Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas break: Weeping and a crisis of faith

From Toledo, IA, USA
It's been a blessedly quiet Christmas break this past week. After a crushingly difficult semester for my family, we've been in Iowa for the past week and a half, and I've been severely limiting e-mail and Facebook. It's also been a very quiet front here at Restroative Theology, for the same reasons, but here are a few scattered thoughts from this past week...

My daily Scripture reading has enjoyed an uptick on this break, and on Christmas morning I found my heart resonating with the Spirit as I read Psalm 39, particularly its closing verses, 12 & 13:
"Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more." (emphasis added)

Friday, December 2, 2011

The creation myth of human rights

From Harrisonburg, VA
For as much as I gripe about nationalism in the U.S., I want to be fair in representing the fact that the myth of "nation as savior" is not unique to my own nation, as this video about universal human rights makes plain. Especially of interest to my argument is minutes 2 through 5...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The hunted becomes the Hunter

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
James Davison Hunter
Yesterday afternoon and evening, I had a chance to listen to and later converse with James Davison Hunter, a sociologist from the University of Virginia, just over the mountain from Harrisonburg. Hunter was a significant figure for me this time last year, as I was reading his recent book, To Change the World. One of my favorite Christian scholars, James K.A. Smith, was pretty excited about Hunter's work at the time, so I was eager to integrate it into my learning. Last fall I wrote a paper on biblical and cultural hermeneutics, using Hunter's work, which was later presented at a symposium at Bridgewater College, which I wasn't able to attend due to the passing of my grandfather.

As I prepared for Hunter's lecture, I re-read my paper and went back over my copious notes from the book, with the expectation that I wouldn't come away from his visit with anything profoundly new or different from what I had discovered last year. While Hunter's lecture was largely drawn directly from the pages of his book, and thus wasn't all that novel to me, I was pleasantly surprised by our subsequent conversation, when a few faculty, my seminary dean, and our provost hosted Hunter for dinner at a local restaurant. Luckily, because the prof organizing the guest list for the dinner had read my paper last year, my name got added to the list and I got to tag along. (Thanks, Kevin!)

So in what follows, I will nuance my earlier summarizations and critiques of Hunter's book, including backing off my complaint that he didn't "get" neo-Anabaptists, which I made somewhat out of self-defense because that's how I like to describe my own theological project. It turns out, I was the one that didn't "get" the sense in which Hunter was using the term. But I'll start with his constructive argument first...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A student's lament for Advent

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Sometimes it's hard to tell...
Pastor Phil started Advent on a curious note this morning in his sermon at Park View Mennonite Church. He began by talking about lament, doubt, and questioning God, even getting angry in prayer. It was a good reminder to hear that the psalmists and the prophets are on the side of questioners, doubters, and angry prayers everywhere, even going so far as to suggest that such things are the sign of a healthy relationship with God. After all, to do such things in prayer assumes that there is someone there to listen and hopefully answer in some way.

Today, the first Sunday in Advent, kicks off the church's liturgical calendar. For many Christian traditions around the world who follow this calendar, today amounts to New Years Day. Advent is a season of expectant waiting. What a novel idea for Westerners, to engage in something terribly important by waiting. We are expecting/observing the coming of cosmic Christ to the human Jesus. God made flesh, dwelling among us.

What is the link between lament and expectation? In biblical contexts, it is the cry of Israel for deliverance from its oppressors and a desire to see Israel's God, Yahweh, rightly recognized as God of gods, humans, and indeed all of creation, coupled with the expectation that Israel's God would accomplish all this. The Old Testament prophets begin to sound the messianic notes that are picked up in the New Testament by John the Baptist and Jesus himself. John says "prepare the way!" and Jesus says "it's happening now." Later, Paul will speak of God's kingdom as one becoming manifest slowly but surely, subjecting the entire creation to the pangs of birth and expectation of new life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The ROI of RJ: Rehumanization

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Photo by Jeff Frost via Flickr
In an impassioned op-ed piece over at NationofChange, Christopher Petrella paints a troubling picture of the state of corrections in the United States and the paths which brought us here. Particularly troubling is what Petrella calls "the circuitous pathways between race, citizenship, containment, and profitability."

Not only is the phenomenon of for-profit prisons becoming more common, in the midst of state budget crises across the nation, California is even suggesting that inmates pay for the services of the correctional facilities to which they're being sent. How inmates from predominantly impoverished backgrounds would actually be able to pay for those services (they couldn't) is part of the scheme. Even after leaving facilities, ex-offenders would then be financially indebted to the facilities, effectively shifting their "incarceration" to another form, economic. As Petrella point out, these people cease to be "criminals" in the eyes of the system and now become "consumers."

But it doesn't have to be this way. One of the most important aspects of restorative justice is its emphasis on rehumanization of all involved in instances of wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise. A privatized corrections system assumes an anthropology of literally captive consumers (structured economic individualism), whereas restorative justice assumes an anthropology of relationship and responsibility amidst community. Restorative approaches seek to heal the personal and social wounds done in instances of wrongdoing, whereas a privatized corrections approach seeks to extract capital to buoy the ailing state. Therefore, restorative justice  entails an implicit critique of systems such as privatized corrections but also the assumptions that underwrite such approaches at levels social, political, and economic.

So to use capitalist jargon, the "return on investment" of restorative justice is a return to pre-modern understandings of justice, rooted in embodied, accountable relational networks rather than abstract ideals and institutions. Such a return is well worth the investment.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Honnold Forum: A requiem

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
For the first year of this blog's existence, I was in the final year of moderating an online community called "The Honnold Forum," or simply, "The Forum." Honnold started out as a high school rock band me and a few friends pulled together in 1996-'97. Three years later we had a website. Then from 2001 to 2010, the most prominent and active feature of that website became the Forum, which consisted mostly of friends around my age connected to the area in which I grew up, Prairie City & Monroe, Iowa.

In my prior professional life as a web developer, the Forum was "my baby." I designed and coded the software as well as serving as the community moderator. After a few years I gained the nickname, "Lord Forum." (I always thought of it as a play on Darth Vader; as in, "Yes, Lord Vader.") The website essentially came to represent and house most forms of my creative expression: software development, songwriting, and creative writing. Not to mention the fine art of B.S. and wasting time at work, which is how the site functioned for most of its office-dweller patrons, including me.

