Mennonite Voices Profiled at the American Religious Sounds Project

Religion scholars Amy DeRogatis and Isaac Weiner lead one of my favorite online endeavors: the American Religious Sounds Project. It documents and interprets America’s diversity of religions through sound.

Right now, the ARSP is featuring Mennonite voices. Check out the interactive archive of sounds. You’ll get to hear a bit about the forthcoming Voices Together hymnal and also hear samples of Mennonites from White River Cheyenne Mennonite in Busby, Montana, Chin Emmanuel Baptist (confusingly, a Mennonite congregation formed by immigrants from Myanmar) in Houston,  the intercultural Upland Peace Church in Upland, California, and Sherbrooke Mennonite in Vancouver, Canada, which hosts English and Korean services.

It’s a treat to learn more about the many voices that are part of the Mennonite tradition and a joy to hear them.

The ARSP project is a great resource if you want to learn more about religion and sound in general, and I am so grateful that they worked with the Voices Together team for this contribution.


Eyes in the Room: Making Sense of Screens with Young Children

My children and I have been on a road trip this summer with no definite end. We’ve already driven about 2000 miles and could easily put another 3000 miles in before we’re done.

This means that we have spent a lot of time in close quarters, which has been fun, but it also means that sometimes, we need a break and there isn’t much space for one. So we disappear into books and silly YouTube shows on our phones and games on the Nintendo DS. The tension here is that the downtime I need can only happen out of the car (because I can’t really zone out while driving), whereas that is when any 2 out of 3 kids are focusing on a screen. The other sits up front and we talk. Since my youngest isn’t able to sit up front, though, this means he is getting a lot of screen time this summer. We watched Aladdin (the animated version) 30 times this summer in the van. Or, rather, the kids in the back watched it, and those of us upfront just got to hear it. Over and over. In the car and, then, in our dreams because it’s impossible to turn off “Arabian Nights” and “Prince Ali” and “A Whole New World” once your brain has heard them that much. Aladdin is one of the few DVDs without a major scratch (though a smaller one has shortened the viewing time by about 15 minutes), which just means we start it over again more frequently.

Anyway, this means that my youngest is getting a LOT of screen time–and then we he is away from it and wants to connect with me, I want to disconnect from everything.

We’re working it out. In the meantime, I’m reminding myself of the central finding from an article titled “Eyes in the Room Trump Eyes on the Screen” from the Journal of Children and Media: “children depend primarily on their live social partners to make sense of their media experiences.” The stuff he watches on a screen–that’s stuff he needs my help processing, even if it’s all appropriate for him. And it’s not just my job as a parent to do that–it’s a joy, if I let it be, because I get to see how his brain makes sense of things. I get to hear the new words he is learning. (This week’s were the verb encounter and the Arabaic word haboob, which means a duststorm.) I get to see him model the stories he tells on the stories he is seeing in films.  I get to see him try out new jokes his favorite YouTubers have shared. I get to hear him singing songs from his favorite movie in the shower.

This much screentime isn’t my first parenting choice, but it’s where we are right now, as I am working full time this summer while solo parenting in the middle of a cross-country trip. But it’s been fun to help this little one make sense of what he is engaging, and it’s a reminder that we don’t passively consume media–we shape how we understand it, and we have a lot of agency in that process.





Walking Roots coming to Hesston Tomorrow

A few years ago, my children and I got to see the Walking Roots Band at a performance in Johnstown, PA. We fell in love. Carry Your Heart has remained in our CD player in our van ever since, and the only arguments we have about it are what order to play the songs in.

The band is coming to Hesston, Kansas, at Whitestone Mennonite Church, tomorrow night, and we are going to get to see them again. (If you miss it, you can check them out elsewhere in the Midwest, including at MCUSA’s upcoming conference in Kansas City.

One lyric in particular, from the song “The Wind on the Water,” has become a theme for us recently: “In want or in plenty/I have learned to live contently/It’s amazing grace that I cannot ignore.” We’ve had a summer of disruption, with lots of question marks for our family and few answers. This lyric has become a prayer for us–something we aspire to–and as we’ve prayed it, it’s also become a reality.

I look forward to saying “thank you” to the Walking Roots Band for the gift of peace that has come with this lyric tomorrow night. And if you are a Sixoh6 reader who comes to the concert, please ask around until you find me so we can say hi!

Updates in Hate Scholarship: Religion and Hate

606 contributor Rebecca Barrett-Fox is a scholar of hate, religion, and sex. 

This week I want to share two readings that may interest some 606ers. If you want to read the second, an academic article, but are unable to access it through your library, please contact me for help locating a copy.

