Book Review of “Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto” by Taiaiake Alfred – Guest Blogger, Tim Heishman

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Few writers can unmask the injustice of colonialism, both 500 years ago and even today as I write this, the way Taiaiake Alfred can. Alfred is a Kahnawake Mohawk scholar who can walk easily between Native and settler cultures, helping us see what we could not see before. The heart of this book is a call to Native people to disentangle themselves from North American culture, values, and society as a whole and return to indigenous forms of leadership, politics, and governance. Colonialism is a tremendously difficult force to resist. It may have a kinder face today than it did 500 years ago but it is no less powerful. In this book, Alfred walks the reader through the indigenous values of peace, power, and righteousness, never losing sight of his thesis that a new kind of Native leadership, characterized by a return to indigenous forms of self-government, is needed to effectively resist colonialism and preserve what still exists of Native American culture and life.

The book is organized similarly to a “Rotinohshonni condolence ritual” in written form (21). The first section takes the form of a dialogue and laments how much knowledge has been lost over the last 500 years as well as how much work it will take to restore and implement what is left (21). The Indian Act in Canada and the Indian Reorganization Act in the United States lay out the current system of governance in Native American communities. In Canada, for example, band councils are the typical intermediary between indigenous tribes and the federal government. Band council members are indigenous but work closely with the federal government. Alfred has much to say about how governments have worked hard to co-opt Native leaders and about how Native leaders have allowed themselves to be co-opted by colonial governments (27). Alfred argues for an end to this co-optation and a restoration of indigenous forms of government. Band councils, while made up of indigenous persons, are structured according to Western, or settler, understandings of legal, cultural, and societal norms. Thus, a Native governance has a colonial mindset built into it, which Alfred argues serves to continue colonizing the minds of indigenous people. He writes, “it is the duty of Native leaders to satisfy not mainstream but indigenous cultural criteria” (62).

After the first section on peace, Alfred moves to power. Here he focuses on what political leadership, values, and culture should look like (21). Key characteristics of justice in Western circles are individualistic in nature while key characteristics of justice in indigenous circles has much more to do with coexistence, balance, and the interdependency of all things (66). Thus, reconciliation and restoring justice in indigenous culture is much more dialogical and communal than individualistic (67). Also, decisions are often made by consensus rather than electoral politics (69). Indigenous people have a different understanding of power. According to Alfred, “power is used in a way that contributes to the creation and maintenance of balance and peaceful coexistence in a web of relationships” (73). Native people operate with a completely different paradigm and way of thinking. The colonial political structure imposed on them not only changes thousands of years of how they have governed themselves effectively but it has a huge impact on their culture. Governance, culture, and religion are intertwined in indigenous political culture. Finally, a discussion on political power must explore the strategies settler governments use to co-opt indigenous leaders. Settler governments try to support leaders who are the least threatening to the present order, encourage divisions in indigenous communities, create dependency on settler governments, and co-opt Native leaders by trying to incorporate them into the settler agenda (99). Native political culture, is quite different from Western settler political culture and the settler states of Canada and the United States have actively sought to impose their political culture on indigenous nations.

After peace and power, Alfred moves to righteousness. In this section, he reviews themes discussed earlier in the book but applies them to the current context. Difficulties that Native people face today include co-optation in exchange for money, the temptation to self-govern with Western political structures and make treaties, and the reality that young persons are becoming disillusioned with colonial political structures that are corrupt (21). A problem related to struggling to build the types of self-government that Alfred advocates from traditional culture is that there are many immediate incentives to sell out to the colonial governments now and the benefits of the indigenous way will take much longer (121). Instead, Alfred urges Native people to discontinue electoral politics as well as other forms of colonial government and return to indigenous political tradition, begin speaking Native languages again, become economically self-sufficient, and relate to the Canadian and United States governments on a level playing field of equals (172). In many ways, this book is a guide to decolonization and a restoration of traditional indigenous culture as well as well as forms of self-government faithful to indigenous ways.