But beginning in late 2008, my first semester of grad school at EMU, the Forum began to creep toward its demise. That the process took a full two years to complete shows how hard it was for me to finally pull the plug around this time last year. A few weeks before the end, I posted a long message announcing the site's closure along with some commentary on why I thought it had come about. That message is no longer on the website but sat on my hard drive for months. For posterity, I'm editing it only slightly and posting it here on Restorative Theology. So read on to hear my requiem for the Honnold Forum...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The occupation of policing social movements

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Conversation at Occupy Chicago
(Photo by Michael Kappel via Flickr)
James Cavanaugh, a retired ATF executive, offers a good picture of the role of police in the #occupy movement in this op-ed piece posted to Tickle the Wire, a site focused on federal law enforcement.

Most notably, he encourages the "greatly underutilized" resources of police negotiators to form relationships and build trust with #occupy movement leaders, and to coordinate plans on a day-to-day basis. As Cavanaugh states, "It does not mean that the police will do everything that the protesters want, but it insurers that police will not act without first building trust and communication."

This to me seems right on. Part of the problem I've seen in citizen coverage of police presence in the #occupy movement is the militarized/SWAT stance. Granted, there is also a problem with how many in the movement view and antagonize police (including in said citizen coverage), so it's not like protesters are lily white. Less emphasis should placed on militarized police forces and more placed on building collaborative relationships with protesters, and a segment of protesters should stop demonizing the police. Such moves could encourage an already mostly-nonviolent movement to stay that way, and keep them on course toward substantive change.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

From quietism to the blogosphere

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Dirk Willems in the digital age?
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of conducting a break-out session at the 2011 Anabaptist Communicators Conference, which was hosted here at Eastern Mennonite University. The conference theme was "Anabaptism in a Visual Age" and my session was billed as follows...

From quietism to the blogosphere
Surveying Anabaptist online engagement
This session will survey the various forms of online discourse within contemporary Anabaptist traditions, particularly Mennonite and Church of the Brethren. Both scholarly and popular venues will be examined, with plenty of discussion time to explore the implications to traditional structures and processes for Anabaptist discourse.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sink deep roots

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
From: Building Peoplehood and Peace
My first encounter with sociologist Robert Bellah came just last week when I read this excellent interview with him: The Roots of Religion, conducted by the folks at Big Questions Online.  The ways in which he describes religion have to be some of the best I've heard from a secular social scientist.

Most appealing to me is that he describes religions as wholly embodied, story-driven traditions that take acts of imagination and practice to understand. In other words, religions aren't primarily sets of rational claims about "absolute truth." As Bellah states, "while understanding the theoretical achievements of the great traditions is important we will not really know what they are about unless we make the imaginative effort to see how the world might seem if we lived in the embodied practices and narratives of these traditions, a difficult but not impossible task." (Emphasis mine, read on for why...)


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The stumbling journey onward

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
With two of my students in Ethiopia
Before coming to EMU three years ago for graduate studies, I could hardly imagine that someday soon I would sense God calling me to be a teacher. The development of this sense has oftentimes been painful, but just as often, it has been exhilarating. My call to the set-aside ministry in the church, which preceded our coming to Virginia, has always been strong, but the steps along the way and the direction it’s heading are often frustratingly elusive.

I suppose this is consistent with the experience of the beloved community in Scripture. The progenitors of it all, Abram & Sarai, were compelled by a god, Yahweh, that they did not yet know into a journey they could not fathom, into lands that God would show them. That Israel, Jesus its Messiah, and his Church should follow in that tradition is a testament to trust and faithfulness, particularly from God’s end of the covenant.

So after stumbling along as a first-time teacher to ministers in Ethiopia, I returned home marveling at the joy I experience while teaching. Encouragement to continue on is met with excitement and frustration as I continue to discern what shape this may take after graduation in the spring.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

To faithfully #Occupy

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
A theodoodle for occupation
During seminary chapel worship on Tuesday, we were given a time to be reflective and write. We were supposed to write about something different than what I ended up writing about, but whatever. So here are a few theological notes and questions in relationship to the Occupy movement.

The very word "occupy" is not neutral. Occupation can have quite an oppressive connotation. The New Mexico manifestation of the movement, for instance, chose to use a different word due to "occupy's" negative connotation to indigenous Native American groups. Indeed, for indigenous peoples to this land, occupation is 300+ years of living under imposed sociopolitical orders from Europeans. Is this land really, as the song says, "made for you and me?"

So a theologically better way understand "occupy" is perhaps "inhabit," as in "to live into." So the question then becomes inhabit what? Live into where? It's important for Christians to occupy - in this sense - the body of Christ. We are its members and we seek to be healthy in that regard, to faithfully occupy the body to which we belong, and to whom we belong. In another sense, we occupy the kingdom of God as it impinges upon this world, creating it anew, slowly, agonizingly on its way to fulfillment.

But in yet another sense, we are ourselves occupied. The body is the temple of God's Spirit, both individually and corporately. We are not our own and the good that is done through us is the work of God in us. And to the extent that we perpetuate sin in this world, we are occupied by something else not of God.

Finally, occupation in a faithful sense is always embodied in time and place, and always in community. It is therefore conflictual and contingent, but therein lies the opportunity for faithfulness to be made real and shine forth a glimpse of the occupation of shalom to come. This nonviolent occupation is far beyond protest, far beyond ressentiment that (rightly so, to a point) pervades the Occupy movement underway in the U.S.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Political correctness and humor on the Open Graph

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Satan from "Coffee With Jesus"
via Radio Free Babylon
Sometimes you look into the vast world created by the immanent frame and never know the frame itself there. This can last for years, a lifetime even. It's normal. Then...sometimes, the immanent frame winks back at you. And you feel very small.

This happened to me this morning on Facebook. I posted on my wall strip #118 of the webcomic, Coffee With Jesus, created by the strange and wonderful folks at Radio Free Babylon (RFB). The link I just provided is misleading, though, because I discovered the comic not through their website but through Facebook.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Theodoodling?

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
In early June of this year, I had the pleasure of speaking about blogging to a later manifestation of the same class which helped birth this very blog, "Research as Art and Transformation," with Howard Zehr and Paulette Moore. This time around, the class was being held during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (shameless ad: I just finished the website today and registration for SPI 2012 is open!). SPI draws a significantly more diverse crowd from around the world than the already-widely diverse crowd in the masters program during the normal academic year. The students in this class were some serious artists, so it was a blast to talk about artsy stuff in relation to my theological blogging here.

