Giving Wilderness New Meaning – Guest Blogger, Matt Guynn

Share

We seek wisdom from the trees
From the stories of Jesus, of you and of me
We seek wisdom from the bees
From the practice of Sabbath, Shalom, and Jubilee

This is life, sacred life,
And I want to be alive for it,
I want to be alive!

-Solveig Nilsen-Goodin

Just a few days after we moved into our new home in southeast Portland in snowy cold mid-December 2016, we were unofficially house-warmed by several handfuls of new visitors. The Wilderness Way Community was gathering for our monthly Sabbath hike, which this year is taking place each third Sunday at Powell Butte Nature Park. The trailhead is a block from our front door. We were worn out due to our move and our late-term pregnancy, but Sarah and I sent our four-year-old son, who rode through the snowy woods on someone’s shoulders.

On most Sunday afternoons, we are gathering in the sunroom of the Leaven Community in northeast Portland, Oregon. We’re singing “Done Made my Vow to the Lord,” or “God Let us Be Free,” or “We Are Ready/Manna Rebirth,” or another one of our favorites. We’re kneeling and washing our faces in a shallow ceramic basin, sluicing off the weeks we’ve had, blessing ourselves with water and preparing to enter the wilderness together. We divide into pairs for ten-minute one-to-one check-ins. We gather again to share stories about the skills of loving, anecdotes from our lives about how we’ve attempted — and succeeded or struggled or failed — to practice unconditional love in the last week.

Depending on which Sunday, next up might be a someone’s money or spiritual or nature autobiography. Or it might be Liberation Bible Study. Or it might be “Gettin’ After It” Sunday, where we go deep about how it’s going with our shared practices of Sabbath, Shalom, and Jubilee.

Across the street, the greenness of Alberta Park shines at us. Through windows, through the trees, on any given Sunday I see my son Daniel’s bright clothes as he climbs and balances on a mossy stone wall with other kids. He in the Wilderness Way Community’s Children’s School, learning core stories of Christian faith while also learning to build fires, track the turning of the elemental and liturgical seasons, and play in ways that channels aggression and stays emotionally connected with other kids.

Wilderness Way exists to ground and cultivate “wild” Christian disciples and fearless spiritual leaders, rooted in the natural world and the prophetic Christian tradition, offering our lives for the transformation of our culture and economy into one that Jesus might recognize as what he called the Kingdom of God, what we might call the Ecosystem of God.

– from the Wilderness Way Mission Statement

Since 2009, my family has participated in the Wilderness Way Community. Wilderness Way was founded with a clear focus on developing spiritual leaders who are ready and able to respond to our times. This process of leadership development isn’t one size fits all, as each is on a personal journey. Some in Wilderness Way are rediscovering a faith damaged by the churches of their childhoods – having been treated as less than, for being women or queer or just different. Some are learning to teach the radical stream of the Bible, focused on the “least of these” and the Exodus escape from oppression into God’s new pattern of relying on manna as we journey together. Some are learning and teaching permaculture. Some are learning to release power and privilege and enter into the fullness of community. We are community organizers, counselors, pastors, teachers, medical professionals, students, retirees. We are on the Wilderness Way together.

In 2016 we celebrated the community’s tenth anniversary. As a part of that celebration, we collectively wrote a book – mostly through the labors of our pastor/organizer Solveig Nilsen-Goodin. Here’s a little more, from What Is the Way of the Wilderness?: An Introduction to the Wilderness Way Community.

“At Wilderness Way we come together to open up an alternative space within the context of the American empire—a bastion of global capitalism and neocolonialism. We come together to imagine this alternative space as a “wilderness” space, a space in which we can push back the logic of empire and find power in community to imagine and create a new reality; a space in which we can be formed and transformed, forgiven and challenged, untamed and undomesticated. The wilderness motif runs deep through the whole of scripture. In this motif we discover that at its core, wilderness refers to the places that empire has not been able to control. This is why prophets often come out of the wilderness, and why people seeking liberation from empire go into the wilderness.

Two of the many biblical wilderness stories that shape our imagination are the 40-year Exodus journey of liberation in the wilderness, and Jesus’ 40-day wilderness preparation to fulfill his baptismal call. The Exodus journey of liberation is a powerful prototypical story of a community seeking and attaining its own liberation and then having the dual blessing and challenge of unlearning the worldview of empire and slavery, and reimagining a way of life in harmony with the God of creation and liberation. Carving out “wilderness” spaces invites us also to unlearn the distorted worldviews that have shaped us and to reimagine life in harmony with the God of creation and liberation. In the same way, Jesus’ 40-day wilderness sojourn invites us to take our own call to spiritual leadership seriously.

Wilderness, however, is not simply a metaphor or a motif, an imaginative place or space. Every biblical story and every imaginative “wilderness” space we create takes place somewhere: In a particular ecosystem with its particular flora and fauna. In a particular watershed with its particular story of humans and their relationships to the land. In a particular bioregion with its particular history of human interactions, both harmonious and hostile, benevolent and brutal. Wilderness Way, for example, which finds its home in the Willamette and Columbia River watersheds, currently meets just miles from a portion of the Willamette River declared a Superfund site. This land, once a vibrant trading area for indigenous peoples, was ceded in 1855 by the Kalapuya, Molala, Clackamas and other peoples only after violence and epidemics had devastated over 95 percent of their populations.

Without an intimate connection with place, we easily spiritualize or see only the metaphoric meaning of a thing. For example, when Jesus compels his listeners to pay attention to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, he calls them not to a greeting-card moment but rather to a radical teaching on how God’s intended economy functions. Or how often, for example, do we hear the biblical phrase “living water” solely as metaphor while toxins flow unimpeded into water in countless rivers and oceans, poisoning the water that is the source and substance of life for us and myriad plants and animals—literally, our living water? Wilderness, therefore, also calls our attention to the earth, the land, the waters, the ecosystems, the biosphere in which we live, imploring us to learn their wisdom, their stories and the ways they have been impacted by empire. The climate crisis facing humanity reveals how deeply so many of us are disconnected from the ecosystems in which we live. Wilderness Way understands that reconnecting with the earth and earth’s stories, with wilderness and our own wildness, is not only essential for our healing and survival, it is inevitable for those who seek to follow in the way of Jesus and the untamable, undomesticatable God of Life. The breadth and depth of these meanings of wilderness have revealed to us what we call the Wilderness Way: the way of Sabbath, Jubilee and Shalom.

