A Look Behind the Curtain: Three Writers Reflect on the Writing Process – Chibuzo Petty with Guest Bloggers Karen Duhai and Emily Hollenberg

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The following are reflections on the writing processes of three writers: Chibuzo Petty, Karen Duhai, and Emily Hollenberg.

In two of the pieces, the authors use the phrase “shitty first drafts.” The phrase is not used by the authors stylistically or crudely. The phrase is in reference to a section from Anne Lamott’s 1994 book Bird by Bird. 

Persistence – Chibuzo Petty’s Writing Process

For the past year, I have served as the Social Media Editor for Brethren Life and Thought, the Church of the Brethren’s academic journal. I previously served on the journal’s board and now solicit and edit the content published on our blog. (Each post is ~1,000 words; with new posts usually published weekly.) I also curate the content shared on our Facebook page. As a result, my writing has taken a back seat so I can better focus on reading and editing other’s writing. (I do have a poem and a few book reviews that will be published in our print journal this fall, though!)

Honestly, email is the writing genre to which the vast majority of my writing belongs.

Though I preach quite regularly, I am not a manuscript preacher. My sermons tend to be heavily dependent on my ability to performatively exposit Scripture. This choice in approach and tone certainly impacts my sermon-writing style. (Again, little “writing” takes place in this context.)

I find the concept of “waiting for the muse” rather interesting. That one could set aside a thought until later seems outlandish to me. That your mind might be still or clear enough for you to notice when the next great idea comes upon you is also perplexing in its elusiveness. For years, I have been in treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I say that not in the flippant way our culture talks about ADD, OCD, and other similar disorders. I mean it in the “every aspect of my life is impacted by this illness in real, concrete terms” sort of way. My primary symptom is racing, intrusive thoughts. I obsess. I ruminate. I spend ungodly amounts of time thinking and rethinking and thinking some more. My condition means I am a slow writer (and reader for that matter). I stop and start a great deal, getting frustrated by the non-stop churning going on inside. Proofreading is a nightmare, seeming only to feed the beast within.

Further complicating things is my chronic physical illness impacting both my central nervous and musculoskeletal systems. My pain prevents me from staying in one spot long enough to get a good work rhythm going whether in bed, a chair, or at my standing desk. The pain’s severity also feeds my intrusive thoughts. The ease with which physical pain exacerbates my mental anguish never ceases to amaze me. My conditions’ impact on my central nervous system also leads to fatigue and minor challenges with memory – due in part to previous seizures. All of this makes the writing process more complicated. More irritating. More
draining.

When I think about my writing process, I think of persistence. The writing process is about drive. Commitment. Shitty first drafts. Over-analyzing. And, giving myself the grace to simply stop.

Absolute Chaos – Karen Duhai’s Writing Process

I was an English major as an undergrad and want to return to writing as a creative outlet. That said, I am also a bit weary of words. Who hasn’t been worn out by the torrent of arguments and memes and insensitive comments on social media? But I also believe that words are powerful and that as ministering people the things we say carry weight and we SHOULD be engaged with what is happening in the world. Learning to engage in a sensitive and conscious manner, though, is crucial.

As for my writing process, I have this vision of a very calm, beautiful writing process where there are careful reflections, multiple drafts, outlines, and, you know, birds chirping and small furry animals doing my housework. The reality is that it’s pretty much madness. It’s a combination of excitement and enthusiasm but also absolute dread and the perpetual question, “Why did I want to do this again?!” To help illustrate this point, I’ve created a flow chart of sorts which can be seen below. Enjoy.

 

If I Can Fail at Writing, I Can Fail at Bullet Journaling Too – Emily Hollenberg’s Writing Process

I have tried three times to bullet journal. Once in September of 2016 when I began my journey at Bethany, second around Christmastime when I decided that I just needed a new bullet journal layout, and third when I decided that instead of journaling about my mental health, I should probably be keeping better track of my eating habits. All three times I bought fancy colored pens, brand new Moleskine journals, a new ruler, and stencils for my icons. I tried to make a layout that would work for me as well as look beautiful. And of course, it never looked beautiful like bullet journal pictures did on the internet.