One of the students, Delia, is a doodler. Her way of processing information in a classroom or in other settings is to listen and draw, listen and draw. She showed me her doodles from my session back in June, and I asked her if she would be willing to send me pictures of the doodles at some point. Well, she and I both forgot about it for a few months, but she just contacted me on Facebook and sent me the doodles and a link to her blog post about "blogoodling".


Beasts for the Kingdom: A prayer

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Beasts of burden, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
This morning for a final-year seminary class, my fellow seminarians and I were led through a time of guided retreat. In the seminary chapel there were set up four stations, each asking a different question. One about how we conduct our closest relationships, another about our public ministry, and yet another about how we take care of ourselves personally. The final question was this: Who am I and what do I do in my relationship with God?


On the page facing these questions in the handout was printed two Bible verses: Matthew 11:28-30 and Philippians 1:9-11. Here's some quick exegesis and a prayer which arose from my journaling this morning...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the social media wave of the Nobel Peace Prize

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Leymah Gbowee
Nobel Peace Prize winner &
CJP alumna
On Friday of last week, I had the most fun day at work ever. I had the fortune of being the web & social media nerd for the alma mater of a Nobel Peace Prize winner! Liberian nonviolent peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, was one of three women to win the 2011 prize. She is also a 2007 alumna of Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), where I have been studying and working for the past three years. Leymah has been back on campus a time or two since I arrived in 2008, and I even got to hang around behind the camera while one of my teacher-colleagues, Paulette Moore, filmed this short interview with Leymah about her time at EMU. She is truly an amazing person and commands a powerful presence when you're around her.

In my 10+ years as a professional web nerd, I've never been involved in anything that's "gone viral," until Friday. We weren't caught completely off-guard at CJP, as we'd been hearing rumors of Leymah's being considered for the prize for months. But that still didn't prepare for me for riding the social media tidal wave on Friday morning, when the winners were announced. It was the quickest 5.5 hours of my professional life, keeping track of the activity on Facebook and Twitter, watching with amazement when at one point on Friday morning, "Leymah Gbowee" was one of the top-trending phrases in the U.S. on Twitter. When the digital dust settled by Monday morning and I checked stats, I saw that the EMU website as a whole doubled its traffic on Friday alone, not to mention the thousands of "likes" on the EMU News article which announced her winning.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Restorative theology" as a toddling two year-old

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Appropriate image by gfpeck via Flickr.
Happy belated second birthday to this here blog, Restorative Theology, which saw its first post published on Saturday, October 3, 2009!

The reasons I gave in that first post for naming the blog as such still seem right, and in some ways have deepened through further study, blogging, and ministry experience. Yes, "restorative theology" does seem to name well the things that I'm about as a minister in the church. "Theological peacebuilding" is also a term I've entered into some of my reflections, and while it does seem a bit more active and nuanced, it just doesn't have the same ring.

In the last section of that first post, I named the immediate impulse for creating the blog, which was conducting a research project for a class at EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. That project went wonderfully but my longer-term goals for the blog saw it as a place for "honing the craft of theological writing" as well as further exploring theology and ethics. This has certainly been the place for that, although it seems safe to say that many of my reflections over the past year have taken on the tone of a certain corner of the theological academy called "political theology." Sometimes things I write on the blog end up being the testing ground for cross-posts on other blogs (Work and Hope, Mennonite Weekly Review), or work their way into my academic papers. This blog even helped me land my first writing gig for a scholarly journal, a book review which will come out next year in the Conrad Grebel Review.

So happy second birthday, Restorative Theology! Thanks to the small group of readers who comment, send me e-mails, or stop me in the halls at the seminary. This isn't a comment-heavy blog, but I appreciate the fact that conversation does indeed take place as a result of what I write here, which is certainly my desire as a "think out loud" type.

Since I'm graduating from EMU at the end of this academic year, I'm already excited about the shifts in my writing which will inevitably come as my family enters our next phase. (Whatever that may be, we're still waiting eagerly to see it materialize!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The "Jewish State" revisited

Sari Nusseibeh, professor of philosophy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, has a fascinating op-ed piece up at Al Jazeera...


Nusseibeh makes a number of points which resonate with the theopolitical literature I've been absorbing over the past year or more, found mainly in the work of William T. Cavanaugh.

The article highlights the complex nature of ancient traditions in late Modernity. Cavanaugh has convincingly shown that the characterizations of "religious" and "secular" are constructs of the modern nation-state, the ascendant and still-prevalent form of organizing people and power within territorial boundaries. Nusseibeh is right to point out that calls for a "Jewish state" are incoherent based on present political arrangements, not to mention the slippery nature of "Jewishness" in our secular age.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Enclosed and commoditized on the Open Graph

Mark Zuckerberg evangelizing for the Graph
Last week, I was having flashbacks to the late 90s. When I first entered the software development field in 1999, Microsoft was the "evil empire," the "800 pound gorilla" that everyone (myself included) loved to hate. Yet that loathing was rather paradoxical in that everyone around me was neck-deep in Microsoft products. At this particular job, an e-commerce company, our company's very existence depended on Microsoft!

In those halcyon days before social media and dot-com bubbles bursting, nerd culture was still marginal. Most of my friends had only just learned what e-mail and web browsers even were, much less how to use them. Those days are long gone. The web is ubiquitous and Grandma's on Facebook.

With nerd culture now mainstreamed and Facebook being the latest champion of that process, the company seems to serve the same purpose that Microsoft once did for me and my nerd buddies: People just love to bash Facebook.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The savior of agriculture is...Chipotle?

From Harrisonburg, VA
Consider the following...


This video is brilliant. It works on me at so many levels, it's almost kind of creepy. (Indeed it is creepy, stick with me.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chronicles of the state's monopoly on legitimate violence (cont.)

The view from my classroom window; Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
The picture at the right is what I saw every weekday for three weeks, as I taught "Intro to Conflict Transformation" at Meserete Kristos College in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. One prominent feature of this city is its being host to an Ethiopian air force base, on the opposite side of town from where we were at the college. So oftentimes during class, we would see and hear (and feel) the low-flying fighter jets passing over the college on their way to the landing strip a few miles away.

