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.