The Wilderness Way Community is a Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Matt Guynn has been actively involved with WWC, including anchoring Liberation Bible Study for several years and serving on the Wilderness Way Council. Guynn is program director for nonviolent social change with On Earth Peace. He is an alumnus of Manchester University (1995, B.A. Peace Studies), the University of Notre Dame (1996, M.A. International Peace Studies), and Bethany Theological Seminary (2003, M.A. Theology). His M.A. thesis at Bethany was “Re-enchantment: Theology, Poetics, and Social Change.”

Image Credits: Kmusser, Wikimedia, and Wilderness Way

Share

Cycling to Simplicity – Guest Bloggers, Katie Shaw Thompson and Anna Lisa Gross

Share

Katie’s Story

As I was crossing the Fox River on the Highland Avenue bridge on a misty Sunday morning in Elgin, IL, a Bald Eagle stretched its wings and soared directly over top of me. I don’t know if I would have caught it if I had been driving my little Mazda across town to preach at the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, where I am the pastor, but since I was on my bicycle, there was no glass or steel to block my vision of this serene creature’s stark white head and strong brown body gliding discretely through the grey winter morning.

From December through April, my family has pedaled more miles than we have driven. It has been a mild winter in northern Illinois, but even on below freezing days, my family, including my well-bundled 2-year-old and 4-year-old, have more often than not chosen our bikes over our car to get to church on Sunday mornings.

Since selling our second car in September and purchasing a long-tailed cargo bike for hauling both groceries and precious toddler cargo, my family has grown increasingly fond of this means of transportation as well as increasingly fond of the city in which we live. We have found it much easier to have occasion to greet our neighbors or strike up conversations at the bike corral with perfect strangers. Traveling at 5-10 miles per hour instead of 30 miles per hour through my city’s streets allows me to stop and chat with a congregant at work in his front yard, rather than throwing a quick wave while I blow by. The novelty of the long-tailed bike has more than once been the reason for a motorist stopped with us at a traffic light to roll down the window and start a curious and friendly conversation. Once while locking up outside a local supermarket the children made friends with a local store clerk and returned to find the cargo bike sporting a new, bobbing, bright yellow, helium-filled balloon. In the fall we enjoyed the view of the Autumn leaves. This winter we have been even more grateful for our warm house after frosty bike rides. And, as the spring erupts in Elgin, we have welcomed the miles of tulips, daffodils, and magnolia blossoms right alongside the bloom of increased bike and pedestrian traffic in these friendlier temperatures. All these encounters help me to feel more connected to the physical world and community around me than I feel in my car.

Not all bicycle-fueled encounters are as pleasant as spotting a high-sailing eagle or turning a stranger into a friend. When traveling alone on my bicycle, I have been the target of gender-based street harassment and have received other vulgarities hurled high-speed at me from car windows. Those are encounters my husband and children have never experienced and ones I never have in my car. When biking to work I also notice the incomplete infrastructure and the lack of sidewalk clearing after snows that makes it more dangerous for folks to bike and walk in my city. And I notice the people who are walking or biking like me. I see men who appear to have all their belongings on their backs. I see women walking with their coats zipped high and their ear pods implanted. I have seen mothers struggling across icy sidewalks with strollers. I wonder how many of them are out in all weather like me by choice and how many of them simply have no other choice to get to home, work, school, or food.     

The congregation I serve, like many other congregations, is seeking to renew and re-envision its call to community engagement in a world and a city that has changed quickly around it. The church’s three-year strategic plan asks, “What does it mean for the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren to be a vital presence in the Elgin community? How does our identity affect the way we relate to the community, and how does the Elgin community shape us? Where do we lead? Where do we follow?”

The Israelites are in a time of renewal after many have returned from exile in Babylon when they hear the words of Isaiah 58. In this text, God speaks to the people and lets them know that the religious checklist of pious acts they have been crossing out has lost its power to transform them and transform their community. The voice of God tells them they only fast to serve their own interests and in doing so, oppress their workers (Isaiah 58:4). Rather God asks,

Is not this the fast that I choose:

 to loose the bonds of injustice,

 to undo the thongs of the yoke,

 to let the oppressed go free,

 and to break every yoke?

 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

 and bring the homeless poor into your house;

 when you see the naked, to cover them,

 and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Riding my bike is a simple act and not one I think of every day as transformative, but it has changed the way I relate to the environment around me. Moreover, the more I read about bicycles as transit, the more hopeful I become that this mode of transportation can address aspects of racial inequality, economic inequality, epidemic loneliness and isolation, and environmental sustainability. In Isaiah, God tells the people, if you choose this kind of fast, then you will be called “repairers of the breach” and “restorers of streets to live in.” My prayer is that my family’s commitment to two-wheeled transportation will help us to answer that call to repair the breach and restore the streets of our city one pedal stroke at a time.     

Anna Lisa’s Story

I like to tell people I bike everywhere because I’m lazy. I don’t carry quarters for parking meters, and I still get the best parking spots. But biking is only easy with preparation. Luckily, Brethren know about disciplines, spiritual and otherwise, and have the skills needed to bike simply.

I don’t mean to conflate lazy, easy, and simple. Lazy was just to get your attention and even make you smile! As we know, living simply can be easy, but it’s often quite complicated.

That’s where habits come in. If your spiritual disciplines include daily scripture study, you probably have a certain chair where you read and even a favorite Bible. That Bible might stay on the end table by that chair, and maybe there’s a coaster for your morning cup of coffee.

Biking everywhere can be that easy if you have as much habit and preparation. You’ll never make a practice of biking if you start the decision-making from scratch each morning, and have to decide on the spot what to wear, find a helmet, pump up your tires, and plan your route.

If you don’t know where to find a Bible and haven’t chosen a time of day to read scripture, you won’t pull off that spiritual discipline.

I have old track pants that I can pull over thick leggings – even a dress. I have a thin plastic coat and a thick plastic coat. I keep nice clothes at my office. I can bike in any weather (except ice) and for any occasion by building in these routines.

Because I bike every day, charging my headlights and pumping my tires is nearly automatic, and I do it at the end of the day (I’m not a morning person, so telling myself I’ll get up earlier to maintain my bike sets me up for failure).

Not always easy, but simple, because I’m not thinking through each choice every time. Habits are a gift.