This is the largest problem that I face while writing, such as Anne Lamott faces the voices that she drops into mason jars after she turns them into mice. I begin to write, and then I think to myself, Is this as good as my favorite novel? Absolutely not. Can I even see my novel on a shelf at Barnes and Noble? Would anybody even read it besides my fiance? When I saw my bullet journals weren’t beautiful, I stopped writing in them, even though I had told myself that my journaling was supposed to be the real me, not the Instagram me. I wanted the beautiful Instagram layout where I suddenly knew how to write in calligraphy. I want my novels to be the same way.

I’m at the stage that Barton and Howard describe as not being ready to engage with an audience. I’m on the Lamott shitty first draft stage. I’m just still accepting that it’s so.

I’ve talked about this in writing classes before: in college, I had a professor who had a writing habit so deep and profound that it broke up his first marriage. I worked him with closely during my undergrad time and it gave me an incredibly messed up idea about writing processes. I figured that if I didn’t lose my boyfriend during my process, I wasn’t doing it right. Maybe I should forgo eating. Stay up until four in the morning writing. Quit my job and become a hermit. Walk around in curtain drapes singing until my writing can flow out of me like a dirty river. Having worked with someone like this for so long, it’s made me always feel like I don’t have a writing process.

But I do. I take time out of my day to work on my novel. I work in Google docs and I comment on sections for myself to come back to later. I try to engage with my perceived reader. And I tell myself that even if I don’t want to write, even if I don’t have a magical muse that doesn’t exist, I have to get something down, and it’s fine if it’s shitty.

That’s writing. And I’m not failing at it.

Friends, attached is my daily writing process as a bullet journal entry. You better believe that I spent four hours on it making it Instagram worthy.

Karen Duhai is the receptionist and accounts payable specialist at Bethany Theological Seminary. An MDiv graduate of the seminary, Karen is also currently studying in the seminary’s MA program. Karen has held a variety of ministerial leadership positions in the Church of the Brethren and beyond including serving as a BVSer in Northern Ireland, Middle Pennsylvania District Youth Coordinator, and Program Director of Girls Inc. of Wayne County, Indiana.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeupEmily Hollenberg lives and works in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she works in the front office of Memorial Park Middle School and coaches for USA Swimming. Emily attends Beacon Heights CoB and is in Bethany’s Theopoetics and Theological Imagination Graduate Certificate Program.

 

Image Credits: Karen Duhai and Emily Hollenberg

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In A Reunion Like This We Can Share – Guest Blogger, Anita Hooley Yoder

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The following originally appeared on the blog Anabaptist Historians and was republished here with the permission of the author. For more on Anabaptist Historians, check out https://anabaptisthistorians.org/about/

History matters in the church. It matters what kinds of stories are told about our past, and who gets to tell them.

This was obvious at the recent Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando, where a timeline exercise brought up some past events and issues but left out others. (See Joel Nofziger’s recent post)

As I worked on a book on the history of Mennonite women’s organizations, I found myself especially captivated by stories I had not heard before, and did not fit neatly into a typical understanding of Mennonite women. I was specifically fascinated to learn about the activities of Black and Hispanic Mennonite women, which began in an organized way in the 1970s and, to some extent, continue to today.

These activities are narrated in just one chapter in the book, but I hope the chapter I wrote is just the beginning of more writing and sharing about what happened at these events and the way God continues to work through Mennonite women of all kinds of backgrounds.

Below is an excerpt from Circles of Sisterhood, about the start of the Hispanic Mennonite women’s conferences. To read more, purchase the book! You can order online from Mennonite Women USA or MennoMedia.

Seferina De León speaking at an Hispanic Mennonite women’s conference in the 1970s

The first Spanish-speaking Mennonite women’s conference was held in April 1973 in Moline, Illinois. Maria Bustos, wife of pastor Mac Bustos, coordinated the gathering, along with Lupe Bustos and Maria Rivera Snyder. Several reasons were given for the one-day event, which was called a servicio de inspiración. Seferina De León described it as an opportunity “to have a group of our own to listen to each other and figure out how we can help each other.”1 The organizers specifically wanted to gather women whose husbands were involved in church work and spent much time traveling, so the women could have a meaningful time together while their husbands stayed home.2 In a Voice article about the conference, Lupe Bustos wrote that the gathering arose from a concern for women who could not speak English and had never had the benefit of participating in the WMSC [the Mennonite Church women’s organization].3 As a woman of “American-Spanish descent,” she had been encouraged by attending WMSC meetings and wanted to provide similar encouragement for Spanish-speaking women.4

