Young Anabaptist Radicals

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Hope in the face of apocalypse: A review of Inhabit movie

This review was originally posted two years ago on radicaldiscipleship.net

8 years ago, I showed “What a Way to Go” to my family. I hope they would, as the movie tag line says, come to grips “with Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Extinction, Population Overshoot and the demise of the American lifestyle.”

Halfway through the movie my sister walked out. It wasn’t so much that she was opposed to the message of the movie. She just couldn’t take how relentlessly depressing it was.

I suspect all of us in the radical discipleship movement have been there at one time or another. We go through some form of the transformation that Tommy is documenting in his post-evangelical series. In one way or another we begin to grasp that catastrophic path our civilization is on. Which begs the question: How do we get others to recognize it to?

Broadly speaking, this is a question of pedagogy, or how people learn. Watching an accurate, though deeply demoralizing documentary was not the way to go for my sister. Messages of doom just aren’t that effective at winning converts.

The producers of the new documentary Inhabit clearly understand this. As one person interviewed in the film puts it, focusing on catastrophe has limited change potential. Their documentary is a lush, alluring opposite to “What a Way to Go”in many ways except one: the message is the same: ultimately industrial agriculture will destroy us all and we need an alternative.

From there the two films diverge dramatically: Inhabit opens by focusing on the hopeful, human-centered framework of regeneration: putting positive things back into the land. “We can actually be healing forces,” says permaculturalist Ben Falk.

“What could it be like if humans could make this place sing with life?” asks Lisa Fernandes, director of the The Resilience Hub. “That gets me really fired up.”

For those who studied permaculture, the vocabulary of guilds, polyculture and function stacking will be familiar. The innovation here is in the framing. It’s a film I could imagine showing my conservative relatives who are farming on land that has been in the family for four generations.

However, it’s not just the earthy vocabulary that this film teaches. It also teases out foundational contrasts: permaculture orchestrates relationships between plants and animals rather than trying to control them all in the way that industrial agriculture often does.

Yet it’s also a pragmatic film. There’s a scene a little way into the movie that might be jarring for purists. Falk is building a swale in his land. He explains in detail how this “structural adjustment” shapes the landscape in a healthier way. Then we watch him carving up the earth with big yellow backhoe. Falk says that he’s decided we should use the oil while it’s cheap to build up ecological wealth in the landscape “until the ice comes back.” It’s a phrase that captures well the long view that the practitioners in this film have.

For those of us who were part of the 2011-2012 World & World mentoring program (http://www.wordandworld.org/2011-ndash-2012-mentoring-program.html), there will be some familiar scenes. The film visits the center for Environment Transformation which hosted one of the retreats for Word and World. It was inspiring for me to see some of the same scenes I photographed that weekend many years on in their transformation. Like this burnt out factory. We hear from Louis Sanchez, a farmer from the neighborhood who is involved in the Center.

The power of the film doesn’t stop with the interviews. The soundtrack, by Aled Roberts is effervescent. You can listens to samples of it here. It effortlessly melds with the visuals. As photographer I continuously in awe of the golden hour lighting and beautifully short depth of field. Every other scene looks like a Pre-Raphaelite portrait.

The film also implicitly critiques some of the problems in the culture of permaculture. Emmett Brennan, Assistant Director & Producer of the film, was at the screening I attended here in the Ojai valley. He emphasized that permaculture has often invisiblized the contributions of women and people of color in the movement. It’s clear that the film makers intentionally reached outside the circle of famous white men who are often most visible in the permaculture movement.

The film is available to stream on-line here. But don’t watch it buy yourself. Get a group together and talk about it afterwards. Ask the question: what can we learn from this film as we think about how we evangelize for radical discipleship?

“We did it in Detroit”: Working for racial justice in Mennonite Church USA is not done

Mennonite Pastor Kelly Bates Oglesby

This interview, originally published two years ago, was the eighth interview in my ongoing Anabaptist Camp Follower series in which I interview people who have been drawn to Anabaptism and Mennonites. Kelly Bates Oglesby is pastor at Park View Mennonite Church in Kokomo, Ind. Our interview happened before the massacre of nine Black Christians in Charleston on June 17. That act makes her words all the more important.

Can you share about your journey with Mennonite Church USA and becoming pastor at Parkview Mennonite Church?

