Monday, October 25, 2010

Dipping the toe to the jacuzzi that is Philosophy

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Come on in, the water is fiiiiine.
Over the course of this year, which has consisted of the end of my second year of grad school and now the beginning of the third, my theological studies led me ever-closer to the discipline of philosophy. Philosophical writing has never been far from any of my post-secondary education - whether in literature or theology - but I've never taken a formal philosophy class.

For the past few months, I've been following the writing of James K.A. Smith, who is a philosopher by trade, teaching the discipline at Calvin College. He is a self-described "theological philosopher," which basically means that he does his work in the academy making no bones that the Christian faith (in)forms his craft. The reason I've been following Smith so closely has a lot to do with the fact that he's an amazing blogger. Some of his blog posts have been seeds for essays that eventually get published in book form. So he's a line-blurrer in that regard: I don't see any of the other scholars I'm paying attention to doing their work in this way (which by virtue of this blog is obviously a way I love to work). Further, Smith's public blogging does a great job of translating the highly technical "shop talk" of philosophy into something that makes sense to someone like me. He's a fantastic Christian thinker and writer who knows his various audiences well, and speaks to them each appropriately.

So read on after the break for some quick musings on my (mis)adventures with the discipline of philosophy and how James Smith has helped me inch along...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Recovering the Love Feast

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
The seminary careers of Paul Stutzman and myself overlapped for one year at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He was finishing up his last year of an MAR degree while I was starting my dual degree project at the seminary and Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. So now two years later, his master's thesis work has been picked up and published by Wipf and Stock, and it has profound relevance for Brethren!  Check it out...

Recovering the Love Feast: Broadening Our Eucharistic Celebrations
by Paul Fike Stutzman

The foreword is by Eleanor Kreider, who has done considerable work on worship practices at the London Mennonite Center and is now - with her husband, Alan - at the "other" (to me, I say that lovingly) Mennonite seminary, AMBS. The endorsements include a word from Bethany president, Ruthann Knechel Johansen; Brethren sociologist, Carl Bowman; and Brethren historian (and my mentor and former pastor), Jeff Bach!

Paul said it should be available directly off the Wipf and Stock website linked above, and on Amazon within a few weeks. Definitely on my list...

[Note: Cross-posted on the FWFS blog.]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Avett Brothers' narrative doctrine of Love (and Hate)

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
While in sunny Florida this past spring, my friend and I - together with our wives and together without our children - crashed a small hotel room on the beach for three days. We were in town for a wedding, so the clothes strewn around the room were a mix of sand-filled swimming apparel, suit jackets, and dresses. Flip-flops and dress shoes, sunblock and makeup. Late one night, we sat down to share with each other the music that had been tripping our respective triggers in the two years since we'd moved away from each other.

One of the bands my friend introduced me to was The Avett Brothers. They ended up being a sleeper hit for me. The songs he showed me didn't really fit the celebratory mood of weddings and beaches of the moment, but into my collection they went (not them, personally, rather their latest album, I and Love and You). There they waited. Well, this past summer their moment came, and into my heart they walked.

The past two summers have been rough for me. The rigor of graduate academic work has remained, but without the structure of the academic year. These experiences have patterned a physical response of guttural despair at the words..."independent study." Juggling that work with trying to help support the family and be a good husband and father produced some stressful, maybe even depressing, moments. In one such moment, I found myself driving up to Winchester, VA to meet with a professor. The song "Ten Thousand Words" came on and spoke to me at a level a song hadn't done for years. I must have listened to that two or three times on the way up the interstate, tears welling up from the sorry bottoms of my feet.

The rest of my family has also fallen under the Avetts' sway since then. So this past weekend, all three of us drove down to Charlottesville and saw them perform live in an outdoor venue on a beautiful fall night. During the show, Seth Avett performed a song by himself that I hadn't heard before: "The Ballad of Love and Hate," off the Emotionalism album. Here's a very good quality video of the same song performed in 2008 (It's worth switching the vid to HD and going full-screen for this one)...

Now, there are a ton of Avett Brothers songs that are just ripe for theological dialogue. In fact, I've wanted to make this post for months and had a few songs from I and Love and You in mind before hearing "Ballad..." at the show. So in the remainder of this post, I will put the lyrics out for your consideration and then do some theological dialogue with this beautiful song's doctrine (teaching) of Love and, conversely, Hate. A hint at my conclusion: It's very biblical teaching. (I don't want to load that conclusion of mine up on the Avetts; I have no idea what their faith convictions are, and I intentionally didn't go trolling around the web to try and find out, either.) So read on for more!