At the first conference, about sixty women gathered from churches in several Midwestern states as well as New York and Texas. Lupe Bustos’s article described the event as having women’s marks of creativity and care: hospitable overnight hosts, corsages for each participant, a craft project fashioning crosses out of a variety of materials. But the most memorable aspect of the event was the spiritual presence that pervaded it. The Spirit-led singing, prayer, and testimonies came to a climax when the women gathered to take communion. Mac Bustos wished to join the group for the communion service, which was led by pastor Mario Bustos. Suffering from leg pain and other health complications so severe that he was planning to give up his pastoral work, Pastor Mac was assisted into the sanctuary. Women nearby laid hands on him as they prayed and praised God. Suddenly, Mac got up and said, “Praise the Lord, all pain is gone!” He began going up and down the steps to show his increased mobility.5 “Tears just streamed from all of us,” Lupe Bustos wrote. “We realized that God still performs miracles; and a miracle happened to all of us there, because we were renewed again in Him.”6

The conference’s leaders viewed the miraculous healing of Mac Bustos as confirmation of God’s presence with them and as encouragement to continue their gatherings. At the October 1973 Minority Ministries Council meeting, they made plans for another conference and also adopted the name Conferencia Femenil Hispana Menonita (Hispanic Mennonite Women’s Conference). This is the name the group uses today, after a several-year period of using the name Sociedad de Damas Cristianas en Acción (Society of Christian Women in Action).

A 1974 gathering was planned for Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The first gathering was presumably paid for by the women themselves; Maria Bustos lists “faith” in the finances column on a chart showing figures for the early conferences.7 To help with the second conference, the Concilio leaders wrote to the WMSC requesting a grant of $3,000 for “las hermanas.” The WMSC executive committee decided to make the money available, even though it required some temporary reallocation of funds. Beulah Kauffman, WMSC director, wrote a letter to the WMSC district presidents explaining the move and reminding them of the WMSC meeting at the 1973 MC assembly. . . . At that meeting, women had expressed that they would “stand ready to help in whatever ways possible” when “clearly defined” needs of Spanish-speaking members were presented. Kauffman described this request as just such a need and expressed hope that women across the denomination would consider making the Hispanic women’s conference their annual giving project.8

The WMSC money was apparently the only outside funding received for the 1974 conference. Women from many Hispanic churches contributed through offerings, craft sales, and other fundraisers, either to support the conference in general or to fund the travel of their own members. Lois Gunden Clemens attended the gathering as a WMSC representative. She reflected in a July 1974 Voice article: “It has been good for me at various times to be a minority within a Christian group representing a cultural heritage different from mine. My heart has been strangely warmed in sensing the oneness I could feel with them. This was true again when I joined our Spanish-speaking sisters gathered together in their Lancaster meeting.”9 Enriqueta Diaz summed up her sentiments about the conference in an August 1974 Voice article: “It is marvelous that in a reunion like this we can share with each other ideas, emotions, and thoughts, all in our own language and in a cordial environment. Praise God for His love!”10

Excerpt and photo are from Circles of Sisterhood by Anita Hooley Yoder. © 2017 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. All rights reserved. Used with permission. www.HeraldPress.com

Anita Hooley Yoder works as Campus Ministry Coordinator at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio. She and her husband live in the Cleveland area and attend Friendship Mennonite Church. She is also the author of the recently published book on Mennonite women’s organizations, Circles of Sisterhood. Anita serves as secretary of the Brethren Journal Association Board.

  1. Quoted in Felipe Hinojosa, Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith, and Evangelical Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), 152. Maria Bustos is often referred to as “Mary Bustos” in publications, since there were many other “Marias” involved with the organization. I follow Hinojosa in using “Maria.”
  2. Ibid., 152–53.
  3. Lupe Bustos, “Historic Women’s Assembly,” Voice, April 1973, 5.
  4. Ibid.
  5. This event is also written about in several other places, including Hinojosa, Latino Mennonites, 153.
  6. Bustos, “Historic Women’s Assembly,” 5–6.
  7. Mary Bustos, “Report to the Executive Committee,” November 10, 1978, box 1, folder 3, WMSC Partnerships Records, 1973–1992 (IV-20-008), MCUSAA– Elkhart.
  8. Beulah Kauffman, letter to district WMSC presidents, April 3, 1974, box 4, folder 19, Women’s Missionary and Service Commission Executive Committee Records, 1917–1997 (IV-20-001), MCUSAA– Elkhart.
  9. Lois Gunden Clemens, “Editorially Speaking,” Voice, July 1974, 2.
  10. Enriqueta Díaz, “Hispanic Women’s Conference,” Voice, August 1974, 11.
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Book Review – The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings

