Author: Josh Brockway

Confronting a Dangerous World – Guest Blogger, Clyde Netzley Fry

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This post originally appeared in the “Peace Advocate News,” a newsletter prepared as part of the Peace and Reconciliation ministry of the Northern Ohio District of the Church of the Brethren. 

Confronting a Dangerous World and Protecting Democracy

Clyde C. Fry, Mansfield, Ohio

1) The Warning

On January 17, 1961, Dwight David Eisenhower, five star general, supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WW-2, and 34th president of the United States, gave his farewell presidential address to the public. Instead of the “sentimental and valedictory” address that was expected, he gave the nation a stern and serious warning. This is what he said:

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry.  American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.  Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a larger arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence–economic, political, even spiritual–is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development.  Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” ((Eisenhower, by Paul Johnson, Viking Press, 2014, page 121.))

The next day (January 18, 1961) Eisenhower held a press conference in which he made an “impassioned attack on the way military values were replacing the bedrock civil values of American society” and the risks to our liberty and fiscal security that this change would bring. ((Ibid, page 120.)) Eisenhower worried that our “military strength, and imprudent leadership, could lead the country into interventions all over the world, encouraged by the arms lobby and the military chiefs who were its puppets, and the result would be an over extension of resources and economic ruin.” ((Ibid, page 120.))

2) The Problem

The problem that Eisenhower raises is very simple and very dangerous to peace and a democratic way of life. The manufacture of armaments provides employment and taxes for many of our families and communities. But, like any manufacturing enterprise the products produced must have markets that need and will consume them. Without market need and consumption, the industry, with its jobs, income, and taxes will be lost. Like all manufacturing the greater the consumer need the more the industries connected to that consumption will grow and proliferate. Today, every state in our nation has important economic ties to our growing armament industry and its share of the GNP (we are the largest armaments exporter in the world). The armaments that we produce must be used somewhere by somebody making the need for armed conflict itself a vested interest. William Hartung, weapons industry analyst pointed out, “If there’s one thing we should have learned over the past 13 years of war, it’s that war is good business for those in the business of war.”

3) The Giant

The Pentagon employs 3 million people, 800,000 more than the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. 70 percent of the value of the federal government’s $1.8 trillion in property, land and equipment belongs to the Pentagon. The Army alone uses more than twice as much building space as all the offices in New York City. The Pentagon and the Veterans Administration together constitute the nation’s largest healthcare provider serving 9.6 million people and holds more than 80 percent of the federal government’s inventories, including $6.8 billion of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable stuff (some of the excess is being funneled into local police departments, which some argue, is contributing to the “military mind-set and policing tactics” that are so controversial today). ((David Gilson, Journalist, a Senior Editor, Mother Jones, Sources: Congressional Research Service, House Budget Committee, Government Accountability Office.))

4) The Necessity

Violent conflict is necessary to keep the armament industry alive! Someone has to use up all that stuff so that we can continue to produce it. Either we must go out and fight somebody “to keep America safe” or we have to sell the stuff to somebody else who is willing to use it in one of their conflicts. The result is that we abuse the sovereignty of other nations by clandestine shenanigans or outright public interference and make “terrorist lists” that keep the public stirred up, afraid, and thus willing to support the big bucks and spilled blood to maintain the system. Because of this need for violence the use of diplomacy and negotiation are suspect or rejected all together (the current negotiations with Iran are a good example; do we need to keep our hostile view of Iran to justify a high Pentagon budget and middle-eastern arms sales alive?  Is that why political lackeys in the congress are so anxious to put a possible treaty down even before the details have been settled?). To quote Eisenhower once again: “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a larger arms industry is new in the American experience.  The total influence–economic, political, even spiritual–is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.  We recognize the imperative need for this development.  Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.  Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”  Is our belief in and economic need for the use of violence in national and international affairs turning our declydemocracy into a hypocrisy or worse? 

Clyde C. Netzley Fry is a retired pastor in Northern Ohio District. He has served as a mediator in congregational and community disputes and participated in national and international conferences on various peace related issues. He has written numerous essays on peace topics, the first of which was a brief historical sketch “Whatever Happened to Non- Violence?”

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Discerning the Mind of Christ: Neither Progressive Nor Conservative

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At a not so recent Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren I was sure the delegates had made the wrong decision. And I made as much clear in the last days through several meetings a small action during the closing worship. To be honest, I was a bit proud in taking a stand. I knew what we should have done, and I believed we had gone the wrong way. 