Titian's Crucifixion (around 1555)

Above, Titian’s rendering of the crucifixion, which is held in Spain’s Royal Monastery. Today, worldwide, Christians face greater persecution than any other religious group. This means we have a responsibility and a practical reason to offer counternarratives and countertheologies to religious violence.

Useful for historians but especially for theologians, Confronting Religious Violence: A Counternarrative, edited by Richard A. Burridge and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has at its core the claim that we can offer the world a more compelling narrative than hate.

What are “religious microaggressions” and how do they impact the lives of people of faith? That is the question David R. Hodge asks in “Spiritual microaggressions: Understanding the subtle messages that foster religious discrimination,” published in Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work

Updates in Hate Scholarship: How Talk Matters

606 contributor Rebecca Barrett-Fox is a scholar of hate, religion, and sexuality. 

In 2009, Republican politicians and commentators threw a fit over a Department of Homeland Security report that noted that we were witnessing a rise in hate activity, domestic extremism, and domestic terrorism. Conservatives didn’t like the fact that some of their core beliefs–mistrust of the federal government, strong adherence to conservative Christianity, militarism–were seen as possible causes of concern. They won the battle over how the government would talk about extremism, and the report was yanked. But they insistence that they were persecuted has cost us many lives and contributed, emboldened by Trumpism, to more extremist behaviors.

How we talk about hate is important. If you want to learn more about why, check out these two academic articles. (And if you don’t have access to them through your library, let me know and I’ll find a way to get them to you.)

After terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, police, community groups, and faith organizations can work together in shaping a story to reduce the likelihood of retaliatory hate acts. That’s the takeaway from Sadique, K., Tangen, J. & Perowne, A., ‘The importance of narrative in responding to hate incidents following ‘trigger’ events‘ (2018), Tell MAMA

For decades, the Pacific Northwest has served as an imaginary geography for hate groups–some of whom have had the specific goal of creating a white ethnostate there. The internet has allowed a different geography of hate to be created, one where the physical reality of the border matters less. That’s the gist of “Networks of Hate: The Alt-Right, ‘Troll Culture,’ and the Cultural Geography of Social Movement Spaces Online” by Edwin Hodge and Helga Hallgrimsdottir and published in Journal of Borderland Studies.


Image result for northwest territorial imperative


Above, one of the many maps showing a post-racial civil war America, as envisioned by white power movement participants. 

Non-Violent Approaches to Atonement

Today, I’m following up to a question I was recently asked: If penal substitutionary atonement isn’t the only way for Christians to understand salvation, what else is there?

606 isn’t a theology blog, and I’m not a theologian or a church historian, so I approach this slowly and with a partial answer, focusing on two doctrines that better (I think) align with the peace and reconciliation work of the church (and thus ignoring ransom, satisfaction, moral government, and substitutionary theorie). The two views I share below are derived from Western theologies–I simply don’t know enough about the insights of African, African American, indigenous, Asian, and Latin American theologians on the matter. I welcome more contributions to the topic, so if you have found a soteriology (a doctrine of salvation) that you think is edifying, please share it.

What I share here is a very brief summary of two popular doctrines, simply to introduce them as concepts and remind readers that there are other ways of thinking about Jesus’ death that don’t require a valorization of violence.

Moral Influence (also called the Example Theory or the Socinian view, after a group of Polish unitarian Christians who adopted it): Jesus’ death is meant to show us God’s love and, in doing so, encourage us to love each other more. The focus isn’t on restoring a relationship between people and God but on helping us to act right in this life–“For you have been called for this purpose,” 1 Peter 2:21 states, “since Christian also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow His steps.”  This view was first articulated by the medieval theologian Peter Abelard (yes, that Abelard) and continues to be popular among Unitarians.

Christus Victor (Christ the Victor): Jesus literally defeats death by resurrecting from the grave, then ascending to heaven. Christians share in this victory–not because Jesus’ suffering was due to our sins but because Jesus’ resurrection includes us. As 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 says, quoting Isaiah 25,

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

While many evangelicals are skeptical of the Christ the Victor model, it is central to Orthodoxy.


Above, Arthur Robins’ Jesus Christ Cross CrucifiedFor those who question violent atonement, the suffering of someone dying by state-inflicted torture isn’t a path to salvation.

Womanist and feminist theologians have tremendous insights into how we understand Jesus’ death, including calling into question the notion (so embedded in the white evangelical tradition) that Jesus’ death was required for human salvation, that it was a “happy exchange” (in Martin Luther’s words) in which Jesus took on human sin so humans could be redeemed. This evangelical vision, which requires reading Jesus into the Hebrew Scriptures, makes suffering and death inevitable and redemptive and obedience to them as noble–messages that have helped keep women and people of color locked into oppressive relationships. In a future post, I’ll get back to their contributions to new understandings of the execution of Jesus.