This is the memory that immediately came to mind when I saw the following story on Global Post...
US building drone bases in East Africa
Drone News: The Obama administration is setting up more drone bases in Ethiopia and Seychelles to target Al Qaeda affiliates in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia.
The emergence of unmanned drones as weapons of war first became deeply troubling to me a few years ago when I saw the PBS Frontline special, Digital Nation, which near the end interviews drone pilots with cozy middle class lives in the US, who go to work in an office and operate computers just like so many other middle class Americans, but they just happened to be flying remote controlled planes halfway around the world, dropping real bombs, killing real people (which have a propensity to kill civilians). I still shudder thinking of that segment. So that the use of drones is spreading to other areas of the globe in the name of the forever war called, "The War on Terror," is an unsettling development.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hoeing the rows in the New Jerusalem

"Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb"
by Rembrant
This past spring I was quite taken by the book of Jeremiah, particularly the letter in ch. 29, in which the prophet writes to the exiles in Babylon, sending this word from the Lord: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce... Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

This chapter is a significant key for John Howard Yoder's Old Testament hermeneutic. In this passage and the context in which it is set, he sees in exilic Israel the seeds of the church to come, hundreds of years before the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The paper which I wrote, linked above, was primarily an exegesis of the Jeremiah text. Obviously, my Christian faith assumptions were at work, but I didn't make an explicit theological connection to the New Testament, or to Jesus. Well, theologian, Chelle Stearns, seems to have made the connection for me in her wonderful essay at The Other Journal, "Hobbits, Heroes, and Football," wherein she proposes a new archetype for understanding Jesus: the  gardener-hero.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"World's coming to an end, Newman..."

From Harrisonburg, VA
Reuters photo that's haunted me for 10 years
These words I announced to my colleague, Newman, on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Minutes before I had been sitting at my cubicle desk at a large financial services company in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, where I had been employed only since May. I was 22 years old. I don't recall which came first, my not being able to load pages on the internet or hearing hysterical chatter on my radio from a syndicated shock jock out of Chicago. From the former I remember eventually being able to get half of Yahoo! News' home page to load on my office computer, enough to see a photo of the Manhattan skyline with one of the World Trade Center towers smoking, and a headline indicating it had been struck by a plane. The shock jock, broadcasting from a skyscraper in downtown Chicago, was talking frantically about the possibility of his building being attacked. Something was very, very wrong. My stomach sank, and my head spinning. With what little I knew, I walked over to Newman's desk for my first post-9/11 social interaction: "The world's coming to an end, Newman..."

It's become an annual ritual for Newman and I to touch base on 9/11. (I'll send him a link to this post when it's done.) We usually compare notes on what we're up to in life and how much our kids have grown. It's a moment to remember that, while a certain understanding of the world which we had known certainly did come to an end on Sept. 11, 2001, life itself on planet earth has continued.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Dear beautiful, sexual Jesus..."

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
"...all wrapped in swaddling..."
There is a (very) tiny bit of theological wisdom in this scene from the movie, "Talladega Nights," in which Will Ferrell's character - Ricky Bobby - is saying grace at the dinner table and addresses his prayer to "baby Jesus." The tiny bit of wisdom is this: It reminds us that the Lord of all creation which Christians worship and follow did indeed become a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being.

That's where the theology lesson ends with the scene, though there is some hilariously uncomfortable cultural commentary on individualism and consumerism in the scene which I'll leave to you. (By the way, thanks to my friend and former fellow seminarian, pastor Josh K., for mentioning this scene today.)

What I want to try and wrestle with in this post (*sigh*, it's a long one) is the interrelation between beauty, sexuality, and the incarnation of Jesus, the son of God. (Hence the title of this post.) It's coming out of a seminary class I had this morning at EMS, "Human Sexuality," team taught by dynamic husband and wife duo, Mark and Mary Thiessen Nation. The book we're reading for class is the very recent Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith by Matthew Lee Anderson, a young (younger than me!) evangelical who is a prolific blogger at Mere Orthodoxy. So whatever wisdom creeps into this post is a gift from God through them and my classmates, just past our second week in this wonderful and terribly important class.

(The World Together blog at the Mennonite Weekly Review later re-posted this in edited form: Why do we hunger for beauty?)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A journey with biblical proportions

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Couldn't find the Samson picture from this
My journey with Scripture began as a child growing up in my home congregation, the Prairie City Church of the Brethren (my hometown heroes). While my family was all happily Christian, my father was a pastor's kid, we did not practice the reading of Scripture in our home. This was left for Sunday at church. I don't have any specific memories with specific scriptures from my childhood but I do remember my children's Bible which had interesting pictures. I particularly remember a picture of blinded Samson, in the process of pushing apart the pillars that would in mere seconds kill him and all those Philistines. His gauged-out eyes continued to draw my seeing eyes back to his. Such willing self-sacrifice (revenge?) seemed heroic and puzzling to me.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Chug a beer for the Solider-Priests of Freedom!

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
"High life" defined as American consumerism (click image)
Literary critic, William Deresiewicz, offers a biting commentary on America's post-9/11 "cult of the uniform" in a recent New York Times op-ed piece:

An Empty Regard
(via Fors Clavigera)

The author's main contention is that we as a nation have set up this cult of the uniform as a way to immunize the military from critique. This cult is attended to by the secular liturgies entailed by the hero worship of soldiers, who serve as priests of our freedom. The cult is constructed and practiced in such a way as to make criticizing the military analogous to criticizing those who serve in the military. But as Deresiewicz contends...
(W)ho our service members are and the work their images do in our public psyche, our public discourse, and our public policy are not the same. Pieties are ways to settle arguments before they begin. We need to question them, to see what they’re hiding. (Emphasis mine.)
I commend this piece for a host of reasons which I'll explore below. Just briefly, though, this piece is excellent because it voices many of the reasons why I happily and intentionally maintain relationships with American soldiers within my networks of friends of family, while still remaining an ardent Christian pacifist. Criticizing the military-industrial complex and the work it asks of its members by no means diminishes my care for those members, who are real human beings with real challenges and needs.

[Oct '11 update: The Mennonite Weekly Review has since picked up this post in edited form: Hero worship of U.S. soldiers. As usual, thanks to Sheldon C. Good for his editorial hand!]

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

So John Howard Yoder, Gene Sharp, and Bashar al-Assad walk into a bar...

From Harrisonburg, VA
...and they all order "Peace."
(Or the boring title: "Christological-theopolitical pacifism and strategic nonviolence in conversation.")
Syrian protests in Washington D.C.
(Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr)
On the heels of my intellectual-existential catharsis last week about theology and peacebuilding, I had a conversation with one of my fellow graduate students at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, Mohammed, who is Syrian. He's been here in the States since last year and has watched with horror and heartbreak over these recent weeks at the events unfolding in his home country, as Bashar al-Assad's regime violently cracks down on protesters. Mohammed referred to this crack-down as "the mowing machine," a grimly apropos metaphor for the ruthless and bloody attacks on protesters which have left a trail of dead. (To which the protesters have not responded with organized violence, unlike rebels in Libya.)