Moving to the Pennsylvania mountains threatened my simple living cycling practice. I could no longer take my morning coffee in my bike’s cup holder without ½ of it spilling on my way down our steep, long driveway. It wasn’t easy to lose the pleasure of sipping coffee on my morning commute because I kept trying to complicate things – finding a better travel mug or holding it my hand down the driveway (which gave me some serious road rash one day). When I gave up that commute coffee habit, I simplified my morning routine.

Our individualistic culture has a shallow notion of freedom – that freedom means we get to make any choice we want. Not only is this toxic and impractical, but we also end up with even less freedom. Freedom is not 127 deodorant choices at a grocery store. Freedom is not trading the climate-controlled box of our homes, where we can pick the voices we listen to and restrict who comes inside, for the climate-controlled box of our cars, where we can pick the voices we listen to and restrict who comes inside.

As Paul wrote to the Galatian church,

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. (MSG)

It’s so much easier for me to love people when I’m biking than driving – driving makes it so easy to ignore humanity and instead see vehicles – too fast, too slow, bumper stickers I like or don’t like. On my bike I look people in the eye: drivers – to make sure they see me, pedestrians and other cyclists – to exchange a greeting. I think I’m easier to love when I’m on my bike, too! Occasionally I’m harassed by drivers, but often I get a smile and wave, for my bright orange milk crate (cyclist version of a trunk) or the surprising combo of plastic track pants with cute shoes.

 

Katie Shaw Thompson is the pastor of the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, the mother of two young children, and a four-season bike commuter in Elgin, IL.

 

 

 

 

Anna Lisa Gross is the interim pastor of the Stone Church of the Brethren. She is grateful to be involved in planning worship and rituals, creative writing, joining people in the joys and sorrows of their lives, asking provocative questions, tending to beginnings and endings, community organizing, and advocating for justice.

 

 

Image Credits: Momentum Mag & UK Pintrest

Share

A Psalm of the Earth – Guest Blogger, Elizabeth “Liz” Ullery Swenson

Share
joebraun_angelslanding01
Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park

Last February, I had the opportunity to explore Zion Nation Park in southern Utah. My sister is a park ranger and spent last winter at, what locals simply call “Zions,” and so my wife and I drove down from our home in Washington State to visit. It is truly an amazing place. Towering red sandstone canyon walls. Unimaginably beautiful sunsets that seem to reflect the colors of the rock. The southern Utah desert is majestic and harsh, and staggeringly beautiful. The sense of the divine is palpable, and not only because of the references to biblical names throughout the park. It is one of those liminal spaces, truly sacred ground. God’s red earth.

Early one morning we hiked to Angels Landing, a famously rigorous and scenic hike. As we made our way up the canyon, I found myself pondering all the ancient canyon walls and rock had experienced. Formed by the Virgin river, slowing eroding the sandstone over thousands of years. Zion Canyon is still being formed; it is not yet finished. God’s creativity is still at work on this ever changing landscape. Maybe it was the steadily rising temperature as the sun rose above the canyon walls and we climbed higher, but I wondered if rocks pray, and if they did, what were their prayers? As I pondered this, I swear I could almost hear the rocks speak. Not in some alarming way, in a quiet way, when you can push past your thoughts and settle into a sacred quiet. Tuning out your internal dither and being fully present. Recognizing and accepting your place in the cosmos of things.

zion-national-park-emerald-pools-wallpaper-4
Emerald pool at Zion National Park

Back in our cool hotel room as I recovered from the strenuous 11 miles of hiking, I wrote a psalm of lament from the perspective of the Earth.

A Psalm of the Earth

How long O Creator?
How long will you allow your people to hurt me?

You created me, fashioned me from stardust.
Parting my waters and my lands, proclaiming me good.
Every soaring peak and babbling stream,
Every tumbling sage and towering sequoia,
You proclaimed it good and holy.

In one mighty chorus we praise you,
In the harmony of the songbirds
The rustling of the tree branches
The rumbling of the rocks
And the roaring of the waterfalls.
All is offered in celebration and praise of your wondrous works.

You created humans too,
people of all kinds,
Created in your holy image,
molded out of fertile soil.

You instructed them to take charge and care of me
and all your majestic creation.
But your people forgot.

They have become greedy and forgot the promise they made to you.

My sacred ground and holy waters are poisoned and pillaged.
My tender ecosystem is ruined
And still they persist.
Soon I will have nothing left.

My pristine wilderness is trampled and overrun
My flowing streams run dry to meet their insatiable thirst
Storms rage unrestrained because of my warming oceans.

Do they not care?
Do they not know we are interconnected and interdependent?

Our survival depends on each other,
they cannot live without me.
My future is their future.

O God, remind them of their promise to you and their responsibility to me.
Do not let them destroy me.

13015177_10100863827350253_314074110569093358_nElizabeth “Liz” Ullery Swenson is the Founding Pastor of WildWood Gathering and is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary. She lives in Olympia, Washington with her wife Lucy Jane Swenson. To find out more about WildWood, visit http://wildwoodgathering.org/.

 

Image Credits: Joe Braun Photography & PCWallArt

Share

On Hospitality: Banquet of the Absurd (Luke 14:12-24) Pt. II – Guest Blogger, Scot Miller

Share

This blog post is the second in a two-part series adapted from a piece originally published on Scot’s personal blog (link below). For part one, visit http://www.brethrenlifeandthought.org/2017/04/21/on-hospitality-banquet-of-the-absurd-luke-1412-24-pt-i-guest-blogger-scot-miller/. What follows is a continuation of Scot’s story about serving the water distribution effort last year in Flint, Michigan.

Over the next few weeks, we distributed water, fed children of all ages, homeless persons, and drug addicts, treated a heroin overdose, and began delivering food to folks who were marginalized to the point of being afraid of coming to the church (some distribution points were asking for photo identification). I was able to do outreach and wellness checks to families who made their only income illegally, thus preventing them from seeking some services for fear of opening excuses for home visits from authorities. We served refugees and immigrants who did not know English, and could not get help, or were scared to seek it out. The Church of the Brethren building on Stocker Avenue was a church, and it was contributing to its neighbor’s lives in many ways. The building was truly a place of welcoming and affirmation of all folks from any and every background. We were the church. We were practicing radical hospitality.

