Friday, July 30, 2010

Pass the Pepper, Please

From Vining, IA, USA
Here's a piece I wrote up in my diary this past Tuesday after hanging out with my wife's granddad who's 83. He's not been in the best of health for a while and I wanted to have some quality time with him before we head back to Virginia (we've been in Iowa the past week). We went to his favorite hangout, played cards and drank coffee for a few hours. It was amazing. Read on after the break for my impressions...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Provisos to Why I'm [Still] Brethren

From Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Back in May, during a wonderful 3-week biblical book study course on Isaiah, I was approached (in the 2nd floor seminary men's bathroom, at the sinks if memory serves) by my friend Jeremy, who had just walked at the seminary graduation and was finishing up his last course in the MDiv program. He was working with Laura, on staff at EMS, on starting a new blog edited and published by the seminary, targeted at young adults in the church trying to make sense of the crazy world around us and the crazy stuff going on within the church itself, hopefully contributing thoughts and reflections to equip and nurture faith and discipleship. Knowing my interest in the web and writing, he graciously asked if I would contribute a 500-word essay on the question of "Why I'm still Brethren," with a due date of July 1. I gladly accepted. Well the new blog is now live.  It's called Work and Hope (subtitled: "finding Christ in the church"), and here is my answer to the question:
Why I’m [Still] Brethren – Love
First, let me say something rather unremarkable: I’m Brethren because I was born that way. My parents, my congregation and its pastors, and church camp and youth leaders all did a marvelous job of not running me out of the church. In fact, it was at times me that was running out of the church, and everyone else working together to lovingly keep me in. So as I begin to answer the question of “Why I’m Still Brethren,” it starts with that life-long relationship with followers of Jesus Christ who have called themselves “Brethren.” From that faith community, I also heard from a young age that the church needed me and was eventually called by them into the ministry. So formed the first 28 years of my life…
[read on for the rest...]

Well, it turns out that 500 words is a very brief space indeed to answer such a weighty question! I'd like to pick out a few statements that I had to pack a whole lot of weight into but wasn't able to contextualize in the original piece. Read on after the break for a few more reflections...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Iroquois rights and liturgical re-imagination

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
This is a shout-out post to two sister blogs, Story Doula and Traveling at the Speed of Bike. The former is authored by Paulette Moore, who co-taught my arts-based research class last fall with Howard Zehr. She's a filmmaker and is also doing some teaching in the undergraduate program at Eastern Mennonite U.

The Iroquois Lacrosse Team and Why I Hold Back on Reclaiming My Mohawk Rights - I won't explain her post here, read it for yourself (plus the title is pretty self-explanatory), but it woke again thoughts and experiences within myself in relation to the power and legitimacy of the secular, liberal-democratic nation state (of which the U.S. is an example). So I made a few comments on that there post. She also mentions working with Robb Davis in exploring her personal/family narrative. It just so happens Robb is the author of the second blog mentioned above...

Liturgies of Autonomy/Liturgies of Dependency (Liturgies of “the Street”) - Robb caught my attention right off the bat by mentioning postmodern Christian philosopher, James K.A. Smith, who I just discovered this week and whose work I'm now officially totally jazzed to read. I've already dug into a few of his reflections on the collaborative blog, The Church and Postmodern Culture: Conversation. Robb goes on to reflect on Smith's writing on liturgy as "rituals of ultimate concern" and how they may be contextualized to work in his own community. So I threw in a few comments on that post, too.

It's been a productive day for blogging, because I also posted this piece over at Feetwashing and Foursquare, based on some of my Brethren studies today: Ethnic diversity predictions for Brethren from 20 years ago.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

So two Dunkers walk into an Episcopal church...

From Winchester, VA, USA
...and the elder brother says to his student, "Now you see the things our people left behind." Here's something to help set the atmosphere...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Three Brethren and a beautiful creative tension

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
For the past few weeks and continuing on through the rest of the summer, I've been working with a Brethren scholar up at Elizabethtown College. The title of this study is: "Brethren Beliefs and Practices." It is best described as an historical theology course. (I would argue that all theology is historical, but...) One thing I've grown to appreciate about Brethren is their ability to sit in creative tension within their Christian faith. Listen to the balancing act Alexander Mack, the first leader of the Schwarzenau Brethren, is doing:
That which the Holy Spirit ordained for the faithful was written outwardly. All believers are united in it, for the Holy Spirit teaches them inwardly just as the Scriptures teach them outwardly... Therefore, when a believing person whose inner ears are opened reads the Holy Scriptures outwardly, he will hear as the Lord Jesus intends his teaching to be understood. He hears that which the apostles want to express in their writings. He will also be impelled, through his inner hearing, to true obedience which makes him obey even in outward matters. Outwardly, he reads the Scriptures in faith and hears the inner word of life which gives him strength and power to follow Jesus.
Here's a guy in 18th century Germany that doesn't want to drift into stifling legalism (the danger of their nearby Mennonite friends) but simultaneously wanting to steer clear from willy nilly subjective spiritualism (the danger of their theological forebears, the Radical Pietists). Now here's Vernard Eller, a 20th century American Church of the Brethren scholar, weaving this together nicely:
The two emphases check and balance each other. When the Radical Pietist tendency would slide off into subjectivism, private inspiration, mysticism, enthusiasm, or vaporous spiritualism, it is pulled up short by the demand for concrete, outward obedience to an objective Scriptural norm. Conversely, when the Anabaptist tendency would slide off into formalism, legalism, biblical literalism, or works-righteousness, it is checked by the reminder that faith is essentially a work of God within the heart of the individual believer, an intensely personal relationship rather than a lega one. Thus, within Brethrenism, Anabaptist influences discipline Pietism at the same time that Pietist influences inspire Anabaptism.
All this I found in the work of a Brethren Church (different denomination, long story, don't ask) scholar, Dale Stoffer, in his excellent (but HIGHLY was his doctoral work, I think) Background and Development of Brethren Doctrine. I've started to dig deeper into my own tradition this year in my academic work, and I'm finding some real golden nuggets. This creative tension has always been implicit in my approach to the faith, so in that sense I'm Brethren inside and out. It's just fun to bring the implicit at least somewhat out into the open through historical and theological work.