In the months after that conference my pride waned a bit. I had to submit my annual paperwork for my license to the ministry and I began thinking about what it meant to disagree with a position of the wider church. 

Over a decade later, I found myself writing these words in the middle of our polity regarding congregational ethics. “The prayerful conclusion not to support a denominational position or program should be a matter of anguish, not competitiveness or superiority.”

Unfortunately, I often experience disagreements within the church as a matter of competition for power and an assertion of superiority. And often the lines are drawn between what some might call progressive and conservative cultures.

But I have this weird notion that when the church gathers to ask questions about the faithful response to our times, the wisdom of the whole church informs our approach. So when I disagree with what the wider communion has said, my first task is not so much to chastise but to ask myself what I am missing. What part of Christian discipleship have I overlooked in my prideful positioning? 

In the years since that conference I have found myself wondering a lot more. I wonder, when I enter a community of progressives, what part of the gospel they are lifting to my attention. And the same is true when I am with conservatives. In this posture towards others, I find myself assuming above all else that the people I am with are sisters and brothers seeking to follow Jesus above all else. Sometimes that assumption is harder to maintain, but I find myself listening differently when I remind myself of our shared commitment to Jesus.

So, then, what I have learned from our conservative and progressive communities?

From progressives I am often reminded that love and grace are the root of the Good News. In order to witness to the wider world, I must act from a posture of grace.

From conservatives I am reminded that grace is the catalyst for transformation. As I have heard said in many places, we are welcomed into the community with the understanding that we will be changed by the Gospel of love and grace. Come as you are are and leave as you never were.

Progressives have taught me that the church witnesses to the ways of God in the world, and we are to act in ways that build up the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

Conservatives have reminded me that this building of the Kingdom of God is not my own doing but something God is doing in and around me. 

Progressives have taught me the world is a fallen place, where war and systems of oppression diminish the Image of God in everyone.

Conservatives have taught me that systems do not change on their own, and that as Christians we are to work on our own inner heart as much as we work for justice in the world. In other words, righteousness and justice are two sides of the same coin, and often the most prophetic thing to do is to tend to our own holiness.

Progressives have often reminded me that there are many roads to faithfulness. Each of us seeks after God in our own ways, and just because one’s path is not my own does not mean that they are wrong and I am right. 

Conservatives have taught me that truth is real and not relative. While we may all be on different paths there is still a need to discern if we are indeed heading in the same direction.

Progressives have taught me to value the experiences of others. In listening to the testimony of others I learn to see more fully the ways God is at work around and in us.

Conservatives have reminded me that deception is a real part of our fallen nature, and that in listening to others I must also test the spirit in which a testimony is given. Part of that testing includes speaking from my own vantage point, articulating truth biblically as well as experientially. 

Though the Brethren are not a creedal form of Christianity, I think the greatest reminder of balance has come through the Nicene Creed. In the last section the words are both plain and convicting. “We believe… in one holy catholic and apostolic church…” It is that tension between being one and being holy that gets me every time. How is that we can be both one— work from a place of unity— while at the same time hold up the holiness explicit in following Jesus. We are inherently mixed in our holiness, or as the followers of Wesley remind us, we are growing in our holiness. Put another way, holiness makes clear there are boundaries that often make unity a difficult endeavor. In the practice of “seeking the mind of Christ” I think the Brethren have worked out a way to attend to both boundaries and unity, one-ness and holiness. I am just not convinced that our current models of doing so have actually produced the fruit we seek. 

We have simply become too proud of our positions and too often confuse discernment with coercion. We assume that our processes are about setting one another straight, and that one must win the argument in order for truth to be proclaimed. 

Since that conference long ago I have come back to the words of Thomas Merton. Just because I think I am following the will of God does not actually mean that I am doing so. But I believe that the desire to please God does in fact please God, and I pray that I (we) have that desire in all that I (we) do.

I need my brothers and sisters to help me see when I am following Jesus and when I have strayed. And when I disagree with my community of faith, my first task is not to chastise others and set the record straight but is to ask if I am working from my desire to please God or if I simply desire to be right. More often than not, I am afraid I want to be right.

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Stop Serving!

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This video from Homeboy Industries came across my Facebook timeline the other day. If you don’t know about this amazing ministry in Los Angeles started by Father Greg Boyle, you can check out their website.

In his thought of the day, he dropped this fantastic quote. “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service to those one the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”

At some point we need to drop all this talk about service. For Brethren, I am probably nearing the line of outright heresy, but hear me out.