We continued to talk about the Bible and what the stories of the Bible meant to us. We also talked regularly about how the church might be relevant in the lives of our neighbors. I also believe we wanted the church to be more relevant to us spiritually. Sometimes, our church experiences left us longing. Sometimes, we felt spiritually malnourished. Mary Lorah-Hammond and Jennifer Betts had been dreaming of doing dinner church, and they also knew that the water crisis brought new nutrition needs to the forefront of everyone’s mind. It was decided that we extend our hospitality to folks at the farm market and our Facebook friends, activist, and professionals who were serving the city to share dinners on Tuesday nights. Flyers were made and distributed, invitations were extended, and preparations were made for a messianic banquet we called “Feeding of the Flintstones.”

Parker4

And nobody came.

But we had been reading the text.

The text had answers.

While Mary and Jennifer cooked, I went outside and walked around the neighborhood, inviting every individual or family I came across to come to the church on Stocker Avenue and share a meal. I believe we had 12 that first evening, certainly a number appropriate to our shared narrative. This continued every Tuesday night. Some folks followed up on the invite. More often than not, all of our guests came as the result of someone going out into the neighborhood who embodied the text of Luke 14, which invites all and sundry to experience fellowship without regard to status or ability to contribute to the “potluck” that is a staple of Midwestern hospitality for “those who belong.”

One warm evening, my son Micah and I left Mary and Jennifer to cooking and walked around the west side neighborhood looking for folks to invite for meal sharing. As we walked down Arlene Avenue, I noticed two women in a van parked on the corner of Mann Avenue. I approached the van to invite them to dinner and saw they were both crying. I asked if I could help, and they indicated to Micah and me that one of the women’s family had just moved into an abandoned house, and they had lost their food benefits card, had no cash, nothing to eat, and no electricity. I told them to bring everyone to the church for a meal.

That Tuesday evening, we had more than 20 folks eating with us, eight of them belonging to the woman sitting in the car. As everyone was enjoying food and conversation, Mary and Jennifer were talking with the women; I tried to reach out to the father of the group. He was less than interested in communicating and seemed to feel patronized by me as I served him bread and soup. He was not enjoying my presence, or anyone else’s.

As Now Ministries worked to get the whole family set up for food delivery the next day, it was evident they needed some things that night. I asked the father if he would like to go with me to Kroger to pick some things up, and I could foot the bill. Reluctantly, he made the decision to go. As we drove by ourselves to the grocery store, he began to open up just a bit. When he found out that we shared some experiences of city living, we were able to begin a conversation that, within 15 minutes, turned into a warm experience of friendship.

The fact of our hospitality was the result of reading the text and then trusting that our living out the stories would lend credibility to our actions. In fact, we acted in faith, and our faith was vindicated. But the vindication is by no means represented in a growth of church membership, or big publicity regarding our worship services, or even in miracle funding for more outreach. For the text states that it is of no use to provide hospitality to those who somehow repay you or invite you in return, but rather we are to invite and serve the poor.  We will be vindicated for our faithfulness at the Judgment, but salvation comes immediately to those in need. They are liberated from the bondage of facing the crisis in isolation. Everyone knows that sin is evident, but the opportunity to respond in new ways with new outcomes is what the church is to reveal to those in need. The apocalypse is the unveiling of how the church responds to sin that has not been properly identified as sin. If the economics of food are unjust, the church calls this sin and offers an alternative.

In fact, we are sharing or extending the blessings of faith in a manner that makes the kingdom of God a credible alternative to systematic corporate sin for those most in need of God’s grace and mercy. It is our voluntary sacrifice of privilege and our sharing of resources that makes our claims of the Kingdom of God credible. We embody faith at our expense, and not for reward. This is faithfulness. This is apocalyptic witness. This is the eschatological “end-times” that marks not the end of the world, but more importantly, the end of an age that witnesses the collusion of the so-called Church and State to promote wealth and power rather than the victory of the Lamb over the devil, sin, and death.

An apocalyptic unveiling is not God’s new response to sin, but the church’s identifying and uncovering the fact of corporate sin which has been sold to Christians as conservative religion. Civic Christendom is far from conservative. Rather, it is liberal democracy costumed as Christianity in order to the hide selfishness, racism, and exclusivity that has victimized those who need the church the most. The church has not only colluded with the State, but indeed has colluded with the Accuser. We accuse those left behind as being responsible for the products of our own economic, racial, and militant sin. This heresy is a Satanic reversal of the Gospel call to love one another as ourselves.

The folks of Flint have been left behind, but they have not been left behind to suffer through some apocalyptic Armageddon. They have simply been left behind as “the least of these.” Flint and other places like it have been left behind by Christians who keep promising that heaven awaits them, preaching that if the victims of sin don’t clean their act up, God will leave them behind just as the economy, the judiciary, and education has left them behind.

Indeed, if these so-called spiritual warriors read Revelation more closely, they might see passed the plank in their eyes to see that Christ judges them. The biggest sin of Christendom is the Laodicean error – the error that Jesus would not overlook.

Revelation 3:15-20 (HCSB)

15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.19 As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.

10271482_694810043912301_8536081974303114262_nScot Miller, of Hastings, Michigan (by way of Flint and Detroit), is a passionate and tireless worker for justice – passions that led him to seek degrees in social work. Having been a member the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for 15 years, he now serve as Pastor of Education and Outreach for Common Spirit Church of the Brethren in Grand Rapids. Scot spent most of 2016 ministering in Flint, Michigan, as a responder to the water crisis there. He served under the auspices of Common Spirit at First Church of the Brethren in Flint, in the neighborhood of his birth. He served as an adjunct professor of social work at Kuyper College for four years, and more recently served as an adjunct professor at the Earlham School of Religion during the 2017 January intensives. He is particularly drawn to Anabaptist theology as well as apocalyptic expressions of early Quakerism. You can read more of Scot’s work at http://www.gospeloftheabsurd.net/.

Image Credit: 2×2 Vital Church

Share

On Hospitality: Banquet of the Absurd (Luke 14:12-24) Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Scot Miller

Share

If the end-time fallacies of Tim LaHaye have any interpretive value, I propose a compare and contrast exercise with the city of Flint, Michigan. Flint is home to a people that have been “Left Behind.” While LaHaye’s apocalyptic lack of theological imagination is little more than a lie, the opportunity for the church to recognize our error and reorganize into a truly apocalyptic assembly is fully represented in the reality of living in Flint. The Body of Christ has been lost in the violent maladaptive literary world of dragons and super-whores for far too long, failing to recognize our obligation to embody the gospel in a manner that reveals something far more important than the end of the world; that being the rebirth and a restoration of God’s creation to wholeness.