What are we to do with all of this information? Throughout this book, Alfred issues challenges to white settlers and Native Americans. He asserts that “white people are ignorant of history” and Native Americans “have wavered on their commitment to the goal of freedom from colonial domination” (122). No one gets off easy in this book. Everyone shoulders blame for the present injustices. With that in mind, our first step in response should be to learn about the history of indigenous nations in Canada and the United States. We cannot be ignorant of the injustices that have taken place upon the land where we live. Second, we should learn about the injustices Native Americans face today, injustices that are a continuation of 500 years of colonialism. To learn about history and present injustices facing Native Americans, my wife Katie and I joined Christian Peacemaker Team’s Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Delegation to Manitoba and Ontario this summer. Third, read this book! Fourth, we need to start conversations with other settlers as well as Native Americans in the state we live. What tribes live in your state today? Fifth, begin to practice a land acknowledgment statement in public gatherings. A simple statement could be a short line we speak whenever we gather for worship, such as “Welcome to worship this morning! The land we worship on today is home to the Iroquois, Siouan, Shawnee, and Tuscarora tribes, the original inhabitants of this beautiful place. We are grateful for how they cared for this land for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. We seek right relations with the original inhabitants of this land, a relationship based on respect, peace, and friendship.” Even acknowledging the land we stand on is a powerful act of justice. What steps will you take?

Tim Heishman is a “city kid” who is currently living in the woods. He shares the position of Co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center with his wife Katie as they both are working towards their MDiv degrees at Bethany Theological Seminary. Tim spent his growing up years in Harrisburg, PA and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic before returning to the U.S. to study at Eastern Mennonite University. Tim, along with Katie, is a former National Youth Conference Coordinator for the Church of the Brethren. Now, living in Virginia, Tim and Katie attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren. In his spare time, which is rare for seminary students and ministers, Tim enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures, gardening and cooking, keeping up with political news, running, and playing board games.
Image Credits: Amazon and Tim Heishman
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Summer Camp and the Rule of Life – Guest Blogger, Katie Heishman

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Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center’s new logo updated 04/2017.

Working as a program director might be one of the only “office” jobs that connects me to the cyclical design of nature. As we move from season to season, our programming shifts in rhythm with the movement of nature. In the winter, we slow down, observing a slower pace, a slower schedule. Into the spring, the pace of life and work perk up with the greening of life all around camp. By the time summer erupts around us, we’re matching the pace of buzzing bees and the vibrancy of the natural world bursting around us. Then with a flicker summer blazes into fall, the erratic pace of summer giving way to the vibrancy found in restful sleep, dreaming of new seasons, and preparing for winter weather.

The summer months sneak up on me and leave with a sense of disbelief, “Is this really happening? Are the summer staff really arriving today?” Despite my disbelief at the fast-paced reality, it’s really happening. Our summer staff begins to arrive in the middle of May—we spend two weeks training and planning with our Assistant Program directors. They take charge of the day-to-day routines of camp making sure meals and activities are happening on time. They allow Tim and I space to step back from the day to day of summer camp and prepare for next week or the coming months of programming. The calendar still spins on—even if I’m living in the disbelief of summer all around me.

2017 Summer Staff after a commissioning ceremony

My disbelief stretches from the arrival of summer to the people who show up to summer camp. Each summer that the summer staff—full of male and female counselors, support staff, and leadership—is a gift from God! Finding faithful young adults who will be getting paid can be a struggle, but finding people to come for free—well, that floors me! Brethren Woods has a faithful base of adult volunteers for health managers and deans who take a week from their job or their summer to spend time at camp serving.

As an extrovert, the buzzing about of volunteers and summer staff is a real treat for me. Every volunteer brings a unique spin to their leadership. I am blessed seeing nuanced styles at play throughout the whole summer. The worship stays fresh week to week with the movement of deans, who provide daily Bible study lessons and lead the campers in evening worship, adding personal songs or stories to the mix. Adult counselors resurrect games from the late 80s and early 90s that the kids love! Health managers each have a different system for grading the “cleanest cabin” from yellow cards to the Mr. Clean Broom, and a dancing duck. I’m in awe of the time and commitment folks will put into their roles. My favorite question to ask volunteers is, “What are sacred memories or moments that you have around Brethren Woods?” Everyone’s answer is different and each one leaves me in awe at the many ways we can each experience a place where God speaks to us.

Everyone wishes that life could be more like summer camp…and I’m one of the lucky kids that gets to experience it every summer. Supervising the summer is obviously not the same as sleeping in a cabin with seven other souls, but summer camp’s rhythm lends itself to a “rule of life.” A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that give our lives structure and strengthen our walk with God. Camp’s rule of life looks like rising with bunk mates; praising God by the lake with croaking bullfrogs; blessing breakfast, lunch, and dinner and eating family style; reading scripture and studying the Bible; evening worship hosts a painted sky that fades to twinkling stars; and reflections of the day and God’s movement are shared with bunkmates by flashlight.