For the early Brethren, the idea that we care for one another was not based in the language of service, but in mutual aid. Sure, this made sense in the days of our more sectarian past. We did care for our sisters and brothers of faith. It wasn’t until the 20th century that this core idea shifted into the language of service. In my more generous moments, I can see how this shift in terminology helped the Brethren claim a role within the world. Talking about service in essence broke us out of the me and us view of care for others.

However, we must come to terms with how the language of service continues to separate us from others. Basically, those who “serve others” are often working from a significant position of privilege. Whether it is economic or social privilege, those who can take time off for service projects locally or around the country do so because they can. While we rightly acknowledge that those who have privilege should use it to care for others in need, the very idea that we serve them has an overtone of condescension. We literally come out of our privileged social location so that we can minister to “those in the margins.”

An interesting thing happens, however, as people go on service trips. Inevitably, they return with a bit of cognitive dissonance. I hear it most often expressed like this: “I went there to offer something to them, but they gave me so much.” In the midst of the relationship building with those whom we “serve” the lines between those in need and those from privilege blur, and uncomfortably so. Here we are, the ones who are to care for others and we find ourselves ministered to.

This is why we must finally let go of the service interpretation of feet washing. Put another way, washing feet is NOT about serving others. In John’s account, Jesus does name the roll he takes as a servant, but that is only half the story. When Peter chastises him for doing what is not appropriate for teacher, the conversation turns to washing, and alludes to baptism. “If I don’t wash your feet,” Jesus says, “then you have no part with me.” Brash as always, Peter responded that if that is the case, then he should be completely washed. “You have bathed,” Jesus said, “and are thus clean except for the feet.”

This exchange with Peter is a clear reference to baptism, sin, and grace. And when Jesus says that we are to do this for one another, he highlights the priestly role we offer one another. There is no privileged place since all must wash and be washed. All must confess to one another and all must receive grace from others.

This is why I think people are so put off by washing feet. Some say that it is the idea of feet alone that turns people off. However, when we talk about “serving others with the basin and towel,” it is much easier to kneel down and wash another person’s dirty feet. It is when we must receive the grace of having our feet washed that we get weirded out. In the language of service, it is always better to give than to receive.

This is why we don’t know what to do with the gifts we receive when we are on a service trip. It is why we feel so guilty about coming away with so much more than we actually give.

If we can finally recover the mutuality of feet washing I think we can finally move towards what Father Boyle called “kinship with those on the margins.” We can go out from our houses of privilege and finally enter the cycle of grace upon grace where we finally see Jesus in one another.

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Join the Conversation – Guest Blogger, Bekah Houff

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Informative. Enlightening. Thought-provoking. Insightful. Energizing. Stimulating. Engaging. Refreshing. Challenging. Inspiring. Interesting. Hopeful. Enriching conversation.

I could go on. These are just the top reflections from the participants at Bethany Theological Seminary’s inaugural Young Adult Forum entitled “Anabaptism, the Next Generation.”

The goal was to bring young adult ministry practitioners together for a conversation about Anabaptism and its influence on and appeal to young people today. Instead we fostered an intergenerational conversation from college students to seasoned pastors. Some attendees were currently practicing ministry with young adults and some were simply interested in the conversation or were young adults themselves stepping into leadership and ministry.

The Ted-Talk inspired format encouraged speakers to share a “big idea” instead of an all-encompassing lecture.  The format left space for short conversations between talks and allowed for more than just one or two keynote speakers as we are accustomed to at academic conferences. Talk-back sessions brought more than one speaker together so that their talks could interact with one another – music with spirituality, discernment with relationship, leadership with hermeneutics, and so on.

We heard talks that set the background with Anabaptist spirituality and biblical hermeneutics; we heard and experienced how we practice our Anabaptism through music; learned about practicing discernment together, being leaders, and making peace; we also addressed current concerns and practices of ministry with young people considering the multi-ethnic church and ministry with college students. Participants continued conversations in talk-back sessions, during lunch discussions where participants chose topics by sitting at tables with others interested in that conversation, and even during breaks as people met in the hallways of the seminary.

We also embarked upon a new adventure, taking what we were learning inside the walls of Bethany out into the community. We provided a list of locations for participants to go and observe how the context is appealing to the community, particularly young people. They engaged in questions such as, why do people come here? What is the role of this place in the community? How does this place and the work that it does interact with the conversations we’ve been having at Bethany this weekend?

Participants went to restaurants, a church, an ice cream place, and even bars and local hot spots to engage in these questions and observe the context and community in Richmond, Indiana. The goal was not to proselytize or make ourselves known but to take the first step from academic conversation to the streets and neighborhoods of our own cities.