For me, leaving penal substitutionary atonement–the idea that Jesus has to die in order to settle a debt that I owe to God because of the sin that is inherent in my nature–behind meant I could more clearly understand Jesus’ life and ministry, because I was no longer reading it to explain justify a complicated, transactional, abuse-justifying theology. In response, I was better able to see Jesus in his own culture, social, political, and historical moment: that his ministry of reconciliation, healing, and justice was enough to get him killed. That it threatened to bring dangerous Roman attention to an already-oppressed Jewish community–which shows the ways that one oppression can lead to another. That what preceded his execution wasn’t Isaiah 53 but Matthew 21: 12-17. That Jesus died for our debts, not our sins.

For me, there were consequences in adopting this new theology, and all of them brought me closer, I think, to the heart of the gospel: reconciliation and healing, as modeled in Jesus’ life. Penal substitutionary atonement makes a lot of lazy Christians as adherents often interpret any demand on their behavior as an effort to undermine the meaning of Jesus’ death. The theology spiritualizes what is not spiritual–real human suffering, in this case, at the hands of state power–so that it can’t be acted upon. I don’t have time for it. If Christians are to be “about my Father’s business,” then I don’t think that penal substitutionary atonement can be what we’re about because it doesn’t get us acting like Jesus.


PA-IPL Bike Trip Day 6

New 606 contributor Ben Wideman reflections on a recent bike ride to promote climate action.

Something is shifting in Washington DC.

Four years ago I rode in my first PA-IPL Bike Trip from State College to DC. At that time our Hill visits were almost guaranteed to go one of two ways. If it was a Democrat they would thank us for our time but admit that anything having to do with climate change was challenging due to partisan divide. Republicans would admire our efforts to ride our bikes so far, but almost always deny that the climate was changing.

Despite the ongoing (and on many issues increasing) polarization of the two parties, there is increasing awareness among elected officials of both parties that climate change is real and engaged.

There is still major division on the path forward. There are still trigger words that some elected officials refuse to use. There is still a difference in the urgency of this problem, but few people are left who outright deny that the planet is warming.

Our ride included 7 riders who had journeyed from Philadelphia to DC, and 8 riders who had traveled from State College to DC. Together (with the assistance of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light’s incredible staff team of Cricket Hunter and Alison Cornish) we were able to visit the offices of all 18 Representatives and 2 Senators.

Several times during our hill visits we heard staffers share that Republicans are coming around and admitting that they made a mistake denying that humans have been a cause of the changing climate. There were times when younger staff members would admit that they were personally concerned about climate change, even if it wasn’t something that was as urgent for their boss. It feels like we’re watching a generational shift happen in a short moment in time.

On our ride we heard more community members from Pennsylvania’s “red” districts talk about the way they are experiencing a different climate – either from the difficulty farmers are having this spring to get the crops into the ground, or the increasing change in the animals, plants, or tree pollen. We rode our bikes beside fields flooded with too much water, and heard that a local fly fishing shop was shifting the flies they sold because insects are emerging at different times than they used to. People who live in rural America are more intimately tuned in to how the climate is shifting.

One of my fellow cyclists shared that it feels as though the people fighting against climate change have been slowly walking toward solutions for many years – still moving forward, but painfully slowly at times. Now it feels like we’re on roller skates… still not moving as quickly as we should, but much faster than before.

There are still so many challenges in politics. Many people are still marginalized, underrepresented, or underserved. Progress on climate change does not equate to progress in all areas, nor does a decrease in political division on one topic have a trickle down effect to others.

Image may contain: one or more people, people riding bicycles, bicycle, outdoor and nature

Still, there were some small signs of hope for me. Two years ago Pennsylvania had zero women among their 18 Congresspeople and 2 Senators. This year there are four. Two years ago there was so much gridlock that no one we visited felt any optimism at all that any policies could be implemented. There are still many challenges, but generally speaking optimism seemed higher than before. A Democratic majority in the House means that they have been able to keep a stronger hold on some environmental policy that the White House is trying to undermine.

Wednesday’s experience in Washington DC gives me more hope than I’ve had during the past few years of being present with my state’s elected officials. I know that change will come only when our communities raise their voices even louder, but it is exciting to see that some of those voices are shifting the culture of our national politics.

I will continue to ride my bicycle – for the planet, for future generations, for the moral imperative that we are facing. I hope you ride with me.