Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Voting: Ritual or Responsibility? - A response

[Note: The following text was presented at an on-campus event at EMU today, "Voting: Ritual or Responsibility?" I was one of three main presenters, along with EMU professors, Ted Grimsrud and Jayne Seminare Docherty. Ted and I have had significant conversations over the past weeks, online and at the pub, and Jayne is one of my former professors at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding/CJP. The discussion was facilitated by Jonathan Swartz and Matthew Bucher, both dual-degree students like I was, in the Seminary and CJP. Thanks to everyone involved at the event, and I welcome more conversation below in the comments! - Also, check out Ted's three posts on this topic, where I also have some comments posted.]

In a 1977 article in Sojourner’s, John Howard Yoder had this to say about the then-current context: “American political culture, a comparatively solid crust of common language and rules of thumb, floats on a moving magma of unresolved debate between two contradictory views of what the state is about.” In this article, entitled “The National Ritual: Biblical realism and the elections,” Yoder goes on to argue that we shouldn’t get ourselves too worked up about this system, or take it too seriously. But nonetheless this weak system is one that we can and perhaps should participate in.  I quote:
[Voting] is one way, one of the weaker and vaguer ways, to speak truth to power. We may do well to support this channel with our low-key participation, since a regime where it functions is a lesser evil…than one where it does not, but our discharge of this civil duty will be more morally serious if we take it less seriously.
This position of Yoder’s I take to be the basic position taken by Ted in his arguments, both here and on his blog. And I’m sympathetic to both, and don’t necessarily disagree. But I want to sound a few cautions.

I’ll start with a quote by Yoder’s one-time colleague at Notre Dame, Alasdair MacIntyre, who made these comments in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election. I quote:
When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Theological sketchings for NuDunkers

From Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
The joys of the arbitrary Google Image search...
The first order of business in this post is to answer the question...

What the heck is "NuDunkers?" - We don't know yet, but the more appropriate question is who are NuDunkers...

Okay, wise guy, who are NuDunkers? And who's this "we?" - "Dunker," for the uninitiated, is a throwback term to the Schwarzenaru Brethren practice of full-immersion baptism, and the word used to be somewhat of a group epithet used by outsiders looking in (like the word "Anabaptist" and even "Christian" in their original contexts).

So NuDunkers are, We self-described NuDunkers are very few at this point and are in our early stages of gathering. There are currently four of us - Andrew Hamilton, Dana Cassell, Joshua Brockway, and yours truly - all inhabitants of the Schwarzenau Brethren tradition in two of its current denominational forms: Church of the Brethren and Brethren Church.

For me, connection to these three fellow Dunkers began in the Brethren blogosphere. I first made connections with Josh nearly two years ago, and he's slowly worked me into conversations with Dana and Andrew over the past year. In recent months, in addition to our blog and Facebook conversations, we have had a few e-mail conversations and hangout sessions on Google+.

So it's safe to say at this early stage that NuDunkers is also a conversation.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mumford & Sons among the virtues

From Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Last night I noticed in my blog traffic reports a spike of visits from this NPR story on Mumford & Sons new album, Babel. The author, Ann Powers, linked to my fall 2010 post, The Avett Brothers' narrative doctrine of Love (and Hate). This post has surprised me because it's now two years old (to the day!) but is consistently in the top ten list on any given month, and people often find it by searching for an answer to the question: "Are the Avett Brothers Christian?" (<--See for yourself.)

But anyway, on to Mumford. First watch this...

Then read on for some reflections on the three things related to Christian virtues which I see emanating from this beautiful song: Humility, embodiment, and purpose.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Eastern Mennonite University: Welcome to my home

Exhibit 1 of what I'll miss: Sunrise over Massanutten & Park View/EMU
There are two senses in which I intend the title of this post to be taken. 1) In an autobiographical sense, as in Eastern Mennonite University has become my home in a significant way; and 2) as if the institution itself were uttering the phrase. I'll use the first to get to the second over the course of this post...

For the past four years I have called this Mennonite village my home. I have come to understand that EMU is but one part of what I've just called a "village," because it's embedded in the Park View neighborhood, in the city of Harrisonburg, in the region of the Shenandoah River Valley/South Fork watershed. This is an area that generations of Mennonites have called home for over two centuries. On this stretch of beautiful earth, these Mennonites have attempted to embody the Anabaptist tradition of Christian discipleship in their families, congregations, and institutions.

As an Iowan Brethren with no prior substantive experience with Mennonites, I only knew there to be an historical connection between the two traditions, that connection having something to do with "Anabaptism," a word I only knew in name and not content. So it was upon coming here that I discovered the Anabaptist tradition not only articulated but embodied in substantive ways. The "thickness" of this embodiment is something I immediately felt, and it was only after more than a year of living, studying, and working here that I began to understand and be able to myself articulate what was going on and why. More on that later...