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Interested in networking and engaging with others who are passionate about young adult ministry? Anabaptism, the Next Generation is a learning forum on ministry with young adults being hosted at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, IN April 17-19. Speakers include Chuck Bomar, Josh Brockway, Jeff Carter, Dana Cassell, Russell Haitch, Tara Hornbacker, Steve Schweitzer, Laura Stone, Dennis Webb, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. For more information and to register, go to https://www.bethanyseminary.edu/YAForum2015.

Bethany’s upcoming young adult forum is an event I am very excited about. As one who has been active in young adult ministry for the duration of my young adulthood thus far, I am always looking for others who share my passion and want to engage biblically and critically about the issues currently facing the Church – particularly from a young adult voice.

In addition to engaging in conversation, reading has been an important tool that has aided my ministry. Having sojourned with Quakers and, now, Brethren, I would like to think of myself as fairly simple. My book collection – and yes I mean real paper books – would tell a different story. I love books!

One book I have become especially fond of recently is The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings by Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar, & Abbie Smith. You can purchase the book here. The book, written from the perspectives of a senior pastor, a college pastor, and a twentysomething, compels churches to move the finish-line of early Christian discipleship past 18 years old and calls for meaningful, intergenerational relationships as the answer to the “slow fade” of young adults leaving the Church.

In what I would consider the heart of the book, chapters three and four, we’re introduced to three ideas which serve as our framework for engaging with young adults: wonder, discovery, passion. Bomar writes of his two young daughters and how imaginative they are. He remarks on how as we get older our sense of imagination seems to fade. Western Christianity is often uncomfortable with how magical and mysterious our God is but, Bomar asserts, we must recapture “this sense of wonder in our own lives[1].”

As we get older, we become surer of ourselves and the world around us. As time goes by, we can even get rigid in our understanding. Young adulthood, though, is anything but rigid or certain. A person’s twenties are all about discovery.

Not only is this a time dedicated, largely, to cultivating self-awareness, it is also a time full of many transitions: high school to college, high school or college to the workforce,  single to dating, dating to engaged, engaged to married, childless to a parent, and the list goes on. I think the transitory nature of young adulthood is another major reason why embracing discovery is so important. Young adults are not only discovering who they are, they are discovering how to successfully live into these various seasons or stations, of young adulthood.

This season of discovery should never end, according to Bomar. “Too many don’t want to admit this, but embracing our identity in God is never done. …The choice is always before us. Are we willing to remain teachable and continue moving toward discovery[2]?”

Also, as many get older, passion becomes “a faded memory, forgotten like teenage love and letter jackets. …At some point maybe we thought we could impact the world, but now, well, we’ve resigned such childlike thinking[3]” writes Smith. This definitely hits home with me.

As a young pastor, I often have my energy and idealism scoffed at by elders in congregations. People get set in their ways. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the phrase “well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” People frequently see my and other’s idealism as foolish and naïve.

This is particularly the case in my interactions with Baby Boomers – understandably so, however, as they grew up during a time when outspoken idealists were killed at places like the Lorraine Motel and Ambassador Hotel.  Sharing one’s passion for new ideas takes vulnerability. Even so, doesn’t the call of the gospel necessitate vulnerability? It is a summons to die, after all. But, that’s for another blog post.

Toward the end of the book, Bomar writes an appendix called A Note to Ministry Leaders. If you didn’t already know Bomar, you learn more of his story here. He was the college pastor at Cornerstone – the southern California church planted by Francis and Lisa Chan – when the college age ministry grew from nine people at a barbeque to over nine hundred meeting at the church each week.

While the “ministry looked great from the outside,” Bomar writes, he began to question what he was doing and came to discern that they needed to shift their focus from programs to relationships.[4] He lays out the following necessary steps for ministry leaders seeking to successfully engage young adults: Define success by relational connection; Help older believers embrace their responsibility; Invest in families; Value difference in a healthy way; Allow college-aged people to have a voice.[5]

Slow Fade is full of valuable advice and is sure to get you thinking. I, for one, am a verbal (linguistic) learner. It is not enough for me to simply read a book. I have to process what I’ve read through more words – via speaking. That’s always better when others are involved in the conversation. So, please take time to converse here on the blog. We shouldn’t have to wait until next weekend to start engaging these topics and addressing these concerns. I look forward to responding to your comments here and to seeing you at Anabaptism, the Next Generation at Bethany April 17-19.

