Category: Worship

Notes and Musings After Reading ‘Desiring the Kingdom’

Desiring The Kingdom: notes and musings
Overall Score: 3/5 (
Italics = my thoughts
The life of the mind is a study that is very concerned with Christian higher education – a decidedly modern approach to education.  – 17
Thesis: ” [Desiring the Kingdom is] an invitation to re-vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project.” – 18 “philosophical anthropology”
“What if the church unwittingly adopts the same liturgical practices as the market and the mall? Will it then really be a sight of counter-formation?” – 25
“These quasi-liturgies effect an education of desire, a pedagogy of the heart. But if the church is complicit with this sort of formation, where could we look for an alternative education of desire?” – 25
Core Claim: “…liturgies – whether “sacred” or “secular” – shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love.” – 25
Defining Education: “An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart (the gut) by means of material, embodied practices…Behind the veneer of a “value-free” education concerned with providing skills, knowledge, and information is an educational vision that remains formative. There is no neutral, nonformative education; in short, there is no such things as a “secular” education.
I’m learning that the “Secular” is a myth, a game that millions participate in on a daily basis. It feigns the common space as a neutral space. War, it seems to communicate, the opposite of neutrality. The path to peace in this case is the path to a static utopia of live and let live. As we have seen with the new activists, the public space is longing to be filled with values. Whereas the liberals (I include conservatives within this designation of lower case “l”) pretended the public space was neutral – although it was certainly not neutral, cultivating a generation of Christian consumers and “know-nothings” – radical progressives now demand that the public space be populated by a liturgy of inclusivity, equity, and diversity. For our purposes, I will here on out refer to the big three as the “unholy trinity.” We believed that secular education was nonformative, when it reality it was all formative.
If Christians are to retain any level of continuity with the global church, as well as the historic church, she is then to shed the dead weight of liberal secularism and adopt a post-liberal strategy. One facet of the solution must be to reclaim a form of Christian education that does more than teach Christian ideas and form students with apologetics, the “life of the mind.” The Christian school must first and foremost be a place, as Jamie Smith articulates, that cultivates what students should love; in short, virtue. We begin with that which is below the neck and move onto the mind. And what we love is that which is what we desire as a way of life (Smith 2009, 27). Our love is shaped by practices and refined by the mind[1]. A Christian education is not primarily to do with “Christian” ideas; rather, it has to do with Christian formation. It is formation over, but not against, worldview. If both are held in proper perspective then all of the classics may be engaged because there is no fear that a pagan idea will dominate a Christian idea. All truth is God’s truth, and the same goes for formation. If it forms you to love God, and magnify his Son, Jesus Christ, it is “Christian.” The center of gravity for your mind is your body.
Therefore, the primary Question beneath all questions that we should be asking is this: Is Christian education one in which all ideas that are passed from instructor to students being countered by the very environment (Smith 2009, 31)?
“Let me suggest an axiom: behind every pedagogy is a philosophical anthropology.” – 27
Part 1: We Are What We Love
Overall goal: “…to scketch a formal account of education as the formation of the imagination by affective practices.” – 37
Ch. 1: Homo Liturgics: the human person as a lover
Rationalist-Based Anthropology: For us to be “Educated” we are “formed.” You are not educated if you know things; rather, you are properly educated if you have the virtue and the skill to navigate the chaotic world with your identity, emotions, and reason intact (Smith 2009, 40). Unfortunately, we have often taught students that their actions flow directly from their mind. Perhaps it is the leftovers of the Certasian way of thinking (I think; therefore, I am”), or perhaps we were so desperate to short circuit the work it took to develop students in a way that strengthened against the bonds of secularism; but we are not first thinking creatures. We are first lovers. We do what we want to do, period. The mind is primarily a lawyer, trying to help our desire justify its actions.
Faith-based Anthropology: “What defines us is not what we think – not the set of ideas we assent to – but rather what we believe, the commitments and trusts that orient our being-in-the-world. – p. 43
Objection #1: Beliefs are often ideas set beneath other ideas. Thus, it keeps the person swimming in rationality, and makes the Christian obsessed with apologetics on the same footing as the rationalist she is trying to critique.
Objection #2: Person-as-believer is still the Cartesian individualist model. – 44
If our way of life can be accomplished without any mediation from the church, it is a Christian heresy. Who of us can live as a body without a head? Perhaps like a chicken we end up running around the yard, but not for very long (Smith 2009, 45).