During the summer months, I’m reminded of the enormous impact the camp rule of life has on camper’s and staff’s lives. A whole community is committing to immerse themselves in rhythms that encourage their awakening to God’s movement in their lives. Most of the time, we don’t create these spaces and these rhythms to encounter God in the same way that we can at camp or on spiritual retreats. Camp is a technology-free zone, but most of my life involves daily attentiveness to a laptop or a phone. Even as a seminary student and worker in outdoor ministries I need reminders to cultivate a consistent rule of life that allows me to abide with Jesus. How can I cultivate a life with sacred, joyful rhythms like summer camp? What does a faithful rule of life look like when I must create it myself? What would a rule of life for a family or household include? What sacred rhythms do you want to cultivate together?

While I work on drafting my rule of life for the coming, slower seasons—I wonder about what volunteers, staff, and campers will carry with them from this summer season. At the end of the season, summer staff usually share about the immense deepening of their faith because of their time at camp. Many learned spiritual disciplines like centering prayer and breath prayer for the first time and I’m hopeful for their continued walk with God. Sometimes we hear about campers initiating baptism and membership classes with their pastors when they come home from camp. Many heard calls to follow Jesus more intentionally, committing to an intentional step in their journey and I’m grateful for church communities there to support them. I finish thank you cards for volunteers—thanking them for the gift of their time and energy, which in this day and age are fleeting more and more. I am grateful for their spiritual maturity and their commitment to join in the sacred camp rule of life over and over again each summer.

 

Heishman is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center with her husband, Tim. They live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren.

Image Credits: Camp Brethren Woods, Faith and Worship, and Rule of Life

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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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God’s Green Earth Recap – Chibuzo Petty, Social Media Editor

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Webpage-MastheadLast week, I had the joy of participating in Bethany Theological Seminary’s joint Young Adult and Presidential Forum, God’s Green Earth: A Call to Care and Witness. The event included great presentations from students, faculty, and invited guests from the national stage. We’ll be featuring some of the speakers in the coming weeks on the Brethren Life & Thought blog. Some of the speakers will also have pieces featured in the fall issue of the print journal. For the next few months, we’ll be focussing the blog’s content on eco-theology while continuing to share a variety of posts on our Facebook page.

I, like many of the planning committee, found myself confused and frustrated, though not entirely surprised, by the comparatively low turnout and by some of the negative pushback received. With so many prominent evangelical organizations working toward environmental justice, it’s more than a bit perplexing, and, quite frankly, vexing, that so many conservatives in the Church buck at the mention of creation care. During the opening panel, we discussed one email response from a Brethren pastor who said we should be more concerned with saving souls than saving the planet. While that assertion alone deserves a whole blog post, I’ll simply say, here, that I, like Bethany, strive for a both/and approach.

The Forum included a wonderfully diverse lineup of speakers. Age, gender, racial, and theological diversity were are present. This makes it even sadder that the audience was almost completely white. This is an issue with which Bethany, and the Church of the Brethren more broadly, really struggle. By my count, of the 75+ in attendance, there was only one person of color who was not also speaking. Even so, those in attendance were able to hear from three black speakers. (I, for instance, had the opportunity to speak several times during the Forum.)

I shared about food justice alongside senior Bethany MA student Jonathan Stauffer. Jonathan shared from a rural perspective and his presentation dealt with the changing economics and politics of agricultural. I shared from an urban perspective and focussed on the ways diet and inaccessibility contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. One of the most intriguing presentations was from Rachel Lamb of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA). Lamb spoke of her experiences in Washington D.C. working toward environmental justice. YECA, which can be found here at http://www.yecaction.org/, have committed to one hundred days of prayer to coincide with the first one hundred days of the new Trump administration. They are also actively praising and supporting the bill introduced by seventeen Republican legislators on March 15 that seeks to find conservative, market-based approaches to combating climate change. Lamb seemed to receive the most questions after her presentation, something I found to be hopeful.

Another highlight was the promotion of Green Circle, Bethany’s chapter of Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA). SSA, which can be found at http://www.blessedearth.org/featured-one/seminary-stewardship-alliance/, co-sponsored the Forum. Readers of the blog will recall Jonathan Stauffer’s recap post from our trip to the national SSA conference in Portland, Oregon last fall. A.J. Swoboda, director of SSA, will be featured on the blog April 6. Green Circle, led by Bethany professor of theology, Nate Inglis, coordinates annual creation care-focused worship gatherings, encourages sustainable practices within the institution, and much more. All four Green Circle members who attended the national SSA conference, me, Jonathan, Nate, and Liz Swenson spoke at the Forum. Green Circle member Katie Heishman spoke as well. Katie will be featured on the blog March 30 and Lize will be featured April 27.

