Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santa's on MY naughty list

Had two stories of Santas being naughty this week. One from a friend, and one that I experienced w/ my daughter. The first one is simple: my friend in Iowa saw Santa taking a smoke break in plain view of everyone (at Jolly Holiday Lights for ye DSM-dwellers).  My daughter, who is 9, and I went and saw Santa in this little plywood cabin yesterday at the public library in Harrisonburg. Breaking Santa protocol, Santa asked my daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up. Being a good sport, she told him she wanted to be a teacher.

Santa then proceeded to criticize this career move because teachers "don't make very much money." So he asked her again. Still being a good sport, she suggested a desire to perhaps be an artist. Santa grumbled and suggested she come up with "something better," suggesting being a scientist because they make a lot of money (itself a dubious claim).

As someone who recently left a relatively lucrative career in Information Technology to go to grad school and study theology and peacebulding, I was aghast at the nerve of this guy in the Santa suit, but was polite while we were in his presence. As soon as we were in the car, though, we had a discussion about why that encounter was a load of crap. She agreed, even commenting later in the day that she really didn't like that Santa.  I assured her that despite what Santa said, she could choose to be whatever the heck her heart, spirit, and mind are telling her to become. A teacher, or an artist, or an art teacher, or a teacher who is artistic, or whatever. Mid-stream changes are okay, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Did I accomplish my goals?

About two weeks ago, with just over a week to go in my project for "Research as Art & Transformation," I had a quick discussion with my professor-adviser, Howard, and asked him for a bit of advice on how to finish out my project, which was still in fairly nebulous shape at that point. In Howard's office, unloading what I had learned so far but was still wondering how to put the finishing touches on, he sat and listened intently, as is his way. Howard's advice is always so simple and common-sense. In some ways, I think restorative justice, the field he helped envision and begin articulating is also a no-nonsense/back-to-basics/common-sense innovation (revolution?). But his advice here was just what I needed to hear: "go back to your initial project goals."

[slapping forehead]

This helped focus me in the final days and get the thing wrapped up and ready to go for the class presentation this past Tuesday in class. But I forgot to include any reflections on goals in my summary post. So here's a little postscript to tie the whole project in a bow, connecting it back to what I envisioned way back in September, which was distilled in this post from early Oct.: A (hopefully) modest proposal.

What I didn't list in that post, though, were these two goals I had for the project:
  • To deepen my understanding of how theology and peacebuilding intersect and interact
  • To facilitate a dialog along these same lines, hopefully building bridges in the process
So did I accomplish these goals with this class project? Read on after the break as I attempt to answer. A note on audience: I'm essentially writing this to anyone with familiarity with EMU and its Seminary and CJP, the two programs I'm studying in.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Smart people wrestling in church

The title of this blog post essentially describes what I've learned through the analysis process of this long project for class. After interviewing four EMU faculty members, asking each of them to essentially tell me the story of their spiritual-vocational journey, it's come to that assessment: "Smart people wresting in church."  The phrase is basically an interpretation of the top 5 themes that emerged from analysis of the interview transcripts. More about that process later, but here is the top 10 in a pretty pie chart:

Read on after the break for (a lot) more...

Lisa Schirch: Make it walk

Lisa taught the first class I took at the CJP in the fall of last year: Analysis - Understanding Conflict. While I was new in the program, there were other students with me who were not only new to the program but also new to American culture in general. Yet somehow the class quickly formed its own identity that was very close-knit, familiar, and friendly. In the midst of learning all sorts of conflict analysis tools, using them to analyze case studies such as post-election violence in Kenya in late 2007 (with two men from Kenya who had experienced it themselves), Lisa presided over all this with a wisdom and intelligence that flowed seamlessly into the classroom and the students, in the elicitive manner that I've come to understand as distinctly CJP. I knew from this class and from this instructor that this was not a typical graduate academic program.

Later that academic year, this past spring, Lisa and I participated in a facilitated round-table discussion on the topic of theology and peacebuilding, in which she made her case for the deep level of resonance that her faith has had in her peacebuilding practice and the deep overlap and common ground she sees between the two. (Aside: Mark Thiessen Nation and Peter Dula were also participants in this discussion.)

It was for these reasons that I wanted to interview Lisa as part of this project: my deep respect and admiration for her, as well as her continuing efforts toward integrating theology in her work as a peacebuilder. She is the only faculty member that I interviewed who isn't dealing specifically with theology in her role at the university. In this video, Lisa reflects on the joys and trials of being in a multi-faith peacebuilding program connected to a Christian, Anabaptist, Mennonite university:

To borrow terminology from Stuart Murray's excellent book, "Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition," I see in Lisa a strong focus on the very Anabaptist quality of a "hermeneutic of obedience," where how well someone is interpreting Scripture is measured by how they're living their life. This is a bit of an oversimplification of both Murray's book and Lisa's theology, but it's a helpful analogy for me.

