Tuesday, March 30, 2010

At the end of all things normal...peace

Ten days ago, I was standing inside the house/gallery at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach, Florida, looking out the first floor, eastward-facing window. Outside was a small gathering of people sitting in two rows of chairs, facing the veranda just outside and to my left. Past a fountain/sculpture behind the small crowd was a smaller group of people wearing suits and dresses, preparing to walk in pairs toward the veranda, between the two rows of people. If you haven't figured it out or already knew what I was up to this day, I was in the final moments before a wedding ceremony which I was officiating. Read on after the break for my ministerial reflections on this amazing experience...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Looking back at A Season of Service

This post is a mix of housekeeping and navel-gazing. I'll get the latter out of the way first and move on to the former after the break. "A Season of Service" is a paper I wrote for my senior project to complete my BA in English at Simpson College in the fall of 2007. Creative nonfiction had been (and continues to be now) a literary genre that I enjoy very much, especially from folks like Jon Krakauer and Donald Miller. So I wrote this paper from my own experience facilitating a creative writers' workshop at a women's correctional facility in Des Moines, Iowa the summer prior. The experience of the workshop and the paper that was born out of it became life-changing events that would soon radically change the world within my family. In March of 2008, I was speaking with my co-facilitator and a workshop participant who had since been released from the facility at a restorative justice conference in Des Moines. Howard Zehr was the keynote speaker and someone I had never heard of. I've told this story many times in the two short years that have passed, so I'll go light on it here. Essentially: Howard Zehr radically altered my life and the life of my family. Of course, I qualify that with the years of discernment and spiritual growth that had preceded this moment of seeing Howard, but I'll let the statement stand.

A few months after finishing "A Season of Service," I posted it on my other website, Honnold.org, in serial fashion. About once a week, I would drop a section of the paper onto the site and let people comment on each. [Update: The original posting is no longer available on Honnold.org - BG, 1/16/2011] I'm reposting the entire story here on the Restorative Theology blog, all at once, for posterity and that it may be incorporated into this new-ish web project of mine, because it is a significant marker along the journey. It marks the end of the last chapter of my family's life together and the transition into this current chapter. The story itself is a reflective one, bouncing around over a few years in the midst of the primary timeline, the summer of 2007.

I've been posting long papers recently, and I assure this is the longest. But if you're interested, read on after the break for an important story from my not-so-distant past: A Season of Service...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Help me understand Pietism, brother Dale Brown!

Six years ago, at the age of 25, I went back to college. This move was brought about by a sense of calling to set-aside ministry that my faith community had helped me identify and discern. This calling process in congregational life is based on a tradition long-held in the Church of the Brethren, the stream of the Christian faith that raised me and continues to support me as a licensed minister. As I became immersed in the studies that would lead to a BA in English, my family and I also became more involved in congregational church life.

Six months after starting college classes while working full-time, my wife got a job at a Presbyterian church in central Iowa, where we served in various ministry roles – primarily musical – for three and a half years. Education and ministry quickly became intertwined for me as I practiced both often. It was around this time that I became more curious about the Church of the Brethren itself. Despite being immersed in a wonderful Brethren congregation until I was 18, there was never much education about the tradition itself, a non-practice which I've found to be typically Brethren. I can still picture myself sitting in my wife's office at the Presbyterian church, looking through a Wikipedia article on the Brethren while likely hiding out during choir practice. It was there that I first recall coming across the term “Pietist.” For Brethren, it was closely linked with another term that I had fairly little knowledge of or exposure to at the time: “Anabaptism.”

Thus began an odyssey spanning years, continuing to the very present, to dig deeper into the roots of my faith tradition and understand better what these terms mean, in their original historical-sociological contexts, and how they've been transmitted and transformed across time, geography, and changing cultures and societies. Now, after having spent nearly two years studying in a Mennonite seminary, deeply rooted in the Anabaptist tradition – and fairly loud and clear about that – I've begun to absorb what that term represents and have even come to internalize much of what it stands for in my approach to the Christian faith. Less clear to me, though, is the former term, “Pietism.” This is rarely uttered in the halls of the Mennonite seminary. So in the context of this class on the traditions broadly categorized as Believers' Churches, I finally have an opportunity to take a definitive text on the subject of Pietism and begin digging into “the other half” of my particular Brethren tradition. Enter: Understanding Pietism, by Dale W. Brown.

So read on at your own peril, for my lengthy reflection on this important (to me) book!