 

[1] The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings: David C. Cook (May 1, 2010), 50-52.

[2] Ibid. 53

[3] Ibid. 55.

[4] Ibid. 112-114.

[5] Ibid 115-121

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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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Book Review: Joshua Believer’s Church Commentary – Guest Blogger, Frank Ramirez

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A Preacher’s Review of Joshua: Believers’ Church Bible Commentary by Gordon Matties (Herald Press, 2012).

Reviewed by Frank Ramirez

A few years ago when I was the junior partner, with Christina Bucher and David Leiter, co-editing the book The Witness of the Bible Scriptures for a New Testament Church, I was cornered at Annual Conference and angrily scolded for doing any such thing. The Old Testament, I was told, was antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.

Needless to say, stories from the Book of Joshua were Exhibit Number One. That was the case not only with this one per

son, but with several others over the years, whenever I admitted my enthusiasm for the Hebrew scriptures. Never mind the poetry of Ecclesiastes, the thunder for justice from the prophets, the slight of hand by the Chronicler (Now you see Bathsheba, now you don’t!), or those pesky lions in Daniel’s den – it usually gets back to Joshua when it comes to all those Marcionists who have no patience with the thick half of the Bible.

So I picture all those Mennonite and Brethren scholars the day they handed out the assignments for the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, hanging back when, echoing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, someone said, “So who wants to write about Joshua? Anyone. Joshua? Joshua? Sixth book of the Bible. Joshua?”

Well I don’t know if Gordon Matties, professor of biblical studies at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, volunteered, felt the call, or was drafted, but his commentary on Joshua is an exceptional tool for enthusiast and Old Testament skeptic alike. This volume is not only a valuable tool for pastors who may have to address the rare lectionary texts from Joshua every three years or so – it is a well-crafted apologia for an essential part of the canon, the pivot between Torah and the Deuteronomic history, and a powerful part of our family history we dare not ignore.

One quote, in particular, encapsulates the necessity for challenging ourselves and others with this Biblical book. Referring to some of the horrors described in Joshua 10 Matties writes:

I suggest that we live inside the conversation generated by this text, not inside this text alone. The text is part of a conversation within which the church wrestles, argues, and challenges. It is a text of terror that we dare not emulate; yet if we re

fused conversation with it, we run the risk of repeating the violence of which the text tells (247).

Matties encourages us to wrestle with the very different pictures of ethnic cohabitation, conflict, and accommodation presented not only between Joshua and Judges, but within Joshua itself. He also refuses to restrain the arc of this historical narrative into an archaeological straight jacket in order to bring us on board.

God is the central figure of the book, while Joshua, who only truly becomes “servant of Yahweh” after a long life of service, is revealed as one who receives the instruction of God, but is willing, such as in the mistakes made in what the author presents as the humorous encounter between the Israelites and the Gibeonites, to improvise and compromise.

The author doesn’t explain away tensions and contradictions within the book. In this way Joshua is quite like life. The peopl

e are to keep themselves pure, for instance, yet Rahab and others (including Caleb) are revealed as outsiders who become insiders. There is bloody warfare, yet the author insists it is not at its heart a conquest book, but a book of hope in the midst of darkness. The Book of Joshua reflects the best in us and the worst in us. And there is always hope, always a way out of the box that threatens to constrict and restrict us.

Matties grounds the book in our world, calling up stories and images from his own experiences in churches, the books he’s read, and from movies he’s seen. The Road Runner and Bugs Bunny, Apocalypse Now, the haka practiced by New Zealand rugby teams before an important international match, the scouring of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, Veggie Tales, Bob Dylan’s “You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody,” and old Mennonites insisting “Es steht geschrieben,” (“It is written”) are cited in turn, as is the relatively new translation The Common English Bible, all to good effect.

On a personal note, as one who has always been awed and attracted to the encounter between Joshua and a Divine Other in 5:13-15 (I think I wrote an article for Messenger titled “Who Goes There?” on the subject decades ago), I especially enjoyed Matties’ willingness to let the mystery be.