“While the Reformed tradition of worldview-thinking generates a radical critique of rationalism and its attendant claims to objectivity and secularity, the critique still feels reductionistic insofar as it fails to accord a central role to embodiment and practice. Because of this blind spot, it continues to yield a quasi-rationalist pedagogy.” – 45
The Augustinian claim is that human are primarily oriented towards the world through love. The person-as-thinker and person-as-believer claims are anthropological reductions. – 46
Person-as-lover Anthropology: We are “embodied agents of desire or love.” – 47
“So as we inhabit the world primarily in a noncognitive, affective mode of intentionality, implicit in that love is an end, or telos. In other words, what we love is a specific vision of the good life, an implicit picture of what we think human flourishing looks like.” – 52
“Augustine would say that the effect of sin on our love is not that we stop loving but that our love becomes disordered. It gets aimed at the wrong ends and finds ‘enjoyment’ in what it should merely be ‘using.’ Or, in other words, instead of being caritas, our love becomes cupiditas. See Augustine, Teaching Christianity 1.26.27-1.27.28.” – 52 (footnote 25)
Social Imaginary Versus Worldviewism – 65
“The ‘social imaginary’ is an affective, noncognitive understanding of the world. It is described as an imaginary (rather than theory) because it is fueled by the stuff of the imagination rather than the intellect: it is made up of, and embedded in, stories, narratives, myths, and icons. These visions capture our hearts and imaginations by ‘lining’ our imagination, as it were – providing us with frameworks of ‘meaning’ by which we make sense of our world and our calling in it. An irreducible understanding of the world resides in our intuitive, precognitive grasp of these stories.” – 68
In order to grow in one’s desire for God one must grow in virtue (noncognitive “dispositions”), acquired through practice. Christian truth is such that you only “know” it is true when you have first begun to live as if they are true. – 71
(Reminder: Read George Linbeck)
Ch. 2: Love Takes Practice: Liturgy, Formation, And Counter-Formation
This is an incredibly boring chapter. It connects many cultural dots for the groundwork laid in the first chapter but has no profundity whatsoever. Seriously.
Ch. 3: Lovers in a Dangerous Time: Cultural Exegesis of “Secular” Liturgies
“We also need to keep in mind just how this process works. Because we are embodied, affective, liturgical animals, our love and desire are shaped and directed by rituals and practices that work on our imaginary; this can often be a sort of automation that inscribes in us habits formed without our recognition because they are operative at the level of the adaptive unconscious – particularly if we fail to recognize the practices as formative rituals.” – 94
We begin with liturgics – the practices, stories, myths that shape our unconscious, thus our lives – move on into the imaginative, where our conscious mind interacts with the unconscious, and rituals are then enacted. Thus, it is wise for the church to have an intense interest in the stories, films, and imaginative formative influences that are out there in the world because their influence is more powerful than even the lecturing that secularism engages within. In fact, in America, most people are not consciously secular. They go to church, believe in God, the divine plan that mystically governs their lives, and purpose. And yet, secularism is the unconscious religion because these same people live in such a way that is anti-thetical to the Christian tradition. Meaning: Christians in America today have more in common with Epicurus than St. Benedict, or St. Augustine. When we accept the cultural liturgy as normative for the water we swim in, our churches will be parallel with the mall-as-polis.
There are no limits to the impact of consumerism on Christian church. And this view of capital is not neutral. Just attend a heavily populated youth group.
Are the kids reciting the Apostles Creed?
Are they taking communion?
The likelihood of ancient forms in the youth space is slim to none. Rather, it is a rush to mimic the culture. A concession in order to “get them in the door to hear the gospel.” The problem is clear: we make believers who are still thoroughly persuaded by the forms of consumerism than that of Christianity. I’m not saying Youth Groups should not have hip hop or games; rather, they should be given to discipleship for the whole person. The role of consumerism is of a non-stop revolution. And yes, that may make me sound like a Marxist (I am not!) but the criticism must be taken seriously. Our children seek stability, and the constant barrage of activities will only hollow out their faith before they are able to get started. The primary issue, unfortunately for the average, and passionate, youth pastor, is that the primary agent in the kid’s conversion to secularism is not the media, but their parents. When I was a youth pastor, parents would come to me in tears. Why isn’t my child a Christian? Perhaps their entire experience was in the externalities, completely devoid of mystical encounters – whether the gifts of the Spirit or the simplest of experiences in “listening prayer.” So when the student is told every week that they can’t do anything, it’s all grace, they hear a slice of truth, but none of the power, narrative, coherence of the Gospel that has the power to keep them. And if they were to put their trust in that power, parents would also realize that the Holy Spirit can keep them in that love more than their inherent ability to be deceived. Parents who want their children to be disciples should first become disciples themselves, get more excited about worship that the Bachelorette, and perhaps their children will follow suit. I say this as a parent.
