Announcing Our Next Issue: What is Church?

August 31st, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder

Work has started on the next issue of Work and Hope, to be posted on this blog at the end of October. As always, we are looking for the perspectives of young Anabaptists in their twenties and thirties. In our next issue, we ask the question — “What is Church?”

If you’re interested in writing 500 – 600 words reflecting on that question, please contact us at workandhope@emu.edu by September 21st. Deadline is October 1.

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Merry Lea Conference on Climate Change

August 24th, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder

The Merry Lea Center at my alma mater Goshen College is hosting a conference on climate change in September:

Earth As Ally: Facing Climate Change Together is the theme of a conference at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, Wolf Lake, Ind., Friday, September 17, 6 p.m. to Sunday noon, September 19. This faith-based event is a blend of hands-on fieldwork outdoors and thoughtful discussion. It offers concerned lay people a chance to meet and learn from environmental professionals. For more information, see http://www.goshen.edu/merrylea. Or call 260-799-5869.

The issue of climate change is one that churches have been slow to deal with, in part because many Christians believe that global warming is a hoax (or at least exaggerated). However, there’s been a slow shift as some Christian and evangelical groups begin dealing with environmental concerns under the rubric of “creation care.” While there have been some ups and downs, it’s gratifying to begin see both theological and practical work being done in this area.

While Work and Hope‘s primary focus is not about environmental issues, we would welcome a series of posts on the issue of creation care.  If someone is interested in writing a limited series, please contact us at workandhope at emu.edu.

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Telling Stories

August 23rd, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder

As a parent of a toddler, I’ve been thinking a lot about how stories influence and shape us. Parents are natural storytellers. While most of the stories we’re currently telling our daughter Isabella involve cartoon animals rhyming and counting, as she grows older, we will add more substantial stories to the repertoire. I will tell her about her family history and how I met her mother. As a Christian, I will also tell her the story of God as revealed in Scripture and how that story calls us into discipleship of Jesus Christ. As it has often been observed, stories tell us where we come from, who we are and where we are going.

Along with the stories we tell her, Izzy will also encounter other stories. Many of us who live close to the dominant culture of “the World” often forget that we are surrounded by alternate narratives with their own assumptions about the world and what it means to be human. As Christians, we often compete with these other stories in our homes and churches. While some blame “Hollywood,” these alternate stories also take shape in forms not obviously recognizable as entertainment.  I believe that much of American Christianity is a synthesis between Christianity and the other “stories” of capitalism and Enlightenment philosophy.

In the case of Isabella, this competition may already be starting. I’m amazed at the power that Sesame Street‘s Elmo has over her imagination. My daughter doesn’t sit still for much — including television — but will pay rapt attention whenever the red furry Muppet jabbers away. He’s helped us teach her the alphabet and now he gets her to sit still on the potty for more than five minutes while he sings about potty training. Yet we also live in a world where Tickle-Me-Elmo exists and despite the fact that Sesame Street does an excellent job teaching young children fundamentals in a clever and engaging way, it also exposes them at an early age to branding and marketing.

So how can I tell story of God that captures Izzy’s imagination in the same way Sesame Street does? Do I need to use puppets or vegetables? Do we need better production values in church in order to raise our voice above the noise of today’s media landscape? Or do I need to withdraw Izzy from the influences of these other stories and try to expose her only to the stories I want her exposed to?

I think the answer lies in an example from my own childhood.  When my family lived in West Berlin during the 1980′s, I attended the German-American school on the other side of the city. In order to get to the school bus, I had take two subways (the ubiquitous Berlin U-Bahn) and my father often traveled with me in the mornings. In order to pass time, he read to me from an English children’s bible (with a blond, blue-eyed Jesus) that one of my aunts had sent me for Christmas. Now one of the quirks about my Dad, is that even though he’s an American, he prefers German and so he translated these bible stories as he read them aloud to me. Often other children (and adults) riding the subway listened to Dad as well.

There was something in the way that Dad narrated these stories — perhaps by translating and telling them aloud — that transformed them from being mere “Bible Stories” on the pages of a holy book. For me, they became living, breathing narratives that had the space and power to capture my imagination. While treating the scriptures with reverence is part of living out the story, we also need to make sure that we tell the stories in a compelling way that resonates with the imagination. I don’t believe we need better production values or separation in order to compete with the other narratives out there, but we need to be willing to tell the Christian story –  to offer it to our children and “the World” through both word and deed.

I hope that Izzy grows, I can help her navigate these narrative landscapes. I hope she becomes not just a consumer of these cultural stories, but an active participant with the critical skills to understand how these stories function and the purpose they serve. Most of all, I hope that I can find a way to tell my daughter the story of God in a way that captures her imagination. I don’t want the Bible to be just another story for her — I want it to become her story.

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C is for Cookie

August 16th, 2010 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz

One of my favorite poems related to faith and life is Jeff Gundy‘s Cookie Poem.

The Cookie Poem
“Here are my sad cookies”

The sad cookies. The once and future cookies.
The broken sweet cookies. The cookies
of heartbreaking beauty. The stony cookies
of Palestine. The gummy and delicious
olive and honey cookie. The pasty
damp cookie trapped in the child’s hand.

Sad cookies, weird cookies, slippery
and dangerous cookies. Brilliant helpless
soiled and torn cookies, feverish and sweaty
cookies. Sullen cookies, sassy cookies,
the cookies of tantrum and the cookie of joy
and the sweet dark cookie of peace.

The faithful cookie of Rotterdam. The wild-eyed
cookie of Muenster. The salty Atlantic cookie.
Cookies in black coats, in coveralls,
in business suits, cookies in bonnets
and coverings and heels, cookies scratching
their heads and their bellies, cookies utterly
and shamelessly naked before the beloved.