When Mohammed and I spoke, I was in the midst of reading this article: The Syrian revolution as Gene Sharp sees it (GlobalPost), to which I promptly sent him a link, especially after he spoke so glowingly of the scholar and advocate of nonviolent resistance. Sharp's name also came up earlier this year when our peacebuilding program was discussing the revolution in Egypt, which one of our alumni saw up close and personal. As I read through Sharp's reflections on the situation in Syria, it got me thinking about the connections and departures between strategic nonviolence and Christian pacifism.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Riffing on David Brooks: Sociality, virtue, and vocation

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
David Brooks;
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times
David Brooks intrigues me. He is considered a social and political conservative but he speaks in such a way as to set himself apart from most commentators of that ilk. He published a book this year - The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (also see his TED talk) - that uses contemporary neuroscience to make the case that humans are not primarily rational beings. We are thinking, feeling, yearning, and always-already social creatures. Promoting such a perspective puts him at odds with pretty much the entire post-Enlightenment Western world in its social-political manifestations, which all assume a very individualistic and overly rational view on human nature. (Encapsulated in Descarte's dictum, "I think, therefore I am.")

One of my favorite Christian thinkers - philosopher, James K.A. Smith - has taken note of Brooks' recent work, going so far as to defend Brooks from those who seem to be missing his point. Plus, Brooks' work comports well with Smith's own, especially his book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. One of Smith's biggest beefs with American evangelicals is that they've been duped into the individualist-rationalist view of human nature and so only seem to explicitly care about Christians' beliefs. To counter this Smith dusts off pre-modern, classical views of human nature and virtue that account for the whole being and restore a sense of work or vocation to the Christian life.

For Christian formation to do its work, it needs to operate on our (the Church's) entire personal and collective body as well as our desires...as in desiring the kingdom of God. Smith argues that we are shaped and pointed toward certain ends (such as the fulfillment of the kingdom) by liturgies - worship, work, or just simply practices. Smith contrasts sacred liturgies (Christian worship) and secular liturgies (eg. going to the mall). To not allow the former to operate in a holistic sense allows the latter to swoop in to fill in the gap, and eventually take over as the primary formational liturgy. So well-meaning evangelicals can (and do) become functional consumerist atheists with their bodies while purporting to be Christian in terms of their beliefs. Such split-being as we've inherited from the Enlightenment is ridiculous because, after all, the mind is part of the body and knowledge also exists outside the brain, even outside our corporeal bodies (eg. social consciousness).

[This post was subsequently picked up by the Mennonite Weekly Review blog: David Brooks, John Howard Yoder, and the sociality of virtue. Thanks again to Sheldon C. Good for his editorial work!]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cuts like a knife

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
I don't read fiction enough, and it's books like these that remind me of that. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is a novel takes place - for the most part - in Ethiopia, specifically the capital city of Addis Ababa. That's the reason the book was handed to us by a friend at church before we left for that country last month. "Oh, you have to read this!" My wife read it while we were in the country, and I began reading as our plane lifted off the ground in Addis Ababa, returning us home to the US. It's a long novel and it competed with a few other books I was reading, so it took me these past three weeks to finish, which I did last night in a looong sitting.

Part of what thrilled me about this book is the attention to detail that Verghese gives on life in the city of Addis. The fictional narrative is woven in with quasi-historical developments spanning the mid- to late-twentieth century, namely the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie through the revolutionary movements of the '70s, with the Derg eventually taking power until the early '90s. Despite our being in Addis much later, Verghese's account still felt like the city in which we'd spent a week. A number of the locales across the city mentioned in the book were ones we'd at least driven through during our brief stay. The animals everywhere - goats and donkeys. The huge traffic circles with monuments in the center. The sprawling Mercato and the Piazza, the latter a district built by the occupying Italians in the '30s and '40s. And Verghese would know these places well, as he spent most of his childhood in Addis, born to parents from India teaching in Ethiopia. This aspect of the author's own life shadows part of the storyline in the book (or rather the other way around).
At the edge of the Mercato, w/ the ubiquitous blue+white taxi

Monday, August 22, 2011

Peacebuilding in Ethiopia, a story and a request

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Sitting with Mekonnen in my class
In the early months of practicum planning for teaching in Ethiopia, one of my tasks involved finding a supervisor for my work. One name was consistently suggested by my mentors: Mekonnen Desalegn. Mekonnen has been working for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Ethiopia for nearly 33 years. He's also been heavily involved in church life and leadership within the Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) since the age of 18.

One of my colleagues in peacebuilding, Krista Johnson, who works for MCC's Peace Office, just posted this interview with Mekonnen: Seeking Justice and Peace in Ethiopia


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Better together: Hauerwas and Taylor on American Secularity

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
The statesman and the raconteur;
Charles Taylor & Stanley Hauerwas
Two pieces that popped up for me in the past day seem to be good companions for each other and stimulated my thinking along the topics of nationalism and secularity. That they come from two men who've dramatically influenced my thinking in the past year was a plus.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Building Peoplehood and Peace

From 4, Debre Zeyit, Ethiopia
Footwashing: Peacebuilding disguised as worship practice;
Photo from the last day of class
Sometimes God can and will work through the seemingly incidental or mundane aspects in the academic endeavors of higher education, such as the sequencing of classes. This was the case for me this summer in the months leading up to our trip to Ethiopia for my teaching practicum. One of my two wonderful summer courses was "Biblical Foundations of Peace and Justice," which I briefly alluded to back in June. The last paper assigned for this class was due on July 11th, my first day of teaching. Thankfully my professor, Mark Thiessen Nation, granted me an extension until the beginning of August, just after the conclusion of my class.

Writing this paper not only provided the occasion for me to reflect theologically on my first teaching experience but it also represents my deepest academic integration of theology and peacebuilding thus far. In it, I take a narrative approach, essentially telling the intellectual story of the class. I wrote most of the paper the weekend before the third and final week of class and finished it up the day after we got back to the States, August 1st. So I was in the thick of things as it was being written.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lake Hora 360 - Debre Zeit, Ethiopia

Here's an outdoorsy video from our month in Ethiopia. A look at Lake Hora and surrounding valley near the town of Debre Zeit...

