Friday, December 27, 2013

Morality and culture change in Tama-Toledo

From Toledo, IA
Heath Kellogg, Director
Tama Co. Economic Development
The saga of the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) here in Toledo, Iowa, continues. This week the Director of Economic Development in Tama County, Heath Kellogg, used his weekly column in the local paper to directly address our state's governor on his order to close the facility.

After opening with his characteristic folk tale, Kellogg has a few great things to say here. In his appeal to the governor, he's attempting to bypass the political and even economic dimensions of IJH's pending closure, and pushes into the realm of morality and culture, two things that I have an abiding intellectual and ministerial interest in.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Iowa Juvenile Home: It takes a village...

From Toledo, IA
Town hall meeting at South Tama High School gym; Dec. 19, 2013
Just over a week ago, it was announced by the Iowa Governor's office and the Dept. of Human Services that the Iowa Juvenile Home and Girls Training School (IJH) here in Toledo would be closing on January 16, 2014. The IJH has been a staple of the local community for nearly a century and has served over the years as a state care facility for some of Iowa's most troubled youth, coming from some of the most dysfunctional family circumstances imaginable.

The news of IJH's closing was a huge blow to the local Tama-Toledo community. In a very short period of time, concerned staff, citizens, and elected representatives sprang into action in ways that have been inspiring to me, a relative newcomer to the community. A Facebook group was created as a way to organize support to protest the facility's closing. It now has over 9,000 members. Flowing from that online effort and the amazing support it received, a town hall meeting was organized and carried out last night at the local public high school gymnasium. So my friend Travis, a local councilman, picked me up at about 6:45pm last night and we attended the nearly 2.5 hour event. I went with my camera and notepad to do a little citizen journalism...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

We Are a Vulnerable Communion: Radical Democracy and Christianity

From Keezletown, VA
This post is part of an ongoing series on the book Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, by Stanley Hauerwas & Rom Coles. This series is being authored by Jonathan McRay, Jonathan Swartz, & Brian Gumm. This post reflects on chapter 8, "The Politics of Gentleness: Random Thoughts for a Conversation with Jean Vanier" by Hauerwas.

If I had a canon of saints, Jean Vanier would be among them. In a confessional moment, Hauerwas might admit the same. Vanier’s writing on community, vulnerability, and brokenness has resonated deeply with me and influenced the way I think about the capability of life together. He writes simply and he writes gently. There is tenderness in the composition of his sentences. I don’t only mean the thoughts he communicates, which express grace for and within the weakness of our bodies and the fragility of life. There is also tenderness in the way his sentences are formed, the grace that is style and movement and sound.

Hauerwas is at his humblest in this chapter on Jean Vanier’s politics of gentleness, and Hauerwas is at his most honest: he worries that his polemical attempt to defend gentleness betrays Vanier and the work of L’Arche (196). For Hauerwas, gentleness is necessary for any just politics, and the world of L’Arche – communities where differently-abled people live and work together – is gentle (195). Gentleness is important for Hauerwas because it redefines power and rule through the concreteness of friendship. L’Arche fosters friendships between people with varying abilities so that diverse gifts can be recognized. Gentle friendships like those at L’Arche are cultivated by tending to the ordinary, actively caring for things nearby. These sets of practices are sustained by conviviality and cooperation, which do not erase weakness but instead welcome it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Planting the Church of the Brethren in Toledo: A modest proposal

From Toledo, IA
Photo by snowmentality (via Flickr)
This post is part of the NuDunkers conversation on church planting in the Church of the Brethren, on which we'll be hosting a live video chat this Friday, Dec. 6th, at 10am Eastern. Check out the event page on our G+ community page for more info on that.

I've been talking recently about how "seeking the peace of the farm town" has been my mantra for living and ministering in the rural communities of Tama & Toledo, Iowa, since moving here last year.

This phrase is an adaptation of the Lord's commandment in Jeremiah 29, addressed to the exiles in Babylon in the 6th century BCE. The command is to "seek the peace/welfare/shalom of the city to which I've sent you into exile." The exhortation is an echo of the creational mandate found all the way back in Genesis, to "be fruitful and multiply," and that in seeking the welfare of the pagan city (and empire) in which they found themselves, God's people would find their own welfare.

I fell in love with this text in seminary, wrote a paper on it, and posted it here a few years ago. It became a paradigm for me, helping shape my early thoughts about what my church ministry might look like after seminary. In particular, I've found the thematic metaphors of "building" and "planting" throughout both Jeremiah and Isaiah to be particularly, um, productive ones. So church planting and community peace-building have for years now been inseparable concepts in my theological reasoning, and practical mission/ministry planning. My aim has been toward forming worshipping communities with community peacebuilding teachings and practices wired in from the get-go.

Cultivation takes time and patience and risk - among other things - and planting is just one step in the cyclical process of life (and death). So when I discovered the Slow Church blog a year or two back, which takes its cues from agrarian-minded sustainability movements, I found another fruitful metaphor for church planting.

Most recently, I've written and submitted a church-planting proposal for my local community that takes cues from this "slow church" movement. As a bi-vocational minister (i.e. I have a day job that is not professional/paid "church ministry" in a congregation), I've committed to a small, open-ended, slow, patient, and discerning approach to church planting, with explicit nods toward community peacebuilding. It's been approved by the committee overseeing these things in my district and is on its way to the Northern Plains District Board for final approval at their meeting next month. I'll outline a few major points below, and embed the entire document at the end if anyone is interested in seeing how I approached this proposal...