I am grateful for the places where Bethany can grow into this forum and humbled by the things that others got out of the experience. The one thing that struck me the most after poring over the evaluations from this event is how much relationships were a part of this forum.  Participants reflected on learning about the importance of intergenerational relationships, different ways to disciple others, the importance of discernment with the body of Christ, becoming partners instead of leaders, making connections, embracing multiculturalism, and connecting young adults to the church in new ways.  We were invited into relationship with each other during the forum and encouraged to nurture relationships back home.

How are you engaging with each other in your faith community? What do you observe of different generations, ethnicities, and cultures? What is the importance of relationship for you and for your church? How do we marry our Anabaptist heritage to the neo-Anabaptism appealing to many young Christians today? These questions and many others still linger in my mind weeks after the forum. I look forward to observing and engaging them as I continue to participate in my faith community and in denominational gatherings.

If you would like to view the talks from this forum or for more information about this and other Young Adult Forums you can visit www.bethanyseminary.edu/YAForum2015. You will find the list of speakers from this spring, videos of their talks, and the schedule for the event. If you have questions you can be in touch with Bekah Houff or Russell Haitch of Bethany’s Institute for Ministry with Youth and Young Adults at yya@bethanyseminary.edu.

Inspiring and educational talks. Thoughtful and engaging conversation. Friends, old and new. Beautiful singing. Connecting with the local community. Meaningful worship. These are just a few of the things we did together at the 2015 Young Adult Forum. We hope you will come and join us for the next Young Adult Forum April 15-16, 2016 at Bethany Theological Seminary.

Let’s continue the conversation!

Bekah HHouff_wouff is Coordinator of Outreach Programs for Bethany Theological Seminary. She received her MDiv from Bethany with an emphasis in Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Bekah has been active in summer camping ministry, district youth ministry, and served in the Youth and Young Adult Office of the Church of the Brethren. Needless to say, she loves ministry with young people!

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BL&T Blog 2.0

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Maybe you didn’t know that Brethren Life and Thought had a blog. Or maybe, since the blog has been silent for many months you forgot about it.

Either way, you have nothing to worry about. Brethren Life and Thought is about to do a new thing on the inter-webs.

First, we are excited to announce a new line of editors.

Joshua Brockway, Blog Editor

brockwayJoshua is the blog and book review editor for Brethren Life and Thought and currently serves as director for the spiritual life and discipleship for the Church of the Brethren. A doctoral candidate at The Catholic University of America in church history, he will defend his dissertation in the spring of 2015. His academic work focuses on the ascetic works of John Cassian in the fourth and fifth centuries. As a minister in the Church of the Brethren and as denominational staff, Joshua often teaches and writes on the practices of discipleship and the spiritual life. Though his academic and ministerial work seem worlds apart, the primary question in both is how we are formed in our practices so that we can be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Joshua often runs in Neo-Anabaptist and Missional circles, seeking out the ways the Brethren tradition is increasingly relevant in our culture. Joshua lives in Elgin Il with his wife and four great kids.

photoShayne Petty, Contributing Editor
Shayne Thomas Petty is an emerging missiologist currently serving as Associate Pastor for Outreach & Discipleship at Potsdam Church of the Brethren in the Southern Ohio District. He is pursuing an M.Div. in Intercultural Ministry, Evangelism & Missional Leadership at Bethany Theological Seminary. Shayne holds a B.A. in Theatre Studies & Religion from Wright State University. He is extremely passionate about the ministry of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and his involvement with them as a student leader, alumni volunteer, and ministry partner. A Charismatic Evangelical with ties to the Neo-Anabaptist and Hebrew Roots movements, Shayne sojourned with the United Methodist Church, Messianic Jews, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Brethren in Christ, and the Association fo Vineyard Churches before becoming a licensed minister in the Church of the Brethren. He currently resides in West Milton, OH with his wife, Erin, and their two cats.

Laure StoneLaura Stone, Contributing Editor
Laura Stone has an MDiv from Andover Newton in Boston, a BA from Manchester University.  She has worked in mental health (at Gould Farm) and church music (Iona Community and congregations).  Most recently she has been a PhD student in practical theology at Boston University.  Catch more of her thinking and writing at her blog, thepatchworkpietist.wordpress.com.

Second, BLT is on Twitter! Even through we have had a Facebook page for some time, we are now doing Brethren things in 140 characters. In the past, the Facebook page has primarily been a forum to announce new posts on the blog. Now, with a presence on both platforms we hope to curate a space for conversation “in a Brethren accent.” This means that the editors will be posting and sharing content from around the web that may be of interest to Brethren. This of course will include new posts on the BLT blog, but want to expand the Brethren circle by sharing and reflecting on interesting pieces from a variety of perspectives.

