Race

Mennonites on the Bowery

Photo of Weaverland Choir by CharlieK

There’s a building boom on the Bowery these days. It’s been happening for a while, but the last couple years have witnessed an escalation in development, turning the neighborhood into a hip destination point.

Fifty years ago the Bowery was the largest skid row in the world. There were gin joints and flophouses on every block. That’s all gone now, thanks to the forces of gentrification. In their place are condos, art galleries and upscale eateries. Only one skid-row relic remains: the Bowery Mission.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind the Mission’s pulpit in the 1960s, looking onto a sea of expectant faces while my father preached. In retrospect I realize the men behind those faces were awaiting the sermon’s conclusion so they could get their grub. (more…)

Confessions of a white anti-racist

I arrived in Pittsburgh at the beginning of the week of convention, eager to take it all in.  I couldn’t wait to run into old friends in the hallway, participate in thought-provoking seminars, and, close to the top of the list, add my voice to the community of voices as we sang familiar hymns.  I even announced (pre-emptively) in my Facebook status that “nothing says happy 4th [of July] like thousands of peace church members singing their theology together in four part harmony!”So when I arrived in the hall for the opening worship service on Monday evening, I was surprised to discover that hymns did not form the backbone of the singing.  As the week progressed, it appeared that in fact hymns would take a backseat in the adult worship services for the duration.  I was disappointed, a little confused, and as Betsy Headrick McCrae noted in her story Wednesday afternoon, thrown off-balance.  I didn’t know the songs the worship band led.  I missed the hymns I had grown up singing and come to love.  Wasn’t this the Mennonite convention, after all?  Weren’t hymns and four part harmony our bread and butter?  I heard a similar sentiment echoed frequently throughout the week.  Where had the hymns gone? (more…)

Report from CPT Aboriginal Justice Delegation

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

One of the things I’ve noticed in my work as outreach coordinator for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is that the least well known project is CPT’s work with aboriginal peoples here in North America. So this spring I decided to spend time on the Aboriginal Justice team in order to support the team better and understand the struggles of our indigenous partners.

I just returned from Kenora, Ontario, home of one of Ontario’s major paper mills and supply town for many indigenous communities in the area. We also spent a week at Grassy Narrows, also known as (the reserve of the) Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabe.

During my time at Grassy Narrows, for the first time in my life I saw first hand the continuing effects of the 500-year history of colonization and genocide on this continent. It’s a testimony to the effectiveness of white settlement and ethnic cleansing; I had never come face to face with these realities before in a personal way.

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A New-Old Call to Radical Christian Community

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“Community”, “Radical Discipleship”, “Prophetic Witness”: An urgent and self-giving Christianity has taken hold of the imaginations of a new generation of the faithful. Group houses of sincere young folks earnestly desiring to live for Christ and serve the poor are springing up like daisies after a summer rain.

It is humbling to witness the movement of the Spirit in their work. Yet it is mournfully apparent that the language, aims, and means of our Christian communities are often defined by a narrow contingent of the movement or what might be the movement if our communities were accountable to anti-oppression work and in solidarity with those under the foot of kyriarchy in its many forms. In fact, the voices of women, queer people, people of color, those of immigrant or non-North American status, the economically disadvantaged, and the disabled are often secondary to the voices of celebrated white heterosexual North American men. And while certainly, our God’s cause is the cause of the poor, there is something troubling about our communities’ rhetoric and movement “to the margins”: it is a dangerous sense of entitlement that gives some of us the notion to obtain property and create ministries and services- often while lacking training or outside accountability. Many community houses have been started without the members having first developed a meaningful relationship with the community leaders and projects already underway, without having been invited to come nor having undertaken a serious analysis of the kinds of unjustly gained power that make some service providers and others receivers of services.

Yes, our God’s cause is the cause of the poor and the inspiration to give one’s life for God’s people- especially the most obviously vulnerable among us- is right and good. But the desire to give one’s life must not overcome a commitment to give that gift with a holy indifference that might lead one another way. (I am reminded of priests on foreign mission returning home, having been told that it was in disarming U.S. imperialism that they could best care for their beloved congregations abroad.) And while the lack of representation- and accountability- in our movements is casually acknowledged by many (“Sure, we’re mostly white, middle class, and male”), acknowledging it without committing to changing it perpetuates the unexamined privilege that underlies so many of our communities. It feeds the supremacy of whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality and class privilege in our most compelling “radical” North American Christian experiments and recreates the dynamics of oppression we name as sin.