Cookies of the Amish division, cookies
of the Wahlerhof, cookies of Zurich and
Stassburg and Volhynia and Chortitza,
Nairobi Djakarta Winnipeg Goshen.
Cookies who hand their children off
to strangers, who admonish their sons
to remember the Lord’s Prayer, cookies
who say all right, baptize my children
and then sneak back to the hidden church anyway.
Cookies who cave in utterly. Cookies
who die with their boots on. Cookies
with fists, and with contusions.
The black hearted cookie. The cookie with issues.
Hard cookies, hot cookies, compassionate
conservative cookies, cookies we loathe
and love, cookies lost, fallen, stolen,
crushed, abandoned, shunned. Weary
and heroic cookies, scathingly noted cookies,
flawed cookies who did their best.
Single cookies, queer cookies, cookies of color,
homeless cookie families sleeping the car,
obsolete cookies broken down on the information
highway. Sad cookies, silent cookies,
loud cookies, loved cookies, your cookies,
my cookies our cookies, all cookies
God’s cookies, strange sweet hapless cookies
marked each one by the Imago Dei,
oh the Father the Son the Mother The Daughter
and the Holy Ghost all love cookies,
love all cookies, God’s mouth is full
of cookies, God chews and swallows and flings
hands wide in joy, the crumbs fly
everywhere, oh God loves us all.

Published first in 2000 in Rhapsody with Dark Matter and republished countless times in other venues, this poem says something deep and profound to me about life and faith. Kind of ironic for a poem about cookies, right?

For me, the cookie poem is about remembering who we are. It points to Anabaptist history in imagery, and reminds me of a God who delights in us all, even in our failures, collective and individual.

Gundy, who was my professor at Bluffton University, has apparently gotten a little bit of flak from people about the Cookie Monster God image. But for me there is something extremely compelling about that image. A God who is so delighted with us that God can’t get enough. The idea of God looking at me and saying, in Cookie Monster’s voice “ooohhhh cookie!” makes me giggle.

So many of our images of God are serious and stolid. They lack playfulness and imagination. Even some of my favorite biblical images, God as mother hen and Jesus as shepherd, have an underlying somber note.

Maybe this is because ultimately God is serious business. But I have a hard time imagining that the God who created the giraffe and the flamingo isn’t more passionate and humorous than we give God credit for.

So why not God as Cookie Monster? I am certainly sometimes a “cookie with issues” or a “flawed cookie who did their best” and in these times I desperately want a God who loves me, and who loves us all, with passion and abandon. How is this God represented in our churches and in our lives?

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MCC Worker Killed in Afghanistan

August 9th, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder

(updated below)

Since Saturday morning, news outlets have reported on the killing of ten members from a medical team for International Assistance Mission in northern Afghanistan.  The medical team had been traveling back to Kabul after a two week mission providing optometric care in remote rural villages.

According to the Associated Press, a spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility and charged the team with spying and attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity.  In the same article, IAM director Dirk Frans denied that the medical team was proselytizing and expressed skepticism that the Taliban had perpetrated the killings.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has confirmed that one of the dead is MCC worker Glen D. Lapp, a member of Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, Penn.  According to MCC, Lapp was a trained nurse who had worked in Lancaster, New York City and Supai, Ariz.  He previously served with MCC during the responses to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and was to complete his term in October.

Lapp is the third MCC volunteer to disappear or be killed while serving in the field during the mission organization’s ninety-year history.

Update: At this point, neither MCC nor the Lapp family has established a memorial fund for Glen.  However, it is possible to donate to MCC and designate it “in memory of Glen Lapp.”

It is also possible to donate online to the work of the International Aid Mission in Afghanistan.

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Church and Community in a Facebook World

August 5th, 2010 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Facebook isn’t a substitute for real community. It is a reminder than I have real community. It just looks different than community did 40 years ago.

I was at a wedding last weekend. I imagine that when my grandparents and their peers got married,most of the people who gathered to witness the union and support the couple lived in the same physical location as the couple.

The four of us who gathered to help my friend get ready for her wedding, came from four different states. None of us live in the same town as the bride and groom. It caused me to ask, “How will I support the bride and groom in their marriage when I live 400 miles away?” I still think I can.

I once got into a minor argument with Shane Hipps about this. In his book, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, he seemed to suggest that you can’t have real community in virtual space. I disagree. Electronic communication helps me feel more connected to a wider range of my peers. I “speak” with one particular close friend nearly every day via instant message. She lives several hundred miles away.

In the midst of a crisis, I have friends I can go to in Harrisonburg where I live, but I also have friends I can email who will respond with just the right words. There are people who love me and know me well, who just happen to live in different states. That doesn’t mean they’re not part of my community.

These musings on community have made me wonder a bit about intentionality. What really makes a community these days is our intentionality in creating it. When our communities were people who lived next door, they could more or less see what was going on in our lives. When our communities are made up of people all over the world, the only way they’ll “see” what’s going on in our lives is if we are intentional about it.

This concept of community applies to church. Our churches are also scattered and disjointed, at least during the week. How are we intentional about creating community during the week? Do we meet in person? Do we email each other? Do we read each other’s blog? Are we Facebook friends? What keeps us connected to each other? I don’t think it’s an accident that many of us are seeking “intentional communities.” Today community can only be intentional.

I don’t think this applies only to the local church. As the local church shifts and changes, how can the wider church be intentional about creating community among its members and member churches? Remembering that we really are a community seems to be the challenge denominationally these days. We can’t count on our face-to-face gatherings to create that community for us. Could we learn something from Facebook about remembering our community and staying connected to it, even if it’s scattered? What do you think?

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