As a requirement of my seminary study I needed to complete an internship in a faith community that was dissimilar from my own. As I perused the available openings I was drawn to one at First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis. The Mennonite setting was certainly dissimilar from my Free Will Baptist tradition even though both are Anabaptist in grounding.

Until I came to seminary and met Dr. Wilma Bailey, I had no personal interactions with Black Mennonites. My discussions with her and observations of her had piqued my interest. I submitted my application to First Mennonite Church and completed the process to become an intern. Unlike some learning sites, FMC wanted me to learn about the congregation and conference. Moreover, they allowed me to experience and experiment with ministry development.

During my initial year, I met weekly with the lead pastor to discuss theology and polity. Regular small group interactions helped me to learn to know the congregation. As part of my student work I initiated a project each semester to broaden the ecumenical witness of the congregation.

At the end of my first year, I was invited to complete my second internship year with the congregation. This was thrilling and concerning: I realized I was beginning to feel at home.

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Wrestling with the Evasiveness of the Evana Network

This blog post was originally published two years ago soon after the launch of the Evana Network

On April 13, 2015 the Evana Network officially announced its new name and its first staff person, John Troyer, in The Mennonite.

For those who haven’t been following things, the Evana Network may simply be a network of churches inside and outside Mennonite Church USA that is not a denomination, according to Mennonite World Review, or it may be a “conservative alternative to the Mennonite Church USA,” according to Christianity Today.

Open Book Communications, which Evana hired to help with its branding, originally described it as “a new denominational home for Mennonites and Anabaptists” that sought to “position [itself] in the denominational landscape around them” (see archive of page on Wayback machine).

After I shared the page in the Mennonerds Facebook group, Troyer asked Open Book to change the language in its page to language that emphasized community building more than branding.

The ambiguity is intentional.

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Transitioning Young Anabaptist Radicals to personal blog

The last few years here at Young Anabaptist Radicals have been fairly quiet apart from two anniversary posts, in part because I made a decision to stop cross-posting my blog posts from my blog for The Mennonite here after the YAR blog was hacked in the spring of 2015. I’ve since transitioned the site to a new host where I have stronger security support.

After a two year break with minimal posts from the broader YAR community, I’ve decided to transition this blog to mainly a space to post pieces I’ve written elsewhere. If people are interested in guest blogging occasionally, they are welcome to reach out, but clearly the time of this being a team blog have ended and so I am repurposing this space.

I will continue to curate a wide variety of blog posts on the Young Anabaptist Radicals Facebook page which has continued to be active over the past few years.

– Tim Nafziger

A Modest Proposal (or A Post-Yoderian Strategy)

Editor’s Note: 10 years ago, we kicked off this blog. Over the coming months, we’ll be hosting a series of posts reflecting back on the last 10 years. Thanks to Tom Airey, co-editor of our sister blog, RadicalDiscipleship.net for this second post in this series. – Tim Nafziger

DSC_0578
Caption: Tom (right) listening to Ched Myers during a conversation by a stream in California in 2011 with Elaine Enns in background.

by Tom Airey

When Young Anabaptist Radicals launched a decade ago, I was out West reading compelling scholarship from Walter Brueggemann, Brian McLaren, N.T. Wright, Marcus Borg and John Howard Yoder (WGWW: white guys with websites), moved by their mapping of a much needed “post-Evangelical” Christian terrain. I took their ideas at face value: meaning that I yearned to apply many of their convictions to my own ministry, marriage, church and vocation. But I frequently found myself day-dreaming about what these authors are like in real time. Of course, there’s always a gap between word and deed, but I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with my own SCS (Seminary Celebrity Sensationalism). We white male academics are the masters at hero-worshipping our favorite authors, pastors, scholars and philosophers. (more…)

Celebrating 10 Years of Young Anabaptist Radicals

Editor’s Note: 10 years ago today, we held the founding meeting of Young Anabaptist Radicals and kicked off this blog. Over the coming months, we’ll be hosting a series of posts reflecting back on the last 10 years. At the end of that series, this blog will be converted into a personal blog for my own writing hither and yon on the internet. Thanks to Luke Miller for starting us off with this reflection. Contribution from other YAR contributors are welcome! – Tim Nafziger

by Luke L Miller

I noticed, back in the day, that newcomers to YAR would often feel compelled to explain how they felt those three word applied to them: Young, Anabaptist, and Radical. These statements usually read as confessions, how they might not be able to fully claim all these three traits without qualifications or complications. Yet there was always something so intriguing and right about their combination that drew people into conversation. For me, coming upon the site (I forget how that happened really) I felt I was continuing the conversations I had started in college (at Goshen) about the way faith and action could create social change. Indeed, in many cases that was literally true, as a number of the founders and main contributors to YAR were friends from college, and I relived how cool it felt to be joining with interesting folks in talking about changing the world. Now, looking back years later, it’s interesting that I find my instincts drawing me to reflect on precisely how these words strike me now, and try them on for size. (more…)