Every parent should read “Demons” by Dostoevsky. It paints a portrait of a handful of smart young people.  
God does not go to church. We go to Him. The Magi were seeking not a country, but a King; a Kingdom. In this sense, the dominion of our King is our King Himself. This is why discussions of the dialectic between the individual and the collective fall flat in the church because the “community” of faith is a synthesis of the two.
Part 2: Desiring the Kingdom – The Practiced Shape of the Christian Life
A more practical approach. Also, meh.
Ch. 4: From Worship to Worldview – Christian Worship and the formation of Desire
“The point here is that just as worship precedes the formation of the biblical canon (“The Bible”), so too does participation in Christian worship precede the formulation of doctrine and the articulation of worldview. Lived worship is the fount from which a worldview springs, rather than being the expression or application of some cognitive set of beliefs already in place.” – 136
Those who constantly emphasize that their service is not meant to be a “show” and yet, constantly dim the lights and turn up the sound to the level of a deafening effect are lying. The sacramental space is the “social imaginary.” It is the place where we reimagine “place” in the world. So when the worship space is merely a nest for the spoken truth, it is already subverting its potential by refusing to nest the space in the imagination of the unconscious, which celebrates love, purpose, hope, and, well, the story within the story, the Gospel. We must be vigilant in asking the following kinds of questions: does our heart scream at the level of a Handel’s Messiah when we see the break broken over the communion table, or when we get an unexpected discount at Target?
When Jesus lifts up the bread and says “This is my body,” He claims the universal within the particular. The transcendent fully collides with the immanent, within that brokenness. It is, as one songwriter has said, a collision more akin to a sloppy wet kiss than a proper ballroom dance. (Smith 2009, 149).
“First, it is not only high-church or liturgical contexts that are liturgical and formative. All Christian worship – whether Anglican or Anabaptist, Pentecostal or Presbyterian – is liturgical in the sense that it is governed by norms, draws on tradition, includes bodily rituals or routines, and involves formative practices. For instance, though Pentecostal worship is often considered to be the antithesis of liturgy, it actually includes many of the same elements: charismatic worship is very embodied (hands raised in praise, kneeling at the altar in prayer, laying on hands in hope, etc.); it has a common unwritten routine (“praise” music, followed by quieter “worship” music, followed by the sermon and then often “altar time”); and these practices of Pentecostal worship are deeply formative, shaping our imagination to relate to the world in a unique way. In this sense, even Pentecostal worship is liturgical; indeed, as we’ve emphasized above, Christian worship can’t help but be embodied and material.” – 152
Ch. 5: Practicing (for) the Kingdom: An Exegesis of the Social Imaginary Embedded in Christian Worship:
“ [the eucharist is] the school of active love for neighbor.” – John Paul II
Ch. 6: A Christian University Is for Lovers – The Education of Desire
Students should not be handed a “Christian” perspective. They should in fact, let go of perspective and seize Reality. Perception is not Reality, only to those who are willing to live with their eyes on the three feet of ground in front of them. (Smith 2009, 218).
Corruption of the Youth = New Monastic Vision for Christian life
Final Takeaways:
Rod Dreher did it better with _The Benedict Option_.
I really want to read _For The Life of the World_ now!
The use of pop culture and movies are helpful, but beneath the scope of his engagement. If you distinguish between thick and thin practices, why pander? I don’t think he often chooses the most interesting examples, which was also a problem  with his book on Charles Taylor and Relativism.
My favorite part of the chapters were always the footnotes. Sassy. Tasty. 
Now I want to read Graham Greene.
The first chapter is worth the entire book. Or just read the first chapter, and pick up rod Dreher’s book. 
I can’t drop Douglas Wilson’s criticism of this book — that Smith actually argues for a slimmed down version of Modernity with the use of Post-Modernity as a lens for his critique of Modernity. This is unavoidable for most po-mo types because their very critique is contingent upon modernity having the cultural power, making po-mo “parasitic,” dependent and weak. Thus, Smith’s post-liberal ideas are much stronger. But he simply tells us to go read his other book…boo! 
Smith really, really, absolutely, really, adores Heidegger. I was almost moved to pick up my copy of _Being and Time_ but then decided to take a Tylenol instead.
[1] In Jonathan Haidts book “The Righteous Mind,” he makes a solid case for the human being as an animal of desire, first, and of the mind, second.