In addition to our Green Circle members, we’ll be featuring several eco-theology themed blog posts in the coming weeks. Until then, I invite you to reflect on these words from Psalm 8 (NLT).

 

1 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

   Your glory is higher than the heavens.

2 You have taught children and infants

   to tell of your strength,

silencing your enemies

   and all who oppose you.

3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—

   the moon and the stars you set in place—

4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,

   human beings that you should care for them?

5 Yet you made them only a little lower than God

   and crowned them with glory and honor.

6 You gave them charge of everything you made,

   putting all things under their authority—

7 the flocks and the herds

   and all the wild animals,

8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,

   and everything that swims the ocean currents.

9 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

 

Image/Photo Credits: Bethany Theological Seminary

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Four Reasons Why People Attend Church: Socialization & Transformation in Today’s Church Pt. III – Guest Blogger, Brody Rike

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Reason #3: To Commune

The third reason that many attend churches is the desire to be a part of a community of believers, or perhaps a more shallow way of putting it, “a desire to make new friends.” There is no question, whether we are talking about socialized or transformed individuals, this is clearly a more mature step in a journey through church life. Entering into new relationships always has a risk factor. It is risky to allow others to know you and to take steps toward new people, engaging yourself in their lives. New relationships always have the potential to create strong bonds as easily as they can create new conflicts. People who are willing to take these steps are willing to make some form of sacrifice. When this kind of sacrifice is happening, it can bring great vitality to the social culture of a congregation.

CommunityCommunity through Socialization
I once believed that longing for community is a void that everyone had, and that it was a high priority in the lives of most people. From my experience as a minister, I conclude this simply is not true in the American culture in which we live. I do believe people still long for community, but their scope of what community is has become much smaller while the overall burden for it as a whole has decreased. For many people, the immediate and extended family is enough scope for a community. One or two good friends are often enough community, a few closer acquaintances at a workplace or even regular interaction on Facebook and social media can fill the void of a community. Sure, most would love to be known by many and even have many close friends, but when it comes to making decisions to move toward new and closer relationships, it is just not something that most will do, or even know how to do. As such, people coming to church for others is a good thing. Socialized people that pursue community are pursuing relationships, but not necessarily pursuing relationships to foster their spiritual growth or contribute to another’s spiritual growth. They are willing to take the risk of making new friends and developing more engaged relationships, but the only spiritual prerequisite for these relationships is that they attend the same church.

Community after Transformation
When one who is being transformed begins consuming the things for God and makes a commitment to a church community, they recognize that there are other Christians in the congregation that they need to engage to grow spiritually, just as they notice that there are relationships that they should pursue to help others grow spiritually. A key point of validation to determine whether one is pursuing community for transformation or socialization is the content of their dialogue outside of worship or Christian education settings. People in socialized church relationships will never speak of the Holy Spirit, sin or victory when they are together in non-programmed moments, except maybe for a prayer request from time to time. But those who are being transformed will look upon a brother or sister in Christ as one of the only people that they can talk to about such things. Sure it will not be the only topic of their interactions, but when these matters of the heart conversations are happening, spiritual growth is happening.
My call into ministry began with a moment like this. When I was 19 years old, I had a transformative moment when I had an encounter with Jesus Christ. A month before this experience I had just moved into an apartment near my college campus with four other guys so I could have the full “college experience.” When I became a Christian not only did I not know anyone else my age that was living their life for Christ, I didn’t even know if these types of people existed. Within weeks of this transformative experience, the Lord led me to about 15 other young adults at a church right around the corner from my apartment; with whom I soon wanted to spend all of my time. This desire was so strong that I joined the program they were in and began training for ministry; when I actually just wanted to have Christian community. My relationships with these young men and women were based on the common bond that we all had, to love God with our lives and to sharpen and encourage each other to grow closer to Christ.

