Friday, May 27, 2011

Earthy discipleship and peacebuilding in Jeremiah

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
Photo by snowmentality (via Flickr)
Today ended a three-week intensive class at seminary, studying the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament. It's great to have those classes where the primary textbook is the Bible, which doesn't happen as often as some might think at a seminary. For one of my papers, I chose the topic of "to pluck up and to pull down, to build and to plant," which is a theme that is established in the very first chapter and runs throughout Jeremiah, giving it somewhat of an organizing principle.

In the paper, I do a literary and narrative-theological analysis of that theme with special attention paid to historical and sociopolitical events that drive the narrative forward in Jeremiah. In an academic paper, you have to do all the hard and boring work first before you get to say the interesting and relevant stuff at the end. Since this is a blog, I'll skip most of the boring stuff and say up front why I think this theme and Jeremiah in general is an excellent source of inspiration for faithful Christian peacebuilding. If you really want to see the academic treatment, the paper will be embedded at the end. If you read both, you will see me repeating myself, because I'm lifting material from the paper for the post...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Surveying the energy and movement of Anabaptism

From Eastern Mennonite University: Seminary, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802-2404, USA
Crackling with energy! Photo by Kristie Wells
In the fall of 2009, I had the pleasure to sit in a conference room on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University with a handful of Mennonite academics and pastors. The topic picked by the group of young church leaders organizing this event was audacious: "The Future of Anabaptism." The energy harnessed from this group eventually led to the formation of the Anabaptist Missional Project (AMP), in which two of my good friends from seminary are involved. I've been a Brethren fly on the wall to this group and they've been fun to interact with. AMP is "a network of emerging leaders who love Jesus, care about the church, and seek to be part of God’s mission in the world," purposing to "promote a constructive vision for church renewal, convene to fellowship and grow as emerging leaders, and network to create concrete initiatives for engaging our world missionally."

Early in my second year of seminary, I was just then getting into circles where people were talking openly and excitedly about what it means to be an Anabaptist Christian and what spiritual renewal in the church might look like in light of present global realities facing the church, Anabaptist or otherwise. I didn't know then that this excitement would sweep me up in the movement...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A glimpse (or two) at the paperwork

From Eastern Mennonite University: Seminary, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802-2404, USA
Photo by Colin Harris
Excited as I've been from the beginning about this upcoming trip to Ethiopia to teach, I've also been overwhelmed by the sheer administrative behemoth it's become. Trying to identify and satisfy all the various requirements to all the various parties is daunting. Passports, plane tickets, immunizations, syllabi, finding supervisors and advisors, and on, and on, and on...

While my last post offered a theological back-story to how this trip came to be, this post will contain an only slightly edited version of an important piece of paperwork: My practicum proposal, turned into my practicum advisor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), pending approval by the practicum committee. It may seem strange that I'm only just now submitting this proposal, even though real work for the practicum began ten months ago. Such is the nature of administrative paperwork at times. I've been grateful that this exciting, dynamic idea for a practicum was given this long to be wild and free before having to be codified in a boring ol' proposal. But even this administrative exercise was a good one to conduct, as it's offered some much-needed critical reflection on just how I'm going to pull off this endeavor.

I realize the problems with copy/pasting material from a particular medium (a proposal document) for a particular audience (professors) in a particular community (a graduate program) to another set altogether, namely a blog to a whole bunch of not-graduate program people on the web. So I've tried to edit where possible while still keeping it identifiably proposal-like, to give a taste for the administrative side of this awesome, exciting, project coming up in Ethiopia...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Silver scrolls of the Priestly Benediction

From Eastern Mennonite University: Seminary, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802-2404, USA
Here's a quick presentation I threw together for a May term class on the book of Jeremiah at EMS. It talks about a fairly recent (1979) archaeological discovery in burial tombs in the valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem. Amidst bones and shattered pottery in the tomb's repository were found two small silver amulets, rolled up like scrolls. Inscribed on each, nearly word for word, is what is known as the Priestly Benedition, found in the Psalms but also in Numbers 6:24-26, which you'll find on slide one of the presentation:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The inaugural Ethiopia post

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
It seems strange to me that I'm just now posting this on the blog. Many who know me personally will have already heard a variation of this story, but it seems right to get some record of it on here. But for those who haven't heard yet, here's what I'm talking about...

All the way back in my first semester at EMU, in the fall of 2008, one of my fellow students at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding planted a seed in my imagination: Go to Ethiopia and be a teacher for the Church. At first it was a suggestion but by the time my friend, Solomon - who hails from the capital of Addis Ababa, graduated last spring it had become an insistent proclamation. You will go to Ethiopia and be a teacher for the church. In fact, this is how he introduced me to some of his family who had come to Virginia to celebrate his graduation. I'll always remember his mother's response, a matter-of-fact nod, saying "Yes, you will come to Ethiopia."

So last summer when one of my CJP professors taught a course at Meserete Kristos College in Debre Zeit, 40 minutes from Addis, I asked him to check into the possibility of my teaching a class there to fulfill my practicum requirement for my MA program. Within three weeks, at the end of August, my name was on the schedule for the following summer's rainy season semester, teaching "Intro to Conflict Transformation." So just a few weeks from now, my family and I will be on our way to Ethiopia for a month-long adventure in a totally new context for us all. The rest of this post is a bit on the back-story of how this exciting adventure came to be...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Anabaptist party-poopers, sports, shopping, and the military

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Who's laughing now, Evil Bert?
Last night when the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I was happily asleep. My wife was upstairs working late and so heard the news. When she came down to get ready for bed, she turned the lights on, nudged me, and asked, "Are you going to get up and watch the president's speech?" I groaned quizzically. "Bin Laden's dead," she answered. I pondered this in my half-consciousness. "How do they know?" I groaned, probably incoherently, rolling away from the light and falling back asleep before I could hear her answer.

But I woke this morning remembering what she had told me. We had to pull off a one-car-family maneuver this morning, so I found myself sitting in our car in the parking lot of the city high school where my wife works, waiting for her to come back out to so we could complete the logistical gymnastics with the car. In those intervening thirty minutes, I was curious to hear the news but nervous that it would just make me ill. My reading material was the Bible, so I first made a good faith effort at reading some 1 Samuel, as part of my march through the Old Testament. The chapters I read this morning had to do with Israel desiring a king, the prophet/judge Samuel grumbling about it, God telling him "fine, go ahead with it," and Saul's being anointed and confirmed as Israel's first non-God king. Not surprisingly, Saul goofs up right off the bat.

But my curiosity got the best of me after a few chapters. I closed the Bible and turned on NPR. That lasted for about five minutes and I had to turn it off. A journalist was interviewing a 19 year-old boy at Ground Zero about his "Where you were when bin Laden died" story. (Which is precisely the nature of this very post.) Anyway, this young man, who has lived more than half of his entire life in the post-9/11 shadow of fear cast as the face of Osama bin Laden, was openly emotional, voice wavering and even faltering when chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rose up in the background. People were described as literally swinging from light-posts near Ground Zero, celebrating the apparent victory in the U.S.'s so-called "war on terror." It was too much for me.