Syndicated from Jon Beadle


Podcast: How Should Churches Select Worship Music?

Greg gets funky in this toe-tapping episode on church music. 
Send Questions To:
Dan: @thatdankent
Twitter: @reKnewOrg
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Love Each Other Deeply

Leonard Klassen serves as co-lead pastor of King Road Mennonite Brethren Church in Abbotsford, B.C. He has previously served as a youth pastor and associate at King Road, and is a husband and father of two sons in middle school. Leonard shares his love of photography on his personal blog, and dreams of writing more some day. For … Continue reading Love Each Other Deeply
Syndicated from April Yamasaki

Prayer of Confession

This prayer is based on Isaiah 55. God, we are thirsty and you call us to your waters. But sometimes we try to slake our thirst from other sources. Forgive us when we turn away from the living water that you offer. God, we are hungry and you offer us bread without cost. But sometimes…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith


Article by Brianna Millett
I grew up in a small town Baptist church and my grandparents were Lutheran. Later I went on to become a Calvinist of sorts then somewhere along the line, by way divine intervention I’m sure, I ended up in a faith family full of pacifist, neo-Anabaptist, open theist, rather peculiar Kingdom peeps. Needless to say my beliefs about communion have taken the shape of a Spiralgraph masterpiece. But I digress. Back to the story…
I wasn’t even old enough to understand the multiplication table, let alone abstract beliefs about communion. Are the crackers literally the body of Christ? Is there some extra dose of grace hidden at the bottom of the cup? Do we have to use bread and grape juice? Or can we commune with Coke and Pop Rocks – because you simply haven’t lived until you’ve tried Coke and Pop Rocks… Am I only to remember Jesus’ broken body and shed blood in the same way that I tried to remember the multiplication table? As far as my elementary brain was concerned, communion wasn’t meant for adults but for my cabbage patch dolls, since they were the only ones appropriately sized to drink from the tiny plastic cups.
To me, and probably to most kids, communion was simply a ritual. A thing we did from time to time in our Baptist church. A thing we most certainly did every time we visited my grandparents’ Lutheran church. And I heard rumors as a kid a thing you never did in a catholic church if you weren’t catholic. I didn’t understand why and I wasn’t about to find out either.
But discussing the particulars of the communion elements is not what I’m here to write about. Because, as Emmanuel Katongole points out in his book, Reconciling All Things.
We’re not here because Jesus said, “Come. Hang out and discuss.” No, my friends, we’re here because Jesus said, “Come. Follow me.” To say yes to this invitation is to set out on the greatest adventure you’ll ever know. I’m calling this adventure, Cruciform Communion. And it begins and ends with Jesus.
We follow the way of Jesus.
We image the way of Jesus.
What Jesus did, we go and do likewise.
Over the years my ideas about communion have grown up a bit. I don’t find myself thinking so much about whether it was Luther or Calvin or Sally Jessy Raphael who had it right. These days I kind of think communion is actually an imaging of the cross-event. It is Cruciform Communion. Stick with me here, dear reader.
You see, if we want to get to know the life of Jesus the gospels are a pretty good place to tell us some stories. And one of the things that we see from each of the four gospels is Jesus telling the disciples, by way of Cruciform Communion, what is about to happen to him. In the story of Jesus sharing one last meal with his closest buds, Jesus does something remarkable. He TAKES bread. He BLESSES the bread. He BREAKS the bread. And he GIVES the bread.
From these accounts we can sum up Cruciform Communion in four simple words: Taken. Blessed. Broken. Given.*
Jesus didn’t just serve the meal. Jesus became the meal. Jesus himself was Taken, Blessed, Broken and Given.
Jesus laid down his life; he was broken and poured out for the sick, the hungry, the hopeless, the sinners… Indeed, Jesus poured out his life for all because the Father, Son, Spirit shows no partiality. God shows no partiality!
And this outrageous inclusivity is that which we are to re-present. Mercy.
