God...Help us to renounce all killing, torture and violence, to stop demonizing our adversaries, to value all life as sacred, and to see the Iraqi people and all Muslims and Arabs as our brothers and sisters...Amen..
Art Laffin, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House, Washington D.C.
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen! Say Amen! And Amen!
Rev. Joseph Lowery, January 20, 2009, Benediction at the Obama Inauguration
As we started planning this journey in the Spring and when we officially embarked on June 14, we simply wanted to meet people whose lives of Faith were compelling. We wanted to get a taste test of what some might call "Movement Christianity" or "Radical Discipleship" (radical in Latin means "roots"), a particular strand of faith and action that goes all the way back to the roots of Judeo-Christian faith: Moses' contemplative meeting with the Divine at the burning bush and his ensuing confrontation with the beastly bastards of Egyptian Empire, calling the underdogs out of enslavement and into a whole new Way of being. This was the substance of the prophetic torch passed on to Jesus of Nazareth 100 generations ago, resulting in his untimely assassination at the hands of those state and relgious leaders offended and threatened by his teaching and life.
Movement Christians are like Moses and Jesus: they meet God in the quiet of the Land and it leads them into a Life of contextual, creative and consistent engagement with and subversion from the Systems (whether family, church, corporate, government, etc) that exploit all God's creatures. This minority report within the Christian tradition has always been alive, yet often overlooked and/or discounted. Indeed, in our native Orange County, CA, we experience daily a brand of faith that emphasizes a Lord & Savior Jesus of personal piety and eternal salvation in heaven divorced from political, economic and social realities on earth.
Yet what we are looking for, despite the powerful way our American dualistic minds work, is not a "progressive" or "liberal" brand of following Jesus. We are not content to be liberal wolves dressed up in Christian clothing, although it may often appear that way. Much of what we've experienced in the world of progressive Christianity is a contentment to debate the political issues as framed by the American corporate media and those being shaped by the daily consumption of it. Most progressive Christians we have met are delightful conversation partners, but basically limit their political involvement to voting, campaigning, financially contributing to causes and sometimes even protesting. Most of these folks are what my friend Charles Cha calls "limousine liberals," pledging wholehearted allegiance to the Democratic Party while benefiting financially and socially from the rules of capitalism and nostalgia of The American Dream.
Many of the people we've met on this trip have made major financial and social sacrifices as a direct result of what their faith in God compels them to do. And what they are doing is hard, unheralded work, coming in at a 1 on the sexiness scale (and no matter how you spin it, wearing bright orange jumpsuits as an act of witness to torture in front of tourists at the White House every Friday at noon is not sexy). Here are 10 things that have resonated with us over the past 75 days and hopefully will serve to convey what is uniquely going on in these communities:
1. A Circular Church
Many of the communities we connected with literally sat in a circle for their times of worship, but many had more traditional seating. All of these groups, though, were adamant that power was shared among all the people. Sure, there was a leader or facilitator, but it was clear that she was not the Bible Answer Woman (and sometimes men led too). Some, like the Catholic Spiritus Christi in Rochester, have been excommunicated from the larger body because of the stances they have taken on women in leadership and the full dignity of gays and lesbians. Most of the others just do their thing, committed to being an alternative in a male-dominated, jack-of-all-trades pastor oriented culture.
The more than 100-year-old Calvary Baptist Church in Minneapolis has a time of sharing called "Praise, Pain & Protest," where members of the congregation are invited to stand and share from their hearts. Communal prayers are offered after the sharing ends (many of the communities had a very similar, vulnerable time of sharing, including Reba Place in Chicago, Faith Community in Greensboro, Seattle Mennonite and 1st Mennonite in San Francisco). The truly indigenous church setting of Eloheh Farm ("the Jesus sweat") had a structured time of prayer where every member of the circle offered a prayer and then (another time around the circle) every member offered a sharing of what was fermenting in their head/heart. The Mennonite Worker & Jonah House (below) read Scripture out loud and had a free time of Spirit-led sharing.
