Before You Punch a Nazi: A New Anabaptist Response to White Supremacy

There isn’t much to be surprised by in Charlottesville. There’s much to grieve, but none of it should be a surprise. All the elements of Saturday’s events have been in headlines for months, or years, and they are quintessential to this time: cars swerving into crowds; statues of Confederate warriors being removed; white nationalist rallies; Black Lives Matter; pedestrians injured. As if someone scrambled up bits of headlines until it yielded this.

What do we do now? Grief wants comfort. Comfort is action. We want to do something. We have to do something.

[Edit: The original draft of this post faced valid criticism for a why-can’t-we-all-get-along, syrup-y vision of white-Anabaptist heroism. A revised post, with this feedback in mind, is forthcoming in the Mennonite World Review. White Anabaptists have their own history of racism. Critiques of anti-oppression work are meaningless if they are veiled excuses for our own racism. This is not the moment—it is never the moment—for armchair calls for peace-in-order-to-avoid-examining-white-privilege. This column is not a critique of anti-oppression work–I have many non-pacifist friends doing valuable anti-oppression work and I will not criticize them for their effective, difficult work. This is a proposal for how white Anabaptists, because of their pacifist claims, can do uncomfortable, enemy-loving, transformative peacemaking at a theoretical and practical level.] Continue reading

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No More Palms, Please

Most Christians never question where the palms on Palm Sunday come from. It never occurred to me, until my first year pastoring, that someone had to get the palms (and order them well in advance).  But as we approach Palm Sunday, we ought to reexamine our theology of palms.

Traditional (read: conventionally harvested) palms are shipped from a handful of countries including Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. But because palm harvesters are paid by the number of palms, not the quality of them, the most efficient way to get palms is also the most destructive. Cutting as many leaves as possible from each tree damages the trees and the long-term sustainability of palm trees. Not only that, but palm trees grow in the shade of forests, and so sustainably-harvested palms support both the palms and the wider forest preservation efforts. Such noble organizations as the Rainforest Alliance have promoted the eco-palm movement.

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Global Capitalism, Part 2: How Capitalism Killed American Christianity

This post first appeared at Mennonite World Review.

Capitalism is killing Christianity. When a seminary friend first suggested this theory to me a year ago, I thought it was overblown. I have no affinity for capitalism as an economic system. I’m as much an Acts 2 socialist as the next millennial. But it seemed far-fetched to blame an economic system for church attendance.

Until I began to notice the patterns in my own congregation. About a third of the teenagers in the youth group are employed; they regularly turn down youth trips and even Sunday school because of work. The freelancing and part-timing adults do it too, running to their service-based jobs early on Sunday mornings or right after church. At the same time, I watch families walk into the sanctuary with Starbucks coffee; Dunkin Donuts; bagels; pastries. They duck out before Sunday school to catch an early lunch with friends and out-of-town relatives. Continue reading

Our Generation Didn’t Ruin the Institution of Marriage

I considered titling this post “Everything I Know about Marriage I Learned from Beyonce”–but I don’t even have space to explain how true that is.

Last week, I fell into a conversation with several seniors in the church about how the younger generation–my generation–had ruined the institution of marriage: cohabitation, quick divorces, and promiscuity had eroded an important and valuable way of life. With none too much politeness, but perhaps the most politeness you will see in the next 800 words, I cut the conversation: “We didn’t ruin marriage. We have a deep respect for it. And that’s why we’re not doing it as often or as quickly as your generation did.”

It’s easy, in our cultural environment, to stay generationally segregated–in college dorms, retirement communities, day care centers. It’s equally easy to create a generational echo chamber around particular issues. But the idea that my generation–or the one before it–ruined the institution of marriage is shortsighted and destructive. Continue reading

Your Body is Mural: A Christian Case for Body Modification

For a single moment, in the waiting room of the tattoo parlor, I thought: “you can un-do this. There’s still time to take it all back.” And then it passed. I lay down. A whooping crane began to emerge somewhere on the back of my calf, still invisible to me at the angle I lay, and I thought: “Paul was wrong. The body isn’t a temple after all. It’s a mural.”

When Christians say bodies are temples, usually it’s a warning. It’s shorthand for all the negatives that will lead to destruction. We’re told it until it becomes a shock collar, and any time we treat our bodies as anything less than a static empty building, we’re filled with fear of our own destruction. When grown ups told us “your body is a temple,” usually what they meant was “your body is a house that’s been on the market for three months.” They mean: Don’t leave crumbs in the kitchen; keep the floors swept; erase the fingerprints and furniture marks; make it look like no one lives here so that when Jesus returns he can have his run of the place because he needs a vacation home.

We mean, “return your body to God the way it arrived to you. Don’t mess it up; don’t spend too much time in the sun; don’t run so fast you fall and get scarred.” When they say, “your body is a temple,” they mean “your body is a library book, don’t get fined when you return it.” But the body is not a temple, not literally; the body is mobile, it’s a vehicle, it puts on the miles. It’s built to carry a load, set it down, pick up another one.It’s not Paul who was wrong, it’s us who misinterpreted him. Continue reading

Global Economics, Part 1: Amazon Prime as Devil

“Amazon Prime is the devil,” I said to a friend this week. The poor friend, the son of a preacher, was confused by my vehement rebuke, since Amazon Prime was only tangential to the story he was telling.

As a pastor, I try not to go around calling things the devil just because I dislike them. But if Amazon Prime isn’t the devil, it’s certainly something close to it. It amazes me how quickly Christians latched on to Amazon Prime as if their freshly arrived toilet paper is heaven-sent. How quickly we’ve let Amazon be our source not only for products, but invited Amazon to take over the whole supply chain, edging out competitors and creating functional monopolies on more and more products. How quickly we’ve bought into the idea that faster is better.

I waited three days for Jesus to resurrect; surely I can wait three days for my toilet paper (or at least, use my roommate’s bathroom until it arrives; although I should apologize to my roommate that I went through almost a whole roll of her toilet paper before I found the time to get my own; sorry, Stacy). Continue reading

Against all Rationality

I don’t like most sermons. (Note: this post is adapted from a sermon I gave this week. Not at my church, though.) As a preacher, I’m skeptical of the sacred regard we give to the sermon. Most Sundays I can’t justify a lecture-based all-ages banking-model of religious education, but it’s expected of me—so I do it, and I try to make it enjoyable (for me, if not everyone else).

I couldn’t locate the source of my distaste until recently, over at the Restoring Pangea blog, when Nathaniel Grimes offered an explanation. Grimes (who happens to attend my church), describes a church where “sermons present principles which everyone is expected to be familiar with, but which the congregation inexplicably does not exemplify. The underlying assumption is that, in order to become more [insert noble ethic here], people mostly need a combination of information and motivation.” The sermon is a persuasive essay designed to change your behavior or bore you out of the pews.

The underlying assumption of this preaching style, though, is that it begins with “the expectation… that all people are rational, moral, individual actors who only need to summon the will or learn the proper techniques to do what is right.”

This was a lightbulb for me. I don’t really believe humans are rational, moral, individual actors.

If I am being completely honest, I will say three years of pastoring has not strengthened my faith in humanity—it has made me more misanthropic, more skeptical, and more irritated by the very nature of humanity. Continue reading