This radical inclusivity, this symbolic ritual of this 4-Part Cruciform Communion was never meant to be a one-time dinner. Rather we are instructed to “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 12:27) The “do” in this instruction is an ongoing action. As in, “keep on doing.”
But what, exactly, are we to do? Well, we are to re-present the Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given life of Jesus. We are to continuously make Christ’s sacrifice real, every single day to every single person by living out the Cruciform Communion. Just as Jesus didn’t serve the meal but became the meal. So too we become the meal. Now we are taken, we are blessed, we are broken, we are given.
We become the meal because of Jesus. I’m gonna give it you straight… Too often Christians stop short of the full meal. We take the first two courses but pass on the others. We want to gluttonously indulge in the blessing of our chosenness. But we turn our noses at being broken and given out for the sake of others. Discipleship ain’t no buffet, it’s a four course meal, baby. We are Taken. Blessed. Broken. Given. Because that is the way of the Cross. And because Jesus himself has commissioned us to be his ambassadors. Let me say that again, cause it’s kind of the pulse to the coming kingdom. God, through Christ, started this whole message of reconciliation. And then, as though Jesus had a temporary lapse of sanity, decided to pass the reconciliation baton to us. US. Broken, messy, proud, cynical, judgmental, yet gorgeously redeemed human beings. What a curiouser plan, Jesus.
“And God has committed us to the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making God’s appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:17-20)
Our gift as Christ’s ambassadors is, as Katongole points out, a “transformation into a new story that resists narrow boundaries and loyalties.”
This gift, this calling to be ambassadors and to be Cruciform Communion to all people, carries with it the intention to unseat other visions of God that don’t reflect the crucified Jesus.
(Your feathers are about to get some serious ruffling so listen close..)
This gift of reconciliation unseats the god of war, of violence, of partiality. This gift unseats the god of power, of nationalism, of materialism. This gift unseats racism, sexism, classism and any other ism that fails miserable to reflect the One New Humanity that was created through Christ. Can I puhleaze get an amen?!
Hold on, there’s more. This Cruciform Communion contains a two-fold effect.
We remember that this, all of this, is God’s story. And we are not the creator of this story, but we are participants. As we come to the table we are Re-Membered together as one new humanity. As we come to the table this gift of reconciliation is passed around, constantly extending the hospitable invitation: “Come one, come all to Christ table. You are welcome here.”
At this table we are given a new story as one new humanity. We are given white robes in place of crimson stains. At this Cruciform Communion table we lay down our swords and pick up our plowshares. We lose our life so that we can find it. Where there is hate we love. Where there is violence we practice peace. Where there is oppression we bring liberation. Where there is judgment we extend mercy. Where there is unforgiveness we forgive. We lay aside all other allegiances except for that of the crucified Christ. Oh my friends, this is not our doing. For remember, this is God’s story. And we, we have the gift of participating in this story.
We are Christ ambassadors. We are to represent the life and message of Jesus in being Cruciform Communion for the sake of the world. May we, together, live lives that are Taken. Blessed. Broken. And so very generously Given.
__ __ __
*Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given was originally discussed in Henri Nouwen’s incredible work, The Life of the Beloved. A MUST read!
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An Anabaptist Response to Gun Violence

There is a gap in Mennonite response to mass shootings. After a  shooting, when secular headlines buzz with gory details and harrowing survivals, Mennonite news outlets often continue posting business-as-usual news. Over the past few years, as shootings occur, I’ve begun Googling the location + “Anabaptist” or “Mennonite.” When I did it three days after the Sutherland Springs shooting, the first page of search results all read “Missing: Anabaptist.”