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Dunker's love for Reformed theology

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Brethren scholar, Dale Stoffer, has noted the Reformed influences on the early Schwarzenau Brethren - especially Alexander Mack - that have often been overlooked in Brethren scholarship (focusing primarily on Anabaptism and Radical Pietism). This Reformed dimension to my own tradition as a Dunker perhaps explains a bit of my warm regard for some aspects of Calvin's theology and the Reformed tradition more broadly. (I also have Dutch Reformed culture in my family and home community, to further muddy the waters.)

So despite having some pretty fundamental disagreements with "flaming Calvinist" pastor/author/theologian, John Piper, I do hold a tremendous amount of respect for the man, have followed his online musings for a number of years (until he went on sabbatical this year), and found many moments of devotional and theological resonance with his writing.

More recently I've been turned on to the self-described "Reformed Pentecostal" philosophical-theologian, James K.A. Smith, whose new popular-audience book, Letters to a Young Calvinist, was just released by Brazos. Smith's range as an author is staggering. I've read a bit of his scholars-only philosophical writing alongside his more popular writings, and regularly follow his blog...and it's all great. He's very clear and effective in articulating his thought to various audiences. It would be interesting to see some folks in my home community in rural Iowa, the Dutch Reformed and Brethren especially, take up this book (perhaps along w/ Stuart Murray's, The Naked Anabaptist) and see what percolates. I'd love to read both of these books myself, but the chances of that happening are pretty slim. So I commend them to the blogosphere...

(Via: Fors Clavigera.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

One Step Closer to Awesome!

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Music is a topic that I haven't written much about on this blog, and that's too bad. It has been seated deep within my being for the whole length of my life. My eyes see the lyrical nature of the world before me. It is mostly through my ears, by hearing stories told in spoken and sung word, that I'm often penetrated to the very core. Music sends my spirit soaring and music evokes my darkest moments, when tears are the only thing left.

And sojourning with me for more than half my life has been the band, U2. I can picture clearly the first few times I heard The Joshua Tree around the age of 11 or 12, sitting on my brother's waterbed, wearing huge headphones plugged into his new CD player (the first in our house), listening to the ethereal and bowel-shaking organ that opens "Where the Streets Have No Name," followed by the Edge's angelic guitar riff that opens into a sprint toward paradise. Indeed, since that time I've consistently felt that in that song, "Yes. This is what heaven sounds like."

Simple put: I LOVE U2. A lot. The remainder of this post therefore feels like I'm selling them short, as it will be intended to fulfill class requirements to extract five "golden nuggets" from an assigned book: One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God by Christian Scharen, a Lutheran pastor and scholar (and huge U2 fan). But I've spent years with this band and will spend many years more, so perhaps I can come back to them in another way down the road.

A lot of the books I've been talking about lately have been intended for seminary nerds, but this was a refreshing change of pace. It's intended for a broad audience, both in and out of the Church. So read on for a few tidbits from this very cool book about theology through the life and music of a very cool band...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Deus ex Matrix: Embodied Knowing and Love

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
(or: Toward a "Balls to Bones" Christian witness.)

When I first saw The Matrix just over a decade ago, it seemed like a movie that was made especially with my interests in mind. I was (still am) a life-long techno-nerd: The first kid in my class with a computer at home (Commordore64!), the first kid to get online, an avid reader of sci-fi novels and comic books of all sorts. When the movie was released in 1999, I was 20 years old and just finishing up an associate's degree in computer information systems. I worked for a software company. My buddy and I hung out until all hours playing video games and writing computer code, dreaming of becoming game developers. I had a problem with authority. So as I watched in early scenes of the movie, as Thomas Anderson/Neo slept with his head on his computer keyboard, or got chewed out by his boss for being late to work the next morning, I felt a deep sense of connection to his character. And when the final credits rolled before my eyes for the first time, as Rage Against the Machine's “Wake Up/Rock is Dead” blared, I could only echo Neo's words upon seeing Morpheus jump a chasmic gap between two skyscrapers (I realize this is cheesy): “Whoa.” This movie stuck a chord, the same year that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace struck out in the eyes of this (and many another) life-long Star Wars fan.