They Obtained Much Following

16th century German historiographer and reporter Sebastian Franck (1499-1543) wrote concerning the Anabaptists in his work Chronik (III, fol. 188):
The course of the Anabaptist was so swift, that their doctrines soon overspread the whole land and they obtained much following, baptized thousands and drew many good hearts to them; for they taught, as it seemed, naught but love, faith and endurance, showing themselves in much
tribulation patient and humble. They brake bread with one another as a sign of the oneness and love, helped one another as a sign of oneness and love, helped one another truly with precept, lending, borrowing, giving; taught that all things should be in common and called each other ‘Brother.’ They increased so suddenly that the world did fear a tumult for reason of them. Though of this, as I hear, they have in all places been found innocent. They are persecuted in many parts with great tyranny, cast into bonds and tormented, with burning, with sword, with fire, with water, and with much imprisonment, so that in few years in many places a multitude of them have been undone, as is reported to the number of two thousand, who in divers places have been killed….they suffer as martyrs with patience and steadfastness (Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists, 28).

Four Streams of Anabaptism

This is a cross-posting of a piece first posted eight years ago on my blog for The Mennonite. Since then we organized a series here on YAR looking at some of the historical groups that Sawatsky highlights. You can read the articles in that series here.

What if rather than one unified view of Anabaptist we instead looked at our tradition as containing many different streams, in the same way that Richard Foster finds different streams of Christian spiritual practice in Streams of Living Water.

Last week on Young Anabaptist Radicals I wrote about Gregory Boyd’s discovery of Mennonites as well as his dismay at our falling away from our roots. It provoked a lively discussion about percieved divisions in the Mennonite church and deviation by Mennonites from core Anabaptist values. One of the things that became clear in the discussion is that there are many different views of what the core Anabaptist values are and how they should be lived out.

Growing up as a Mennonite, I learned that the way we live our faith is tied to the experience of our predecessors in 16th Century Europe. Though I didn’t study it until college, Harold S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision informed much of what I viewed as Mennonite. Writing in 1944, Bender defined the Swiss Brethren tradition as “the original evangelical and constructive Anabaptism” as opposed to the other streams of Anabaptism “which came and went like the flowers of the field.”

And so it was the story of the Swiss Brethren re-baptizing one another in 1525 in Zurich that I learned at the Mennonite high school I attended. Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock were the founding fathers of our faith. As Mennonites today we should look to their example.

This summer at the Mennonite convention in San Jose, I heard an alternative to this model. At a workshop I attended, Dale Schrag introduced four different types of Anabaptism first proposed in 1992 by Rodney Sawatsky “The One and the Many: The Recovery of Mennonite Pluralism” published in Anabaptism Revisited; Essays on Anabaptist/Mennonite Studies in Honor of C. J. Dyck.

In the essay, Sawatsky acknowledges the dominance of Bender’s vision, but offers an alternative model for contemporary Anabaptism based on more than just the story of the Swiss Brethren. He identifies the emphasis of each stream and connects it with a different leader or group of 16th century Anabaptists.

Here’s what it looks like:

Anabaptist Stream
Emphasis
16th Century Corollary
Separationist
Social/cultural non-conformity to the world
Swiss Brethren with Schleitheim Confession
Establishment
Biblical nonresistance/personal holiness
Menno Simons
Reformist
Discipleship of Christ/service to the world
Pilgram Marpeck
Transformationist
Political/ideological nonconformity to the political powers
Hans Hut and apocalyptic Anabaptists

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C. Henry Smith on Mennonite church splits and schisms

C. Henry Smith

In his 1941 book, The Story of the Mennonites, historian C. Henry Smith describes the 1847 church conflict that led to a group of Mennonites leaving Franconia Conference to create Eastern Pennsylvania District of Mennonites. This new group eventually launched the General Conference Mennonite Church. In describing this schism among Mennonites, Smith observed a broader pattern:

It will be observed that the questions in dispute did not concern themselves with fundamental Mennonite doctrine. Mennonite quarrels never do. The new party did not differ from the old in its belief in adult baptism, non-resistance, opposition to the oath, rejection of secret societies, and for a time even in the retention of footwashing. The chief distinction lay rather in a more tolerant attitude of the “News,” as they were called by the “Olds,” toward the non-Mennonite world, both political and religious. (p. 602-603)

The “News,” led by John H. Oberholtzer, went on to adopt such radical innovations as Sunday School.

