Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pietist theology for civil discourse

From Harrisonburg, VA
Philipp Jakob Spener
Forefather of Pietism & neck braces
There's a great piece over at Chris Gehrz's blog, The Pietist Schoolman, a guest post from Christian Collins Winn. Gehrz and Winn are both professors at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the post is Winn's address to the school's opening chapel service yesterday:

Pietism and Civil Discourse

In the piece, Winn identifies four characteristics from the Pietist tradition, specifically from its forefather, Philipp Jakob Spener, characteristics that comprise a Pietist theology for civil discourse. (Civil discourse being something that is sorely needed these days, and something I tried to model yesterday in my response to a piece by Michael Shank on Mennonites and politics.)

But here are the four characteristics with some commentary:

  1. A spirit of good faith - In virtue terms, I'd call this "charity" in the more classical sense of caritas, which connotes "costliness, esteem, affection." A related virtue would be kindness.
  2. A genuine openness to being taught - Winn rightly notes this requires the virtue of humility. We cannot assume beforehand that we are in the right, and we must always be open for the pleasant surprise of being wrong, learning something new, or understanding someone at a deeper level.
  3. A love for one's neighbor - I'll note here the brilliant quote I came across from Jamie Smith the other day: "The neighbor could be a friend or an enemy, a foreigner or a brother. The call to love the neighbor is a call to love all of them - that is why all of Jesus' injunctions to love are taken up in the call to love the neighbor."
  4. The hopeful commitment to God's peace - Hope and peace both being virtues/gifts/fruits of the Holy Spirit that, along with joy, ensure that we not become dour and spiritlessly duty-bound, where life becomes "just one damned thing after another."

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Mennonite vote?: A response to Michael Shank

From Harrisonburg, VA
Photo by Ken Wilson via Flickr
I'm not typically into the whole "a response to [so and so]..." style of positing, but a friend of mine asked me to write a quick response to a piece by Mennonite-raised Michael Shank, who works in Washington D.C. and also happens to be a fellow alumni of EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Here's the piece...

Republicans and the Mennonite Vote (The Hill)

One thing I've appreciated about Shank's writing is that he talks openly on DC-affiliated media about his Amish-Mennonite heritage and tries to appropriate this faith heritage into his public policy work and his public commentary. Someone talking so openly about how and why religious faith matters to public life is admirable in such a work environment. In this piece he reflects on the experience of talking politics at a family gathering, feeling a bit like a fish out of water because of his party affiliation (Democrat) amongst his largely conservative Republican relatives.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The providence of proximity

[Life context note: Last weekend my wife and daughter moved back to our home state of Iowa, after four years of living in lovely Harrisonburg, Virginia. I'm hanging around H'burg for a few more months to finish my work at EMU before I join them. So this weekend, I had a lot of time on my hands, and...]

With said free time I read most of the essays in Jamie Smith's The Devil Reads Derrida. Man, what a great book! It is a collection periodic essays from 2002-'07, and it is exactly the kind of intellectual writing I try to here at Restorative Theology. (Albeit with much more modest intellectual capacities than Smith's...) Here is a Christian scholar who is committed to his intellectual craft for the sake of the church and the fidelity of the body of Christ and its place in God's mission in this creation. There's all kinds of underlines in this book I made yesterday, but this little passage is too good not to post. The opening paragraph of the chapter, "The Architecture of Altruism: On Loving Our Neighbor(hood)s":
When Jesus summarizes the "greatest commandment," it is a two-fold obligation that hinges on love: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27 echoing Lev. 19:18). It is intriguing to me that when Jesus points to the centrality of love, he also invokes a metaphor which is not familial (e.g. "brother" or "friend") or ethnic (e.g. "your people"), but almost geographical: we are to love the neighbor - the one next to us, who happens (by providence) to be in proximity. The neighbor could be a friend or an enemy, a foreigner or a brother. The call to love the neighbor is a call to love all of them - that is why all of Jesus' injunctions to love are taken up in the call to love the neighbor. (Emphasis added.)
This text also happened to be in the lectionary this weekend, so I heard it in the two church services I attended this weekend. (Hey...I was lonely and needed to be with my "first family.")

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Happiness in the eye of the porcelain god?

From Harrisonburg, VA, USA
Here's lookin at you, kid.
(Photo by Auntie P via Flickr)
While perusing my work-related social media feeds the other day, this title brought me up short...

Binge Drinking Makes Students Happy

The story on Inside Higher Ed references a recent sociological study in which college-aged students who engage in binge drinking report themselves to be "happier" than people who do not engage in such practices. Interestingly, class/status is brought into the study, reporting that wealthy white males in the Greek fraternity system are especially happy in their binge drinking practices. (While comments are usually the - ahem - toilet bowl of the internet, the comments on this story are actually worth the time.)

But I put emphases and scare quotes above to draw out what constitutes happiness these days: Subjective emotional states reported by the sovereign individual. Happiness in a Christian moral sense cannot be thought of, much less experienced, on such individualistic grounds.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Economics and anarchy

From Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
(Photo by Nils Geylen via Flickr)
As of yesterday I am able to say for the first time in my life that I have read the entire Old Testament of the Bible. For some reason this continues to strike me as odd given that I spent four years in seminary, but that's not the focus of this post.


My reason for mentioning this is that, at least the way the Christian canon is arranged, the last 17 books of the OT are prophetic literature. Which means that's where my biblical head's been buried for a while, and it's affected my imagination (as it should).

The prophetic books cover the last few hundred years of two-kingdom monarchy in biblical Israel, a project that was - by many prophets' own accounts - a calamitous failure. The divine negative judgment was often focused on the kings and economic and religious elites of the nations, and their collective idolatry and unfaithfulness. Such idolatry was often constituted by gross injustice exercised on the marginalized in society - the widow, the orphan, and the alien. Such injustices were violations of God's covenant laws.

Nearly two years ago I griped about about a NY Times piece by Paul Krugman, who was asserting that economics is somehow amoral. This struck me as deeply wrong, and my response then was "Economics is ALWAYS a morality play." After two more years of reading lots of political theology and philosophy, that sense has only deepened. It's only the dichotomous, fragmented kind of Enlightenment thinking that makes it possible to imagine that economics doesn't somehow assume, exude, and "educate" a certain kind of morality.

Friday, August 10, 2012

...I just blog a lot

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Since starting this blog for personal and academic reasons in the fall of 2009, I've managed to justify blogging as part of my professional work at EMU. My previous role at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding had me acting as blog editor for Peacebuilder Online. In my new role as Distance Learning Technology Analyst in the Information Systems department, my work has included a high degree of research and development work around educational technologies and ed-tech trends in higher ed.

I take a social media-driven approach to R&D, which includes tweeting (@DistanceEd_EMU) and, as of last week, blogging: Ed-Tech at EMU.

It's the best of many worlds for me: Doing my tech nerdery for a Christian university ("like no other"), using media with which I feel comfortable and competent, and within which I can take a narrative approach to communicating for my work.

If this all sounds rather self-serving, let me situate it in the context of gratitude. These circumstances wouldn't be possible without the amazing leadership I've worked under/with at EMU these past few years. I've had leaders who 1) trust my skills and insights, and 2) have empowered me to be creative in carrying out my work. It's a gift to have such work.