The BCBC like all commentary series has better and worse volumes. This is one of the very good ones. I highly recommend it for p

ersonal study and sermon preparation. And since, as I’ve mentioned, the lectionary selections from Joshua are few and far between (you can preach about being strong and courageous from the first chapter and how you and your house are going to serve the Lord in the last chapter, and that’s pretty much it), perhaps this book will inspire some Brethren and Mennonites to preach a summer series on the book.

Matties’ dissertation Ezekiel 18 and the Rhetoric of Moral Discourse was published by the Society of Biblical Literature. He has contributed to The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, and has published articles in church periodicals and contributed essays to collections.

Frank Ramirez picture

Frank Ramirez has served as a Brethren Pastor for thirty-four years, and currently serves the Everett congregation in Middle PA. He and his wife Jennie share three children and three grandchildren, and enjoy travel, gardening, and totally different programming. Frank is the author of several books including The Love Feast, Th

e Meanest Man in Patrick County, and Brethren Brush with Greatness.

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A Year of Biblical Womanhood: A Review – Guest Blogger, Dana Cassell

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Rachel Held Evans’ new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is getting a bunch of press, which I’m glad about. There’s a lot of predictable internet bickering going on, a lot of posturing and arguing and name-calling, some pointed and snarky responses and some responses full of grace. Some of the evangelical crowd is yelling about the book being a “mockery” of the Bible. Even some more progressive, neo-evangelicals and emerging Anabaptists are pretty inhospitable to the idea – though I’m not convinced they’ve actually read the book OR much of Rachel’s blog.

Honestly, I find most of that conversation silly. I don’t come from those circles where women in leadership is still an all-consuming and contentious subject. I’m not really invested in arguments about women’s roles or what biblical womanhood may or may not be. I like the book, and I like Rachel, not because she’s a woman or because she’s writing about women but because a) she’s funny and b) the way she incorporates an online community into her writing is fascinating and phenomenal.

When I say funny, I mean: laugh-out-loud, guffawing in the middle of the studiously quiet Starbucks kind of funny. Rachel is self-effacing in ways that I can identify with, she references everything from Anne of Green Gables to Arrested Development, and her ability to play off the mad-dash contemporary pop culture against the molasses pace of down-home Dayton, Tennessee is delightful. A scene near the beginning of the book in which Rachel attempts to purchase cipollini onions in an East Tennessee Wal-Mart nearly knocked me off my chair.

But what really intrigues me is the way that Rachel has been able to create space on the internet for real, sustained, honest conversation among people of widely varying theological stripes…and then somehow incorporate that communal discussion so gracefully into her in-print writing.

First: the blog. Rachel’s blog is built for conversation. I’ve been involved in several online blog-based initiatives meant to spark discussion, and none have been uber-successful. Whether we skewed the pieces too theological or aimed them at a too narrow audience, readership was high but participation was very, very low. I think people are often hesitant to participate online because of the dangers of being misinterpreted and because they’re wary that any conversation on the internet will devolve into name-calling and triviality. Surely, the prevalence of Facebook and Twitter debate has not eased anyone’s mind on that front.

But Rachel somehow creates and nurtures space that is meant to be about interaction, and healthy, productive interaction at that. The comment sections are long and encouraging – people actually engage the substance of one another’s comments. There’s very little snarking back and forth at one another.

The content itself is carefully planned and directed by readers. She regularly hosts guest writers in an “Ask A…” feature, where readers submit suggestions for the guests as well as their particular questions. The space has hosted funeral directors, transgendered Christians, Mennonites, messianic Jews, feminists, pagans, Pentecostals, and nuns, to name a few. Readers ask honest questions, and writers answer with openness and grace. Real conversation!

This sense of graceful community comes through in the book. Rachel writes about sharing the experience of her writing project with blog readers. She tweets for help in the kitchen, asks her readers about tips for baking challah, and surveys the blogosphere for perspective on motherhood. It is clear, reading the book, that while the hard work of writing (and experimenting: Rachel is definitely the one who slept in a tent during her period, abstained from cutting her hair for a year, and called her husband “master” for a month.) were done by one person, the authorship of this book is shared.

I’m not sure exactly what that means yet, literarily or theologically. But I like where it’s headed. I like that we can use technology to open space for communal conversation and discernment. I like that a book can be written together: not by committee, but by community. I like that this book and this blog are places where multiple voices not only get heard, but are engaged, regularly. I like that when I tweeted about guffawing while reading, Rachel saw it immediately and re-tweeted so that my experience of reading alone in a coffee shop was transformed into a shared celebration. I like that, as we Brethren say, discernment comes through scripture-read-in-community, and this book is an example of both creation and experience done just that way.

