Readings: A Mennonite minister sells her land, shares the proceeds with the tribe that once lived there

agriculture blue sky clear sky clouds
This land is your land… Photo by Artur Roman on

This is an extraordinary story:

“This was not always our land,” said Florence Schloneger, a 71-year-old retired Mennonite minister in North Newton. “I got my part . . . and, I wanted to acknowledge it wasn’t always our land.”

So, when her portion of the farm’s proceeds was received, she wrote a letter to the Kanza Heritage Society accompanying her check.

“This gift is a small acknowledgment that what our family homesteaded and owned was not unoccupied land – it is acknowledgment that no land can truly be owned and that the pride in our farm passed down through our family came at a great cost to your people,” Schloneger began her letter. “As my eyes have been opened, I have experienced great sorrow. Not only were your hunting grounds appropriated, but your rich culture and language was nearly lost through assimilation. My hope is that this small gift can help build and restore the strength of Kanza traditions for coming generations. Many blessings.”

Read the whole thing.

I’ve often wondered how we need to pay our debt to history. The lands that I live on were acquired through invasion and exploitation. I can’t change that. So how do I acknowledge that? Is there any way I can begin to repay the debt? It sometimes seems impossible.

I’m not sure I know the answers. Florence Schloneger, though, has offered one possibility.

The scandal in the Southern Baptist Church

three bibles on wooden bench
Photo by Bryan Schneider on

This is devastating:

In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.

And a good question:

“That just appalled me,” Leathers said. “They had to have known they put a convicted sex offender behind the pulpit. … If a church calls a woman to pastor their church, there are a lot of Southern Baptist organizations that, sadly, would disassociate with them immediately. Why wouldn’t they do the same for convicted sex offenders?”

This obviously isn’t just a Southern Baptist problem. The issues of the Catholic Church are well-documented; closer to home for this blog, we know that Mennonites have dealt badly with sex abuse issues as well.

I guess the question for me is not why churches are prone to this behavior: Churches are human institutions, and where humans are you’ll find the ugliest behavior imaginable. (Despite my relative secularism, I guess I definitely believe that humankind is fallen.) But I do ponder a related question: Even given the human nature of these institutions, why doesn’t their dedication to higher power and higher ideals inoculate them, even a bit, from these scandals. Churches are supposed to be places of refuge. For too many people, they aren’t.

We won’t answer that question today. But let us resolve to stand with the survivors of sexual abuse where we can. God help us.

Taking a digital sabbath

close up photography of macbook near mobile phone and headset
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Photo by on

Hard words from the late Oliver Sacks in the latest New Yorker:

Everything is public now, potentially: one’s thoughts, one’s photos, one’s movements, one’s purchases. There is no privacy and apparently little desire for it in a world devoted to non-stop use of social media. Every minute, every second, has to be spent with one’s device clutched in one’s hand. Those trapped in this virtual world are never alone, never able to concentrate and appreciate in their own way, silently. They have given up, to a great extent, the amenities and achievements of civilization: solitude and leisure, the sanction to be oneself, truly absorbed, whether in contemplating a work of art, a scientific theory, a sunset, or the face of one’s beloved.

I work online: I couldn’t make a living if I didn’t spend my professional world in the digital world he describes. And I think Sacks might’ve been too zero-sum about some of the tradeoffs the new world creates:

A few years ago, I was invited to join a panel discussion about information and communication in the twenty-first century. One of the panelists, an Internet pioneer, said proudly that his young daughter surfed the Web twelve hours a day and had access to a breadth and range of information that no one from a previous generation could have imagined. I asked whether she had read any of Jane Austen’s novels, or any classic novel. When he said that she hadn’t, I wondered aloud whether she would then have a solid understanding of human nature or of society, and suggested that while she might be stocked with wide-ranging information, that was different from knowledge. Half the audience cheered; the other half booed.

They were both right?

I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth telling again: When I grew up in central Kansas during the 1980s, we saw the New York Times once a week. It was the Sunday edition, and it arrived by mail, usually on Wednesday. If anybody in town besides the local library took it, I’m not aware. But I loved to look at it sometimes. Aside from being a burgeoning news junkie, I loved to sit and look at the ads for Broadway shows. The paper beckoned to a world largely inaccessible to me at that time and place.

Now? I read the New York Times and Washington Post every morning, and check their updates through the day. Those top-level newspapers were basically once available to, mainly, a small and coastal elite. My ability to access them from Kansas transformed my life, my understanding of the world, and my career.

On the other hand, I spend too much time trapped in the digital world.

The key, I think, is to try to find balance. I’m not good at that. But one way I can start to achieve it – or, start again, as I’ve done this from time to time – is to take a digital sabbath from time to time, ideally once a week.

That means no computers, no phones, no iPads. Time should be spent with people, or with books, or doing activities that require one to look up and around and see the world.

Saturdays will work best for that, I think. So, I’m going to try to go dark starting this Saturday. Maybe take a walk, or play a board game with my son. Balance is elusive in this world, but even moreso if you don’t at least try

The hypocrisy of Marco Rubio

220px-Senator_Rubio_official_portraitMarco Rubio writes in the New York Times, denying that his anti-BDS bill violates the First Amendment:

While the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to free speech, it does not protect the right of entities to engage in discriminatory conduct. Moreover, state governments have the right to set contracting and investment policies, including policies that exclude companies engaged in discriminatory commercial- or investment-related conduct targeting Israel.

