the kinds of impatient and polemic writing that Hauerwas engages as he wrestles against the secular theology emanating from nation-states and markets. This secular theology produces an impatience that “cuts deeply into possibilities for becoming communities through which we might learn better to befriend time and enact a politics of gentleness” (208-9). Hauerwas is impatient with the impatience of secular theology – better, he’s downright pissed. The art of gentleness is thus intertwined with the arts of “critical biting” (Hauerwas’ language in the previous chapter) – Hauerwas “never said gentleness somehow implies that one should not have and identify enemies” (209).

Coles has no difficulty sharing these convictions with the theologian, he also wants to hold together gentleness and struggle with enemies – but he senses at least several differences in how they might approach the entwinement of gentleness and struggle. Coles, revisiting a theme from an earlier chapter, is looking for a vulnerability that he wonders if Hauerwas is willing to admit and adopt; and he probes The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics in search of vulnerable offerings. Coles is NOT worried that the church imagined and practiced in The Blackwell Companion constitutes a sect – he values the passionate commitment to hospitable engagement with the world beyond the church. Coles is more worried that the church imagined is a church that “makes the border secondary to an interior volume that is at the center and that only prepares for rather than is itself partly constituted by the borders themselves” (212). Coles’ seems to want to de-center the assumptions of what constitutes a center. Or he wants to make sure the form includes the boundaries. 

In relation to practices this means that the church becomes the foot-washer (but not also in need of being foot-washed by non-Christians), the host of the Eucharist (but not the one who might sit at the lowest spot), and the server (but not needing to be served by those outside the church). “It is as if there is a people called and gathered prior to encountering others, rather than a people equiprimordially gathered and formed precisely at the borders of the encounter” (212). Coles is concerned that a church so imagined will assume that the form is prior to the edge and fail to see that the edges also constituted the form. A church so imagined can tend to assume that it has all it needs to be what it needs to be in the world. A church so imagined tends to avoid the receiving that is at least as important as the giving – “We must not refuse our feet to Jesus… We must feel the pressure of his touch, the touch of the stranger” (213).