Flint is the place where the sins of unjust economics, whiteness, and electoral politics have come home to roost. In the midst of a water crisis that has had a catastrophic effect on residents of the city and resulted in corporate trauma, the failure of the church is as evident as the failure of the water system. The residents of Flint were left behind to suffer the consequences of state-sponsored sin, when their water was poisoned, and and when this poisoning was denied by authorities. The people of Flint were left behind to suffer the consequences of institutionalized racism. They were left behind by a changing economy that no one prepared them for nor explained to them, despite promising them new jobs and new prosperity every election cycle. The people of Flint were left behind by the very people who promote Heaven as a reward for worldly suffering while reaping the benefits of wealth accumulated in the midst of such suffering. Flint is far more indicative of the end-times than LaHaye fans want to admit – it marks the end of the church as a relevant institution as we know it in the here and now.

I felt a call to return to Flint, the hometown my parents were forced to leave behind when the recession of the late ‘70’s drove us to Detroit so they could find work. When I heard about the water crisis and thought of the biblical call to deny privilege and serve the least of these, I turned a deteriorating job experience into an opportunity for ministry. I made a decision to go to Flint three days a week and contribute resources to the water crisis response. I was welcomed by First Church of the Brethren in Flint to work with their congregation and the African-American congregation they shared the building with, NOW Ministries.

13466190_1124814794245155_6074803376173933832_n
B.B and Scot taking a brief reprieve while serving in Flint.

Working with First CoB and Now Ministries, we went from distributing three pallets of bottled water a day to 18 pallets of water a day, three days a week. We also found the resources to provide fresh food to our neighbors, diapers and hygiene products, and provide neighbors with up-to-date information about the water crisis. Along with the work that was being done at the church, we shared with one another our understandings of God and the Bible and talked about what it is that we must do to reflect the love of Christ to our neighbors.

Importantly, the number of folks volunteering allowed for the church to keep its doors open almost every day of the week. As such, the building on Stocker Avenue became much more than a place to pick up water. It became a central location for adults and children alike to experience community. The building’s social significance became evident one night when my 70-year-old water distribution partner B.B. and I were struck with a dilemma. We were the only two folks (left behind) at the church one afternoon, waiting for hours for a water delivery that never came. The state was not sending enough truck drivers to help with water distribution, and deliveries were being held up because the food bank drivers were pressed into double duty. They delivered loads of food to locations around the east side of the state, and then came back to Flint to deliver pallets of water. We received our delivery at 5 pm.

Importantly, the number of folks volunteering allowed for the church to keep its doors open almost every day of the week. As such, the building on Stocker Avenue became much more than a place to pick up water. It became a central location for adults and children alike to experience community. The building’s social significance became evident one night when my 70-year-old water distribution partner B.B. and I were struck with a dilemma. We were the only two folks (left behind) at the church one afternoon, waiting for hours for a water delivery that never came. The state was not sending enough truck drivers to help with water distribution, and deliveries were being held up because the food bank drivers were pressed into double duty. They delivered loads of food to locations around the east side of the state, and then came back to Flint to deliver pallets of water. We received our delivery at 5 pm.Cars were lined up for water, and B.B. and I were having great difficulty keeping up.We were two men over the age of 50, we were wearing down, and our instructions at that time were to not leave water outside. The line of cars grew deeper, and we were exhausting ourselves. As the sun was setting, our neighbors were not unaware of what was happening. First, one teen came over to the church to volunteer help. Then a second. A third came with his sister, who set up a candy and Kool-Aid stand, using bottled water to make the drinks with sugar from her house. It was this evening that we recognized we were making an impact on our block. We had folks from the block, ages eight to nearly 80, distributing water and having fun. Together, we had a purpose.

Cars were lined up for water, and B.B. and I were having great difficulty keeping up.We were two men over the age of 50, we were wearing down, and our instructions at that time were to not leave water outside. The line of cars grew deeper, and we were exhausting ourselves. As the sun was setting, our neighbors were not unaware of what was happening. First, one teen came over to the church to volunteer help. Then a second. A third came with his sister, who set up a candy and Kool-Aid stand, using bottled water to make the drinks with sugar from her house. It was this evening that we recognized we were making an impact on our block. We had folks from the block, ages eight to nearly 80, distributing water and having fun. Together, we had a purpose.

This blog post is part one of a two-part series adapted from a piece originally published on Scot’s personal blog (link below). 

10271482_694810043912301_8536081974303114262_nScot Miller, of Hastings, Michigan (by way of Flint and Detroit), is a passionate and tireless worker for justice – passions that led him to seek degrees in social work. Having been a member the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for 15 years, he now serve as Pastor of Education and Outreach for Common Spirit Church of the Brethren in Grand Rapids. Scot spent most of 2016 ministering in Flint, Michigan, as a responder to the water crisis there. He served under the auspices of Common Spirit at First Church of the Brethren in Flint, in the neighborhood of his birth. He served as an adjunct professor of social work at Kuyper College for four years, and more recently served as an adjunct professor at the Earlham School of Religion during the 2017 January intensives. He is particularly drawn to Anabaptist theology as well as apocalyptic expressions of early Quakerism. You can read more of Scot’s work at http://www.gospeloftheabsurd.net/.

Photo Credits: Scot Miller

Share

Sabbath as Creation Care – Guest Blogger, A.J. Swoboda

Share

Creation was created perfectly. Everything that it needed to function properly was included. God created an environment perfectly suited for life to thrive. Examining the biblical account, we see the Sabbath is an integral part of God’s creation. Although on the final day, Sabbath is as much a part of creation as light, water, the sun, food, livestock, germs, chickens, the garden, and people. Can you imagine, for a brief moment, what our planet would look like if we no longer had water? Or light? Or food? What if we decided trees were unnecessary and cut them all down? In the end, cut any of these elements of creation out of creation and assuredly creation would not continue as a place suitable for life. Why do we think Sabbath is any different to the well-being of creation than sunlight, water, and food? In creation, everything is affected by everything else because the perfect Creator knew what he was doing when he made the planet. By ignoring the Sabbath, the world suffers tragic consequences. Let us examine how keeping a Sabbath helps heal a creation that is “groaning” (Rom. 8:28).