Cross-post: Restorative Justice Revisits Punishment

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
One of my CJP professors, Barry Hart (left); Photo by Jon Styer
This past spring I prepared a conference paper on the restorative justice "creation story" and its stark contrast with the criminal justice system, and then did a little storytelling from Anabaptist history. That paper made its way onto this blog in: Yes and No to restorative justice as "a Mennonite Thing".

The editor of Peacebuilder Magazine, the biannual print publication of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), liked it well enough to run it as the opening article in the Spring-Summer 2011 issue, which - in my professional capacity - I just posted online yesterday. Here's the paper again in edited form...


My thanks go to the editor, Bonnie Price Lofton. The few times I've had my writing edited before release in whatever form, I've always been very grateful for the editor's impact on the piece. This article is no exception! So, thanks, Bonnie!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cross-post: An Iowa boy teaching (and learning) peacebuilding in Ethiopia

"Intro to Conflict Transformation" class, 2011
MK College, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
As co-editor of the Peacebuilder Online blog for EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, it's sometimes a little too easy for me to take advantage of being a professional blogger. For instance, after posting here this morning on a really old book, I wrote up a reflection on the experience of teaching for my "work" blog:

An Iowa boy teaching (and learning) peacebuilding in Ethiopia

On ancient ecclesial books, Indiana Jones-style

From Debre Zeyit, Ethiopia
While at Meserete Kristos College this past month in Ethiopia, we stayed in the apartment of a missionary couple from the U.S. who had spent a significant period of time at the college, the husband teaching and the wife taking care of the college library. The husband's office in the apartment then became my office during our three-week stay. Shortly after we arrived, we found something very interesting in the filing cabinet...



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Sort of Homecoming

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Photo by Matthew Kirkland via Flickr
Two days ago my body arrived in Virginia but my body's clock stayed in Ethiopia, 7 hours ahead. We arrived home at 10am on Sunday but I was fast asleep by 2pm and slept until midnight. For the next five hours I finished writing my last paper for a summer class. At 5am I went back to bed for a 2-hour nap, then it was off to the office after a month away. An overflowing inbox was calling and I need to start making money again.

Yesterday and last night, it seems as if my body's clock was somewhere over the Atlantic. We crashed around 9pm last night but just after 4am this morning, my eyes shot open and I was ready for action. Because our month in Ethiopia was such a radical break from routine and class consumed so much energy, my wife and I ended up not exercising at all while we were there. So this morning I took my first jog in over a month in the pre-dawn hours. In the last two weeks, we had all experienced some disruption to our digestive system and never completely shook it off for the remainder of July; I lost weight and hadn't felt 100% for most of that time. So I was a little nervous setting off on a run this morning, but it was just what the doctor ordered. The air was warm and the ground was dry and my body not only held up but rejoiced at the exercise.


Monday, July 18, 2011

The gift of deprogramming

From Debre Zeyit, Ethiopia
Greetings from Meserete Kristos College in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia! Internet accessibility has been a challenge and I've been tremendously busy conducting my class, which is entering it's second week today, and is going quite well. My students are wonderfully gracious to their ferengi (foreigner) teacher and are excellent and eager learners, and surely marvelous peacebuilders-in-training! It's hard to believe our time here in Ethiopia is already half over! The first week of class started out slow and anxious but now things are ticking along. Preparation for each day's class takes a considerable amount of time and energy, as I'm flying by the seat of my pants as a first-time teacher in a completely new cultural context.

In addition to the classwork, the family has been enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings. Behind the college compound there is a hill of open pasture land. One afternoon last week, we walked up to the top of the hill and were surprised to find that behind the crest was an amazing view of one of the five volcanic crater lakes around Debre Zeit! On our second trip, we decided to descend the other side to the water's edge. No sooner than we started down than three adorable little boys from the shepherding families around the compound began leading us down. Erin asked one if they were our guides. The oldest one said very confidently, "Yes." The smallest boy is named Buruch and he stuck near me most of the way down. As we neared the water's edge, all three boys were ahead of us, and when they caught sight of the water - without missing a beat - they ran toward it, stripping down completely naked, and jumped into the lake! Our daughter was, of course, embarrassed but we hung around and watched them swim happily in the lake. If the water quality wasn't a health concern, I would have gladly joined them, it looked very refreshing on that hot day.  As we left, they boys were getting their clothes back on. Waiting until Buruch pulled his britches up, I walked over and gave him a 1 birr coin for helping guide us down to the water. My last image of him is giving me a thumbs-up with a bright smile as we started back up the hill toward the college compound.

We've been able to talk on the phone to some of our family, so that's been wonderful to hear familiar voices. Due to bandwidth restraints, I'll have to add photos once we're back State-side. Not being on e-mail and Facebook several times a day is a good spiritual discipline for me, but hopefully I can get another post or two in before we come home.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dueling calls to prayer

From Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Greetings from Addis Ababa! We arrived yesterday at 7:45am local time and spent two hours in the airport before meeting our hosts and making our way to what will be home for this week, the "compound" for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Ethiopia. We've mostly been relaxing and trying to overcome jet lag. Today our hosts, Dan & Karin, who are just today starting their jobs as the new country reps for MCC Ethiopia, met with my practicum supervisor, Mekonnen, and they worked out a plan for us this week which will allow my wife, daughter, and I to all observe and participate in various MCC-related projects around Addis. We'll also be visiting Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) offices and their peace program. We got out of the compound today for separate trips to exchange some currency to the Ethiopian birr, and then Erin and Lauren went with Karin and an MCC service worker to get groceries for the week.

One story I'll share on the dueling calls to prayer. The MCC compound sits on a hill in whose valley is a mosque and an Ethiopian Orthodox (Coptic) church. Both houses of worship have loudspeakers attached to them and both observe what the Christian tradition would call "the hours" for prayer. Both start at about 5am and continue periodically throughout the day until well into the night. And both start their prayers at nearly the same time. From the porch on the compound, one call comes up from the left (I think it's the mosque), the other from the right (Coptic). Erin and I are sleeping in a converted shipping container (we're calling it "the can" or "the box"), outside the main house in the compound with the door open for better airflow. One side-effect of this arrangement is that we hear everything that's going on outside, the neighborhood dogs barking all night, and these dueling calls to prayer.