Reason #4: Calling

A final reason why just a few attend churches is a sense of calling, purpose, and responsibility. living-a-life-worthy-of-the-calling-650x487Transformed people who are giving their lives over to the will of God will begin to have a sense of mission and destiny. They will begin to recognize that there are few coincidences when we walk with the Lord and that there is something sacred about the opportunities that they have been given to build the church of Christ. When congregation members begin to see themselves as called to a body, they no longer speak of a church as “this church” but rather “my church.” Called members have a sense of ownership in the congregation, but ownership is really only the first indicator, and it is one that can be easily confused with a socialized commitment.

A better indicator is when someone who is called begins to talk about challenges in their congregation; you will not hear them pointing a finger in the other direction, but rather asking or finding a way to be a part of the solution. Transformed, called people see their church as a spiritual mission, that they are responsible for. A final indicator that we will mention is found in consideration of transition. Those who don’t see their church as part of their calling as a Christ-follower can easily find reasons to leave the church. These reasons usually come in response to a new void that is found in one of the previous reasons why they originally attended; they don’t like the new pastor’s sermons or the new kid’s programs (consuming), they no longer want to serve in the capacity that they have been serving in or have been asked to serve in a different way (commitment), or there is just too much conflict in their relationships at church (community). A transformed person who is called, will not transition from a congregation for any of the above reasons, because they recognize that they are not at their current congregation on their own terms, but rather the Lord’s. The primary reason why someone who is called would transition from a congregation would be that they get a genuine sense that the Lord is leading them in a different direction. This leading is far beyond their own personal preferences, but a moving of the Holy Spirit in their life.

This last reason of calling was not placed in two categories as all the others, because the final reason is a rare reason why one would attend church and one that is hard to socialize. For the lay member, it would take the work of cult-like manipulation to be socialized into attending a church because they are called. Paid clergy, on the other hand, can in fact slip into a mode where they can socialize their own calling from the Lord. I would guess that if you ask 99 out of 100 clergy if they felt called to their congregation, they would say yes, and express many of the feelings and language of calling. However, the socialization creeps in when they see themselves in the role as “sent from God,” but are no longer working hard to produce spiritual growth in their congregations and rather begin to go through the motions, keeping the peace and making others feel good about themselves while collecting a paycheck. It is in the hands of severely socialized clergy that the church begins to be in danger of removing the transformative power of the Gospel from their church.

A Way Forward
As a minister who has now journaled my assessments of my current congregation along with experiences in different congregations, I will conclude with my convictions and a commission that is a way forward for all churches in the middle of this tension between the socialized and the transformed. First, ministers who are being transformed or have at once been transformed must return or draw near again to Christ seeking his plan and his will for the church they pastor. They must be burdened with love for the spiritual growth of their people. Secondly, they must realize that transformed people are the hope of their congregation. They must begin to focus on some key relationships within their church and not be afraid to ask them the tough questions about their faith. This task is truly spiritual, which is why much of the burden must be placed on the work of the Holy Spirit through prayer. This description is of person to person discipleship, which must be passed on from clergy to lay members and lay members to other lay members and/or the unchurched in their communities. I do believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world and the Church will fulfill its mission when lives are being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

This blog post is the final installment of a three-part series based on a paper written for Russell Haitch’s Educating in the Spirit class during the fall of 2016.

brBrody Rike is Pastor of West Alexandria Church of the Brethren in West Alexandria, Ohio, where he has served the last four years. Brody is a current MA student at Bethany Theological Seminary and holds a BA in Biblical Studies. At 36 years-old his ministry experience includes ministerial roles as a senior pastor and youth pastor with the Assemblies of God. Brody also has experience working in Christian education as a Bible Teacher, Athletic Director and Principal. He is happily married and a father of three, who remains active in his community, coaching varsity basketball and coordinating ministry programs in local public schools.

Photo Credits: Doing Life Better and Center for the Advancement of Christian Education (CACE)

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Four Reasons Why People Attend Church: Socialization & Transformation in Today’s Church Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Brody Rike

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47  (NIV.)

        The description above of the first “church” in the Book of Acts is one that has often become a Biblical standard for what a church today should look like, what it should be doing, how the people of the church should be treating each other, and most importantly what the Lord should be doing in their midst. The good news is that what we read above is still happening in some churches in America. The bad news is that something else is also happening in many churches across our nation.

        The purpose of this study will be to explain how two very different things can be happening to different people in American churches. These two different things are socialization and transformation. To understand these two concepts and their relevance to the church today we will look to James Loder and Kenda Creasy Dean. We will explain the four primary reasons people attend American churches today and how there is a significant difference between initiatives that are produced from socialization and initiatives that are produced after transformation. Finally, we will conclude with a brief proposal of a way forward for the Church of Jesus Christ in America.

