Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wringing Out Saturated Selves: Christian Education in a Secular Age

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
This morning I gave my senior capstone presentation at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, which was based on a paper I wrote with the same name as this post. I've embedded the paper below, but let me make a few comments about the concerns animating this paper/presentation, the paper's major flow and points, and where it leads from here. I take the upcoming #Occupy Empire conference I'm helping organize as one particular project within my broader process of ministerial-vocational discernment.

In some ways, this paper and presentation marks the "philosophical turn" in my graduate studies.  This turn was precipitated by the existential and intellectual angst of being the first dual degree student at EMU's seminary and its Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Philosophy eventually became extremely helpful in trying to adjudicate - both in terms of overlap and difference - the distinct "embodied rationalities" in those two programs. This led me to the philosophy of Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, and most recently, Alasdair MacIntyre.

But I've also been compelled by the biblical hermeneutic of John Howard Yoder as a way to keep me grounded in the biblical narrative as the primary "script" for my life as a ministering Christian in the body of Christ.

In my ministerial-vocational discernment these past years at grad school, I've come sense the call to being an educator in/for the church, putting the intellectual gifts which God has imbued within me to work for the sake of God's reconciling mission in the world. In testing this, I've been able to teach the same class in two radically different cultural contexts. In this paper, I try to weave all these threads together in a very short space (12 pages, 20 minute presentation). No small task.

In responding to my presentation this morning, my advisor, Mark Thiessen Nation, quipped: "What you've really done here, Brian, is lay out a research agenda for yourself." Likewise, my district executive in the Church of the Brethren described this as the start of a life-long journey. I think those assessments exactly right. There are hints in this paper to most of the influential work I've picked up and how I've been starting to assemble that toward a constructive vision for my developing vocation as a ministerial educator.

Monday, February 20, 2012

[Cross-post]: Elicitive Pedagogy in the Digital Age

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Mirrored digital Koru
(Adapated from J. Colman via Flickr)
One of the joys of being a tech and web nerd in my part-time job at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding has been getting in on the planning and implementation of the first-ever online class offered by the center, which just started on the first of this month but has been a year in the making. So I just posted this piece over at the Peacebuilder Online blog, telling the story of how it all came together and the challenges we had to overcome...

Elicitive Pedagogy in the Digital Age

Thursday, February 16, 2012

#Occupy Empire: Anabaptism in God's Mission

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Scrub that dirty ol' empire away!
I hinted at it a few weeks ago. So now I'm very excited to announce that registration is now open for a mini-conference that my friend, Aaron Kauffman, and I are organizing as part of our senior capstone project at Eastern Mennonite Seminary...

#Occupy Empire: Anabaptism in God's Mission
April 13-14, 2012 - Eastern Mennonite Seminary
Anabaptism at its best has been a series of attempts both to live into God's in-breaking occupation and to faithfully occupy the empires of this fallen age, signaling the shalom to come. Anabaptists have gone about this work by imaginatively patterning their worship and witness after the New Testament communities of Jesus.

Come explore ways in which the Anabaptist tradition can help inspire faithful occupation in today's world. Interdisciplinary academic presentations will be infused with worship and testimonies to open our minds and spirits to where God is calling us into mission in the midst of empire.

Keynote speakers: Isaac Villegas, Chris Haw, Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, and Janna Hunter-Bowman. (See full list of speakers.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The fall of leadership: A Yoderian rejoinder to neo-Reformed sausage parties

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
(Photo by Greg Peverill-Conti via Flickr)
There's been some heated talk about masculinity and the Christian faith coming from the neo-Reformed movement these days. Lots of talk about what "real men" are like and such, and of course the related question of how women factor into these things. What strikes me is that most of the talking is being done by white dudes and, well, sometimes the rhetoric sounds more like a sausage party than anything else. Or to use another metaphor from the Flight of the Conchords: "There's too many [crude phallus reference] on the dance floor!" (Crude/hilarious video've been warned.) Not that what I'm going to offer below addresses the issue by my weighing in because, well...I'm a white dude. But here goes...

Rather than argue directly with my neo-Reformed brah's, which I'm really not interested in doing, I thought it might better to very briefly offer some Yoderian reflections on gender as it relates to leadership. In John Nugent's recent book about John Howard Yoder's Old Testament hermeneutic, The Politics of Yahweh, he talks about a few of Yoder's writings on the Fall in relation to leadership.

Monday, February 6, 2012

There's power in the mall

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
"Ouch, Charlie! OOOOOOUCH!"
(Photo by ravindra gandhi via Flickr)
Just as I wrapped up reading James K.A. Smith's excellent Desiring the Kingdom the other day, I noticed a post from the always-excellent theoblog supersite, The Other Journal:

When is a Mall just a Mall? The Complexity of Reading Cultural Practices
by Cory Willson & Robert Covolo

The authors are two PhD students at Fuller, focusing on theology and culture, and their post is a weave of Smith's DTK and William Dyrness' Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life. They basically ask if Smith's proverbial "martian anthropologist" reading the liturgies of the shopping mall comes off as too critical of the mall. As a counterpoint they hold up Dyrness' work, which seems to hold out more hope that the mall might be a legit place of divine encounter, or an "on-ramp to the gospel."

The authors offer an excellent illustration from the New Testament church in Corinth, specifically Paul's teaching to them on meat sacrificed to idols being sold in the market and eaten in homes or congregational gatherings of Jews and Gentiles. They then hold up the work of ritual studies scholars, Lawrence Hoffman and Ronald Grimes, whose work helpfully
reminds us that cultural practices have multiple meanings operating simultaneously. Some of these meanings are official (as articulated by those in authority), some are public (shared meanings without official sanctioning), and others are private (held by individuals). The significant point is that all of these meanings are influential and that official meanings are not necessarily the most formative in regard to how participants in the culture see and live in the world (what he calls “normative meanings”).
James K.A. Smith responds to the post, which I thought was awesome and nice, but I made some comments of my own in response. I've slightly reworded them below for posterity...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

#Occupying Empire: David Fitch eats and tweets at McDonald's

David Fitch,
ready for the mission field
[Note: The preface to this post's title, "#Occupying Empre" is signaling a series of posts I'll likely do this spring. More importantly it's a reference to a conference that I'm putting together with a seminary friend: #Occupy Empire: Anabaptism in God's Mission. Registration isn't open yet and speaker/schedule info is forthcoming. So this is kind of putting the cart before the horse, but stay tuned in the next two weeks for more info on the conference...]

I came across David Fitch's blog - Reclaiming the Mission - last year and began casually following his posts and his tweets. Partly by his own admissions, but also by my own assessment, Fitch seems like a postmodern evangelical whose been bit by the "new traditionalism" bug (which means he's taken folks like MacIntyre, Hauerwas, and Yoder seriously). "Neo-Anabaptist evangelical" might be another way to describe Fitch. He is a bi-vocational professor and pastor in the Chicago area. He's also not afraid to talk about Marx and Zizek, and has a provocatively-titled book, The End of Evangelicalism?, which I haven't read yet but appears in my favorite Wipf & Stock series, Theopolitical Visions. Taken together, all this makes Fitch quite an interesting person to me. Lucky for me, he's visting EMU later this month!

But one thing in particular strikes me about Fitch: He's at McDonald's a lot. I know this from his tweets. Just this morning he reported, "Gathering early at McD' s w/ triad in the back to read, pray, check in and ask the questions - ahhh discipleship :-) #fb." What's the deal?