This egalitarian vision was evident in so many of the married couples we met. Many do not share the male's last name (Ched Myers/Elaine Enns; Will O'Brien/Dee Dee Rieser; Jim Perkinson/Lily Mendoza; Liz McAlister/Phil Berrigan; Wes Howard-Brook/Sue Johnson), some have hyphenated (Nilsen-Goodin, Wylie-Kellermann) and some have just dropped the husband/wife title and refer to their spouse as "partner."
2. A Contest Within The Bible
It is evident within Movement Christianity that the Bible is vital to the identity and vocation of individuals, couples and the communities they covenant to. Scipture, for these folks, does not have one clear voice. It is not a set of inerrant timeless truths and principles that makes obedience a self-evident practice. For these leaders, activists and scholars, the Bible is a contextual compilation of many voices from all over the theological-political spectrum within Israel and the early Christian movement. There are prophetic texts that call for an overturning of the wayward status quo. There are priestly texts that call for order and discretion.
The Seattle-based biblical scholar and cat-whisperer Wes Howard-Brook (below) famously calls the Bible a contest between those who advocate for an indigenous "God of Creation" and others who propogate a triumphalistic, patriarchal and vengeful "God of Empire." The key for Howard-Brook and Movement Christianity is the Jesus of the Gospels. What Jesus says and does puts a stamp of approval on what is Real. Jesus keeps us accountable to the violence and colonizing and hoarding that we so badly want to justify from within God's Word. But in Jesus we find the very God of the Universe enfleshed as a Way of enemy love, non-violent resistance to evil, power-and-possession sharing, a rugged solidarity with the poor-and-oppressed, a willingness to be arrested for civil disobedience and on and on and on.
As the late biblical scholar, activist and farmer Clarence Jordan once wrote, "The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him." Christian faith is not about going to heaven when we die, but instead bringing the life of heaven to earth. This is the lens through which the Bible, and all of life, is read within Movement Christianity.
3. Manna, Not Mammon
None of the Movement Christians we met were living in luxury. Many, in fact, were living in intentional community (Reba Place Fellowship in Chicago; Jeanie-Wylie in Detroit; Jonah House in Baltimore; Romero House in Toronto; Mennonite Worker in Minneapolis; Dorothy Day in D.C.; Simple Way in Philly), sharing meals and sometimes even money. They served up potluck style and many emphasized local and organic ingredients used (a "tour of the table" is how Heidi Thompson put it in D.C.). Everyone was tremendously hospitable and it was obvious that this ministry of "taking in" the sojourner was a part of the heartbeat of what they do in real-time. Many did not own a car (which is actually possible in bikeable cities and those with public transportation infrastructure) and it was evident that they didn't pay a whole lot for their clothing (this is certainly not to say that they looked shabby or unkempt).
4. A Contemplative & Indigenous Spirit
Prayer and Scipture reading, both individually and communally, are at the heart of these communities. Many of these spiritual pilgrims are committed to yoga and meditation. There seems to be a strong pull towards "getting back to our roots" in regards to honoring traditions of Native American/First Nations traditions and staying connected to the Land. Over and over, we encountered lucious backyard (and frontyard) gardens and community gardens like the Jeanie-Wylie Community's in Detroit (below), encroaching upon the urban jungle with native veggies and fruits. It was clear to us that these spiritual practices weren't a reflection of what is hip or trendy, but, in fact, deeply and thoughtfully theological. These were quite simply a natural outgrowth of what it means to follow Jesus: the One who spent 40 days praying and fasting in Nature and, indeed, the One who used all sorts of lessons from the plant and animal world to bring alive the Way of hope, joy and liberation.
5. A Knack For Creative Expression
Movement Christians aren't afraid to take plenty of inspiration from art, music, poetry, food/drink and every other form of beauty and goodness all around them. Their homes were beautifully decorated and we were inundated with recommendations and samples of great music and book recommendations. They were quick to offer advice on the best restaurant, coffee, beer or wine in their neighborhood. Perhaps the pinnacle of artistic expression was the spoken word poetry of Jim Perkinson (below) after dinner and then, the next morning, the tour that Bill Wylie-Kellermann gave us of the Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. The DIA is Bill's House: it was as if we walked into the living room of this scribe of the kingdom of heaven as he unveiled treasures old and new for an hour. In Philly, the Alternative Seminary is masterfully committed to an engagement with the Bible that utilizes song, dance and costumes.