And finally, the BLT blog has a new look. While this may seem simply cosmetic, under the hood this new design means that you can read your favorite posts on any mobile device.

As with so much on the internet today, this is an experiment. While the first launch drew some attention and traffic, the mechanics of maintaining the level and frequency of content was more than one person could do. With this new structure of contributing editors and a more robust social media community we hope that Brethren Life and Thought can be a meeting place for sharing and reflecting on the Brethren tradition and its many expressions.

So, if you are on Facebook you can find us here. And if you are part of the Twitter-verse, follow us @Brethren_Life

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Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, March 2007 – Guest Blogger, Travis Poling

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This sonnet by Travis Poling was composed to bear witness to the bombing of an open-air market in Iraq in 2007

Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, March 2007
By Travis Poling

By chance the sky was calm that morning.
Locals milled through the open street, browsed books,
turned pages, visioned worlds beyond this war:
a yam farmer resisting the new church priest,
a boy with a seed finding one word: unless,
a cricket practicing her song every night.
The sun glared through the stalls off the pages,
but the people kept reading.

They didn’t hear the car engine gunning
behind them till the shriek of brakes grinded
in a singular block-busting blast.
These paper worlds, incinerated, leaped
for the freedom of the sky—
as thirty dreaming bodies struck the earth.

photo (1)Travis Poling is a minister and artist who writes poetry, teaches college English, and curates worship at Richmond Church of the Brethren in Indiana. He blogs at The Poet-Liturgist

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Madness of March – Guest Blogger, Katie Cummings

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Katie shared these reflections with the staff of the Church of the Brethren and Brethren Benefit Trust on April 4, 2014 at the weekly chapel. 

In January, when I was looking ahead at my upcoming calendar, March was a month for which I was both anxious and excited. March has an odd way of filling itself up in the blink of an eye. Anyone serving the church can list off thing after overwhelming thing that made March, both stressful and sometimes enjoyable. For me, it was some travel, some hospitality, lots of meetings, and weekends away. Now with that month behind me, I hope to slip out of the madness that has gripped me for several weeks. This isn’t the only year that March has been maddening. Last year, I was in the office for five days in March– workcamp travel added up fast! Maybe you’ve experienced busy travel seasons, swallowed up weekends, or long days with meetings recently, too?

In the midst of my March Madness, I traveled to Roundtable at Bridgewater College. It’s the Regional Youth Conference for the Atlantic Southeast Region of the Church of the Brethren. I have been attending this event for a DECADE. WEIRD! That’s what happens when you attend the conference in high school, become a part of the planning team in college, and then provide leadership after your graduate! While on the coordinating team in college, the weeks leading up to the conference were nothing short of prolonged chaos. They were full of final details, meetings that started at midnight, and little sleep. Even in the midst of the enduring craziness, it was my favorite weekend every March. Fellowship, worship, games, variety shows, joy, people, #brethrenthings– I love all of it.

Despite all the swirling madness before, after, and during Roundtable, there is a sacred stillness that comes every Sunday morning of Roundtable with the anointing service. It’s a sacred space and I’ve cried on more than one occasion receiving the blessing. (No surprise there!) Every spring for the past decade, I’ve come to anticipate and cherish this anointed blessing for my journey. My heart becomes warm as the slick oil touches my forehead– marking me, reminding me to whom I belong, that I am enough, that I am blessed. March is mad and this reminder is needed. 
March is a month that is sometimes spring, sometimes winter. Teasing our sandals out of the closet for a day, before switching back to snow boots with a surprise storm the next day. The inconsistency of the weather is maddening. Our bodies have been bundled up for months enduring the harshness of winter temperatures and dangerous snow or ice. Weather whiplash smacks me so strongly my body doesn’t know what to think. I’ve even walked out of the house in sandals as it starts to snow. March is mad.

In the dubious climate of March, where my body doesn’t know what the weather is doing and my head is exhausted from the season of planning, travel, and little sleep – my heart starts feeling “some type of way.” O, March, you bittersweet month of change. This Roundtable the speaker, Eric Landram, talked about Seasonal Affective Disorder, which I would say after living in Chi-beria for a full, long, awful season, has definitely chipped away at my positive demeanor this winter. He talked about “winter blues”, “summertime sadness”, and he mentioned one less common seasonal ailment “spring sadness”. 