The roots of our ruptures

Why are Mennonites so prone to church divisions? (more…)

7 Radical Discipleship communities that have shaped my journey as an Anabaptist

Sapling growing in rock in forest

This was first posted on Geez Magazine. From February 16-20, 2015, I was immersed in the Between Seminary, Sanctuary, Streets and Soil: A Festival of Radical Discipleship. The gathering featured over 80 presenters from communities around the U.S. Their stories of radical discipleship inspired me to put together this primer of seven communities that I have visited and interacted with over the past decade. Each of them were represented at the Festival.

Beloved Community Center

Joyce and Nelson Johnson have lead the Beloved Community Center for over 20 years based on the vision and mode of Dr. Martin Luther King and inextricably rooted in the Greensboro, North Carolina. When I visited their community for in June 2011 I sat in on their “Wednesday table” where BCC staff and interns sit down with supporters and fellow organizers from the community to talk about what’s going on. I also joined one of the Bible studies and worship services that are a foundation of the centre’s life and work.

Their organizing work includes police accountability, economic justice, environmental justice, and community organizing. They see themselves as a “levelling place” for people from different racial and economic groups around the city of which 30% is African-American, 40% is white, and 30% is other (Latino, Asian and others). They were also instrumental in organizing the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked deeply into the November 3, 1979 Greensboro Massacre. Five members in an anti-Klan protest were killed by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. Nelson Johnson was one of the leaders of the march and his 2011 account of the event includes footage from the massacre itself taken by news crews at the time.

Carnival de Resistance

The Carnival de Resistance flows out of the prophetic vision of Tevyn East and Jay Beck in conversation with many scholars, activists, and artists. In its residency form, it involves week-long convergences complete with nightly performances, a bicycle powered sound system, and a carnival midway. Sarah Thompson, Christian Peacemaker Teams executive director and CdR member, describes how the experience impacted her:

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Consistency in small things: Wrestling with the “A word”

Stamen and Petal of flower.

I wrote this piece on my blog for The Mennonite back in October 2012, but never got around to posting it here. I finished up my role of interim assistant director at 5 months ago and moved back to doing web site building. However I continue to ponder the themes in this post.

In September I accepted a position as interim assistant director with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). This role comes as a bit of a surprise, for a number of reasons.

As regular readers of the blog know, I’ve been outreach coordinator with CPT for four years now and I’ve thrived in the role. I love meeting with new people and connecting them with CPT’s work. I like coming up with creative initiatives and following them through to their conclusion. I’ve walked with all our teams in the process of finding a new mission, vision and values (and soon, a new logo). I like working with changing teams of people to accomplish shared tasks together. But I’ve never been comfortable with the term “administrator,” or the “A word” as I like to think of it. I’ve always preferred “coordinator” or “organizer” to describe my work.

But then it happened. I was sitting with Rod Stafford, long-time pastor at Portland Mennonite. We were talking through logistics of their church hosting Peace, Pies and Prophets in January. “There aren’t many peacemaker administrators out there.” he said, “I wish there were more.” And then the conversation went on.

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“Mennonite Women’s Posse”: How feminists organized for accountability for John Howard Yoder

In the new issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review, five essays look at John Howard Yoder’s systematic project of sexual harassment and abuse of women. Unless otherwise noted, the articles named below are part of the issue.

Rachel Waltner Goossen’s essay “‘Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” is the most extensive of these pieces. It is the result of an in-depth year-long study using previously inaccessible files. Her piece makes clearer then ever institutional complicity with Yoder’s abuse, starting in the late 1970s through the four year attempt to rehabilitate him that ended in 1996:

“As Marlin Miller and other Mennonite leaders learned of Yoder’s behavior, the tendency to protect institutional interests—rather than seeking redress for women reporting sexual violation—was amplified because of Yoder’s status as the foremost Mennonite theologian and because he conceptualized his behavior as an experimental form of sexual ethics.”