Over the past day, hearing these calls, it's struck me that hearing both call me to prayer. I've simply never heard anything like this in the U.S. If you observe the hours in the places I've lived, you have to keep your own schedule. I love the communitarian dimensions of these public (and very loud) calls to prayer and the motivation it gives me to attend to the prayerful side of our trip here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Adrift in a raft of firsts

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Talking with my hands,
which I learned from my dad.
(Photo by Paulette Moore)
In the run-up to my family's trip to Ethiopia - which begins in two short days - it has struck me that much of this trip constitutes a number of firsts in our lives. Geographically-speaking, I've never been off the North American continent. The handful of times I've been to Canada and Mexico were in the days before you needed a passport, so we had to figure that out a few months ago. We had to decipher the fear-mongering going on the CDC website and other literature when figuring out what immunizations to get (and upon getting them, being reminded that my body does not like needles thrust into it). And while I've had a handful of Ethiopian friends here in the EMU community these past three years, this will be my first immersion in the Ethiopian landscape and its rich culture(s).

And most pressing on my mind is this: This is the first time I've taught a college course!

While it's true that my syllabus is done (see below) and I'm fairly happy and confident about it, I still have this nagging sensation in my gut and a whisper in my ear: "You don't know what you're doing."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Another sad-shocking-powerful expression of costly grace

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Chloe Weaver;
MWR file photo
A few months ago I theologized about a Mennonite family in Washington whose children were tragically killed in a car accident, and how the family's response was shocking to many, including the news journalist covering the story as it unfolded over years.

Last fall, 20 year-old, Chloe Weaver, met her tragic end while bicycling on a highway in Colorado, being struck from behind by a teenage boy driving a pickup truck who then fled the scene but was later identified and charged. Again, this Mennonite family's response is not typical by broadly American justice standards:

Weavers seek 'healing response' at sentencing - Sheldon C. Good, Mennonite Weekly Review


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Brethren sexuality lexicon

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
A Wordle snapshot from "American attitudes toward gay marriage" on Carl Bowman's blog
Ah, denominational conference and assembly season is drawing nigh. I can tell because both my Brethren and Mennonite friends, colleagues, sisters and brothers (noted: usually brothers) in Christ are talking vigorously and publicly about sexuality. In the Brethren blogosphere there's been quite vigorous discussion going on in a number of posts on Brethren sociologist, Carl Bowman's blog, Brethren Cultural Landscape. One post in particular, "American attitudes toward gay marriage", has generated some wonderfully respectful comments from a range of perspectives. That it is respectful is good because that's not always the case as Brethren, indeed the wider church in the West, have navigated this issue.

But one thing about this discussion that has long troubled me is its linguistic dimensions. Indeed, the issue of language extends far beyond the conversation/deliberation about sexuality, but it's my jumping-off point for this post. From taking a look at the Wordle image above, which was constructed from all the comments in the aforementioned link (except my own, see below), it's clear to see the topics of discussion and the words being used, which (in my judgment) are fairly representative of the language I've heard used over the years when sexuality in the church has been discussed. The top three "weighty" words used are: Brethren, church, and progress. The first two are no-brainers but it's the third that I want to focus on to explore the broader issue of language.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another new blogger: Paul Fike Stutzman and the Love Feast Blog

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
The book...now the blog!
Last fall I dropped a quick post about a new book by EMS alum and fellow Brethren minister, Paul Fike Stutzman (@paulstutzman). Recovering the Love Feast: Broadening Our Eucharistic Celebrations (Wipf & Stock, 2011) explores the Love Feast celebration from the Schwarzenau Brethren tradition (which includes the Church of the Brethren stream). Well, Paul has just started a new blog as "a place to learn about the Love Feast and share stories." Check it out!

The Love Feast Blog
Also, check out this story from EMU News:  Seminary Grad Book Champions Love Feast

I've become increasingly convinced that the Brethren Love Feast is a liturgical "diamond in the rough" from a tradition which typically describes itself as "non-sacramental." It is a practice that incorporates peacemaking into biblical, participatory worship. Like Paul, I am concerned that this practice has fallen by the wayside in many Brethren congregations and would like to see that trend reversed and the practice renewed, re-envisioned, and re-narrated for contemporary contexts. But I'd also love to see the Love Feast (yuk, yuk) be offered to other traditions as a gift for the whole church. Paul's book is a great contribution toward that end.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New blogging interlocutor: Daria at Pax Balkana

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Daria, blogging at Pax Balkana
A few months ago I put up a post - Easter After Communism - which was based on an interview with Daria, a friend and fellow student in the conflict transformation program at EMU. Well, Daria has just flown to her native land of Bulgaria to work for two months on her practicum (much like I'll be doing when my family leaves for Ethiopia in under two weeks).

She's just put up her first practicum-related post at Pax Balkana, reflecting on the experience of going home yet simultaneously leaving home: travel at dawn.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The spiritual disciplines of being troubled and peaceable

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
It’s been a troubling year. The Arab Spring protest movements that went (relatively) nonviolently in Egypt have devolved into bloody and protracted conflicts in numerous other countries across the Middle East. Then in early May, the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, was killed by the US military and buried at sea, only to return as a 500 foot monster wreaking havoc on the United States. (Okay so that last bit is obviously not true, but the Onion article offers golden social commentary.) As I watched fellow Americans dancing in the streets in early May, I became troubled and began offering theopolitical and pacifist Christian commentary. This commentary was lost on many of my non-Anabaptist friends, both Christian and non. One piece of criticism that I welcomed was that my arguments didn’t allude to or reference Scripture, so I promised my friends to follow up my pacifist grumblings with biblical-theological reflections to help non-Anabaptist, non-pacifist Christians see the world in ways which trouble us as we should be troubled.

Last week I wrapped up a class at Eastern Mennonite Seminary called “Biblical Foundations for Justice and Peace,” taught by Mark Thiessen Nation, one of the leading scholars of influential late 20th century theologian, John Howard Yoder. Mark began the class with something surprising: He showed us a music video by Tom Jones (yes, of “What’s New Pussycat?” fame). As he introduced this video, my Gen-X sensibilities were offended (Tom Jones?!), but I must now say this song is profound...