6. Taking Personal Inventory
We were deeply impressed with how emotionally attuned these new friends are. Many of them utilize the enneagram and/or the Jungian Myers-Briggs test. They are sensitive to the pain, struggle, woundedness and imperfection of their lives. They don't hide from it. They read Richard Rohr. Many go to a therapist. There seemed to be a strong realization that too many activists burn out because of their idealism, lack of boundaries and abject failure to connect with their internal lives. Many of these Movement people, like Clancy & Marcia Dunigan (below) who participated in the original Bartimaeus community in Berkeley in the early 80s, spoke of what they've learned about themselves over the years and decades. They all took their unique vocations seriously, but laughed quickly and heartily and, often times, at themselves.
7. The Politics of Courageous Confrontation
A key theological concept for Movement Christians is the "principalities and powers" language in the letters of Paul. Although generally rendered as demonic or Satanic spirits by most Christians, both historic and contemporary, the work of theologians like Walter Wink, John Howard Yoder and William Stringfellow has captured a more compelling and contextual understanding that these Powers were (and are) the systems that organize our world and, inevitably and idolatrously, use their power to oppress and enslave humanity and the rest of God's Creation. These Powers, like Moses and Jesus, must be nonviolently confronted and creatively exposed for what they are.
The Catholic nuns at the Jonah House confront the atrocity of nuclear weapons by walking onto military bases and pouring their own blood (in the shape of a cross) on nuclear warheads. They use hammers to symbolically beat them into plowshares (see Isaiah 2:2-4) until they are arrested. Sister Ardeth served 40 months in federal prison after their last action in Colorado Springs.
Bill Wylie-Kellermann (and others) calls this action "public liturgy," taking the work of the church outside the building into the sacred struggle of good and evil in the real world. Kellermann himself stopped counting the times he's been arrested for civil disobedience after he hit 50. His most recent arrest came during a Detroit city council meeting where all elected city officials were stripped of formal power by the governor: Bill led a group of activists in singing spirituals and anthems for more than 90 minutes. No doubt, he's creative: he keeps a can of spray paint in his car at all times to artfully re-frame sexist and militaristic billboards.
Seattle Mennonite Church goes to the Federal Building on Good Friday for a Eucharist service. Why? According to their website:
We gather at the federal building because it is the local parallel to where Jesus was held and abused: the Roman governor’s local head-quarters. Then, as now, the central government claimed the power of life and death, while so often doing the will of the wealthy elite. Our federal government, like that of ancient Rome, blatantly serves corporations and banks while taxing and exploiting the poor and middle class. We stand in its shadow to announce God’s Victory over this system of global oppression and empire.
The 60-something and about to retire pastor of SMC Weldon Nisly (below) shared with us that he is convinced that Barack Obama has been the best President in his lifetime. But this isn't enough. Weldon is deeply disappointed in so many of the policies that Obama continues to condone: the droned civilians and "suspected" terrorists, the deported undocumented workers, the sequestered poor and the caving in to corporate privilege. Weldon and SMC are committed to enacting a whole new world. This means a confrontation with materialism and militarism--the very heart of the American Dream.
Many of the folks we met in Durham, NC were participating in the Moral Mondays protests, arrests and rallies in Raleigh this summer. Too many new laws enacted by the GOP governor and legislature are having drastic effects on teachers, women, gays and lesbians and people of color. Like Jesus, they know an unjust law when they see one.
The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House is committed to two protests every week in Washington D.C.: Mondays at the Pentagon and Fridays at the White House (below). They believe they are called by God to witness to the violent destruction and torture. If Obama steps outside his House and listens for it at the noon hour on Friday, he will hear Art Laffin leading the dozen or so activists in a sweet song: "Oh Muslim Brothers..."
Eco Faith Recovery in Portland is an ecumenical project taking the economic and ecological addictive cycle seriously. These folks are taking personal inventory and organizing for action against the coal trains running roughshod along the beautiful Columbia Gorge. As the earth heats up, they are preparing themselves for a deeper engagement with the corporations and the state to witness for a better, more sustainable Way.
