Saturday, October 29, 2011

From quietism to the blogosphere

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Dirk Willems in the digital age?
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of conducting a break-out session at the 2011 Anabaptist Communicators Conference, which was hosted here at Eastern Mennonite University. The conference theme was "Anabaptism in a Visual Age" and my session was billed as follows...

From quietism to the blogosphere
Surveying Anabaptist online engagement
This session will survey the various forms of online discourse within contemporary Anabaptist traditions, particularly Mennonite and Church of the Brethren. Both scholarly and popular venues will be examined, with plenty of discussion time to explore the implications to traditional structures and processes for Anabaptist discourse.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sink deep roots

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
From: Building Peoplehood and Peace
My first encounter with sociologist Robert Bellah came just last week when I read this excellent interview with him: The Roots of Religion, conducted by the folks at Big Questions Online.  The ways in which he describes religion have to be some of the best I've heard from a secular social scientist.

Most appealing to me is that he describes religions as wholly embodied, story-driven traditions that take acts of imagination and practice to understand. In other words, religions aren't primarily sets of rational claims about "absolute truth." As Bellah states, "while understanding the theoretical achievements of the great traditions is important we will not really know what they are about unless we make the imaginative effort to see how the world might seem if we lived in the embodied practices and narratives of these traditions, a difficult but not impossible task." (Emphasis mine, read on for why...)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The stumbling journey onward

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
With two of my students in Ethiopia
Before coming to EMU three years ago for graduate studies, I could hardly imagine that someday soon I would sense God calling me to be a teacher. The development of this sense has oftentimes been painful, but just as often, it has been exhilarating. My call to the set-aside ministry in the church, which preceded our coming to Virginia, has always been strong, but the steps along the way and the direction it’s heading are often frustratingly elusive.

I suppose this is consistent with the experience of the beloved community in Scripture. The progenitors of it all, Abram & Sarai, were compelled by a god, Yahweh, that they did not yet know into a journey they could not fathom, into lands that God would show them. That Israel, Jesus its Messiah, and his Church should follow in that tradition is a testament to trust and faithfulness, particularly from God’s end of the covenant.

So after stumbling along as a first-time teacher to ministers in Ethiopia, I returned home marveling at the joy I experience while teaching. Encouragement to continue on is met with excitement and frustration as I continue to discern what shape this may take after graduation in the spring.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

To faithfully #Occupy

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
A theodoodle for occupation
During seminary chapel worship on Tuesday, we were given a time to be reflective and write. We were supposed to write about something different than what I ended up writing about, but whatever. So here are a few theological notes and questions in relationship to the Occupy movement.

The very word "occupy" is not neutral. Occupation can have quite an oppressive connotation. The New Mexico manifestation of the movement, for instance, chose to use a different word due to "occupy's" negative connotation to indigenous Native American groups. Indeed, for indigenous peoples to this land, occupation is 300+ years of living under imposed sociopolitical orders from Europeans. Is this land really, as the song says, "made for you and me?"

So a theologically better way understand "occupy" is perhaps "inhabit," as in "to live into." So the question then becomes inhabit what? Live into where? It's important for Christians to occupy - in this sense - the body of Christ. We are its members and we seek to be healthy in that regard, to faithfully occupy the body to which we belong, and to whom we belong. In another sense, we occupy the kingdom of God as it impinges upon this world, creating it anew, slowly, agonizingly on its way to fulfillment.

But in yet another sense, we are ourselves occupied. The body is the temple of God's Spirit, both individually and corporately. We are not our own and the good that is done through us is the work of God in us. And to the extent that we perpetuate sin in this world, we are occupied by something else not of God.

Finally, occupation in a faithful sense is always embodied in time and place, and always in community. It is therefore conflictual and contingent, but therein lies the opportunity for faithfulness to be made real and shine forth a glimpse of the occupation of shalom to come. This nonviolent occupation is far beyond protest, far beyond ressentiment that (rightly so, to a point) pervades the Occupy movement underway in the U.S.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Political correctness and humor on the Open Graph

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Satan from "Coffee With Jesus"
via Radio Free Babylon
Sometimes you look into the vast world created by the immanent frame and never know the frame itself there. This can last for years, a lifetime even. It's normal. Then...sometimes, the immanent frame winks back at you. And you feel very small.

This happened to me this morning on Facebook. I posted on my wall strip #118 of the webcomic, Coffee With Jesus, created by the strange and wonderful folks at Radio Free Babylon (RFB). The link I just provided is misleading, though, because I discovered the comic not through their website but through Facebook.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
In early June of this year, I had the pleasure of speaking about blogging to a later manifestation of the same class which helped birth this very blog, "Research as Art and Transformation," with Howard Zehr and Paulette Moore. This time around, the class was being held during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (shameless ad: I just finished the website today and registration for SPI 2012 is open!). SPI draws a significantly more diverse crowd from around the world than the already-widely diverse crowd in the masters program during the normal academic year. The students in this class were some serious artists, so it was a blast to talk about artsy stuff in relation to my theological blogging here.

