Resist the Internet? Not quite.

Without the Internet, I imagine I would’ve ended up with a nice, long career writing and editing for newspapers in small Kansas towns. This was the career track I was on, early in the Digital Era, before the Internet’s rise finally started to displace everything in its path. This would’ve been good.

Because of the Internet, I write regularly today for national outlets like Macworld and Vice.com — and because of the Internet, I got to leave my Kansas roots for awhile and live nearly a decade on the East Coast. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything — and it has also been good, but in a very different way.

The Internet opens the world to me. The Internet floods me with too much information. The Internet forces me to be in contact with people from my past whom I’d sometimes like to shed. The Internet lets those people offer me support when times are rough. The Internet is too much for our minds and not enough for our souls.

In other words, the Internet is like any other human creation: It can be used for good. Or it can be abused to our detriment.

This may seem obvious, but it’s also worth asserting from time to time. There are lots of smart, bookish people who sometimes seem to regard the Internet as a malevolent force even as they surrender to its warm embrace. Take Ross Douthat’s column today, entitled “Resist the Internet”: Continue reading “Resist the Internet? Not quite.”

‘Faith, taken seriously, has consequences’

Joel and I have been in conversation for years now. As maybe this blog will reveal over time, he’s just the kind of friend to push your thinking forward when you are getting complacent, frustrated, stuck, inappropriately indignant, or just plain intolerable. We all need those kinds of friends, and I’m fortunate Joel has been one for me.

Like Joel’s story, my own isn’t the straightforward narrative of a “cradle Mennonite.” I grew up in rural Lancaster County, close to my Amish neighbors, who sold us raw milk, used our telephone in an emergency, and occasionally babysat us.  I was a wildly churched child, attending every Vacation Bible School in our rural area and hitching a ride to Sunday School from any neighbor who would tolerate me. In adolescence, I decided to stick with the Mennonites for reasons that were clear even at the time: every church preached that we should be like Jesus, and the Mennonites I knew best fit that description as I understood it at that time: patient with each other, humble, and radically hospitable, even in poverty. Like many adolescents, I detested bullshit, and the Mennonites addressed the hypocrisy of Christian support for war explicitly by calling it what it is—sin—and fighting against it.  The peace that comes from living with consistency was more appealing that anything any other faith could offer, and I’ve been Mennonite ever since.

My faith has been the least complicated part of my life. I’m not naïve about the Mennonite tradition, Mennonite organizations, or Mennonite people, but I continue to be inspired by the best of each. I fail often in my faith, but it never fails to provide me with a higher standard than that which I’d default to if I weren’t committed to the disciplines of simplicity and peace-making. After decades of practice, I’ve got the hang of a lot of it—some of it ingrained since before I joined the church, from living in a Mennonite enclave. It informs my politics, my relational style, my parenting, my research, and my teaching in ways that I sometimes only become aware of after someone else points it out. I take that as a good sign but also as a reminder to always be critical about faith because faith, taken seriously, has consequences.

I consider this blog a public effort to do that well or at least often, even if we’re not talking about religion explicitly. And I’m grateful for the challenge and the chance to do it with a longtime friend.

— Rebecca

Welcome

First thing’s first: Welcome to 606.

If you have any connection to the Mennonite Church, you’ll probably note that digit is the (long-since abandoned) hymnal number of the doxology:

When Rebecca and I talked about starting a blog together, we soon settled on this as a common reference. She can speak for herself, but I think it’s fair to say our associations with Mennonites play a big part in how we see the world.

And for me, this is complicated. I wasn’t born into the church. Instead, my family moved to a small Kansas town when I was entering adolescence — and we were struck, for a time, but its insularity. The first taste of the Mennonite religion was a bad one. But then I went to a Mennonite Brethren college and came to embrace and love much of the Mennonite outlook on faith.

Sometime later, I lost my faith.

I still qualify, I think, as a quasi-agnostic. I don’t know if God exists, what shape that takes, or what she/he wants from us if she does. Still, I find myself drifting into worship once in awhile. I’ve even sung 606 lustily. You can take the boy out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the boy. Thus the “(mostly) Mennonite” title of this blog.

One more thing: For me, writing is a discussion. I spent most of a decade writing a point-counterpoint column that was syndicated to newspapers. When that ended, I searched for a new discussion. Rebecca, my friend, turned out to be an excellent person to be in dialogue with, and I’m glad she’s here too. It’s also nice that we have enough in common, idea-wise, that our conversations on this blog won’t consist of endless arguing. Then again, I think our perspectives differ just enough to keep each other honest.

And we want to be in dialogue with you. Comment! We will govern the comments ruthlessly. This is not a shooting gallery. It is a conversation. You don’t have to be ideologically aligned with us to get a word in — but you do have to play nice.

With that: Welcome again. I’m looking forward to it. Rebecca? What say you?

—Joel