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Oppression analysis on its own isn’t enough: Becoming an Ally

Gears of Iowa

by Tim Nafziger and Mark Van Steenwyk

In July, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman blogged some reflections on his visit with Mennonites from various Native groups in Ashland, Montana. He clearly describes the way white settlers’ sense of manifest destiny led to the clearing of the Cheyenne and other groups from their land. He acknowledges the deep trauma these communities have experience. He shares the effect this had on him personally. In other words, he knows that oppression is bad and that he as part of the dominant group, is complicit in it.

Stutzman concludes the article with a commitment to “walk alongside our Native American brothers and sisters as they seek God’s way for their future.” What does this mean, exactly? What does it look like to take the the tragic knowledge of history of oppression and the analysis of how this oppression continues and do something to make a difference?

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Immigration and the Church in Phoenix

I live in Phoenix, the front line in the war against the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to be free.  I would imagine everything here looks pretty awful from the outside, seemingly without a silver lining, but I’ve been seeing something different, something beautiful happening here.

In the midst of our police raids, our masses of children orphaned by deportation, women giving birth in shackles, and our racist legislation, something wonderful is happing in the heart of the church.  People from all sides of the religious spectrum are coming together in a way I haven’t ever seen before to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

And it’s beautiful.

 A friend of mine and I went to a meeting of clergy recently, gathering to discuss what we as a church can do.  We met in the chapel of a United Church of Christ congregation downtown and had everyone from pastors and priests with their collars to rabbis with their yarmulkes, Muslim women in their hijabs and a few Anabaptists with babies in slings across their chests.  Throw in a few Buddhist monks, devout Hindus, Unitarian Universalists, Baptists, and everyone in between and you’ve got a good idea of what the average immigration reform demonstration looks like here.

It’s a rainbow of beliefs putting our differences aside and uniting in the belief of a God without borders, without nationality, and who cares more about someone’s well being then their legal status.  I have in my mind an image of God looking down on us and repeating the phrase “It is good.” as he did in the creation story in Genesis.

The hardest thing about SB1070 and similar hate based legislation is that politically, in a lot of ways, they makes sense.  But I believe that we are called to do something radically different when we decide to follow Jesus.  Jesus’ teaching didn’t make sense.  Loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, turning the other cheek, these things don’t make sense at all… and that’s part of what makes it so fantastic.

Believing in Jesus is believing that doing what doesn’t make sense can be the best thing, and that sometimes doing what doesn’t make sense is what makes a better world possible.  I believe in that world and I want so badly to be a part of it.

Young Church of the Brethren Radicals

Things are picking up over at Feetwashing and Four Square, our sister blog started by Nick Miller Kauffman (nicolas here on YAR). I’d particularly commend to you the recent post Anabaptist Fierce by Katie Shaw Thompson. Here’s an excerpt on the relationship between some theories of nonviolence and white privilege:

Bob cited a weak (or rather antithetical) version of non-violent theory he often hears from seminarians as symptomatic of the problem. Concerning Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount commandment to “love your enemies” these seminarians want to claim that we have no enemies, which as Bob cited is not really nonviolent theory at all.

Only someone at the top of the food chain, with all kinds of privilege, could claim that we have no enemies. (more…)

Listening to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and James Cone

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled.

Last evening I sat around our living room with 22 other Living Water Community Church folks and had a frank conversation about racism. The conversation was passionate and open. It ranged from personal stories to talk of definitions of racism and even touched on the practical. It was a new conversation to have with so many people in our congregation. My hope is that our sharing together will the start of a serious process that will include our whole church and not just a one Sunday event in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As most of you well know, the vision of Martin Luther King was not simply dreams of black and white children playing together. It was not just about sitting down and being friends. Some of us have heard of his radical critique of the triple evils of poverty, racism and war. But in Malcolm & Martin & America: a Dream or a Nightmare?, James Cone goes far beyond the quotes and the sound bites to look at the grain of King’s life and shows how his life path and vision was and is inextricably linked with that of Malcolm X.

I highly recommend Malcolm & Martin & America for Christian who recognizes that the problem of racism in the United States did not go away with the election of Barack Obama. It is a surprisingly readable history that tells the story of both men in the context of the history of black nationalism and integration struggles. I’m not qualified to write an overall review of the book, but I will share a few quotes from the book that stood out for me along with a few of my own thoughts.