Like any living entity, the earth is cWhat-is-Sabbath-Should-We-Keep-The-Sabbath-Day-or-The-Lord’s-Day-672x372reated to have rhythms of rest and respite. The land needs a break from productivity. Certain animals need to hibernate. The ocean needs breaks for fish populations to be replenished. Like human beings, when creation is robbed of a chance to rest, it quickly begins to communicate its exhaustion to us.

As the Psalmist writes, God actively “causes” the grass to grow for the cattle God has made (Ps. 104:14). [1] God does not create accidentally. He creates intentionally. God made a system for life, not just a system of life; an intricate system with Sabbath built into it. In this system of life, everything is dependent on something else to thrive. The system must be protected—or, tragic things begin to happen.

Cows are beautiful creatures. Sadly, our economic system has grown an unhealthy dependence upon them—and their abuse. In the natural order, cows get pregnant when they are in heat. But in modern agricultural practice, cows are artificially inseminated while still secreting milk from their last pregnancy. Why? So they can be milked nearly without break. In industrial dairy practices, cows are milked for ten months out of the year compared to just five to six months in places where traditional dairy farming is practiced. Our cows are given almost no rest between pregnancies and they are being milked during most of their pregnancy; and it turns out that when cows are not allowed to rest, human health is put at risk. Pregnant cows’ milk contains significantly higher amounts of sex hormones than milk from cows that aren’t pregnant. Studies have indicated that the increase in sex hormones may affect cancer rates, as well as human development. [2] Additionally, livestock are often given steroid hormone implants used for growth and increased milk production.

One of these, estradiol, is listed as the naturally-occurring sex hormone estrogen on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. [3] This is a misnomer, however, as estradiol is a synthetic sex hormone which is an endocrine disrupter by nature. [4] These steroids, which regulate hormones and the reproductive system, are given to livestock to increase dairy production. As a result, large amounts of synthetic estrogens are excreted in manure, then spread on fields and eventually end up in our water supplies. [5] Because sex hormones are not removed from wastewater before it heads to our rivers and seas, fish populations are harmed. [6] Along the Potomac, Columbia, Colorado, and Mississippi rivers, fish are found to be “gender-swapping” as a result of the presence of sex hormones. [7] These intersex fish exhibit sex traits of both male and female fish, which in extreme cases are found to have been made sterile. [8] If this is the effect endocrine disruptors has on fish, one might wonder what effect they could have on humans. [9]

However, when a cow is given the rest it needs, these large doses of dangerous sex hormones do not end up in our milk, our water, or our streams—everyone, from fish, to humans, to the cows, are protected. It’s remarkable how the Sabbath is integral to the well-being and flourishing of the “critters” in the animal kingdom. “Remember that Sabbath … On it you shall not do any work … nor your animals” (Ex. 20:8; 10).

When humans Sabbath, they intentionally immerse ourselves, as God did, into the creation order. This is reflected in the fact that Sabbath was not for humans alone, but the livestock, land, vineyards, and fields. Sabbath had far-reaching implications beyond humans all non-human creation. Sabbath is, at its core, an ecological principle. This is not accidental. God intentionally designed and created the world in a pattern that would allow for the flourishment of all. Long before we started burning out, long before the land started dying, long before disaster struck—there was God! And God created this world beautifully, intricately, and interconnected. And part of that interconnected beauty is located in the need for rest.

Swoboda (105 of 106)Dr. A. J. Swoboda is a professor, author, and pastor of Theophilus in urban Portland, Oregon. He teaches theology, biblical studies, and Christian history at Portland and Fuller Seminaries, including a number of other universities and Bible colleges. He is the lead mentor of a Doctor of Ministry program on the Holy Spirit and Leadership at Fuller Seminary. Additionally, he is the founder and director of Blessed Earth Northwest, a center that helps think creatively and strategically around creation care issues in the Pacific Northwest. Alongside this work, he serves as the national director of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance—a consortium of Christian higher-ed schools that are thinking strategically about Christian training in creation care. Previous to this, A.J. served as a campus pastor at the University of Oregon. His doctoral research at the University of Birmingham (U.K.) explored the never-ending relationship between the Holy Spirit and ecology. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Pentecostal Studies. A.J. is the author of The Dusty Ones (Baker), Tongues and Trees: Toward a Pentecostal Ecological Theology (JPTSup, Deo), and Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Baker Academic). You can find his website and blog at www.ajswoboda.com, or follow him on Twitter @mrajswoboda.

1 It should be pointed out that the Hebrew text uses a causative verb “to grow” implying that God is not passively making the grass grow—God himself actually makes it sprout and grow so that the cattle can survive.

2 Josh Harkinson, “Turns Out Your ‘Hormone Free’ Milk Is Full of Sex Hormones,” Mother Jones, April 20, 2014. http://www.motherjones.com/media/2014/04/milk-hormones-cancer-pregnant-cows-estrogen

3 “Steroid Hormone Implants Used For Growth In Food-Producing Animals,” 2015. Fda.Gov. https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm055436.htm.

4 Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control (Alresford, Hants, UK: Zero Books, 2013), 46.

5 Darryl Fears, “As more male bass switch sex, a strange fish story expands,” The Washington Post, August 3, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/as-more-male-bass-switch-sex-a-strangefish-story-expands/2014/08/03/89799b08-11ad-11e4-8936- 26932bcfd6ed_story.html?utm_term=.2750181679e8

6 Jessie Black, “Hunting Ways To Keep Synthetic Estrogens Out Of Rivers and Seas,” NPR, June 19, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/06/19/415336306/hunting-ways-to-keep-syntheticestrogens-out-of-rivers-and-seas 7 Darryl Fears, “As

7 Darryl Fears, “As more male bass switch sex, a strange fish story expands.” It should also be noted that there are several other endocrine disruptors at play here such as the pollutant BPA.

8 Lindsey Konkel, “Why Are These Male Fish Growing Eggs?,” National Geographic, February 3, 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160203-feminized-fish-endocrine-disruption-hormoneswildlife-refuges/

9 I wish to thank Madalyn Salz and Alec Eagon for bringing these to my attention. There are alarming connections between these issues.

Image Credits: True Jesus Church SG and Portland Seminary

Share

Zero Waste – Guest Blogger, Katie Heishman

Share

zero-waste

One Lent, a couple of years ago, I vowed to give up trash. I chose Lent as a time to re-examine the amount of trash I was creating and tried to get that as close to “Zero” was possible. Choosing to embark on this journey during Lent was intentional—my faith informs my relationship with Creation. Sitting in my bedroom on Ash Wednesday, oily ash on my forehead, I found myself surrounded by things that would never turn to dust.