And in some strange, meta-level twist of the Spirit’s movement, I think that’s exactly the point that Rachel was trying to make: no work of art is pure and singular. Not even the Bible, revered as it may be, is a monolithic monotone dictation from God. It is a collection, a conversation, a squawking cacophony of voices that don’t really make sense until we agree to create some space for them to speak to one another in grace. Maybe that’s what the canon is, maybe that’s what the church is, maybe that’s what we are to be about. Thanks to Rachel for clearing away some of the clutter and getting the discussion started. Eshet chayil! Woman of valor!

Dana Cassell serves as Minister for Youth Formation at the Manassas Church of the Brethren in Manassas, Virginia, as well as Staff for Ministry Formation in the Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry. She blogs at Authenticity.

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The Anabaptist’s Will, The Pietist’s Heart & The Lover’s Gaze – Guest Blogger, Scott Holland

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[Part 3 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.]

by Scott Holland

I’m writing my rather tardy contribution to the Brethren Life and Thought Blog on Easter weekend, a time when many Christians celebrate the bodily life and resurrection of Jesus. We are reminded at Easter that unlike the Greek philosopher Socrates, who faced his sentence of capital punishment with a calm, welcome acceptance as the cup of poison hemlock was placed in front of him, Jesus, the Jewish rabbi, resisted his death with the anguished plea, “Father, if it is possible remove this cup from me.” For Socrates, the body was the mere prison of the soul. For Rabbi Jesus, the body and the book and the beloved world were imagined as united in God and thus believed to be blessed by God.

James Smith’s marvelous book, Desiring the Kingdom, offers his readers a well integrated philosophy of God, world, self and others. As a philosopher schooled in both classical theologies and Continental philosophies, Smith offers us a theology of culture in which the heart, head and hand cannot be pried apart in naming ourselves and rendering God’s name in history. This theology of culture makes four important moves: First, it offers an anthropology of humans as embodied actors rather than thinking, theorizing, talking heads. It prioritizes practices rather than ideas or doctrines. It looks at these cultural practices through the lens of worship, liturgy and ritual. Finally, it offers a culturally engaged rhetoric and practice of antithesis without being against culture.

Working out of the best of the Reformed tradition, Smith critiques the rationalism so dominant in the academy and public life by offering a more holistic understanding of the human person as “a desiring, imaginative animal.” However, Smith’s project doesn’t merely replace the thinking head of rationalism with the believing body of the Christian. Indeed, in James Smith’s theological vision, the human is more than a reasoning, believing, narratological animal; the human being is also a longing, loving actor in a blessed, broken world. In this vision, we are offered a robust understanding of the narrative and performative constitution of the self.

Professor Smith trained at Villanova University, a school where classical Augustinian Christianity dances with postmodern, phenomenological and Continental philosophy. Desiring the Kingdom brings these rich intellectual and spiritual traditions into both implicit and explicit conversation with the Reformed view of theology and education. Much like Smith, I trained at a school known for blending a Catholic analogical imagination with Continental phenomenology: Duquesne University. For a window into how our theologies nicely intersect see my How Do Stories Save Us?.2

Brian Gumm’s blog suggests that James Smith’s work might resonate with my “The Pietist as Strong Poet.” Indeed it does. In that piece I accent the Pietist’s epistemology of the heart and theopoetics of desire as a corrective to received theological and philosophical orthodoxies. With James Smith’s satisfying book open on my desk let me reflect briefly on the “The Anabaptist’s Will, the Pietist’s Heart and the Lover’s Gaze.”

Continue reading “The Anabaptist’s Will, The Pietist’s Heart & The Lover’s Gaze – Guest Blogger, Scott Holland”

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Holland, Scott. How Do Stories Save Us?: An Essay on the Question With the Theological Hermeneutics of David Tracy in View. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and Louvain: Peeters, 2006. []
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In place of (non-)sacraments: Re-enchanting the Brethren

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[Part 2 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 1 is here and part 3 will be up next week!]

by Brian R. Gumm

A few weeks ago I wrote a post for the Anabaptist Missional Project blog entitled “The Sacrament of Mission,” which attempted to take key points of James K.A. Smith’s somewhat recent book – Desiring the Kingdom  – and explore its implications to Christian mission. My choice of title was there (and is here) a playful jab at the Anabaptist tradition which raised me, being as it is a mostly non-sacramental tradition for its five centuries of existence in various expressions.