Occasionally, a Mennonite publication will carry a call to prayer or brief opinion that restates a general commitment to pacifism, but most often, we are left with the distinct, lonely feeling that pacifism means existing above the fray, and existing above the fray means pretending the violence didn’t happen.

A typical Google search after a mass shooting. (The second hit is a newspaper summarizing local headlines, which included coverage of the shooting on the same page where Anabaptists were given a nod during Reformation Day celebrations.)

Congregations in the same state or region may respond by attending a vigil, but often Anabaptist response is based on proximity and the coverage is a summary of the reactive response. It is not a churchwide, proactive movement but a rippling in one corner of the fabric.

Days after the shooting in Las Vegas, Chicagoland Mennonite pastors met for our monthly pastors’ meeting. For months, we’d planned to have a speaker from Mennonite Central Committee facilitate a conversation about gun violence. Most of the pastors admitted we’d never talked with our congregations about gun violence. We didn’t know how.

Why are our pacifist pastors so ill-equipped to respond to what has become commonplace violence?

Every shooting demands not aloof pacifist whispers, but vocal pacifist witness. If a shooting happens in America and the pacifists have a moment of silence, does anyone hear them? Of course not. Our pacifism is a stale farce if it is never articulated to the broader culture. Just as we were vocal, visible conscientious objectors during the world wars, we ought to be conscientious objectors to the epidemic of gun violence. We ought to be at the forefront of proclaiming “this is wrong and it is sin.” We ought to be on the front pages of the Internet exclaiming, “If this is troubling to you, you are not the only one.”

For every mass shooting, there should be a denominational press release condemning the violence and calling for an understanding of Jesus as a healer and peacemaker. For every mass shooting, there should be a response and ritual in our Sunday services. We should invite RawTools to every convention, we should be banging on MCC Washington’s office door to speak against gun legislation.

One of the prayer cards we used during a ritual of mourning for gun violence in June 2016.

And we ought to respond not just in public, but in worship, too. Perhaps we should make a commitment, as peace churches, to acknowledge and mourn every shooting. Every week that a shooting happens, we ought to begin our services all around the country by lighting candles for each victim, calling their memory into our worship recalling that each person was created by God and intended for peace and flourishing. We ought to open each service reading out loud together Matthew 5, from “Blessed are the poor in spirit” all the way to “if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others… be complete, therefore, as your heavenly Father is complete.”** We should repeat Matthew 5 until we memorize it, since it is the chapter we often say is the key to understanding the Christian life.

As I prepare for Sunday services the week after a shooting, I am often frustrated that we have no ritual of lament or prophetic call for peacemaking. It means that in my congregation, we simply don’t acknowledge the shooting. In four years, only once (after Pulse), did we include a ritual of mourning in our worship. I lament that I, as a pastor, have failed to teach my congregation to address gun violence as pacifists. In doing so, I have allowed my congregation to falter in their pacifism. I wish I was bold enough to arrive at church after the next shooting (there will be a next one) and declare a new ritual for these awful occasions—a ritual that affirms our call to peace, just as we regularly affirm our baptismal vows.Perhaps our call to worship should be an affirmation the posted “no conceal carry” sign on our door.

As a pacifist denomination, we ought to be among the first and the loudest voices proclaiming to be American does not mean owning a gun. That guns do not make us safer; what makes us safer is faith and hope and embrace of the neighbor.

It is not only pacifism that calls us to oppose gun violence. It is also the Anabaptist conviction to love our neighbor and our enemy. Who commits gun violence and mass shootings? Those with nothing to lose. Those who have lost a grasp on the sacredness of life and who feel unvalued, unvalidated, and utterly alone. If we are properly loving our neighbor, if we are properly reaching out and integrating the lonely and depressed and hurting neighbor, we are doing gun violence prevention. We are making our communities safer.