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Confronting Racism in Mennonite Central Committee

Friends,

At the urging of others, I am making my first YAR appearance.

I am part of a group of constituents pushing MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) to address patterns of institutional racism.  Members of the group include Tim Barr, Calenthia Dowdy, Brenda Zook Friesen, Karissa Ortman Loewen, Conrad Moore, Yvonne Platts, Tobin Miller Shearer, Regina Shands Stoltzfus. We are especially concerned about how MCC relates to staff.  There has been a decades-long pattern of staff of color leaving MCC on bad terms, a pattern which has intensified in the last few years.  Many people in this group have been in conversation with leaders in MCC about this issue for decades, and they feel that it is time to take a new approach.

At this time, we are calling for people to sign our letter to MCC leaders and to withhold half of their normal contributions to MCC until MCC makes significant steps toward real change in addressing internal racism.  (see our blog & petition).

Here are three steps that we believe would move MCC forward in its journey toward inter-cultural health:

1)    MCC follows through on its current intention to undergo an independent anti-racism audit of both existing and proposed structures of the entire institution;

It is hard for any institution (or individual) to see themselves clearly.  People within the organization are sometimes not in a position to be fully honest about their experiences as it affects their work environment and could even feel threatening to their position. (more…)

Shifting definition of “Ethnic”

First things first.  Being Mennonite has nothing, repeat NOTHING, to do with ethnicity.  Being Mennonite, or any other version of Anabaptism, has to do with a particular understanding of faith, religion and God.

That being said, I offer the following observation on the use of the term “ethnic” within the Mennonite Church.

One one hand: I am an “ethnic” Mennonite.

I grew up in central Kansas.  Within a 50 mile radius from the Hesston/Newton area there were over 100 different Mennonite settlements.  Each of these groups came from various parts of Europe during the 1860’s to 1890’s.  They could hardly be described as a homogeneous group, even though today they all happen to all be seen as white/european/Americans.  To be fair, the central Kansas Mennonites are also not the same as the northern Indiana Mennonites, which are not the same as the east coast Mennonites.  Nevertheless, I grew up knowing that I was part of a group known as “ethnic” Mennonites.  In my childhood consciousness that meant, primarily, that we ate weird food, had weird last names, kept track of genealogy to the 14th generation, had grandparents that spoke German and a variety of other things.  Above all, however, the term “ethnic Mennonite” referred specifically to a group of white people who emigrated from Europe to the United States.

On the other hand: I am not an “ethnic” Mennonite. (more…)

Jesus Radicals! Anarchism and Christianity

New Heaven, New Earth: Anarchism and Christianity Beyond Empire
August 14 & 15, 2009

Location
Caritas Village
2509 Harvard Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38112

This year’s anarchism and Christianity conference, hosted by Jesus Radicals, will look squarely at the economic and ecological crisis facing the globe, and point to signs of hope for creativity, for alternative living, for radical sharing, for faithfulness, for a new way of being. We are living in a karios moment that will either break us or compel us to finally strive for a new, sane way of life. The question we face at this pivotal time is not if our empires will fall apart, but when they will fall–and how will we face it? We hope you will join the conversation. (more…)

Paul and Slavery: A View by NT Wright

Colossians and Philemon
N.T. Wright
Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series, Vol. 12
Released: Dec 30, 2008
ISBN:083084242X
Available at:
Amazon
Westminster Bookstore
Christianbook.com

Since N.T. Wright’s recently released book, Justification, is currently getting a lot of attention around the blogosphere, I thought a review of a less controversial volume of his writings would be a breath of fresh air.

An oft unread – or perhaps undiscussed – letter of the New Testament is Paul’s letter to Philemon, asking him (in subtle but not uncertain terms) that he should free Onesimus, the former’s runaway slave.

