Monday, September 30, 2013

Yeoman theology

Chaucer's Yeoman
After taking the summer off, the NuDunkers are having another chat this Thursday, from 9 to 10am Central, on the topic of "Dunker Theologizing: How we do our God talk." Check out that link for posts from others and details on how you can join the conversation, live or otherwise! This post is part of our prep for that conversation...

Two dear pastors/sisters in Christ addressed the following sentences to me; the first in my mid-20s, the second in my late:

"Brian, you'd love seminary!"
"Brian, when are you going to seminary?"

Here's another from a former pastor, upon seeing some of my undergraduate work (mid-to-late 20s), a class project where I interviewed pastors and the children of pastors:

"I know you'd love studying theology."

They were all right. I loved everything about my grad school/seminary years at EMU (except the exhaustion), and I excelled at the work of academic study. Mid-way through those studies I started hearing from peers and profs alike: "You could be a teacher," "you could do a PhD." It was intoxicating music to my ears.

Yet by the time I graduated, this intoxicating music began to take on ominous undertones in my hearing, and so I shook my head to clear out the siren song of the academy and instead moved with my family to rural Iowa to see what being an organic intellectual seeking the peace of the farm town might look like. (I'm still trying to figure that out...)

There are numerous reasons for my leaving academics when I did, but the one I want to explore here is what I take to be the Dunker-inculcated attitude toward theology/theologizing/"God talk" and its place in the body of Christ. It's an attitude that could be characterized as "yeoman theology."

Monday, September 23, 2013

The once and future pastor(s)

From Toledo, IA
[Insert here the appropriate Anabaptist
theological commentary about
kingship, swords, etc...]
Last week I had a meeting with two of my mentors, one of whom is my "church boss," to discuss next steps on my path to ordination as a minister in the Church of the Brethren. I don't write about that process much (if at all) here because, for one thing, I have a lot of questions about formal ministry in the free church/priesthood of all believers tradition. To call me "minister" and not, for instance, my wife - who serves as a mental health counselor in our local community and does so out of a sense of spiritual gifting flowing from her Christian faith - has and continues to seem somewhat off-kilter. Brethren have come up with some cute ways to address this in theory, but the institutionalization of the ministry has nevertheless created some power differentials.

So that's just my hangups about being characterized as a "minister" in some formal sense. The term "pastor" is even more touchy for me...

Let me first say that pastors have long been my favorite kind of people. Even after seminary and being approved for ordination, I continue to be very reluctant to think of/call myself a "pastor," mostly out of a sense of deep respect for those pastors who have played significant and various roles in shaping me as a person, generally, and as a minister in particular.

Put simply: I don't think I'm a "pastor" in the amazing ways that pastors have pastored me.

But the other week I conducted my first funeral service as a formal minister in our local community. The departed was a man who married into my wife's side of the family, and they wanted someone close to preside over the graveside service. So I happily and without hesitation said "yes" to that. For preparation of the obituary for the local paper, I emphasized to the family that when it came to ministerial titles, I preferred "Pastor" rather than "Reverend." (Oh, don't even get me started on Reverend!!)

So I guess I'm a pastor now. It's in print. And a sweet child in our local congregation called me "Pastor Brian" yesterday, so her word carries weight for me as well...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Celebration and justice: Christianity, Democracy, and the radicalordinary

From Harrisonburg, VA
This post is part of an ongoing series on the book Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, by Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles. This series is being authored by Jonathan McRay, Jonathan Swartz, and Brian Gumm. This post covers ch. 5, a letter to Coles from Hauerwas.

Hauerwas opens his letter to Coles by recognizing that for him to attempt to answer the question "what do you mean by haunting?" would have required a defensive posture that would do nothing to advance the conversation between the two of them. So Hauerwas takes Coles up on his suggestion to simply write about what inspires and excites him. While I would have really enjoyed reading Hauerwas' direct answer to the question asked of him, I can also support the "appreciative inquiry" approach that seems to form the basis of this letter, and thus allows space for further constructive conversation.