This song speaks to the ways in which the Lord troubles us and the ways in which humans often resist that movement of God’s Spirit. The church has certainly closed its eyes, “slept too long and...too deep” and not allowed “the tears of (our) brother” to move our hearts. We “let things stand that should not be.” Into this sin-induced coma, God sends dreams, visions, and inspires songs which are “ringing (like) a bell in the back of our mind(s).” Our souls are stirred, we are troubled. And the purpose for this divine disturbance from our slumber? “To make (us) human, to make (us) whole.” In Christian biblical anthropology, Jesus is the true, whole human. Jesus is our vision for fullness of life to which his disciples gravitate toward and invite others into Christ’s “gravitational pull” toward fullness, shalom, life abundant. Which brings us to biblical-theological pacifism...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost as Divine De/Reconstruction

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Photo by Douglas Porter via Flickr
In January of this year I heard Pentecostal scholar, Cheryl Bridges Johns, refer to the happenings at Pentecost as “a feast of deconstruction” which, she added, “is why so many fear it.” Indeed, present at the events recorded in Acts 2 were skeptics who thought these rowdy Jews were drunk at nine in the morning! This deconstruction - the breakdown of all that seems normal and expected - was a work of the Holy Spirit, leading to a divine reconstruction of what it meant to be in Christ, a new creation. No, as Peter clearly saw through eyes of faith, these Jews at Pentecost were drinking from the one true Spirit which God was pouring out, heard as strange speech made normal and seen as tongues of fire resting on all in the assembly.

We Christians in the West have had our ways of seeing and engaging the world from our faith tragically de-enchanted. We try to strategize for the Spirit’s movement, but God does not easily go along with our carefully-laid plans. At Pentecost, then and now, the Spirit acts as the mighty and unpredictable leveler, bringing God's justice and right-ness to bear, pulling down the powerful and lifting up the powerless. In the Spirit, kings and peasants speak together with the tongues of angels, joyfully worshiping God in word, song, and deed.

If we open ourselves to the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our life together takes on a new quality. We become enchanted Sunday school teachers and theologians, painters and doctors, farmers and corporate managers, all bound together by the Spirit in Christ's body, the church. The Spirit is pulsing life through this body. Let us drink deeply at this fountain.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hometown Heroes

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
Prairie City Church of the Brethren; Prairie City, Iowa
My home church (There's a cow lot across the road...)
In my inaugural Ethiopia post, I told a little story about how a dear sweet grandmotherly saint called me into the ministry when I was in high school, and how that story connects with the practice of communal discernment, and how that same discipline helped bring about the upcoming trip to Ethiopia. Well, I'm going to tell another story about my home congregation in rural Iowa and why they continue to bless my life to this day.

Back in January, my wife and I decided that our entire family would be making this trip. Because of the significant cost of airfare, one of the conditions in our making that decision was that we were going to reach out to my congregation back home in Iowa for financial support. The letter which came out of that was actually the source out of which I took some of the text for the inaugural Ethiopia post, linked above. It was, as I called it at the time, a missionary support letter in the fine tradition of the Apostle Paul. Theological storytelling with a practical and rhetorical point. When it came down to how much support to ask for, I stalled in my letter-writing task. My wife and I deliberated a bit and I decided to ask for - what is for this small, rural congregation - a decent chunk of money. We printed the letter off on nice stock, stuck it in an envelope, and dropped the letter in the mail (old school!), and prayed. When my pastor, Tim Peter, read the letter a few days later and saw the amount, he gulped and put it on the docket for the next church board meeting.

The response from the congregation has turned into a blessed story in and of itself in the overall story of our upcoming trip to Ethiopia...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Earthy discipleship and peacebuilding in Jeremiah

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
Photo by snowmentality (via Flickr)
Today ended a three-week intensive class at seminary, studying the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament. It's great to have those classes where the primary textbook is the Bible, which doesn't happen as often as some might think at a seminary. For one of my papers, I chose the topic of "to pluck up and to pull down, to build and to plant," which is a theme that is established in the very first chapter and runs throughout Jeremiah, giving it somewhat of an organizing principle.

In the paper, I do a literary and narrative-theological analysis of that theme with special attention paid to historical and sociopolitical events that drive the narrative forward in Jeremiah. In an academic paper, you have to do all the hard and boring work first before you get to say the interesting and relevant stuff at the end. Since this is a blog, I'll skip most of the boring stuff and say up front why I think this theme and Jeremiah in general is an excellent source of inspiration for faithful Christian peacebuilding. If you really want to see the academic treatment, the paper will be embedded at the end. If you read both, you will see me repeating myself, because I'm lifting material from the paper for the post...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Surveying the energy and movement of Anabaptism

From Eastern Mennonite University: Seminary, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802-2404, USA
Crackling with energy! Photo by Kristie Wells
In the fall of 2009, I had the pleasure to sit in a conference room on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University with a handful of Mennonite academics and pastors. The topic picked by the group of young church leaders organizing this event was audacious: "The Future of Anabaptism." The energy harnessed from this group eventually led to the formation of the Anabaptist Missional Project (AMP), in which two of my good friends from seminary are involved. I've been a Brethren fly on the wall to this group and they've been fun to interact with. AMP is "a network of emerging leaders who love Jesus, care about the church, and seek to be part of God’s mission in the world," purposing to "promote a constructive vision for church renewal, convene to fellowship and grow as emerging leaders, and network to create concrete initiatives for engaging our world missionally."

Early in my second year of seminary, I was just then getting into circles where people were talking openly and excitedly about what it means to be an Anabaptist Christian and what spiritual renewal in the church might look like in light of present global realities facing the church, Anabaptist or otherwise. I didn't know then that this excitement would sweep me up in the movement...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A glimpse (or two) at the paperwork

From Eastern Mennonite University: Seminary, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802-2404, USA
Photo by Colin Harris
Excited as I've been from the beginning about this upcoming trip to Ethiopia to teach, I've also been overwhelmed by the sheer administrative behemoth it's become. Trying to identify and satisfy all the various requirements to all the various parties is daunting. Passports, plane tickets, immunizations, syllabi, finding supervisors and advisors, and on, and on, and on...

While my last post offered a theological back-story to how this trip came to be, this post will contain an only slightly edited version of an important piece of paperwork: My practicum proposal, turned into my practicum advisor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), pending approval by the practicum committee. It may seem strange that I'm only just now submitting this proposal, even though real work for the practicum began ten months ago. Such is the nature of administrative paperwork at times. I've been grateful that this exciting, dynamic idea for a practicum was given this long to be wild and free before having to be codified in a boring ol' proposal. But even this administrative exercise was a good one to conduct, as it's offered some much-needed critical reflection on just how I'm going to pull off this endeavor.

I realize the problems with copy/pasting material from a particular medium (a proposal document) for a particular audience (professors) in a particular community (a graduate program) to another set altogether, namely a blog to a whole bunch of not-graduate program people on the web. So I've tried to edit where possible while still keeping it identifiably proposal-like, to give a taste for the administrative side of this awesome, exciting, project coming up in Ethiopia...