Thank you, Lisa, for such an honest and even (at times) emotionally challenging interview, as well as good encouragement for the challenges of my "dual citizenship" here at EMU.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Heidi Miller Yoder: Gotta serve somebody

My first encounter with Heidi here at EMU came in my second semester last year while writing a term paper on the theologies of baptism for John Calvin and a somewhat recently-discovered 16th century Anabaptist figure, Pilgram Marpeck. Heidi's dissertation covers Marpeck, so a classmate and I sat down with her to get some help with sources for our papers. Her sharp intellect and clear articulation of theological concepts quickly struck me.  Later that spring, EMU hosted popular Christian thinker, writer, and speaker, Brian McLaren, and Heidi was coordinating the events for his time on campus, and I was asked to play guitar for a few songs during an evening speaking event.

When I sat down with Heidi for this interview in late October, I knew it was going to be a great conversation, and it was. What particularly stood out in this interview is how she immediately named her family and life in the church as pivotal starting points for her faith and spiritual formation. At the end of the interview, when talking about theology in a conceptual sense, she tied it all together with her early childhood experiences, bringing us full circle in the discussion. This was in the midst of talking about Anabaptist particulars in theology, and what it can offer the broader church (something she works at). Here's a video that offers some of her reflections:

There were other themes not explored in the video that were significant, such as the strong tie of theology to an education and early vocation that wasn't primarily theological (largely social work in various forms), but to which Heidi quite intentionally brought her faith and practical theology to bear. At various points through the interview Heidi named bridge-building as something she's been doing in various ways and to varying degrees much of her life. This is where I really level with her, as I see much of what I'm doing here at EMU, studying in both the CJP and Seminary, working toward those two degrees, as a theological experiment in bridge/peace-building.

Thanks, Heidi!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mark Thiessen Nation: Revival

The following video is the edited form of an interview I conducted with my theology professor at EMS, Mark Thiessen Nation. Mark is one of the leading scholars of John Howard Yoder, an influential theologian-ethicist from the latter third of the last century, who was also Mennonite. The first time I had Mark in class at seminary was one of my very first classes, "Christian Tradition," which he co-taught with two other wonderful professors. I was immediately drawn to Mark's sharp intellect and his clear articulation of theological concepts. As I've gotten to know him better, I've also come to appreciate his sense of humor.  He's a smart alec like me.

In this 15 min. video, Mark is essentially telling the story of his spiritual formation, which has led him to where he is now, vocationally: a theology professor at a seminary.

I enjoyed having this conversation with Mark. We laughed frequently and it felt very natural, even though there was a camera sitting there, pointed at his face the whole time.  I also enjoyed analyzing it. One thing that I came to appreciate is the centrality of the church in Mark's journey. Doing a simple word frequency analysis of the transcript showed that the word "church" came up more than anything else. Despite his vocational situation in the academy, Mark is still very much involved in the life of the church, and it continues to be where he situates his work. This is important for me to consider, as I'm in the midst of constantly discerning where my spiritual journey will take me next, vocationally.

Don't read into this deeply, but I laughed out loud when I saw this little statistic from the word frequency analysis of the transcript: the word "Jesus" and "Yoder" were mentioned the same number of times in our conversation. Again, I'm not trying to make any sort of critical statement by pointing this out, but my fellow students - or anyone familiar with Mark - will get a chuckle out of this. He is, as I said, a Yoder scholar. (e.g. a new book of Yoder essays he helped edit: The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking)

Mark is also my neighbor. Last year, he and his wife, Mary, invited my family over for supper. I was immediately struck by how many books this man has. We entertained my daughter during discussion after supper by having her go through his shelves of biblical commentaries in the adjacent room and find ones that were out of order.  When she found one, she'd show it to Mark and he would reshelf it correctly.  So here's a picture to show you just one corner of his office and the bookshelves. But there are two other walls that you don't see...

I also get a kick out of the pictures hanging above his computer monitor. There are other family and personal pictures in his office, but these are the folks that are looking at him from the wall as he's working on his computer. I recognize John M. Perkins, Stanley Hauerwas (with whom Mark shares a friendship with), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I really like Mark, and I hope that came through in this post. He's a neat guy and I'm thrilled to be studying under his tutilege and it's a bummer that he's on sabbatical this year (although I'm sure he doesn't asses it this way). You might see some footage from the interview repeated in subsequent posts, as I'll be working with material from all four interviews I conducted with EMU faculty in a more collage-like fashion, exploring the similarities and differences in how these conversations went with more or less the same line of questioning.