8. Surrounded By A Cloud of Witnesses
Movement Christians honor their saints and feed off their teachings and lifestyles. They take great care to faithfully inhabit the Tradition of Moses, Jesus, Francis, the early Anabaptists, de las Casas, the abolitionists, the woman suffragists, Bonhoeffer, King, the Berrigans (below), Day, Jordan, Merton, Stringfellow and Zinn, as well as living exemplars like Grace Lee Boggs, Bill McKibbon, William Barber, Wendell Berry, Cornel West, Jim Douglass, Kathy Kelly and, of course,
9. A Commitment to Cultural Analysis
These spiritual pilgrims read and study the signs. They seek a deeper understanding of current events. Particularly, we were struck by the fact that these folks had very complex understandings of the highly sensitive (especially amonsgst white males!) systematic racial/ethnic issues, as well as a thorough analysis of the causes of poverty, income inequality and other economic maladies. They are fully committed to learning just how overpowering and unaccountable the U.S. military-industrial-complex has become. They take seriously the ongoing effects of King's "giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism." They live out Karl Barth's vision, carrying the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other (below: in Philly with Will O'Brien of Alternative Seminary & Tevyn East of Carnival de Resistance).
10. And It's OK to Have Some Fun Too...Dammit!
We'll never forget our time getting to participate in worship and common meals with the Mennonite Worker in Minneapolis and then joining them in their Sunday night ritual: karaoke. Mark Van Steenwyk belted out delicious samples of Garth Brooks and, yes, Weird Al, while we made complete asses of ourselves stumbling through the lyrics of Paul Simon and, yes, Carly Rae Jepson. We'll never forget joining in on the laughter, passion and great beer at the round table discussion at the local brewpub in Winnipeg with Ched & Elaine and their entourage (including Geez Magazine editor Aiden Enns and Canadian Mennonite prof Kenton Lobe). We'll never forget reading Bill Wylie-Kellermann's basketball memoir published in a local Detroit newspaper a few years ago during the Final Four. We'll never forget swigging beer with Bill Heffernan and then watching him perform live at the Hole-In-The-Wall in Toronto. We'll never forget the blend of laughter (and tears) shared during lunch with the leaders of Ripple, an urban Mennonite Church in Allentown, PA (below). We'll never forget Sister Carol telling us about the weekly tradition of beer, popcorn and movies every Friday at Jonah House in Baltimore. We'll never forget our impromptu dance party with the children of the Wilderness Way community in Portland.
Getting Rooted in Movement Christianity
Some Daily Meditations
Richard Rohr has a daily meditation emailed to you here
Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. has a daily meditation on their Inward/Outward site
Weldon Nisly helped start Bridgefolk, an ongoing Mennonite/Catholic dialogue and is an oblate at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota (good daily prayer and liturgical resources)
Online Resources From Some of the Leaders We Met
The Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries of Ched Myers & Elaine Enns
More books and articles from Ched Myers
Read Bill Wylie-Kellermann's articles here
Many folks cited the late William Stringfellow as an influence.
Read Jim Perkinson's theological interpretation of life in the city here
And a sample of Perkinson's spoken word poetry here
Mark Van Steenwyk rants and raves here and he contributes mightily to the Jesus Radicals site
Tim Nafziger & Charletta Erb are major contributors at Young Anabaptist Radicals and Pink Menno
Aiden Enns is the editor of Geez Magazine
The Wilderness Way of Portland has some good resources on sustainable practices here
Read Rose Berger on faith & politics here and here
Read Sheldon Good on faith & politics here and here
Read Jenn Svetlik on urban gardening & food justice here and here
Jenn recommended this great site on women in theology
Read the work of Isaac Villegas here and here
Josh McQueen recommended the late John Alexander's Being Church and anything Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes
Mike Boucher recommended the work of David Whyte and the Enneagram personality test
Wes Howard Brook and his partner Sue Johnson team up on their Abideinme spiritual direction site
C.John Hildebrand recommended the On Being site
Check out Will O'Brien and the Alternative Seminary in Philly
Check out Tim Kumfer and the Servant Leadership School in DC