Monday, February 28, 2011

Bonhoeffer the assassin?

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
The face of an assassin?
Check out my theology prof, Mark Thiessen Nation, who has been hard at work with a few colleagues, debunking the myth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's involvement in the plots to assassinate Hitler in WWII.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging a Myth, Recovering Costly Grace by Mark Thiessen Nation

  • contrary to the prevailing assumptions, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not arrested, imprisoned or executed because of involvement in plots to kill Hitler
  • it is more accurate to say that he was arrested, imprisoned and executed because of the grace-filled, costly discipleship about which he wrote and which he consistently lived from 1932 to his death on April 9, 1945

Attendance at this university lecture last Wednesday was high, and the response has been pretty positive. I've heard and read Mark's thoughts on this in a few different places so it wasn't all news to me, but it's certainly worth listening to if you're interested in Christian pacifism, theology, and history.  Sadly, I didn't get to stick around for the whole thing, as I was running out the door to my grandfather's funeral proceedings in Iowa (at which I delivered a tweaked version of my last post, a eulogy for him).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In the dappled light of my grandfather

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
Grandpa Max
On Sunday afternoon I received the phone call from my dad in Iowa letting me know that his father, Max, had just passed away. My dad and most of his siblings were present at the bedside when grandpa drew his last breath. In the moments surrounding his passing they sang hymns and uttered prayers for Grandpa Max, for his life here and beyond. A thousand miles away I pictured the bedside scene and assured my father that it's a terribly beautiful thing to stand at the edges of life. To bear witness to our temporality. To give thanks for the startling gift that is life itself. And to bend our hope-filled imaginations toward that day when our sleeping bodies will rise, caught up in a light and a life which dances just beyond our reach.

Still a thousand miles away I continue to ponder my grandpa's life and my place in relation to it. Two weeks ago I wrote a short poem, "In light of the sun", inspired by the image of our cat, Rascal, basking entirely and sublimely in the sun's rays, "between the shifting of shadows." In that "silent singular shine," "there is warmth." And while house cats can largely inhabit that place of purity, radiance, and warmth, humans rarely experience such luxury.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Diagnosing Brethren's bad case of Modernityitis

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Achoo! Photo by anna gutermuth (CC lic.)
My favorite Brethren interlocutor/blogger, Joshua Brockway, has an excellent post up at his blog, Collationes (I still don't know how to pronounce that!). It offers a diagnosis of the fundamental problem that is driving many of the Church of the Brethren's more apparent/pressing issues: the problem of Modernity. As I mention in the comments, it's a very Hauerwasian critique which I largely affirm. So check it out!

by Joshua Brockway

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hinduism 101

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Suraya Sadeed
photo by Jon Styer
[Note: The fifth and final post in the "Religions 101" series comes from Suraya Sadeed, who wrote our post on Islam. All four of us had to read this is a chapter from Prothero's God Is Not One, so this summary is much shorter than the others. As a closing editorial note, I'm very grateful to my fellow classmates in my small group, for allowing me to make public our "insider-only" reflections on this book. Thanks!  -bg]

Hinduism started from Indus Valley as early as 2500 to 1500 B.C.E., a civilization that may have stretched from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea.    It is the third largest religion in the world with over 900 million followers.  Hindus practice  their religion in various forms, but they all believe in Brahman as the supreme force.  According to Hindu scriptures, humans are trapped in the cycle of endless death and reincarnation “samsara” and their ultimate goal is to liberate “moksha” themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Hindus believe that Shiva is the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of life and everything is a constant interaction between male and female, light and dark, and hot and cold. Hinduism is a way of life that includes family, politics, art, society, and health.  The practice of yoga (literally, "discipline") is a well-known aspect of Hinduism.

Hindus belief that karma (the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his/her thoughts, words and deeds) determines who that person is going to be in the next life.  Hindus are divided into four socioeconomic groups based on their occupations:  Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (nobles & warriors), Vaishyas (commoners) and Sudras (servants).   Veda (knowledge) is Hindus’ holy book.  There are four main denominations in Hinduism: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism.

Yoruba 101

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Daryl Snider
[Note: Our fourth post in the "Religions 101" series comes from Daryl Snider. Daryl has lived in both Haiti and Brazil, where he has seen Yoruba-influenced traditions first-hand. Of reading this chapter of Prothero's book, God Is Not One, Daryl said, "I wish I had read [this chapter] 20 years ago, before I went to Haiti!" While studying at the CJP, Daryl has been blogging at singbiosis, which explores "music in peacebuilding as an agent of healing, storytelling, awareness and reconciliation." Because Daryl is not an adherent to any Yoruba tradition, he does more direct quoting of Prothero in this post, and less freestyling as an insider. He was the adventurous one. :) -bg]

Prothero asked his students to invent their own religions. One, called "Consectationism," has at its goal "to find and follow your own purpose, or 'Lex.' And its ethic is simplicity personified: pursue your own Lex, and don't hinder anyone else from pursuing theirs." This is "surprisingly close the heart of the religion of the Yoruba people," in which each of us has forgotten our destiny.