Socialization

        Socialization can simply be defined as, “the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.” [1] Kenda Dean in her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Teenagers is Telling the American Church, explains how this idea of socialization has significantly infested today’s church. She calls this form of “socialized faith,” Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are:

  1.      A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
  2.      God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3.      The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4.      God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
  5.      Good people go to heaven when they die.[2]

This MTD that Dean speaks of is a socialized form of the Christian faith that fits nicely into our American culture. James Loder states that socialization systems (such as MTD) are often achievement based.[3] This concept of achievement also fits well into our culture, as many feel as if being a part of a church community is often a symbol of “having it all together,” or “having high values and priorities.” Many rural American cultures still view church life from these perspectives.

Transformation

Transformation will serve as the term used to describe the contrast to socialization. In his book, The Transforming Moment, James Loder defines transformation as:

whenever within a given frame of reference or experience, hidden orders of coherence and meaning emerge to replace or alter the axioms of the given frame and reorder its elements accordingly.[4]

Loder also describes transformation as occurring in five phases: conflict, interlude for scanning, insight, release and openness, and verification.[5] He explains how this process takes place within one’s understanding of the lived world, the self, the void and the holy.[6] To summarize Loder’s work on transformation concisely: those who have been transformed or are being transformed are those who have had some form of encounter in their life (a five- phase process listed above) where they have allowed their voids (areas where they are incomplete) to be filled by the holy (the Holy Spirit or the presence of God). Transformation means that there has been and is continuing to be spiritual growth in someone’s life, where they continue to live empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The Paradox of Today’s Christian Education

        Now that we have defined socialization and transformation from Dean and Loder’s perspectives, we can state the paradox of Christian education that is in most of our American churches. This paradox is that in most churches, there is nothing wrong with the message that is being preached or the substance that is being taught. There are many today that would disagree with this statement and state that the primary problem is that the Gospel is not being preached and taught today the way that it used to be, or that we have watered down the message of the Gospel to make it more palpable. This is certainly happening, and we will mention it at the conclusion of this study, but this is not the crux of the problem.

The Gospel is still being preached in old ways and new creative ways and the Holy Spirit is still available for everyone to respond. The paradox is that while the most powerful, transforming, life-changing message is being preached and taught, most “Christians,” in our culture are choosing not to respond to it, while continuing to be an active part of church life. The paradox is that most of what we see in churches today is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or patterns of socialization. This is the negative side of this paradox, but the positive side is that a few are still transforming. In many churches, the transformed are coexisting with the socialized. This is where the point of conflict in this study lies – this coexistence between the transformed and the socialized does not remain in moderation in church life. One of the two dynamics will be in progression, either a church will be moving in the direction of a more socialized culture, or transformed people will begin to empower and disciple other transformed people to bring about authentic spiritual growth in the life of a church. Kenda Dean describes this tension with parasitology stating that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a symbiote (the weaker of two organisms) that is drawing life from the transformed in the church, eventually weakening the culture to something that is mostly socialized.[7]

To understand how this coexistence can take place, we will now identify the four primary reasons why people attend church. All but one of these reasons will include how one can be socialized and attend for this reason, and how one can be transformed and attend for the same reason, yet have a completely different perspective on their purpose in the congregation.

 

This blog post is part one of a three-part series based on a paper written for Russell Haitch’s Educating in the Spirit class during the fall of 2016. Part two will be published on Thursday, February 2.

 

brBrody Rike is Pastor of West Alexandria Church of the Brethren in West Alexandria, Ohio, where he has served the last four years. Brody is a current MA student at Bethany Theological Seminary and holds a BA in Biblical Studies. At 36 years-old his ministry experience includes ministerial roles as a senior pastor and youth pastor with the Assemblies of God. Brody also has experience working in Christian education as a Bible Teacher, Athletic Director and Principal. He is happily married and a father of three, who remains active in his community, coaching varsity basketball and coordinating ministry programs in local public schools.

 

[1] “Socialization – Definition of Socialization in English | Oxford Dictionaries,” Oxford Dictionaries | English, accessed November 26, 2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/socialization.

[2] Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 14.

[3] James E. Loder, The Transforming Moment, Second (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1989), 166.

[4] Ibid., 229.

[5] Ibid., 36–40.

[6] Ibid., 67–91.

[7] Dean, Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, 13.

Photo Credits: Lisa Notes

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