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 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...