[Read on for more of Daryl's summarization of Prothero's chapter on Yoruba...]

Judaism 101

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Barbie Fischer
[Note: Part three of our series - "Religions 101" - comes from Barbie Fischer. In addition to being in my small group for class, Barbie is the Development Coordinator for Global Impact, an NGO whose mission is "to assure help for the world’s most vulnerable people." Barbie is a Jewish Christian, which means she has ethnic and religious Jewish heritage in her family but is now a practicing Christian. Her Christian tradition stems from the Stone-Campbell/Restorationist movement of the 19th century. As I've stated in previous posts, this series is based on our group reading Stephen Prothero's God In Not One for class. -bg]

Story and Law
Judaism is a narrative religion focused a lot on memory. However, Judaism is not just story, but story and law. “Those who forget the law eventually forget to tell the story.” “To be a Jew is to tell and retell a story and to wrestle with its key symbols: the character of God, the people of Israel, and the vexed relationship between the two. It is a story of slavery and freedom, of exile and return.

Jews do function as an ethnicity of sorts bound together not so much by shared beliefs as by a shared community. Not all Jews believe in God as some claim Judaism merely by birth right, while others it is both by birth and belief in God, and a commitment to studying the Torah.

[Read on after the break for more on Judaism from Barbie...]

Islam 101

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Suraya Sadeed
photo by Jon Styer
[Note: This second post in a "Religions 101" series appears courtesy of my gracious classmate, Suraya Sadeed, founder and executive director of Help the Afghan Children (HTAC). Suraya is an Afghan-American currently studying with me at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Read more about her work from the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of Peacebuilder Magazine: Building Schools: Spreading Hope to 120,000 Afghan Children. This series of posts is inspired by our collective reading of Stephen Prothero's book, God Is Not One, so you'll find references to this sprinkled throughout. -bg]

Islam was founded by Prophet Mohammad in Arabia around AD 610.  Islam means submission to God “Allah” in Arabic.  It is a strictly monotheistic religion and the sacred scripture of Islam is the Quran (recitation).  The religious obligations of all Muslims are summed up in the Five Pillars of Islam.  The center pillar is called “Shahadah” (to believe without suspicion):  “I testify that there is no god but God, and Mohammad is the Messenger of God." Other four pillars of Islam include:
  • Praying five times a day,
  • Fasting for one month (Ramadan –the ninth month of the lunar calendar, observed by Muslims)
  • Giving at least 2.5% of their wealth to the poor
  • And, once in a lifetime, going on pilgrimage “Al-Hajj” to Mecca, the holiest city of Muslims, with the exception of poverty or physical incapacity.
[Read on after the break for more on Islam from my friend, Suraya...]

Christianity 101

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
For a class assignment done in small groups, I've recently been reading bits and pieces of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World - and Why Their Differences Matter by Stephen Prothero, a religious studies professor at Boston University. The book has a long title, but the subtitle is important. It's a clue as to why I actually like this book.  Prothero, a former Christian, does a fine job of synthesizing broad theological topics and history in his accounting of Christianity, past and present. I was skeptical going into this book, but after reading his approach in the introduction and then this chapter on Christianity, Prothero is definitely somebody I could hang with. He has shaken off the myths of the Enlightenment with its fool’s quest for unbiased objectivity and rational knowing, opting instead to get into the languages and thought worlds of ancient and ever-shifting religions. Here's my favorite quote from the introduction:
"The Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century popularized the ideal of religious tolerance, and we are doubtless better for it. But the idea of religious unity is wishful thinking nonetheless, and it has not made the world a safer place. In fact, this naive theological groupthink - call it Godthink - has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clashes of religions that threaten us worldwide... The ideal of religious tolerance has morphed into the straightjacket of religious agreement." (3-4)
The assignment has been interesting because in my small group for this class there are two North American men, one of whom is an Anabaptist-derived Christian (me), one North American, Jewish Christian woman from a Stone-Campbell/Restorationist background, and an Afghan-American woman. Very interesting conversations cropping up around our reading of this book and thankfully we're taking Prothero's lead and actually paying attention to the differences. So read on after the break for my quick review of Prothero's account of Christianity and a few distillations of what makes the Christian faith tick.

[Note: Part one of a "Religions 101" series. Also, check out reflections on the book by my classmate, Nathan: God Is Not One??]