“From dust you were created, and to dust you shall return.”

While my faith informs my ecological passion and commitment to live simply, I was struggling to see this lived out in an intentional way in the church around me. I was inspired by a woman named Bea Johnson, who is the mother of a worldwide movement, called the “Zero Waste Lifestyle.”

13680993_10206374810800198_7882295573693083914_n
Katie with one of her and Tim’s lovely chickens. She felt to dorky to include them in her bio so we needed to sneak one in somehow!

The Zero Waste Lifestyle is about making as little trash as possible. Johnson and her family of four can fit a year’s worth of trash in a quart size jar. This moment is when we all gasp and wonder how when the average American produces about 4.4lbs of trash in a single day. Just think for a moment about all of the things that you have touched today whose final destination will be “away.” But where is away truly?

During Lent, I confessed my complicity within a consumeristic society. I confessed to using an item for thirty minutes (or even less) and tossing it into the trash can. I confessed that I had mindlessly tossed something “away” without considering the real consequences of where “away” might truly be. Most of our trash goes to landfills, which really should be known as “mega-fills” for their mammoth size. These mega-fills are usually in the backyard of the socioeconomic disadvantaged. In the Pacific Ocean, we have so much plastic trash swirling that we had to name this new region of the Sea: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The water and the sun break down plastic into little microplastics which are ingested by sea life. There are countless images of Albatross birds with stomachs full of plastic particles and sea turtles suffering from plastic straws and soda-can rings.

In Genesis 2, God makes it known that we like “every animal of the field and every bird of the air” are made of dust. We are all made from the same substance. That the creator God became embodied in the dust of Creation, to save Creation, suggests that this dust matters. My Anabaptist faith taught me to pay particular attention to the disadvantaged—to “the least of these.” When throwing my trash “away,” I was complicity throwing it into the backyards of my neighbors. It was disappearing from my sight, but re-appearing in the sight, smell, sound, and soul of others.

The Zero Waste Lifestyle promotes “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot” and in that order. Refuse involves stopping the flow of waste from entering our homes, our lives. During Lent, I began to refuse “single-use disposable items” like the Starbucks coffee cup (in seasonal color), the plastic bag from the grocery store, the napkin and straw from the restaurant, the to-go container. Reduce means limiting our consumption and downsizing our possessions. The less
stuff we have—the less we must upkeep, and the less likely our possessions are to possess us. I downsized my closet and committed to only buying second-hand clothing. Reuse focuses on using quality items that will last. I brought my to-go container to restaurants and made sure to have a “Zero Waste Travel Kit” with me to help me avoid waste as I navigated the world. This kit included metal silverware, a cloth napkin, and a mason jar for a to-go cup. Recycle seems like it would be an important component in a Zero Waste Lifestyle, but there is a reason it’s at the end! Recycling of plastics is a closed-loop system because a #1 plastic bottle won’t become a #1 plastic bottle again, but a lesser plastic. So, I tried to avoid items packaged in plastic and opted for glass or cardboard which can be eternally recycled. Rot is the hopeful end to our waste. While a Zero Waste Lifestyle hopes to create minimal trash, it does produce things that need composting like food scraps and wooden items. This is God’s idea of filling the land.

12993592_10205764000250316_3942992776816650073_n
Katie and Tim’s herb garden at their home, onsite at Brethren Woods.

I took areas of my house and my life and tried to find Zero Waste alternatives. In my bathroom, when my toothpaste in a tube ran out—I made my own from baking soda and coconut oil. I bought bars of soap without packaging, instead of facewash with “exfoliating” microplastics. In my kitchen, I tried to buy only fresh produce (instead of packaged) and purchased grains and beans in bulk bins where I could find them. I made all of my meals from scratch, and I learned how to make food items that might come in plastic: like tortillas and brown sugar. In my bedroom, I learned how to mend holey items and gave them a second life. For school, I submitted papers electronically and refused handouts in class when available online.

I did produce trash during my Zero Waste Lent because it was the beginning of a journey. I found that pursuing a Zero Waste Lifestyle has opened up simple living to me in a whole new way. It created physical and emotional space in my life to encounter the Holy in new ways. I was partnering with people in my community by bringing cloth bags or refusing a straw. I was inviting creativity into my life by finding sustainable alternatives to the plastic world that surrounded me. I had fewer clothes and mysteriously didn’t suffer from the “I have nothing to wear syndrome!” I let go of the items and things that were taking up space. Instead, I filled my moments with experiencing life and creativity, instead of mindlessly consuming. I washed dishes with friends at common meal and used the soil from my compost bin to start a garden in our backyard. Most importantly, I abandoned the idea that I am what I own and found myself resting in the mantra of being a child of God.

Pursuing a “Zero Waste Lifestyle” sounds like a daunting task, but there are small ways that we can challenge the systems which render God’s planet as inconsequential. Imagine if our churches, if faithful followers of Jesus led the way in modeling a sustainable life on the Earth. At the conclusion of Lent, we celebrate the resurrection hope—of what was dead becoming alive. As followers of Jesus, may we continue to live in resurrection hope—sharing God’s redemptive, resurrection power with the world one intentional action at a time.

 

SAMSUNG CSCKatie 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.

 

 

Photo Credits: Kaikoura Seafest; Katie Heishman

Share

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

Share

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

Share

Theopoetics Conference Recap – Guest Blogger, Evan Underbrink

Share

A man, masked in the guise of some immortal earth spirit, rumbles in his deep baritone a song as he comes onto the improvised stage, to an audience of some fifty theopoets and scholars. His hair is moss; his eyes shine through the hip-bone holes of some vernal skeleton, the mind’s eye being born from mother earth. His hands hold a basket, or womb, or crib, redolent with the leaves and needles of trees. He sings:

            I am stretched out, on your grave
            and I’ll stay there forever.

This begins the “acceptance speech” turned performance from the Rubem Alves Award for Theopoetic excellence. This award, in honor to a giant within our field, was given to Tevyn East, director of Holy Fool Arts, who would shortly join her husband Jay on the stage, in the dress of Mother Nature, which had been formed from dumpster finds. She and her husband Jay were performing a small portion of their “Carnival de Resistance.” In their act, they deftly stitch together dance, song, stagecraft, Bible verses and allusion, poetry, and social activism:

            Did not your prophets tell of the burning of the cedars of Lebanon?