And we ought to remember a lesson from our own history of the Russian Mennonite migration to North and South America. In the early 20th century, Russian Mennonites hurried out of the country, persecuted by the Red and White armies as well as local militias. Mennonite communities were targeted for a reason: generations of good farming practice, strong communities, and mutual aid had created tight-knit, wealthy, well-fed communities, while Russian peasants across the region suffered and starved. In the name of being “in the world but not of the world,” the Mennonites ignored their neighbors’ suffering and built bigger fences. Our communities may be thriving and flush with peace, but if we cannot speak to the violence our neighbors’ experience, it will someday bleed into our own lives. And our own record of inaction will leave us ill-prepared to respond.

When the fray bursts with violence, we cannot be above it—we must be in it, among it, with it. But not of it.





*I’ve written a second piece on other ways churches can respond to gun violence, which will appear soon in the Gathering the Stones column at Mennonite World Review.


** Matthew 5:48 is more often translated “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” but the Greek word teleios is better represented as a sense of completeness or a finished, fully formed, mature thing.

Syndicated from gathering the stones

Worship Pieces: God’s Faithfulness

Call to Worship (based on Psalm 89 and Matthew 13:31-32): We sing of God’s steadfast love, And proclaim God’s faithfulness to all generations: The faithfulness that grows a seed into a great shrub; the faithfulness that welcomes birds of the air. The faithfulness that provides sturdy branches for the nests that are built. God’s faithfulness…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving for Women

To God Both our Father and our Mother Who created the heavens and the earth Who separated the waters from the land Who brought forth vegetables and fruit trees of every kind Who spoke light into existence Who created creatures of the land, earth, and sea Who formed both men and women  …

Continue reading Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving for Women

Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

Worship Pieces: Call to Worship & Offertory Prayer

This call to worship is based on Jeremiah 1:4-10, with a touch of Psalm 71 thrown in for good measure. The word of God comes to us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” The word of God comes to us: “I appointed you to speak my word.” We may believe we…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Why Traveling Can Be A Critical Aspect Of A Healthy Spiritual Life

Can traveling be a critical aspect of a healthy spiritual life? Can traveling be a Christian act of worship? Yes, I think so. In fact, few things have impacted my life and my heart the way traveling has. I got my start traveling when I was just 14 and still a freshman in high school. [Read More...]
Syndicated from The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey

The Strumbellas

Review of “Hope” by The Strumbellas [Six Shooter Records, 2016]

As a middle-aged casual music listener I do not try to keep up with all the latest Canadian recordings. I recently added a few vintage Gordon Lightfoot and Guess Who records and I bought the latest releases from Blue Rodeo [1000 Arms] and the Great Lake Swimmers [A Forest of Arms]—What’s with the fixation on arms?—whom I discovered a few years ago. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor’s blended voices still send shivers up my spine and “Still” is still one of my favorite songs of all time but unfortunately I did not consider either of these new releases to be worthy of a review. Both of the albums sound like these bands sound—and don’t get me wrong, I like the sound—but in my opinion neither of the albums breaks any new ground lyrically or musically. What is there to say that has not been said?

So instead, I review a band that was new to me with their 2016 release: Hope. The Strumbellas are a six piece folk ensemble with all six members providing some sweet vocal harmonies and a rich folk/pop sound. Although not musically adventurous, the writing and production provide some catchy tunes and clever musical hooks. The ironic mix is that while the vocals and instrumentation are pleasant, upbeat, and refreshing, the lyrics are sometimes brooding, dark, and reflective—yet not without hope as the title suggests. The theme of hope is an appropriate one to reflect on during this season of Lent as we long for the new life of Easter. My favorite songs are: “Spirits” [the opening song to the album and the radio single], “Wars”, “Young and Wild”, and “We Don’t Know”. The one song that makes me shake my head is “Dog” where they sing: “When this road gets too rough I’ll be your dog”. Perhaps it is because I am not a dog lover that the analogy just does not work for me as the most effective to describe loyal friendship.

The lyrics on the entire album are loaded with what I would call young adult angst: “we’re a long way from home…I’ll be a dreamer till the day I die…I don’t want a never ending life; I just want to be alive while I’m here…we don’t know the roads we are heading down; we don’t know if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way…from this moment forever I can hope…I must go and chase this dream of mine…this shaky heart is young… I don’t know what I am but I’m doing the best I can…I’m young and wild…” The song writer’s head is full of a lot of stuff: dreams, guns, spirits, ghosts, pain, darkness, soldiers—and hope. Yet, upon deeper reflection perhaps young adults only mirror and artistically articulate what is human longing; and, if that is the case they speak the angst and hope that is in all of us.