Friday, February 11, 2011

Christian pacifism in the 21st century

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Lisa with the late Glen Lapp, in Afghanistan
Lisa Schirch's name has come up before on this blog. She was one of the first professors I studied with upon coming to Eastern Mennonite University over two and a half years ago. Recently having "retired" from her faculty position at EMU, Lisa is now focusing most of her energy on being the director of the 3D Security Initiative, which, according to its website, "(promotes) conflict prevention and peacebuilding investments and strategies in U.S. policymaking." Lisa is a Mennonite, Christian pacifist, yet her work often takes her into the halls of power in Washington, D.C. - where 3D's office is based - and also gets her audience with the military. For the past few years, she's been making trips to Afghanistan to teach peacebuilding and work with local and national issues on the ground there.

For this work and the convictions which fuel it, Lisa is often criticized from all angles. From within her own tradition, fellow Mennonites blast her for working with the military. Anabaptist theologians get nervous that she's not "theological enough" in her peacebuilding work. From fellow Americans outside the Mennonite tradition, she is criticized for her "irresponsible" pacifism, enjoying the freedoms that the State has fought/still fights so hard to secure and maintain. Check out this wonderful confessional and challenging piece that Lisa recently had published, and then read on after the link for some further reflections:
Confessions of a modern day pacifist: What should pacifism look like today?
by Lisa Schirch, in The Mennonite

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In light of the sun

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
The Rascal in repose
In the space between the shifting of shadows, there is warmth. And he is there with it. Within it. Yes, bathing in it.

The daily rhythms of silent movement while we're away. Yet he is there dancing silently with them. Swaying. Dreaming.

What can we learn from the Rascal cat in his slumber? Are we no less absorbed in the radiance of our suns? Hovering around our constellations?

In the silent singular shine, fur glistens. Muscles twitch. Sighs from the deep eek effortlessly out. Releasing. Renewing. The sun sets, after all, and the Rascal cat reanimates.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's the Journey, not the Presentation

From Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Art by John Howe
At 1:30 this morning, somewhere between Scherr and Greenland, West Virginia, I was beginning to feel lost. Suddenly, something towering and monolithic caught my eye as we pulled out of a patch of forest on the unpaved county road we'd stumbled onto. I stopped dead in my tracks - not worried about traffic at this hour, especially here - and looked up through the windshield. My groggy eyes traced the line up two thick concrete pillars, soaring like the legs of the colossus at Rhodes, or Frodo gazing upon Argonath for the first time. A chill ran down my spine. "What are those?!" I nervously asked my co-worker, Lora. In the back seat, two of our fellow travelers snoozed. We were in the middle of nowhere, miles from any major roads, and yet here was an unfinished four-lane highway overpass towering above us in the darkness. "What are they doing here?!" We drove on.

After having twisted our way through state and county roads in the puzzle-like corners of western Maryland and northern West Virginia, we had recently taken a turn off even those obscure - yet still at least paved - roads. We weren't quite sure when we had lost the trail from our Google Maps directions and were without a GPS device. Our snoozing companions in the back were blissfully oblivious to our situation. I felt level-headed yet was still tired because of the hour and the length of time I'd been driving. Plus I was running on fumes from the coffee that I'd picked up in Ohio, but which had run out a few hours back near Pittsburgh.

Eventually, we found our way back onto a highway whose number we recognized and whose direction was taking us toward home: south and east. So at 3:30 this morning Lora dropped me off at home, where I stumbled in, hastily tossed my things aside, clumsily got undressed, and quickly fell asleep. Our little adventure in West Virginia in the wee hours of the morning served as a great lesson for the  trip which had us out on those holler roads in the first place...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Gospel lens on pro-democracy protests in/for Egypt

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Photo by Collin David Anderson, under CC license
The world has been watching Egypt over the past week, rapt with the overwhelming waves of protest against the government of Hosni Mubarak. This wave of protests was partly inspired by similar protests in Tunisia, and further protests have risen up around North Africa and the Middle East. Sympathetic protests have also cropped across the US, such as the one seen here in Washington, D.C., a few days ago.

These happenings have even touched our little Mennonite seminary community. This morning in chapel worship we gave thanks for the safe departure of our New Testament and Greek professor, Dorothy Jean Weaver, who had been in Cairo when the protests broke out, and we had been monitoring the periodic e-mail updates from our dean, describing the trials that had to be overcome in order for her to leave Egypt. She now waits in Istanbul, pondering her next move.

The protests around the region were in part organized on digital social media such as Facebook and Twitter. In Egypt, the government responded by shutting telecommunications networks down. (I wrote a bit on this phenomenon last December.) In my own digital social network, I have quite a few friends whom I would (lovingly and playfully) describe as "peaceniks," who are watching this uprising with unadulterated glee at the power of the people to rise up. Others, such as my peacebuilding professor, Lisa Schirch, are rightly critiquing the U.S. motivations in this and other foreign policy issues.

So in what remains after the break, I'll take a statement from Jesus and use it as a lens on matters of democracy, revolution, and social change...