You know who disagrees with Marco Rubio?

Marco Rubio.

Turns out, he’s cool with contractors engaging in discriminatory conduct … sometimes.

I was reading just this morning the story about Philadelphia. Catholic Social Services, which for years has run over 100 foster homes, recently was denied and stopped receiving new foster children from the City of Philadelphia because they won’t certify same-sex or unmarried couples as foster parents. They would prefer people in that situation to another agency but they themselves won’t recognize it, so they now, after all these years, will no longer be able to assist the children under their foster program. And I think that’s such a clear, recent example of how religious liberty and family values go hand-in-hand. Here, you have a government that would rather enforce a progressive, cultural value, and force it on a religious organization than give foster children a healthy home to grow up in. Many of our leaders wonder why American family life becomes increasingly dysfunctional, but the reasons are right there in front of us.

In other words, Rubio’s OK with Catholic charities discriminating against gay families on the government dime. The difference? Hell if I can tell.

I’m personally agnostic on the topic of whether boycotting Israel is wise. But I do know that Rubio’s bill infringes on the rights of Americans to express and act upon their political views. As I wrote recently for The Week:

You don’t have to weigh the merits of Israeli policy, though, to think Rubio’s bill is bad. The ACLU, for example, is fighting against anti-BDS laws but hasn’t taken a position for or against these boycotts themselves. The argument isn’t about whether such boycotts are good, wise, or just. It’s about whether state, local, and federal governments in the United States should be able to punish people — like an attorney who provides legal services for poor defendants, or a teacher who helps other teachers get ready for the classroom — for making the political decision to boycott something.

“Public officials cannot use the power of public office to punish views they don’t agree with,” the ACLU said in a blog post. “That’s the kind of authoritarian power our Constitution is meant to protect against.”

Hopefully, the Constitution is Rubio-proof.

Readings: Oh, those Christian socialists!

Jesus redistributed the fishes and the loaves, right? Photo by Pixabay on

JSTOR Daily:

In response, Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor ministering to the poor on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, proposed an evangelical viewpoint that strongly embraced socialist ideals.

In the present-day United States, we tend to associate evangelical Christians with conservative politics. But at the turn of the twentieth century, American Christian evangelicals were at the forefront of socialism.

During an 1891 trip to Germany, Rauschenbusch began formulating his view of the Kingdom of God, a concept that Jesus in the Gospels regularly refers to. Often, Jesus’s teaching is seen as referring to the afterlife, but Rauschenbusch and other Social Gospel thinkers saw it as relevant to contemporary times. Rauschenbusch promoted the idea that Christians needed to transform society to favor the poor and the oppressed.

Rauschenbusch challenged Christians to look at the prophets of ancient Israel described in the Hebrew Bible as fierce supporters of the poor who condemned the rich and powerful, to see Jesus as part of that line of prophets who challenged the rich and the powerful, and to view the early Christian communities described in the Acts of the Apostles as socialist utopias where material needs were taken care of.

In Afghanistan, ending the war has a moral cost. So does not ending it.

Photo by Pixabay on

September 11th broke my pacifism.

Possibly I wasn’t that great a pacifist to begin with, if it was so easily shed in the face of adversity. I wasn’t suddenly some gung-ho real American — I didn’t buy the lines about Al Qaeda hating us for our freedoms. But I did see that some 3,000 Americans had been brutally murdered, and I was fine with the idea that in this fallen world, a violent sort of justice was going to be exacted for that crime.

Once Al Qaeda had been chased away and the Taliban defeated, I was fine with the idea of staying in Afghanistan. It seemed like the right thing to do — to help rebuild a country, and to protect the rights of women and girls there.

It’s been a long time, though, since I thought the US presence in Afghanistan was productive. So, on one hand, I welcome this bit of news:

U.S. and Taliban officials have inched closer to an agreement that could meet a key Taliban demand for U.S. troop withdrawals, prompting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to call on the insurgents Monday to “begin serious talks” with his government and reach a “speedy peace.”

U.S. talks with the Taliban are aimed at ending more than 17 years of American involvement in Afghanistan’s four decades of almost continuous warfare.


Horror stories at the hands of enforcers from the Taliban’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice are a staple for any educated Afghan woman over age 25 or so. Now those women have a new horror story: the possibility that American troops will leave Afghanistan as part of a peace deal with the Taliban.

Among many women, though, the hopes raised by a possible end to the fighting are mixed with an undeniable feeling of dread.

“We don’t want a peace that will make the situation worse for women’s rights compared to now,” Robina Hamdard, head of the legal department for the Afghan Women’s Network, said.

There’s no simple solution to all this. America leaving Afghanistan means the Taliban will assert some new level of power in that country. That, in turn, will have consequences for women.

The war is bad. Not being at war is also bad. Ugh.

My pacifism is firmer than it was in the days after 9-11. But it’s complicated. There are moral costs to choices made and unmade. It’s time for the US war in Afghanistan to end. But I don’t want the women and girls of Afghanistan to pay a price for US withdrawal. But if the US doesn’t withdraw now, it will someday, and the problem will probably be the same.

Every option seems to leave blood on our hands.