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.

Make Hate Unsustainable: Tour Dates Announced

“There is no power out of the church,” 19th century theologian and minister Albert Barnes wrote to white ante-bellum America, “that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.” Though Christian abolitionists were instrumental in fighting slavery, it was ended through warfare, and the American church missed its calling to enact Jesus’s radical call to peace, justice, and love. Likewise, today, privileged Christians deny their mandate and their power to address hate and oppression.

Want to talk more about how Christians, and especially white Christians, can make hate unsustainable? Consider coming out to talk with me in person this April.

hate map PAPennsylvania has more hate group activity than almost any another state. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, 36 hate groups are currently operating in the state.

I’m heading out on a short tour from central to western PA to talk to congregations, individuals, and community groups about the current state of hate in the US today and, specifically, what people of faith can do about it. Over the next week or so, I’ll be sharing the dates and details of each event. Currently, they include:

Sunday, April 7: preaching at Stahl Mennonite Church in Johnstown, PA

Monday, April 8-Thursday, April 11: leading a pastoral retreat for pastors in the Allegheny Conference of Mennonite Church USA at Camp Laurelville in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Check out the plan of events here.

Saturday, April 13, 7-8:30: A community conversation about hate, Penn State University, State College

Sunday, April 14, 3-5 pm, Peace Walk, State College

Dates for additional events in Pittsburgh and State College are forthcoming.



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

Please stop dragging abortion into this.

The older woman I was speaking to and I had had a mostly good conversation about politics. I think we both felt heard. We had found some common ground. We agreed that, on the local level, especially, politicians should mostly be evaluated by their responsiveness to the needs of their constituents. Then, as we concluded the conversation, she told me, “But I’m not going to vote for an abortionist.”

Of course you’re not, I thought with irritation, because no one who is an “abortionist” is running. The choices in her local election were between two people from the world of business. No matter who she voted for, they weren’t likely to be people who performed abortions. Sheesh.

But I understood her point: abortion is the only issue that will determine how she votes.

I don’t entirely disagree with it. In fact, I use a similar measure: whichever politicians is likely to do the most to reduce women’s need for legal abortions is likely to get my vote. I think that there is no more important measure of a society than how it treats its most vulnerable people. I vote based upon how I anticipate the least powerful–children, women, people of color, the poor, those with disabilities–will be treated by the people I vote for. I figure that if a politician is doing what we know works to reduce abortion (supporting universal healthcare, robust public education, and fair wages), then that person is working for the world I want.

For me, that almost always means voting for pro-choice candidates, because they are the ones who do the most to care for children. And they are the ones who do the most to reduce the abortion rate. If you think that abortion is the worst thing in the world, then you should vote for the things–universal healthcare, comprehensive sex ed, better wages–that reduce it, even if, in a different world, you think those things are bad. Even if you think that the Affordable Care Act is wrong, it has to be a distant wrong compared to abortion, right? And the ACA has been shown to reduce abortion.

“But abortion!” is the distraction that Republican leaders to remind their voters (the majority of whom, by the way, support the right to an abortion under at least some circumstances) that they have promised their vote to the Republican party, no matter how unreasonable that promise is. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Donald Trump has paid for more abortions than Hillary Clinton has, but hypocrisy on the issue doesn’t much  matter when the goal is to control what other people do, not to elect leaders who reflect pro-life values in their personal lives.

See the source imageAbove, unintended pregnancy rates are significantly higher among poor women, as is abortion. About 1 in 2 pregnancies in the US is unintended, and about 1 in 2 of those ends in abortion. Reducing poverty is one way to reduce abortion without ever having to mount a court challenge or secure a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court. And we’d be improving the lives of women and children to boot. 

Abortion is an important and serious issue. It brings together concerns about children, economics, families, health care, privacy rights, race and ethnicity, religion, and women’s rights. One out of four viable pregnancies end in abortion, with higher rates in some communities. By age 45, about 35% of American women will have terminated a pregnancy. (About 13% of these will be born-again or evangelical women and 22% will be Catholics.) Whether you think abortion is violence against the most innocent of people or a safe and relatively simple medical procedure, those numbers are large. Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures done in the US. About twice as many women get an abortion each year as men who get a vasectomy. In fact, in some reporting years, they have been more common than the top 10 most common operating room procedures. For each person you know who had a hip replacement last year, you probably know two who had abortions. The sheer ubiquity of the procedure means that we need to take it seriously.

But throwing up “But what about abortion?” when the topic is systemic racism or climate change or immigrant children being used as political pawns isn’t taking it seriously. It’s letting it serve as a an excuse for inaction for other, also important concerns, and, worse, as an excuse for not doing the work we know would support women in avoiding unwanted pregnancy and keeping their families out of poverty.





BHM Celebration of Art: Fred Eversley’s _Pale Lens_

This month, 606 is honoring Black History by sharing art by black artists. We’ve invited artists, art historians, curators, archivists, and others with expertise in art to share their favorite pieces of art by black artists around the globe. If you find your life enriched by this blog series, say “thank you” by buying art from a black artist, visiting a museum, asking your local art museum to include more black artists, donating to an art scholarship for students of color, asking your library to stock more books on black art, dropping off some art supplies at your local community center or daycare or senior center, or donating art by artists of color to your local school, community center, or house of worship. 

Today, we thank Tyler Allen, graduate intern with the Spencer Museum of Art, located at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, for sharing one of her favorite pieces from the Spencer. If you like it, stop by the Spencer for more. Admission is free, though donations are appreciated. 



Pale lens 2
Photo Courtesy: Andy White/KU Marketing Communications

Fred Eversley, a Black intellectual, sculptor, and trained engineer, is one of the few Black artists whose work is highlighted and displayed at the University of Kansas’ Spencer Museum of Art. His work Pale Lens (1970) is one of many pieces where Eversley experiments with optical polyester sculpture forms. In Pale Lens, Eversley investigates the optical principles of physics and properties of lenses and mirrors. Being drawn to the geometric structure of the work itself, Eversley tantalizes his viewers through optical illusion, as he challenges viewers’ perception in this three dimensional work of art.


Pale lens 1
Photo Courtesy: Andy White/KU Marketing Communications

Fred Eversley, a Brooklyn, New York native, received his degree in Electrical Engineering from what is now known as Carnegie Mellon University. He began his work and experimentation as a sculptor in 1970 after moving to Los Angeles. His strong interest in “art informed by science and technology” would lead him to become a prominent international artist. Just a few of his many accomplishments include being featured in over 200 exhibitions at various museums, galleries, and art festivals; being awarded 1st prize sculpture at the Biennale Internazionale Dell’ Arte Contemporanea di Firenze in Florence, Italy; and lastly, being represented in the permanent collection of 35 museums. Today, Eversley resides in California, and he maintains studios in both California and New York.

Pale Lens can be viewed at the Spencer Museum of Art in the Forms of Thought Gallery.

Although the month of February solidifies a time for Black history to be celebrated, recognized, and remembered, I would encourage everyone to spend more time beyond that, to further what they know or what they think they know about Black History. Living in a world where there is a constant misconception about identities of color, we must take it upon ourselves to expand our knowledge in order to appreciate one another in this space.

Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history. -Carter G. Woodson


About the Author:

Tyler AllenTyler Allen is a first-year master student at the University of Kansas, and a graduate intern at the Spencer Museum of Art. She is working to obtain a dual master degree from the departments of African and African American Studies and Museum Studies. Her research interests include Hip-Hop, Black communities and culture, and social justice.




You can find our first post in this series, art historian Stefanie Snider’s commentary on Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s America is Black here.