Wednesday, June 26, 2013

If you want to dance with Caesar, remember that Caesar calls the tune

The sky is falling! The world is coming to an end!

Well not really but I imagine that is what “my” side of the social media world is saying today in light of the Supreme Court decisions that bolstered “gay marriage”. Today is a day that it is probably best that I am cut off a bit from social media.

On the purely secular situation, this is yet another gross overreach of federal power but that is hardly a surprise. The idea of a Federal government that is as deeply encroached as ours is and involved in virtually every aspect of our lives from birth to death would be anathema to those who designed our Constitution. Of course in fairness so would the idea of women voting but I digress. Telling the people of one state that the executive branch can override their duly and legally passed legislation like Proposition 8 by refusing to defend that same legally enacted law in court make a mockery of the separation of powers at the state level in much the same way that the Supreme Court intervening in this case to throw something out that it really has no standing to determine in the first place is also a mockery of both separation of powers and the principals of federalism. A Federal government that subsidizes child care through public education to providing funding and loans for college to requiring insurers to cover adults up to age 26 on their parent’s insurance to seizing an enormous proportion of wages in the form of taxes before generously giving a portion back in the form of various incentivizing tax breaks to providing medical care now and in old age along with an income stipend would see no issue with dominating what was once a supremely local issue, namely marriage between a man and woman.

From the perspective of the church, I think this is yet again an example of the church being unequalled yoked with the state. As I have written so often that I am even boring myself with the repetition, the church made this mess a long time ago by seeking out Caesar’s approval and blessing of marriages conducted in the church. If you want Caesar’s gold, you have to do as Caesar says.

The church should never have gotten so cozy with the state when it comes to marriage. We thought it was fine and even dare I say to our advantage to cozy up to the state when the state sort of defined marriage more or less biblically and also showered us with tax breaks for married couples and religious organizations alike but it was inevitable that as the prevailing morality of the world and this nation in particular have changed (and not for the better), so too would our most cherished institutions. Marriage in our culture is subject to legal definition by Caesar even though the actual definition and purpose of marriage is part of God’s eternal decree, a decree not subject to ruling by the courts of men or the winds of popular opinion. So when the culture says marriage means something that it doesnn't we only have ourselves to blame.

Someday perhaps we will learn our lesson and wise up.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lots on my mind, not much to say

I haven't really posted anything for a couple of weeks. It isn't like I don't have anything to say or that I am not thinking about anything. Just everything I am thinking about writing seems like a broken record. I don't have anything fresh or innovative or even terribly interesting to say. Maybe as the week wears on something will catch my eye.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Hey! Over Here! Remember Us?!

It sometimes seems that based on the blogosphere, social media and bookstores that Anabaptism is a largely "progressive" or dare I say "liberal" movement. The perspective that is presented and the conversations being engaged seem somewhat narrowly focused especially on certain issues. The buzzwords, doctrinal positions that the contemporary Anabaptist writers take (and just as importantly
the positions that they oppose) and the non-Anabaptist writers that they reference all speak to an image that  is overwhelmingly "progressive" or at least superficially contrary to what is known in Anabaptism as "traditional" or "conservative". Many progressive writers with Anabaptist sympathies claim the mantle of Anabaptism for all sort of  positions that more traditional Anabaptists or the historical Anabaptists would find completely foreign. That doesn't mean that they are wrong to hold those positions or that the traditional/historical Anabaptists were always right but it does make for a pretty confusing dialogue, especially for "outsiders" like me. That is why, while I am not a giant fan of labels because I find that they tend to divide rather than clarify, I do think that the "neo-Anabaptist" label is a helpful one in distinguishing between traditional or historic Anabaptist groups and the neo-Anabaptists as a distinguishing mark.

It certainly seems that a lot of the neo-Anabaptist thinkers and writers come from outside of the traditional Anabaptist movements, tend to drive the conversation leftward and are a gateway to neo-Anabaptism for a lot of Christians. Perhaps the neo-Anabaptists were sent a Youtube link with a talk by Bruxy Cavey or they are reading Scot McKnight and he mentions Anabaptism, sparking their interest. What tends to be missing are a lot of references to historical Anabaptism.

Unlike some other contemporary streams within the church, primarily those coming from the magisterial Reformation, the neo-Anabaptist stream seems somewhat a-historical in the sense that their identity is distinct from, and in some ways a reaction against, the traditional, "historical" Anabaptist movement. For example, in the Reformed wing of the church especially the neo-Reformed or "young, restless and reformed" types are deeply connected with the historical roots and voraciously read and refer back to men like Calvin, the Puritans and guys like Whitfield. Neo-Anabaptists, even Mennonites, are more likely to quote Stuart Murray or Scot McKnight than Menno Simons or Balthasar Hubmaier.

My own experience in Anabaptism has been far more varied. While I appreciate my "leftward" Anabaptist brethren (recognizing how inadequate and loaded that sort of term is!) and have often been challenged by them on various issues via social media, my "real life" experience with Anabaptism has been far more traditional than progressive. Gender relations, issues of human sexuality, questions like a literal Adam and hell, these are issues that the Anabaptists I am familiar with are far more likely to hold to a conservative or fundamentalist line than the neo-Anabaptists.