If this band were in town I would definitely go hear them and take one of my young adult kids. The music is enjoyable and the lyrics are thoughtful and reflective. With six members I can imagine they would put on an energetic and lively show.

Syndicated from gareth brandt

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.

Which is exactly what my congregation planned to do that year. Typically, the congregation purchased enough palms for just children from, an ecumenical development program that sells palms to congregations in the United States and Europe.

In 2016, EcoPalms shipped 981,000 fronds. The eco-friendly palm traveled approximately 2,700 miles to get to Chicago.

It’s a great system, if you consider palms necessary. But there’s no theologically reason to take the palms literally. In fact, in the King James Bible, the word klados is translated branches, and literally means “a young tender shoot, broken off for grafting.” The whole EcoPalm movement is a product of cultural capitalism, where the purchase of a thing includes the cost of the redemption you need.

The problem is, it’s difficult to label any palm eco-friendly if it’s traveled 2,500 miles to reach you. Like many aspects of contemporary church, Palm Sunday is an opportunity to show loyalty to Christ through consumerism. If Christ was welcomed with palms, then we must have palms, the logic goes.

Jesus doesn’t need our palms. There’s nothing extra-sacred about the palm that requires us to purchase them from across the globe and have them shipped to us in order to deepen our connection with Christ.

In fact, the palms aren’t even that critical to Palm Sunday. What the Scripture says is, “a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road.” Not even all of the crowd was cutting palm branches! But palms are so much more tasteful to the modern church than the thought of throwing our good coats into the aisles and having children stomp all over them as they welcome Christ. So we purchase our palms, and assuage our questions by assuring ourselves that poor farmers in Guatemala and their damaged rain forests are benefiting from our consumption.

No matter that one of the largest causes of rain forest destruction is cattle ranching grown for export. But no church is talking about making Palm Sunday No-Meat-Day.

It’s not enough in church to think one step ahead in our missions giving. We have to think about our giving two, three, even five steps out to consider the bigger impact of our actions. Do we need the palms? No. Is palm-consumption the most efficient way to help the people and plants affected by rain forest destruction? Not at all.

In 2014, the first Easter at my current church, we unsubscribed from EcoPalms and used branches I cut from the evergreen trees on the parsonage property (they needed trimming anyway, and I needed more sunlight for my future-garden). We “saved” about $30, but instead of pocketing the money, we donated it to Heifer International, buying a hive of honeybees for small-scale farmers in Central America.

The first year’s palm replacements (maybe I went a little overboard in my tree-trimming)

We eliminated the middle man of congratulatory missions giving, turned the palms into a metaphor, and made our donation the center of our former-palm initiative, instead of a self-righteous byproduct of it.

It’s not a perfectly happy story. The following year, we had evergreens again. In 2016, I had cut all the low-hanging, subtle branches I could reach on the church property, so we used boxwood from the bushes in the same parsonage lot. A congregation member informed me that boxwoods are invasive non-natives in North America.

I haven’t removed the boxwoods from the parsonage from the parsonage yet (it’s in the long-term landscaping plan). We may use them again this year. We may use the (also invasive) honeysuckle, early to leaf, instead. Our most seasonable option in this part of the Midwest is probably using dry, bleached winter prairie grasses. It’s a work in progress, but our palms are becoming more sustainable and more connected to our own lives and livelihoods. You can’t get more eco-friendly palms than from the tree behind the church building.

The palms, like the bread served at communion, are a metaphor for a spiritual moment. We don’t ship our communion bread from Guatemala; why would we import our palms? Across North America, there are many local substitutes for palms. And of course, there’s always the option to just lay our coats down for the Messiah and his donkey to walk on, as they come in to our midst.

Syndicated from gathering the stones

Interview: Katelin Hansen, Church for All People (Part 2)

Katelin Hansen becomes a guest for this podcast, hosted by our other regular host Paul Walker. In this part 2, they talk about radical hospitality for all people (all meaning all), the importance of diverse music in worship, the By Their Strange Fruit blog, and the interaction of neuroscience and faith.
Church for All People
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