Restorative Justice in Higher Education

This morning I have been involved at a technical-communications level for an event being held here on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University, the Symposium on Restorative Justice in Campus Conduct Administration. Held in the chapel at the seminary, I've been sitting behind the audio-visual equipment, flipping switches and turning dials to make sure presenters are heard, PowerPoint presentations are ready to go, and videotaping the various speakers. I've also been tweeting for the event like crazy on my iPod. All of this falls under the rubric of Marketing and Communications for the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding/CJP, so best of all...I'm getting paid to do all this fun stuff and listen to some excellent reflections on restorative justice in the arena of higher education! The event is, as the name implies, focused on student life/campus conduct issues in higher education, and has drawn four great scholar-practitioners who are all passionate about restorative justice.

So why blog about this event here? Well, the field of restorative justice, and its "grandfather," Howard Zehr (heavily involved in this event today, and the subsequent training), are a big part of why my family ended up moving to Virginia from our happy life in Iowa. So in the title of this blog, "Restorative Theology," there is a nod of respect and honor aimed at the field, and Howard's continuing mentoring influence on me, as I explore the intersections of theology and peacebuilding (within which restorative justice is included here at the CJP).

Another reason I make note of this here on the RT blog is the emerging sense that the arena of higher education might be a place where I continue to spend a decent chunk of my time, even beyond graduation from the CJP and Seminary in (hopefully) about two years. My spiritual-vocational discernment process has started to make a few things very clear to me over the past academic year, now nearing its end. The primary current emerging is that I love to teach, and I've been able to exercise that in a number of ways here on campus in this past year, both in my seminary internship and in my two professional roles on campus. So while I don't see myself working directly in the field of student life/campus conduct administration, which this RJ event is focused on, it very well could be an area I'm indirectly involved in down the road. I tend to be an integrative thinker and doer, so I'm keeping my eyes and ears open here at this event, with that internal processing and discernment going on.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

God at War in "Gabriel"

While poking around Netflix the other night, a movie I had never heard anything about was suggested to me, and it caught my attention: Gabriel, released in 2007. I watched the trailer online and it looked like your run-of-the-mill low-budget action good-guy/bad-guy movie, this time pitting angels and demons against each other in a city-based depiction of purgatory that looked like a prototypical dark, gothic city in the tradition Frank Miller (Sin City), or perhaps The Crow.

Normally, I would steer clear of these kinds of movies, because they strike me as formulaic and unimaginative. However, the namesake of this movie, the archangel, Gabriel, is a being that I have an affinity for. You see, I've assumed the role of the angel Gabriel for two film projects done last year for a seminary class (see Millennium Update episodes One & Two). I also steer clear of these kinds of movies because my wife can't stand them. But, as luck or fate or predestination would have it, my wife was gone this particular evening, and the movie was available for instant streaming, so I pulled it up and gave it a watch.

Read on for my review of the movie, Gabriel, with some theological reflections interspersed throughout...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

De-Freakyfying John's Apocalypse

The last book of the Christian scriptures in the Bible - the Apocalypse (Revelation) of John - has had a rocky past with its handlers. While my tradition - the Church of the Brethren - has tended to not get freaky with John's Revelation, neither do I recall any sort of serious work with this text in the context of Sunday morning worship services growing up (my primary mode of receiving Scripture in my youth). The broadly Protestant, rural Midwestern (Iowan) environment that I grew up in, however, did contain some strands of the Christian faith that were more receptive to...um...freaky interpretations of John's letter. Last summer on my Honnold.org website, in a discussion that started on a completely different topic, we somehow we got onto the subject of freakiness in connection to Revelation, with a few guys around my age and growing up in the same kind of environment sharing some interesting stories about their youthful experiences in congregations with Revelation. Read through it there if you're curious, I won't go any further here. Suffice it say that this topical side-track discussion of Revelation was a perfect illustration of how this text has been used and abused, especially within American Christianity in the last 100 years or so.

The broad goal of this post is to begin narrating my own coming to grips with this purportedly wild and crazy book of Scripture: Revelation. Over the past 9 months, I've grown to have a deep appreciation for John's Apocalypse, and have even begun to see how it is a key interpretive text for the Christian faith...although not in ways that many Christians have bought into, in part due to my Anabaptist/nonviolent orientation. Hopefully to people who read it (hint: it's long and all text), it can offer a refreshing perspective. It is work done in faith, within the life of the Church. May it be edifying to the body.

First, read the passage itself: Revelation 5:1-14 (NIV) from BibleGateway.com
Then, read on for my lengthy exploration of this pivotal passage from the Apocalypse of John...