One of the students, Delia, is a doodler. Her way of processing information in a classroom or in other settings is to listen and draw, listen and draw. She showed me her doodles from my session back in June, and I asked her if she would be willing to send me pictures of the doodles at some point. Well, she and I both forgot about it for a few months, but she just contacted me on Facebook and sent me the doodles and a link to her blog post about "blogoodling".

Beasts for the Kingdom: A prayer

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Beasts of burden, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
This morning for a final-year seminary class, my fellow seminarians and I were led through a time of guided retreat. In the seminary chapel there were set up four stations, each asking a different question. One about how we conduct our closest relationships, another about our public ministry, and yet another about how we take care of ourselves personally. The final question was this: Who am I and what do I do in my relationship with God?

On the page facing these questions in the handout was printed two Bible verses: Matthew 11:28-30 and Philippians 1:9-11. Here's some quick exegesis and a prayer which arose from my journaling this morning...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the social media wave of the Nobel Peace Prize

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Leymah Gbowee
Nobel Peace Prize winner &
CJP alumna
On Friday of last week, I had the most fun day at work ever. I had the fortune of being the web & social media nerd for the alma mater of a Nobel Peace Prize winner! Liberian nonviolent peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, was one of three women to win the 2011 prize. She is also a 2007 alumna of Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), where I have been studying and working for the past three years. Leymah has been back on campus a time or two since I arrived in 2008, and I even got to hang around behind the camera while one of my teacher-colleagues, Paulette Moore, filmed this short interview with Leymah about her time at EMU. She is truly an amazing person and commands a powerful presence when you're around her.

In my 10+ years as a professional web nerd, I've never been involved in anything that's "gone viral," until Friday. We weren't caught completely off-guard at CJP, as we'd been hearing rumors of Leymah's being considered for the prize for months. But that still didn't prepare for me for riding the social media tidal wave on Friday morning, when the winners were announced. It was the quickest 5.5 hours of my professional life, keeping track of the activity on Facebook and Twitter, watching with amazement when at one point on Friday morning, "Leymah Gbowee" was one of the top-trending phrases in the U.S. on Twitter. When the digital dust settled by Monday morning and I checked stats, I saw that the EMU website as a whole doubled its traffic on Friday alone, not to mention the thousands of "likes" on the EMU News article which announced her winning.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Restorative theology" as a toddling two year-old

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Appropriate image by gfpeck via Flickr.
Happy belated second birthday to this here blog, Restorative Theology, which saw its first post published on Saturday, October 3, 2009!

The reasons I gave in that first post for naming the blog as such still seem right, and in some ways have deepened through further study, blogging, and ministry experience. Yes, "restorative theology" does seem to name well the things that I'm about as a minister in the church. "Theological peacebuilding" is also a term I've entered into some of my reflections, and while it does seem a bit more active and nuanced, it just doesn't have the same ring.

In the last section of that first post, I named the immediate impulse for creating the blog, which was conducting a research project for a class at EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. That project went wonderfully but my longer-term goals for the blog saw it as a place for "honing the craft of theological writing" as well as further exploring theology and ethics. This has certainly been the place for that, although it seems safe to say that many of my reflections over the past year have taken on the tone of a certain corner of the theological academy called "political theology." Sometimes things I write on the blog end up being the testing ground for cross-posts on other blogs (Work and Hope, Mennonite Weekly Review), or work their way into my academic papers. This blog even helped me land my first writing gig for a scholarly journal, a book review which will come out next year in the Conrad Grebel Review.

So happy second birthday, Restorative Theology! Thanks to the small group of readers who comment, send me e-mails, or stop me in the halls at the seminary. This isn't a comment-heavy blog, but I appreciate the fact that conversation does indeed take place as a result of what I write here, which is certainly my desire as a "think out loud" type.

Since I'm graduating from EMU at the end of this academic year, I'm already excited about the shifts in my writing which will inevitably come as my family enters our next phase. (Whatever that may be, we're still waiting eagerly to see it materialize!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The "Jewish State" revisited

Sari Nusseibeh, professor of philosophy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, has a fascinating op-ed piece up at Al Jazeera...

Nusseibeh makes a number of points which resonate with the theopolitical literature I've been absorbing over the past year or more, found mainly in the work of William T. Cavanaugh.

The article highlights the complex nature of ancient traditions in late Modernity. Cavanaugh has convincingly shown that the characterizations of "religious" and "secular" are constructs of the modern nation-state, the ascendant and still-prevalent form of organizing people and power within territorial boundaries. Nusseibeh is right to point out that calls for a "Jewish state" are incoherent based on present political arrangements, not to mention the slippery nature of "Jewishness" in our secular age.