Friday, April 30, 2010

Live a better story

From Harrisonburg, VA, USA
Over a month ago, I met with with a staffer at EMU Campus Ministries, and they had a stack of Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, sitting around for check-out so I grabbed one. I've had it on my shelf for a while since then but I finally got around to finishing it now that the semester is over and May term doesn't start for another week. Rather than plainly review it, I'll try to fold its essential message into some personal reflections, because it is a book that gets you thinking about how you're living your life. Read on after the break for my reflections on this great story...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Believers Church Road Trip!

From Harrisonburg, VA, USA
Earlier this month, Aaron, my friend from seminary, and I headed out to Richmond, Indiana to Bethany Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. Bethany was hosting an event called "When Strangers are Angels" and was pulling together people from the three so-called "historic peace churches": Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren. There were numerous motivations for me wanting to make this trip, chief of which was connecting and reconnecting with some folks from my flock of believers, the Brethren.  Being one of the few Brethren in a proudly Mennonite academic institution here in the Shenandoah Valley has been by and large a wonderful, spiritually transformative experience, but there are times when I long to commune with Brethren folks.

So when I heard about this event, I cooked up a way to connect it with a seminary class called "the believers church," taught by our wonderful church history professor, Nate Yoder. The seminary also graciously helped us, financially, to get out there and back. We made contact with three scholars, one in each tradition, and secured interviews with each one while we were at the event. The following 10-minute video is the fruit of this road trip, the interviews, and reflection in the context of this class. After the break, I'll offer some further commentary...

(YouTube link:

Monday, April 26, 2010

The poetics of restorative theology

From Harrisonburg, VA, USA
As a gift for my high school graduation in 1997, someone gave me a journal. The first use of this journal was a guest list for my graduation party. I've gone over that list a number of times in the intervening thirteen years and have been surprised again and again at the people who showed up at my parents' old house in Prairie City, Iowa. I'm still writing in this same journal these days, but I'm starting to run out of pages, and it won't be long until it's completely filled up and I'll move on to another.

The other night, I couldn't sleep, so I did something with this journal that I had never done before. I read it cover to cover. Thirteen years of my life captured in periodic snapshots, covered in about two hours. The highs and lows of college, a career in IT/corporate America, being in a family, life in the church, going back to college, and finally moving to Virginia into our current phase of life.  Something struck me as I waded through all this reflective writing, and that was a near-constant expressed desire to be doing something creative or artistic in some way. Early on it was focused on my band/music project, Honnold, which started as a band in high school and has since morphed into a website that joins the music we've produced with a small virtual community. As I transitioned back into college in my mid-20's, I was studying English literature and taking a writing class or two, and my journal entries became attempts at creative writing in either fiction or non-fiction, and sometimes poetry. I can trace this artistic impulse all the way back into my childhood, so it's clear to me that this is a life-long dimension to how I come at life. So read on after the break for a few more thoughts on how the arts inform my life's work/project/ministry/whatever, that I've here called "restorative theology..."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Anabaptist bloggers unite!

Somehow my boss at EMU's Marketing department caught wind of this website - Anabaptist Blogs and Bloggers - currently hosted under the domain,, and invited the EMU-connected bloggers (such as Howard Zehr w/ his restorative justice blog) she was aware of to contact the site's curator, Jeff McLain.  So I did just that, and Jeff graciously listed this here blog over yonder. I haven't had time to check out the other blogs already listed there, but look forward to getting into some virtual community with fellow Anabaptists outside my current university bubble.

Jeff has undertaken some changes on the site that aren't fully implemented yet, but one change is switching the domain name to something else besides "MennoniteBlogs" to include other church traditions who fall under the Anabaptist influence. I applaud this move on his part, because I have seen at times Mennonites making the logical move that "Mennonite = Anabaptist," which for me, as a Church of the Brethren minister/scholar(-in-training), is problematic...and should be problematic for Mennonites, too. So thanks again, Jeff!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The bogey of the spiritual

In late 2005, a few months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast of the United States, five people from my church in Iowa, including myself, drove the church van down to Thibodaux, Louisiana, to do relief work through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Thibodaux had largely been spared from the devastation of the hurricanes but was near areas that had been severely hit, the bayou country to the south and New Orleans to the east. We worked for a week in a warehouse that received truckloads of donated goods coming from all across North America. Aid was then either shipped out to nearby areas or, in a few cases, representatives for communities in need could come and pick up supplies themselves. It was in this way that I heard the story of Tony and his wife, Linda.

Tony was 100% French Cajun and came on behalf of an Assemblies of God congregation deep in the bayou country. For Tony, the ordeal of not only surviving the hurricanes but also seeking to provide leadership and assistance for his faith community was an outright spiritual battle on the field of lived experience. Even driving up to Thibodaux that day, Tony and Linda were dodging the slings and arrows of the Devil. Sharing with us an experience that nearly ended their trip to pick up aid, Tony said, “It was a close call, but I rebuked the Devil, said, 'Devil, you ain't gonna stop me from God's work!'”

This experience marks for me an important turning in my own faith, from one that attempts to rationalize and demythologize all such experiences as Tony related to one that takes such experiences seriously, and on the grounds of a biblical Christian theology that is neither na├»ve nor uneducated, as many (including myself) have been tempted or conditioned to believe. The topic of this paper is “spiritual warfare” and the frame is my position on said topic. At this early point in this short reflection on such a huge topic, my position can best be described metaphorically as standing on shifting sand. I locate in my own understanding a shift through time on a topic that is not only interesting to me (for indeed, it is) but holds the potential to profoundly alter the meaning of not only my own faith but also my conception of reality itself. In other words: These are not children's toys I'm playing with. Read on after the break to see how I'm attempting to deal with these questions...