It is an interesting letter to consider for those probing the social implications of the gospel message. N.T. Wright’s highly engaging and astute commentary in Colossians and Philemon recently re-released by Intervarsity Press, offers a great starting point for those consideration. I think this is one of the most engaging biblical commentaries I’ve ever read. Wright is exceptionally clear in his writing and thinking. I want to get this out of the way before I say anything more: get a copy of this book. You can find it for less than $11 at Amazon, and it’s well worth the money to better understand the Word of God from an accomplished and respected scholar like Wright. It is a part of the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, a series of affordable and understandable (i.e., you don’t have to be in seminary) commentaries currently under the IVP imprint. (more…)

A bicycle pilgrimage

Hey! These folks are riding from Harrisonburg, VA to the Asuncion, Paraguay for the Global Youth Summit of Mennonite World Conference. Check them out!

http://americas.bikemovement.org/

As anyone who has been on a bike for an extended amount of time for their primary form of transportation knows, it is a life-altering experience. Godspeed to Lars and Jon and Love to all whom they will visit. I am in the process of encouraging the youth group from my church to bike to the Mennonite Youth Convention in Columbus, Ohio June 30-July 6. I hope it works out…it will definitely be life-altering. Besides saving money and petroleum, getting some fresh air and exercise, biking together is a great self-esteem and group-building opportunity. It generates an equality among races and genders through the creation of a camaraderie and shared intense, rewarding experience.

But there is some resistance. Sometimes I get so excited about something I can’t embrace alternatives. Pray for me as I discern how much to push and where to step-back….And DO visit bikemovement America’s website.

Inauguration Thoughts: The State is Still the State

Yesterday was truly a big day in U.S. history. The inauguration of the first African-American President is truly a turning point for our nation, especially given our abysmal history on race. Moreover, it was encouraging to hear Senator Dianne Feinstein’s reflections on the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, President Obama’s message that we need not choose “between our safety and ideals” and his call to diplomacy and international aid over sheer violent force and military power, and Reverend Joseph Lowery’s prayer that one day we will “beat our tanks into tractors.”

Nevertheless, I had a difficult time getting too emotional or excited over this change of guard. For, while yesterday was historical from the perspective of the United States, it was a pretty small speck when history is viewed rightly. As John Howard Yoder tirelessly argued, the locus of history is not with the state but with God’s work through his church. The state is merely the context in which the real drama of history can unfold.

So, while the words and symbolism of the inauguration may be moving, the sobering fact is that the state is still the state. Yes, Obama seems more intent than Bush on using diplomatic tactics to secure peace, but his message to our “enemy” was still virtually the same: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Not much room there for Jesus’s message to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and turn the other cheek. But this is as should be expected, because the state is still the state.

Ironically, with this change of guard many of us ‘open-minded, progressive’ Christians will begin to forget that the state is still the state. We will start to put our faith in the ideals of the state and our hope in its progress. As blogger Halden recently argued, now more than ever is it imperative (though difficult) to be resolute in our anti-empire polemics. It was far too easy to maintain a prophetic witness to the state when those in charge overtly sanctioned military aggression, torture, and seemingly unbridled increase of personal power. But when those in power seem to share many of our ideals, the temptation will be to give them a pass when they deem military violence necessary in this or that situation. And it will be difficult for us to make the unfashionable charge that those in power sanction the unjust extermination of the least of those among us. Indeed, to increase the irony still further, it may be the conservative Christians who begin to recognize with more clarity the separation between church and state (as many of my students, for example, ponder whether or not Obama is the anti-Christ!). They will now be the ones to speak prophetically, though their witness will be narrow and tainted by their continual use of political means to grasp for power. (more…)

Baltimore’s Progressive Catholic Church

It would be unfair to label Saint Sebastian’s Independant Catholic Church a “gay church”. But it’d be unfair not to mention that, perhaps, they are very into the gay happenings in Baltimore and minister to the gay community. While I am sure that Pastor Flaherty would be disheartened to think that Saint Sebastians is only a church for the queer community, the community at large would probably reference it as “The gay church”. I find this sort of thing unfortunate.

I wound up here by means of an Emergent Village book group that meets in Baltimore. I met Assisting Priest Joan Stiles, a bleached blonde short-haired middle aged woman, while discussing Claiborne’s book Jesus for President. The group discussed much and varied in theological belief tremendously. Disagreement’s abounded. Surprisingly, no one argued. I learned about Joan, her Catholic past, her current priesthood and thought, surely, if there was anyone I would disagree with it was female priest at a pro-gay church. But Joan, like much of the world, was full of surprises. I found myself captivated with her outlook on our faith, her impression of God, her passion for Biblical authority.

A few months later the Reverend Flaherty, the Priest at Joan’s church, even came to the emergent church meetup group. A tall man, who dwarfs me, with long fingers, he strikes me as the sort of person who is easy to get along with. Perhaps that same young idealism that runs in all young people’s blood still runs in his. I found him quiet, questioning, firm in his convictions yet willing to hear others out. It’s hard to not like him. (more…)