The rhythm and rule of Christian life

March 29th, 2011 – by Brian Gumm

Photo by Ferran Jordà (CC lic.)

A bittersweet season of university life is drawing near: Graduation. Last year was the first time I felt this sting at EMU, as I watched my friends in the class of 2010 graduate from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding with their MA’s in Conflict Transformation, a two-year program which we’d started together in 2008. This year, many of my friends in the Seminary are graduating with their Mdiv’s, a three-year program. Meanwhile, I’ll be hanging around for another full year to complete my work for both degrees.

One of my fellow seminarians, Adam, was conducting a short-answer survey for his senior capstone project on the “rhythm and rule” of Christian life, a cute seminary phrase for “spiritual disciplines” or the virtuous, worshipful habits that shape our faith. “Rhythm and rule” always makes me think of drum circles, which seems like a decent metaphor. A drum circle group that’s really keyed into the rhythm is transcendant while an arhythmic circle sounds like a car crash. What do we want our lives to sound like?


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Patterns of this world, part 3: Institutions through the Window of Jesus

March 21st, 2011 – by Tim Nafziger

In the first article of this series, I did a broad overview of the bureaucratization trends in the Mennonite Church. In the second article, I looked specifically at the philosophy of institutions put forth by J. Lawrence Burkholder and practiced by James Brenneman and Howard Brenneman as presidents of Goshen (Ind.) College and Mennonite Mutual Aid respectively. In this third part I’ll look at the history of this thought in the Anabaptist tradition as well as Mennonite and feminist critique of Neihbur and Burkholder. I’ll continue to draw heavily from The Limits of Perfection: A Conversation with J. Lawrence Burkholder as well as The Feminist Case against Bureaucracy.

Burkholder and the tradition of Mennonite Niebuhrians

In The Politics of Jesus John Howard Yoder summarizes the position of Neihbur thus:

Love, self-sacrifice and nonviolence provide no basis for taking responsibility in this world … Those who are called to assure the survival and the administration of institutions will accept violence in order, one day, to reduce or eliminate it. They will accept inequality and exploitation with the goal of progressively combating them… While respecting the prophet, the rest of us will choose institutions. (104)


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Patterns of this world, part 2: Breakfast with Burkholder

March 7th, 2011 – by Tim Nafziger

When we left the first part in this series, I promised that the second part would look specifically at Mennonite educational organizations and the case of James Brenneman and J. Lawrence Burkholder. However, I’d like to start by giving some background on J. Lawrence Burkholder and his influence with another Mennonite institution: the institution formerly known as Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA), now Everence.

I first became familiar with this story in Keith Graber Miller’s piece “Mennonite Mutual Aid: A Margin of Difference.” In it he tells the story of MMA adopting the practice of underwriting. The practice meant that healthier people would pay less for their insurance policies and sicker people would pay more or be denied coverage all together. It was seen by some in MMA’s leadership as necessary for the survival of the institution. Underwriting had become the norm among most insurance companies at the time. But in practice, it would have a painful impact on sick or at-risk people who would be denied coverage, and it was difficult for those in MMA who were responsible for denying them aid in their time of need.  In 1988, an MMA task force went so far as to say that strict underwriting was “contrary to the mission of MMA.” The report also said, “We are caught between those conflicting needs of serving the church and being a sound business.”

Graber-Miller tells of the struggles MMA president Howard Brenneman felt in making this difficult decision to begin underwriting MMA insurance policies. Brenneman clearly struggled with his role in the decision to move to underwriting. He told Graber Miller that he “had heard Burkholder talk about ambiguity” and liked what he heard. Brenneman said, “When I really get to stumbling around, I visit with [Burkholder] at breakfast.” (Graber-Miller 287) Through the work of Brenneman and others in the MMA administration, the organization shifted farther along the path to becoming another insurance agency with a Mennonite constituency. He identifies this process of becoming like similar organizations as “institutional isomorphism” as described by sociologists Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell (Graber Miller, 266)


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