I thought “spring sadness” was a little ridiculous at first. The world is coming alive – baby animals, flower buds, and all that! What is there to fear about spring?! Yet, I thought about it. Spring is another season of change, like fall, but instead of the world falling asleep, it is waking back up again. There’s bound to be some discontent as the world transforms. Spring is a season of goodbyes – graduations, preparing for upcoming seasons– summer conferences or vacations, board meetings, travel for retreats or conferences, or the slow trudge of day-to-day, while the weather spins madly around you… doing whatever it chooses to do. For me, it’s been a season of unknowns from year to year…what will my life be like after I graduate, after I move away, after relationships end, after BVS and NYC. It is a time of discernment and questioning.

Lent’s another difficult thing in spring. It’s a hard season. The season of Lent retraces Jesus forty days in the wilderness, Jesus fasted for that time and some Christians choose to fast, as well. Some people scoff at this practice and laugh at people who give up soda, but the past several years I’ve found it an intentional space to grow in my walk with God. Granted I have done some weird things like give up abbreviated words in college (which was totes hard) and wore a prayer covering one Lent. But this year I’m journaling every day. I have found that the intentional things I add or take away to my daily routine during this Lenten wilderness walk, slowly and surely point me on a closer journey with God that I had been missing. This routine that forms over forty days helps me when the ground changes beneath my feet during the maddening spring. March is mad.

We’re about done with our wandering in the wilderness, according to the liturgical calendar, and I have to ask, “How’s everyone doing?”

It says in Matthew 27, when Jesus died, “at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” I wonder about Jesus’ disciples, about Judas who betrayed him, about Peter who denied him, about Mary of Bethany who anointed his feet, about Mary who birthed him – what kind of wilderness were they walking in now? What were they thinking as the ground shook beneath their feet? Their leader, their Messiah, their friend, their child was taken from them and the whole world was in upheaval. They might have started to grapple with questions like – “What will life be like after this?” … “What will happen to me?” … “Will life ever be normal again?”

We know the story doesn’t end here, but their three days of complete chaos and fear and doubt probably felt like an eternity. “How will we ever recover from this?”

In the book of Luke, Jesus appears to two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, three days after his death. The disciples are wrestling and reeling with the horrible series of events that have happened over the last couple of days. They’ve lost their prophet, most everyone following the Jesus movement has deserted and fled. And some women just this morning said that his body was taken from the tomb. They don’t really know what to make of all of it. They’re so lost in their sadness, that they don’t even recognize that it is Jesus coming with them on the road. They’re wandering is some kind of wilderness.

They walk and talk all the way to Emmaus and yet, they still have no idea they’ve been journeying with Jesus this whole time. They invite this stranger to eat with them once they reach Emmaus. It’s not until Jesus sat with him – blessed and broke bread – that they see who they have been journeying with. The scripture says, “Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30). What have your eyes been opened to this season?

This March season, this hard Lenten season, we’ve been journeying with Jesus this whole time, whether we’ve recognized him or not. Amidst the endless travel, the fickle weather, the exhaustion, the meetings that never end – Jesus shows up in the ordinary, even when we’re not looking, even when we’re not prepared for him to do so. In the midst of our own wilderness, we don’t necessarily feel it, or see it, or take notice. Sometimes it takes oil on our forehead…breaking bread with a friend… to remind us that God does show up, God has come down, and God is here.

While, Lent is hard and long, it doesn’t last forever. The rumbling of the Earth on a dark Friday, gives way to a torn curtain, an empty tomb, and God’s spirit among us forever. In the midst of chaos, anxiety, and disbelief, we meet God on a dusty road and we break bread together.

SAMSUNG CSCKatie Cummings is from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which means she grew up with mountains on either side of her. She graduated from Bridgewater College in 2012 with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Peace Studies. After college she joined Brethren Volunteer Service, coordinating Brethren Workcamps for a year before coordinating National Youth Conference. She enjoys running for fun, cooking Indian curries, and making things out of thread. She’s not competitive, but would love to play Ultimate Frisbee, Bannagrams, or Scattegories – if you let her stretch the rules.

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The Faith once Digitally Delivered Unto the Saints – Guest Blogger, Eric Bradley

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Digital Archives

As for us, our duty is clear. We should not only obey the complete Gospel, but we should teach it to others. We must accept the faith once delivered to the saints, and keep the ordinances as they have come down to us through the New Testament. While we dare not forbid those who teach and obey but half of the Gospel, we may do well to commend them for the good they do. But it is one thing to commend them for the good they do and quite another to encourage them in the neglect of many of the plain commandments. ((Our Relation to Others Engaged in Good Works,” The Gospel Messenger, January 7, 1905, 9.))