While the Schwarzenau Brethren have long practiced the beautiful biblical-mimetic ritual we call “Love Feast,” there’s been the insistence that such practices – like baptism – are “ordinances” from Jesus. So we do them primarily because Jesus told us to, not because they have some “mystical” or “magical” power. Combined with a free church “priesthood of all believers” ecclesiology and liturgical practices, Vernard Eller could look at high church sacramental traditions in his book, In Place of Sacraments2, and pejoratively describe them as “commissaries,” dispensing with mystical goods and services. Better than all that, Eller described the (surprise!) free church model which he called the “caravan” approach to practices like the Lord’s Supper and baptism.

While honoring the good historical reasons that Anabaptists opted out of sacramental traditions (to their own peril, initially), appreciating much of Eller’s positive work in In Place of Sacraments, and being happy in our contemporary circumstances as a believers church tradition, still I wonder: Should we reconsider our bad attitude about the sacraments? In our desire to avoid magic-thinking, is there a way in which we’ve swung too far the other direction and depleted our social imagination as Anabaptists worshipping and serving a crucified and resurrected, therefore living, God? Have we thrown the genius of narrative-shaped ritual out with the sacramental bathwater?

Continue reading “In place of (non-)sacraments: Re-enchanting the Brethren”

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Eller, Vernard. In Place of Sacraments. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972. []
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Ascetic Christianity: Brethren Dress and Smith’s Cultural Liturgies

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[Part 1 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 2 is here and part 3 is here.]

by Joshua Brockway

James K. A. Smith has written an accessible and insightful discussion of practices and the Christian faith. Smith turns to consider practices and liturgies as foundational for the ways we act in the world as Christians thus challenging worldview understandings of Christian education and formation,. Rather than discuss these practices in ideological terms Smith defines these liturgical practices as “a ‘hearts and minds’ strategy, a pedagogy that trains us as disciples precisely by putting our bodies through a regimen of repeated practices that get hold of our heart and ‘aim’ our love toward the kingdom of God.”2 Yet, Smith is clear that liturgies are not just proprietary to the Church. All cultures have within them liturgical practices which aim a person’s desires towards some other ultimate end end.

Brethren, however, have not been warm to the language of liturgy. Following many other Radical Reformation traditions, we have come to define our worship as “Free Church” and our theology as asacramental. These moves are rightly understood as reactions to the clericalism of 16th and 17th century Europe. Yet, the effect has been that we are not attentive to the ways rituals and liturgies shape our actions. Smith’s work, on the other hand, makes very clear that the question is better framed not by a rejection of liturgy, but by asking which liturgy defines us.

Continue reading “Ascetic Christianity: Brethren Dress and Smith’s Cultural Liturgies”

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 33 []
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Coming Up…

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Now that the series from the Young Adult Forum is complete, here is what’s up next.

This week we will be starting a seriers of reflection/responses to Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith.  Smith is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. He has written a number of books and weighed in on topics such as hermeneutics, Radical Orthodoxy, Post-Modernism, and Calvinism.

So why engage Desiring the Kingdom? Simply stated, too many theologians, philosophers, and psychologists have shown that what we think has little to do with how we live. We might know a lot of things, or even for that matter believe, certain things, but those beliefs are often contradicted by our actions in the world. This is especially true in the ways Christians have approached education. Smith comments on this reality near the end of the book:

To be blunt, our Christian colleges and universities generate an army of alumni who look pretty much like all the rest of their suburban neighbors, except that our graduates drive their SUVs, inhabit their executive homes, and pursue the frenetic life of the middle class and the corporate ladder ‘from a Christian perspective.’1

Our next three posts then will engage Smith’s insightful work. These posts will come from Joshua Brockway- director, spiritual life and discipleship for the Church of the Brethren; Brian Gumm- licensed minister in the Church of the Brethren and graduate student at Eastern Mennonite University’s Seminary and Center for Justice & Peacebuilding; and Scott Holland Professor of Theology and Culture and Director of Peace Studies and Cross-Cultural Studies for Bethany Theological Seminary.

 

  1. James K. A. Smith Desiring the Kingdom, 219 []
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