Friday, June 21, 2013

A prayer for The Farm

From Fairview, IA, USA
My folks have started the process of moving from city life to what had been my grandparents' farm, an idyllic 80-acre piece of land at the edge of the South Skunk River bottom near Reasnor, Iowa. It's been in the family for over a century. Having grown up in a small farm town about 15 miles from this place, and spending what seems to have been nearly every weekend of my childhood there, it's always been "The Farm" to me and my family. The century-old farm house has recently been knocked over, burned, and bulldozed - and construction on the new house is underway. Today we gathered at the farm to pray for the next chapter of its stewardship in my family's hands. Here's what we prayed...

My mom, Diane, and her dad, Dale Mullins
Gracious and loving God - You are the source of all that is great and good in this world. In you we live and move and have our being. And today we gather here as a family whose forebears have known and loved and worked this small piece of your good earth for over a century: Sheelers, Mullins, Nolins, Gumms.

And God, our family's stewardship here registers as a mere fraction of a fraction of an instant in your grand story of creation, fall, and long-yearning redemption.  So our first task here today, in seeking your guidance and provision for this - a new chapter of our family's story in this place, this farm - is one of humility.

So out of that place of humility we lift up to you a deep gratitude for the blessing, the privilege that this place has been to our family across the generations. It could have been otherwise, we could have been elsewhere - yet here we are. And we continue to receive it as the gift it has been. Thank you.

As houses are built and eventually fall, as generation gives way to generation, we mark this moment as one of passing, but with that passing - like the coming of spring after a long, cold Iowa winter - the promise of new life comes upon us. Now Lord, fill us with your Spirit for the help we need in faithfully stewarding this gift in the coming years.

Standing at the outset of this new chapter, the familiar has been made strange. God, orient my parents - Doug & Diane - as they go about the work of making the strange familiar again. Give them patience and wisdom for their work. Give them gracious hearts to love their neighbors and those in need in this nearby. Help them remember and practice Sabbath - for themselves and the land - in the face of seemingly endless to-do lists. Be with Grandma Dorothy in her elder years, after a long and fruitful life here with Dale. Give our generation and those to come the grace to walk alongside and the vision to be ready for yet more chapters down the road.

May our hands be dirty in the good earth and our hearts be made glad by the fellowship of family and your loving kindness. Father we end this prayer together with the words that our humble king Jesus taught us:

Our father in heaven
Holy is your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive our debtors
Leads us not into temptation
Deliver us from evil
For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever

My daughter Lauren and her great-grandmother, Dorothy Mullins

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Zombies and the N-word: Notes on race in reading

Recently I read this piece on "Identity in a White Default World," written by Katelin Hansen (@StrngeFruit) and guest-posted on Mennonite pastor Marty Troyer's The Peace Pastor blog. In that piece, Kathleen makes the assertion that "Whiteness is the ‘default,’ the dominant culture against which others are compared." Here's how I found this to be true recently in my reading diet...


Last week I finished reading Colson Whitehead's Zone One, a zombie apocalypse story with some great literary sensibilities. Now, no reference to race was made in the vast majority of the book, except for one instance toward the end when the main character, Mark Spitz, has an exchange with one of his zombie-hunting colleagues. The conversation they're having makes reference to swimming and Spitz's not doing it for various legitimate reasons, but he also adds a self-deprecating remark about the stereotype that black people can't swim.

I had to stop short and re-read the paragraph another time or two, making sure I was getting what was being conveyed. Then I thought, "Huh. He's black."

Monday, June 17, 2013

MWR story on NuDunkers & MennoNerds

From our last hangout w/ David Fitch & Geoff Holsclaw
Kelli Yoder at the Mennonite World Review interviewed me a few weeks back on the NuDunkers, and has this nice article up today on the website (and in their upcoming print edition):

Hangout for 'MennoNerds': Online Anabaptist communities build faith, friendships, resources

As the title indicates, the story is also about the MennoNerds/Anabaptist Alliance that I've had some involvement with over the past few months. (This blog appears on the MennoNerds website.) The story offers a great account of the two distinct movements, where they came from and why, as well as our "symbiotic" relationship with each other, which as been great to see.

If the Anabaptist tradition is one that's marked by a thick sense of Christian community, these two movements are a great example of how we're trying to make that happen in online spaces, while simultaneously being cognizant of the limits of virtual communities. I'll quote myself here:
“Just because NuDunkers [and MennoNerds] is entirely social-media-based, this shouldn’t replace church for any of us... It should inspire and compel us into deeper engagement with those local manifestations of church.”
It seems that is actually happening, as the story reports one couple involved in MennoNerds is starting to think about planting a new local congregation! Great story, and my thanks go to Kelli Yoder for taking the time to conduct all the interviews and write it up, as well as all the folks involved in these two exciting, young, and emerging groups!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The drug felony as lynching

"Mulberry Tree"
by James~Quinn/Flickr
A black minister in Waterloo, Mississippi, quoted in Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow:
"Felony" is the new N-word. They don't have to call you a n----r anymore. They just say you're a felon... Once you have that felony stamp, your hope for employment, for any kind of integration into society, it begins to fade out. Today's lynching is a felony charge. Today's lynching is incarceration. Today's lynch mobs are professionals. They have a badge; they have a law degree. A felony is a modern way of saying, "I'm going to hang you up and burn you." Once you get that big F, you're on fire.
If felony drug convictions, mass incarceration, and permanent socioeconomic marginalization and stigmatization for black men is the new lynching, then the lynching tree has expanded into a life-long form of suffering, a "mark of Cain" as Alexander notes in The New Jim Crow.

Black liberation theologian James Cone ends his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree with this:
Every time a white mob lynched a black person, they lynched Jesus. The lynching tree is the cross in America. When American Christians realize that they can meet Jesus only in the crucified bodies in our midst, they will encounter the real scandal of the cross.
Meeting Jesus in the marginalized (and oppressed) is a biblical image from Jesus himself: "...just as you did it to one of the least of these..." (Mt. 25:31-46); so Cone's disturbing poetic work here is appropriate. The rest of that passage involves the sorting out of the sheep and the goats (all followers of Jesus, by the way; not the "saved" vs. the "lost"), so Christians should sit up and take serious notice of the ethical demands for faithful discipleship in this passage. But there's work to do before we can get there...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cartridgeration and its psychosocial consequences

Way back in 2003 I stuck a book on my Amazon wish list: Lucky Wander Boy by D.B. Weiss. At the time he was an unknown, but he is now known as a writer on the wildly popular HBO series, Game of Thrones (which I have yet to engage). A few months ago I finally bought the book for Kindle and picked up reading it in fits and starts. Then two weeks ago I was doing some air travel for work and had a lot of time on my hands and finished it.

Lucky Wander Boy is the story of a geek’s nostalgic quest for meaning through his search for the eponymous and obscure (and fictional) early 80s Japanese arcade game from his childhood. Part of the narrative is his compilation of a Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments, where he documents the particulars of classic arcade games, their innards and essence. There are also a few "supplementary essays" the character writes, which seem to be the place where Weiss was free to air some of his own philosophical musings about technology and society. (A graduate of both a Wesleyan university and Trinity College, Dublin, Weiss' narrative here is shot through with recurring biblical metaphors, which might be worth exploring another time...)