Suppose you wanted to see how Brethren used the beloved phrase of Jude 3 in its booklets, tracts, and papers. As late as 2010, this would have involved having to physically travel to a Brethren library or archive, look through catalogs and finding aids, and then thumb through issue after issue of material. If you were lucky, you could perhaps have microfilm of a Brethren publication sent to your local library, to which you would have to scroll page after page in a similar fashion. However, thanks to the work of the Brethren Digital Archives, many of these publications are now freely accessible and searchable on the internet.

Begun in September 2007, the mission of the Brethren Digital Archives is to digitize some or all of the periodicals produced from the beginning of publication to the year 2000 by each of the Brethren bodies who trace their origin to the baptism near Schwarzenau, Germany in 1708. It consists of twenty partners: archivists, librarians and publishers from every Brethren branch. To date, Brethren Digital Archives has digitized over seven hundred items, including full runs of major publications such as Messenger (beginning Henry Kurtz’s Gospel-Visiter and its variations), The Brethren Evangelist, Brethren Missionary Herald, and Bible Monitor.

One may wonder for the need of a small, volunteered powered organizations like Brethren Digital Archives to form and scan materials. After all, the Google Books Library Project has scanned 20 million book volumes of an estimated 130 million volumes in existence.1 Mainly there is much Google cannot do. Google’s mass digitization currently includes 40 of the largest research libraries in the world.2 This method produces a large number of items scanned on a limited footprint, yet misses many items not included in these libraries.  36% of all cataloged books are only held in one library.3 With over 100,000 libraries in the United States alone, it is unlikely that all these unique items are at the handful of libraries Google has visited.((“Number of Libraries in the United States,” accessed February 24, 2014, http://www.ala.org/tools/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet01.))

Another challenge with the Google mass digitization project is the “scan now, ask questions later” approach to publisher and author rights. This approach brought about the Authors Guild v. Google lawsuit in 2005. While dismissed in November 2013, it is once again being appealed/4 Brethren Digital Archives sought another way, inviting publishers to the table from the very beginning of the project. This partnership has not only avoided possible legal repercussions, but has brought the depth and insight of Brethren publishers and editors to assist with the needs of the project.

Google’s mass digitization project is incredible, and includes many Brethren resources previously available only in the stacks of your local library. However, to successfully digitize the unique resources not available in the world’s elite library collections, local grassroots large-scale digitization projects need to take place.  “Large-scale projects are more discriminating than mass-digitization projects. Although they do produce a lot of scanned pages, they are concerned about the creation of collections and about producing complete sets of documents.”5

A slow, intentional, dare I say Brethren, approach to such a project does have advantages. Two key advantages are accessibility and quality. Partnering with publishers, Brethren Digital Archives has been able to have candid conversations about open access from day one. Other digitization projects have brought about limited availability to many materials still in copyright, either through a “snippet view” feature or subscription paywalls.  Brethren Digital Archives sought to balance the current economic realities of publishers with the desire to have free open access to historical documents, and agreed to have copyright released up to the year 2000 for all publications when possible. Mass digitization without quality control often brings about, as have been chronicled in the The Art of Google Books blog, a variety of errors.6 Taking the time to select the best available copies of materials, followed by a careful inspection of the scanned product has avoided many of the errors possible with such a project. While aged documents will never look brand new in the digital medium, one can faithfully reproduce what exists.

What remains for Brethren Digital Archives and similar efforts?  Plenty. Since Henry Kurtz took to the printing press in 1851 there have been over 250 Brethren periodicals published. Only twenty-seven of these have been digitized. Many of these publications have only one or two known copies, and are quickly deteriorating. Beyond the 250 Brethren periodicals are a world of Brethren affiliated blogs and websites, many of which could disappear today with a click of a button. In some ways the history of the past decade is in a more fragile condition than that of the past three centuries before. The ongoing work of such projects is important to pass on “the faith once delivered to the saints.”

Bradley

Eric Bradley is Reference and Instruction Librarian at Goshen College, as well as Project Coordinator for the Brethren Digital Archives.  His professional interests include next generation library development, theological librarianship, and historical research in the Believers’ Church traditions.  He and his son Neil love the Lake Michigan shoreline.