I’ve argued previously that this complicity continued up through the summer of 2013. At the time I asked “How do we develop a theology of power that give us ears to hear the voices of those marginalized and eyes to see the way we participate in their marginalization?”

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Fire and the Sword: An Adventist Finds His Roots in the Radical Reformation (Part 3)

This is the final post in my three-part series comparing Seventh-day Adventists and Anabaptists. Please see the introduction to Part 1 if you have not yet read it.

Part 1 looked at expectations about God. Part 2 considered expectations of Christians and the Church. Part 3 will look at our common expectations for the world. Since I know many Adventists are reading this series along with YAR’s regular readers, I hope it has helped each faith community understand the other a bit more. Naturally, there is still much to learn about each tradition beyond the similarities covered here.

Before beginning the final comparison, Tim invited me to make a few observations about the CBS television program that was the catalyst or spark for this series—“World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonites” (description, video, schedule). One of the few common features between the three faith communities is that to varying degrees we are outsiders to American culture or society. We struggle with how to be true to our faith’s demands about being different and somehow separate while still engaging and influencing society. To use a decidedly Christian phrase, How is an adherent of one of these traditions to be in the world but not of it?

The first thing that surprised me about the program was how short it was. With a mere 27 minutes divided between the three faiths, only the most basic information could be conveyed. At its best, the program may pique one’s interest, leading to more study. Hopefully no one turns off their TV or closes their web browser after watching it and says, “Now I understand the ___.” They would be mistaken.

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Foot-washing and Conscientious Objection: An Adventist Finds His Roots in the Radical Reformation (Part 2)

This is the second in a three-part series comparing Seventh-day Adventists and Anabaptists. The CBS television program “World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonites” (description, program, schedule) provided the motivation for this series. Please see the introduction to Part 1 if you have not yet read it. As I explain in the introduction, this project was initially designed as a way for Adventists to learn about Anabaptist views, rather than the other way around as in this present series.

One additional item I probably should have acknowledged in Part 1 is that this approach may make it appear as though I believe early Anabaptism was uniform, with all believers under that label holding all particulars in common. This was certainly not the case, as readers of this blog know quite well (see the YAR “Anabaptist Streams” series, for example). A more detailed study would note the similarities and differences between the various Anabaptist groups and then compare these with Adventism. However, that approach is well beyond my ability to adequately pull off, so I will continue with the much simpler and less precise comparative methodology I used while taking Anabaptist History and Theology at AMBS.

Part 1 was lengthy because of the extended series introduction. This second installment is long because it covers several expectations about Christians, both individually and collectively. With that warning, let’s get to it. And again, I ask for patience with the lengthy quotes.

Part 2—Expectations of Christians and the Church

Both Anabaptists and Adventists expect believers to (a) voluntarily unite, (b) follow after Jesus in discipleship, (c) be baptized, (d) wash one another’s feet, (e) participate in the Lord’s Supper, (f) form a holy church, (g) study the Bible, (h) show compassion, and (i) not engage in violence.

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Three Cups of Tea

OK, I’m not a real book reviewer, but this one might interest you in case you haven’t already read it. “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Relin.

It’s about an American mountain climber who doesn’t quite make it to the summit of K2 and wanders off and almost dies trying to find his way back and stumbles across a remote mountain village in backwoods Pakistan. He sees that the children in the town don’t have a school building (or a teacher), so he vows to build one, even though he doesn’t have any money and lives out of a car.

It was a #1 New York Times bestseller. Inspiring. It’s interesting that even though his parents were Lutheran missionairies, he doesn’ have strong religious beliefs and doesn’t seem all that idealistic. However, like many climbers who live to climb, he lives a very frugal lifestyle- simple lifestyle and because of this and his childhood in Africa, he doesn’t feel the least bit deprived in living in third world conditions and adapts easily and picks up languages and friends with equal ease.

He gets kidnapped by drug smugglers-Taliban types. Somehow his disarming manner and his goodwill see him through his adventures and he eventually gets many schools built (with the promise that they will also educate girls) in areas where the schools are either very poor, non-existent, or terrorist-training schools (madrasas).

It’s an excellent example of overcoming evil with good. Inspiring book.