I have said multiple times before that the division in Anabaptism over "conservative" versus "progressive" has left both sides poorer. There are a huge number of "conservative" Anabaptists that barely get mentioned among the neo-Anabaptist thinkers. For example, one of the largest of the "original" Anabaptist groups are the Amish and estimates peg their population at almost a quarter of a million. There are tens of thousands of Hutterites and Bruderhof in almost 500 colonies (I did find out just today that there are several Hutterite blogs out there, who knew?!). There are tens or hundreds of thousands of conservative Mennonites living in South America as well as Africa and Asia and and of course there are likewise tens of thousands of various conservative Mennonites in North America. Where we live there tends to be a variety of "conservative" Anabaptists with essentially no "progressive" or neo-Anabaptist groups that I am aware of, which leads to a strange dichotomy where "real life" Anabaptism looks one way and my online "virtual" Anabaptist circles look completely different and rarely overlap.

I assume a lot of this seems to be linked to many of the most conservative Anabaptist groups being leery of technology and not terribly interested in writing books (nor were the original Anabaptists who were more concerned about avoiding torture and murder from Catholic and Reformer alike). Likewise many new "converts" or at least sympathetically minded newer adherents that are more likely to be active on social media, blogs, Youtube, etc. tend to be leftward, drawn by the traditional peace church nature of Anabaptism and perhaps finding in Anabaptism what they want to see rather than what is there. In fairness, the more "traditional" Anabaptists I know fear the encroachment of "liberalism" more than almost anything else. I remember a friend responding to the question of which kind of Mennonite their church was with "the Biblical kind". It was partly tongue in cheek but he was also kind of serious, implying that non-"conservative" Anabaptist groups were unbiblical.

The Anabaptists were and are a pretty diverse group and have a lot to teach us on a lot of topics. Let's not make the mistake of pigeonholing them into a contemporary box and in doing so missing the rich history that they have along with the new applications to discover, even when their traditions or beliefs run counter to neo-Anabaptism or when some of the ideas of neo-Anabaptism don't sound "conservative" enough.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

On Loss and Scale

John Mureiko wrote a post this weekend,  Makes Your Stomach Ache, that really spoke to me. John writes of the personal sense of loss he experienced at the devastating loss they suffered in their small vineyard. John said:

I know it may sound silly, but you truly do grow an emotional attachment to your plants, and also your livestock. It really can be a painful experience to see them sicken and ultimately die after hours and hours of labor and care.

I get that, even as new as I am to the smaller scale farming world.

When a farmer who has 5000 acres of corn planted by machine, cultivated and sprayed by machine and harvested by machine loses 100 corn plants he either doesn't notice or he files a claim for crop insurance. When a factory farm with 10,000 hogs loses half a dozen piglets it is an acceptable loss. When a man with a small operation who knows all of his animals and every plant loses one, he knows it and feels it because he is personally invested in it. You remember planting it or seeing it born. We keep a journal in our home and record when our animals are bred or eggs go into the incubator so we know how it feels when a dog gets into your baby chicks after the wind blows the barn door open and slaughters dozens and dozens, wiping out that years batch. We know what it is like to have a baby lamb rejected by mom that was just never quite right but lived in our living room for two weeks until it finally succumbed. We know what it is like to wait for months in eager anticipation for the birth of a calf only to watch in growing dismay as it becomes apparent that the birth is not going the way you hoped and saving the cow only by the heroic and messy effort of my wife to deliver the stillborn calf. These losses are painful and real, something you can't quite experience the same way as the farm gets bigger and the animals become numbers on ear tags, turning them from pigs and calves and chicks into units of production that convert x pounds of feed to y units of meat. Of course you also cannot miss the real joy of watching a lamb grow into an adult sheep and having lambs of her own or a chick that becomes a broody hen with chicks of her own hiding under her wings or enjoying the fruit of your labor with a home grown turkey for Thanksgiving or bacon from a hog your raised on your own!

As I often do, when I think of farming I also think of the church. How similar they are and this notion of the intimacy of small scale farming versus the impersonal nature of industrial agriculture is very much like the difference between small, intimate fellowships of believers versus massive event driven "church" where x units of worship convert into y units of religious output. That is not to say that all small farms are perfect, there are many that are half-hearted and even cruel just as there are small fellowships that are anything but intimate and far from faithful. Nevertheless you cannot replicate the personal investment of a small farm with a massive agribusiness enterprise and you cannot replicate authentic interpersonal community with a staged religious event no matter how polished.

Anyway, read John's post and let me know if you see the connection I am trying to draw or if I am overreaching yet again.

The Second Amendment Is The Eleventh Commandment?

At the outset:

- I own guns. Quite a few of them.

- I recognize the right of American citizens to own firearms without the permission of the government based on the Second Amendment and I likewise see most national attempts to restrict firearm ownership to be based more in citizen control than gun control.

- I am all in favor of kicking the UN to the curb and sending them somewhere else to make empty speeches, coddle dictators and waste money.

OK. Now let me begin by saying that elected representative he may be but Congressman Steve Stockman from Texas is either not extraordinarily bright or he is maliciously deceptive. On his web page he published this statement (emphasis mine):

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Stockman (R-Texas 36) has signed on to a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry demanding they not sign the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.

The right to keep and bear arms is granted by God and protecting from government aggression by the Constitution.  It is not subject to the whims of global totalitarians massed in New York City,” said Stockman.  “I oppose any UN treaty touching the right to keep and bear arms.  It’s beyond time for the United States to withdraw from the UN.”

The right to keep and bear arms is granted by God?


I must have missed that part of the New Covenant. Let me see. Remembering our sins no more. Writing His law on our hearts. Oh yeah, there it is: guaranteeing the right for citizens of a secular nation that wouldn't even exist until 1700 years after the closing of the canon to own firearms.

I can understand why some people want to limit gun ownership when people like this are the voice of gun owners.

I don't even have it in me to write anything else snarky about this. I will just let it speak for itself.