The award winners were well-chosen, as the themes of art and activism would be a unifying strand throughout all the papers, workshops, and panels which studded the conference.

It all began, however, with Jillian Weise, and her poetry reading. Having time for a brief refreshment and some introductory remarks, the poet and scholar was introduced to a room she was very shortly to own. Her pieces touched the intersection of art and the embodied life of the person with a disability, a term which she presented with no small ambivalence, preferring instead to call herself a “cyborg.” She first read “The Amputee’s Guide to Sex,” which proffered this advice:

            to create an uninhibited environment for your partner,
            track their hands like game pieces on a board.

Continue reading below after enjoying this song. Reflect on the lyrics and meditate on the music’s movements.

In the Q&A that followed, Jillian talked provocatively about her activism, her body as a place where the battle for the rights of the disabled – a term she adopts with great ambivalence, preferring to call herself a “cyborg” – was waged. The community applauds, celebrates, and breaks up into talk and refreshments. Outside, a simple blackboard sign, facing the street, reads, “Poetry & Party Tonight. All Welcome.”

The first-morning panel held Scott Holland, a theopoetic scholar and regular in the field, the Transgender Social Justice Educator and writer J’Lissabeth Faughn, Lisa Hess, a scholar of interreligious learning, conscious feminine leadership and Christian spirituality, and the black theologian and scholar Adam Clark. They danced with questions of aesthetics and activism, with what is this thing theopoetics, and offered the reflections of their own fields and selves they each saw therein. An argument slowly unfurled itself over conceptions of gender, the purposes of art, the failures and benefits of preaching. As one witness later put it, “by the end, I thought it was about to go down!” And yet, we seemed to have found some peculiar gift which allowed for deep disagreement to coexist with deep connection. No small feat, given the seemingly inevitable sacrifice of one or the other in most communities.

The panels kept the discussion going, each session stretched with wide spaces for conversation, connection, and honoring of disagreement and divergence. These stretched the gamut of topics, from the esoteric nature of resistance to be found in the figure of Herman Melville’s Bartleby and expressed by Daniel Boscaljon, to the quiet and profound poetry of Jeff Gundy, under the title “Beauty is Something to Love”, to the joy and laughter of Jan Voigts “The Bible through a Comic Lens.” Beauty, activism, connection, and hidden in the corners of our conversations was some love of that surplus necessity; the idea that the best of what we were doing were the things which could not be captured in our speech, theories, and arguments.

Before our final meal together, and the Holy Fool’s performance, Troy Bronsink, the founder/director/spiritual director of The Hive led us in an embodied, contemplative grace:

            Allow yourself to feel gratitude,
            starting from the top of your head, and moving down…

Some would have called it worship. Others meditation. Some would refrain from putting that time in strict categories. Regardless of our words, we were together, in an expression of gratitude for our bodies, ourselves, our community, our weekend together, and that time we had to cherish that time.

The next day, a smaller group of us would gather at the local Bed and Breakfast to try and name those things, to keep some expression of them in the next conference. Words and concepts were offered, considered, and appreciated from all around the table:

17103594_1461965687171127_3646029071182532306_n
Callid Keefe-Perry, as Evan puts it, is one of the Saints of Theopoetics.

            “Connection.”
            “Not like other academic conferences.”
            “A place where artists and scholars meet.”
            “I saw respectful disagreement.”

In the end, it was Callid himself, the founder and head of our theopoetic group, who named the darker elephants in the room. With impassioned, reddened eyes, he said: “At this time, when there is so much fear, and some many things falling apart, we need this. Everything is falling, and we need to be here, building something up.” Looking around, at the faces of hopeful artists, thoughtful scholars, and perhaps one silly lover of Dante, I have to agree.

 

img_04772Evan is a published short story author and student of Theopoetics at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana. Evan‘s editor has told him that he has to write a more human bio than he first submitted. This has turned out to be a daunting prospect, as writing about himself in the third person seems a rather artificial act, leading to inevitable self-calumny. Evan feels in this moment as if he is doing the equivalent of standing in front of a mirror, that most sacred of contemporary artifices, and attempting to describe himself in writing to someone with very little point of reference. Dürer’s “Rhinoceros” comes to this mind. Therefore, Evan would like it known that he is most certainly not a rhinoceros.

 

Photo Credit: Evan Underbrink

“Gungor – “Late Have I Loved You”,” YouTube, April 04, 2010, , accessed March 16, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WoCwuPXhvM.
Share

Road to Selma – Guest Blogger, Sarah Bond-Yancey

Share

The following poem was written as the author reflected on receiving her level 1 trainer certification in Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation at the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth & Reconciliation. A Pagan, she nonetheless weeps for those whom Jesus weeps and actively seeks a day when justice will roll like a river (Amos 5:24). How do her compassion and action challenge our often safe and lazy faith? – C

Road to Selma

First thing I notice is16999128_10102948986529423_7131485732795198647_n
Greyhound –
Those famous Freedom Rider lines? –
Don’t run here anymore

Only way to get here
Now?
Seventy-five bucks to Uber
After five hundred bucks to fly

An economic ebb and flow
Drains the rolling Alabama River
Robbing the nameless
To feed the faceless

Another rusting facet on the
Pipeline
of Economic Genocide

Priced out of
Existence
Mapped out of
Deliverance

A white moderate nation says
Not my fault
Not my problem

But

Blacks killing blacks
Is still lynching
If the city’s soul is strung up
In the freshly bleached cords of
White
Supremacy

Doc sits quietly to the side,
Eyes glimmering in the amber sun rays,
Tells us of a time:

These empty streets
Once were filled
These tender prayers
Once were willed

But

The searing summer of Whiteness ended,
Biracial autumn waxing,
White flight
To some other unsuspecting summer
Left these faithful streets
To wander themselves
In search of feet
To warm them

Left these faithful lights
To shine themselves out of oblivion
In search of another sun
To call their own

May I remind you –

It is still called segregation
When white and black
Are seasons
Are timelines
Are zip codes

It is still called segregation
If the buses stop running
When the whites stop riding
And the Freedom lines no longer stop in
Selma.

10547461_10101430233053563_8814039422811650982_nSarah Bond-Yancey is Volunteer Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity and Impact Planning & Analysis Coordinator for On Earth Peace.  She lives in Bellingham, Washington with her partner Brian. When not working toward justice, she has been known to make alpaca crafts.

Photo Credits: Sarah Bond-Yancey

Share