Hauerwas writes of being inspired by the L'Arche community at Trosly-Breuil in France. The inspiration that comes from this L'Arche community (as well as countless others for sure) emanates from the reality that the community is formed to resist the idea that there exists a group of people called "we" that do things for the mentally handicapped. The audacious claim of L'Arche is that assistants (the "we") learn to be loved by the mentally handicapped. Henri Nouwen's Adam is an exploration of this very idea. Hauerwas reports that when Jean Vanier was asked how the work of L'Arche is sustained over time he unhesitatingly responded: "celebration."

"Celebration names the regard for each member of L'Arche" (104) and includes birthday parties, funerals, and making Patrick (a core L'Arche member) the center of attention on St. Patrick's Day. But the culminating celebration is the community's Mass on Sunday evenings. Sunday evening Mass is when the community gathers without regard for time (no one is in a hurry) and joyfully celebrates the Eucharist.

Hauerwas makes the claim that worship (celebration) is the heart of justice. In this way he claims (if I read him correctly) that L'Arche communities are doing the work of justice in their celebration of Eucharist together. This also seems to be the connecting thread to people like Ella Baker and Bob Moses, because "they do not need a 'conception of justice,' because they have something better, namely, a way of being with the poor that is celebratory."(106) This something better, this celebrational quality to the lives of (not only the work of) Baker and Moses is perhaps another way of saying that their lives embodied justice.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

White dudes against racism: Be reconciled!

From Toledo, IA
Will Cambell (right) & Ralph Abernathy
on the day of MLK's assassination.
(Henry Groskinsky/Time & Life Pictures, via NYT)
This post is part of an ongoing series on the book Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, by Stanley Hauerwas & Romand Coles. This series is being authored by Jonathan McRay, Jonathan Swartz, & Brian Gumm. This post covers ch. 4, "Race: The 'More' It Is About," by Hauerwas.

I had never heard of the late Rev. Will D. Campbell before August of last year, when I read a post from "The Amish Jihadist," Tripp York: The Ballad of Will Campbell. York said there that:
Campbell is one of the few Christian thinkers who understands how (classical) liberal theology ultimately created both right and left-wing Christianity, and, because of this, his understanding of how Jesus does not fit into this matrix often proves to be an obstacle for some readers. This is not because his writings are dense, but because he is neither a liberal nor a conservative.
Then I come to find out that Hauerwas blames Campbell for "screwing up my life" (88). Recalling a time he saw Campbell speak at Yale Divinity School in 1962, when Hauerwas was a student there, he describes Campbell:
He was not wearing a coat or tie, and I am pretty sure that he was chewing tobacco, which he spit into an empty coke bottle. I do not remember much that he said, but I do remember thinking that this is my kind of guy... (80, emphasis added)
A southern white Baptist preacher/activist who saw through liberalism, hated racism (because it is a sin), took active part in the Civil Rights movement, but also took concrete steps to love his racist enemies...all while having a taste for whiskey and chaw? Sounds like my kind of guy, too!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Laboring at conflict on Labor Day

Image via VeloTraffic/Flickr
Yesterday my wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and my folks met in nearby Grinnell and rode a nice paved bike trail from town to Rock Creek State Park, about 7 miles west. Once we got there, we stood around the boat ramp for a while and decided to ride further west on the county highway to see if we could circle the lake. We got a few miles out but couldn't find or see a south-bound paved county road, so we decided to turn back around.

On our way up the last hill before the lake, in a single-file line on a road with no paved shoulder (the norm on county roads in Iowa), a huge pickup truck pulling a fishing boat came barreling down the hill behind us and didn't slow down whatsoever as he came upon us on the uphill side. Rather than giving us the full lane (which is the lawful and safe thing to do), he pulled maybe into the middle of the road and flew by us going probably 65 mph (speed limit is 55), scaring the crap out of all of us, given his speed and the truck's and boat's proximity to our exposed bodies, and the fact that trailers aren't exactly the most stable things when being pulled down the road.

Reactions were mixed. My dad swore (one of my friends has lovingly nicknamed my dad "Swear Gumm"), my mom said something about wishing she had rockets on her bike to catch the guy. My daughter up in front of our line was shaken. Like most of us, I too was angry, but I knew where the guy was headed: The boat ramp, where we had just come from and where we were again approaching. I rode up to my wife and said, "If that guy's at the boat ramp, I'm gonna go have a talk with him."

"Take your dad with you," was her response.