Four years passed before the final two installments of The Matrix trilogy were released. Like the Star Wars prequels, I was nonplussed. A brooding, cerebral story seemed to have been replaced by a fetish for over-the-top CGI action, horrendous “love scenes,” ridiculous philosophical conversations, and an overly complicated storyline with too many characters. The first movie was tight, sparse, and full of breathing mystery. The final two shot everything they had all over every scene, nothing left to subtlety. Disappointed, my DVD copy of the original has sat in my dwindling collection for the better part of a decade, collecting dust. Until out of necessity, this project gave it another lease on life to me.

In this post, I will offer reflections on what I'll call “The Doctrine of the Matrix” and then will put the movie into dialogue with Christian theology. After re-engaging with this movie, I've discovered that 1) I still love it, and 2) it has some very interesting biblical imagery/references alongside what I observe as a philosophical tension between knowing and being, or epistemology and ontology. With this latter tension, there may be some surprising parallels to Anabaptist or post-Christendom ways of knowing/being in the Christian faith. So read on for more Deus ex Matrix...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Blogging about blogging

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
"Art and transformation!" -Ryan B.
Last fall, this blog - Restorative Theology - was born. It came into the world in the context of a class called Research as Art and Transformation, taught by Howard Zehr and Paulette Moore at Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, where I'm working on an MA in Conflict Transformation. Well, Paulette has asked me to come back to the class this year and talk about the RT blog and how I used it for my research project last year. I'll be going into their class this afternoon to do just that for about 45 minutes. To get ready for that, she sent me a list of questions which I typed up bullet-style responses to, but then thought it would be fun to put the questions and answers about the blog here on the blog itself.

This post isn't about the content of the research project itself (For that, see all other posts related to this class: PAX 524). Rather it's about the question, "Why a blog?," since blogs were just one media/platform option for doing research in this class. So read on to get a feel for the how's and why's about the project that helped give birth to this here blog...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Neo-Anabaptist Constantinianism?

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
John Fea, associate professor of American history at Messiah College, offers up this interesting post in response to a tirade against neo-Anabaptists and their supposed takeover of America:

Do Neo-Anabaptists Want to Take Over America?

The tirade goes after fellow Christians, scholars whose work I respect a great deal, namely John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and Greg Boyd (also having a pretty good appreciation for Shane Claiborne). Fea offers up a comment on the historical tendency of Anabaptists toward anti-intellectualism, something I work with in the comment I posted. So head over to his blog and check out the interesting conversation...

Monday, October 4, 2010

A pastiche tribute to Art Gish

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Photo credit: Sahal Abdulle
On that day this past July when Art Gish was tragically killed on his farm in Ohio, I was on another farm a few states away in Iowa, reclining on a porch swing at my in-law's reading Gish's 1972 book, Beyond the Rat Race. It was my first substantive engagement with Gish's writing, and that it was being done on the day he died was sobering and sad. Those two concurrent realities will forever be fused in my mind.

In the ensuing months I've been thinking of a way to honor Gish's life, which I see as deeply resonant with traditional Brethren attempts at living "the simple life" as disciples of Jesus Christ. Art and Peggy Gish have let their lives narrate their faith and theology. In this post, which will be somewhat lengthy and mishmashy, I'll do a few different things that attempt to honor this legacy.  First will be a video that I had nothing to do with, but stands as a great snapshot of Art and Peggy from earlier this year, just months before Art's death. Second, I will do a Gish-inspired social/technological critique of the digital age, which I wrote as part of my Brethren studies over the summer (the occasion for reading Gish's book).

Here's a little Gumm family connection to Gish before I get going: My paternal grandfather and Art were both at the Brethren seminary in the late 60s. One of my dad's little brothers thought Art was Jesus, as he was often seen walking around Bethany's campus with long hair, a beard, and sandals. Finally, as my wife and I have recently been dreaming about what we want to be when we grow up (or at least graduate), the witness of Art and Peggy has had an impact on me. I've recently been thinking that I'd like to be a farmer/peacebuilder/theologian when I grow up.

So read on as I add my little voice to the many who have lamented Art's passing and how Gish's ongoing witness may be relevant to the digital age we find ourselves in...