  1. Sophia Pearson and Bob Van Voris, “Google Wins Dismissal of Lawsuit over Digital Books Project,” BusinessWeek: Undefined, November 14, 2013, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-11-14/google-wins-summary-judgment-in-digital-books-copyright-case. []
  2. “Library Partners,” Google Books, accessed February 24, 2014, http://books.google.com/googlebooks/library/partners.html. []
  3. Brian F. Lavoie and Roger C. Schonfeld, “Books without Boundaries: A Brief Tour of the System-Wide Print Book Collection,” Journal of Electronic Publishing 9, no. 2 (Summer 2006), doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0009.208. []
  4. Claire Cain Miller and Julie Bosman, “Siding with Google, Judge Says Book Search Does Not Infringe Copyright,” The New York Times, November 14, 2013, sec. Business Day / Media & Advertising, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/business/media/judge-sides-with-google-on-book-scanning-suit.html. []
  5. Karen Coyle, “Mass Digitization of Books,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32, no. 6 (November 2006): 242, doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2006.08.002. []
  6. “The Art of Google Books,” accessed February 24, 2014, http://theartofgooglebooks.tumblr.com. []
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Spring into Some New Books

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With the cold weather upon us, there are few things better than laying out on the couch with a new book. Fortunately for us, the publishing world knows this all too well! The catalogs are full of new and interesting books. Here are just a few that might interest Brethren, Anabaptist, and Neo-Anabaptist readers. If you are interested in review these or any other titles contact Brethren Life and Thought through the homepage. The contact email address for the book review editor is at the bottom of the page.


Reading for Preaching

Reading for Preaching-The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists

by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

From Eerdmans- “In Reading for Preaching Cornelius Plantinga makes a striking claim: preachers who read widely will most likely become better preachers.”

A recipient of Christianity Today’s 2014 Book Award

 

 

 

 

The Nonviolent God

Nonvioent God

by J. Denny Weaver (Eerdmans Publishing Co)

From Eerdmans- “This bold new statement on the nonviolence of God challenges long-standing assumptions of divine violence in theology, the violent God pictured in the Old Testament, and the supposed violence of God in Revelation. In The Nonviolent God J. Denny Weaver argues that since God is revealed in Jesus, the nonviolence of Jesus most truly reflects the character of God.”

 

 

 

 

Old Testament TheologyOld Testament Theology

by R. W. Moberly (Baker Academic)

From Baker- “Leading Old Testament theologian Walter Moberly probes what is necessary to understand and appropriate the Hebrew Bible as a fundamental resource for Christian theology and life today.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John: Believers Church Bible Commentary

by Willard Swartley (Herald Press)John

From Herald Press- “The book of John shapes Christian identity, invigorates worship, and implants eternal hope. John’s gospel defies description, marvels Swartley, professor emeritus at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.”

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Wrestling with the Council at Jerusalem – Guest Blogger, Steven Schweitzer

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Here at Brethren Life and Thought we are trying out a new format of blog. Below is a brief excerpt from a sermon on Acts 15 shared by Steven Schweitzer, dean at Bethany Theological Seminary. Rather than post the whole sermon, Bethany has graciously provided the video of the sermon delivered on September 25, 2013 as part of a series on difficult scriptures. 

 

… We can approach Acts 15 from many starting points and methods. Questions of chronology and history are needed and helpful. Situating the passage in its literary context is useful. Placing this chapter in conversation with the biblical canon, a canonical reading, is beneficial, and I would say essential to elucidate meaning. Yet, this is not an easy text. If we stop to consider this Jerusalem Council, pondering this pivotal moment in the life of the Church, noticing how the story unfolds, and how it relates to other canonical texts, we are confronted with something that makes us quite uncomfortable. There is such a tendency to idealize and romanticize the early Christians—and we constantly read ourselves back into these formational stories. I believe we must at least begin by slowing down and paying attention to what the biblical text actually does and does not say.

In Acts 15, we encounter an intense conversation, some might say a dialogue, a debate, or perhaps a “knock-down, drag-out fight” among early Christian leaders. The Greek words used are rather intense, and this was certainly an animated event and not one governed by Roberts Rules of Order. The presenting problem: there are all these Gentiles becoming followers of Jesus; some of the Jewish followers of Jesus wanted these new converts to be circumcised and follow the Law and others thought they did not need to do so. The church gathered together its leadership—the text says “apostles and elders”—to discuss the issue and decide how to live into this new reality. …

Steven Schweitzer is Academic Dean at Bethany Theological Seminary. His PhD is from the University of Notre Dame. He has published a number of essays and articles along with his book Reading Utopia in Chronicles (T&T Clark International, 2007). Along with his courses in Hebrew Bible, he is currently teaching an elective on Theology and Science Fiction.

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