An Empty Apology: Liturgies of Repentance & Risking Identity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about apologies and repentance. On an inter-personal level, I recently received an apology from someone who said some very hurtful things to me. Collectively and institutionally speaking, I have lost count of how many articles, tweets, facebook posts, and blogs I have read by Christians calling for repentance in the face of Syria, Gaza, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown…and so many many more. I thought of the liturgies of repentance and lament that I’ve read and spoken in progressive white churches at times like this, times of great violence, grief, and fear. Indeed, having grown up in a church that gathered to worship God each Sunday without hardly a word said about what was going on in the world that this God created, I’ve been very grateful for these liturgies. I thought, at least there were white Christians who were gathering and naming the violence, the grief, the fear, the injustice, and their complicity in them. It was like a breath of air in the suffocating insulated apolitical worship scene of white Christianity.

What is an apology? From the Greek apologia the classical definition is “a speech in defense.” From there springs an entire genre called apologetics, essentially self-justifying speech. But what if we were to take a different etymological route with regards to the word apologia? What if we were to think of it as apo-logos where apo signifies a negation of logos, a dominant discourse?  What if an apology then were not a self-defensive speech used for the maintenance of something but a self-offensive or negating speech that effectively decomposes the logos in question? Such an apology would certainly be risky. Continue reading


‘What can I say?’: Reflections on (Un)Permitted Speech and Justice

When is speech justified? This question is admittedly vague. To be more precise, as of late I feel as though I have had to ask myself many times, “Is the particular desire I have to speak in this instance and in this particular way justified’? Perhaps this is a question that we face every day in our innumerable interactions with family, friends, lovers, strangers, acquaintances, and the list goes on. How will my speech be received? How will my speech shape, not only the future of discourse, but the many inter-relations that constitute my own and others’ existence? Will my speech take on a form that will lead to just relations or will it create or further entrench relations of violence. If the latter be the case, I may be surprised to discover to what extent my speech has never really been ‘my’ speech at all, but speech already defined and delimited by a demonic “technological methodism” (Stringfellow) of a cultural-linguistic variety.

In ecclesial settings, I have found this conundrum to be particularly powerful. There have been many instances in which, in ecclesial settings, it is so obvious to me that the form that speech is ‘allowed’ to take is demonic in what it excludes a priori. Voices that would contribute real discourse towards recognition of minorities in ecclesial settings, outsiders that have been held at bay by “Orthodoxy” and “Ecclesial Unity,” are all prevented from speech that can realistically be received or recognized. I speak as one who is not an outsider, one who is privileged, one who has consistently struggled to create holes in the boundaries of the speech-form of ecclesial contexts so as to allow those boundaries to be more porous. At times I wonder if poking holes is enough. Poking holes seems to some already to be evidence of ‘wild speech,’ untamed by discipline. I propose, however, that ‘boundaried’ speech is more illustrative of an untamed tongue than speech that transgresses the demonic boundaries set by human will and desire. I believe this to be because ‘boundaried’ speech is precisely untamed in its hypocrisy — praising boundaries while transgressing the just relations that are given in the transgressing of demonic boundaries.

James 3:8-9 – No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in God’s likeness.

I still do not know ‘what I can say’ in the many settings I am in. I can only try to poke more holes to allow un-permitted speech to become permitted so as to make partners in discourse aware of the “question mark” (Barth) that stands against all our speech. Perhaps ‘just speech’ in this world is only recognizable under the sign of this question mark.




On Being an Academic Mennonite Woman

Sitting at Statue by Ruth Orkin

Sitting at Statue by Ruth Orkin

A few weeks ago I was at the AAR meeting in Baltimore.  I was at a reception with two of my colleagues (who are young, white, men – also exceptional scholars and great friends!) when a young man approached us. He introduced himself to my colleague, shook his hand enthusiastically, and before I could introduce myself he launched into some scholarly soliloquy (I don’t even remember what they talked about).  My colleague took notice and interrupted his self-important networking speech introducing me as his colleague. The young man paused, glanced at me, and promptly continued speaking with my colleague. Needless to say, this awkward interaction didn’t last long, considering neither my colleague nor I  were all that impressed with this character. This interaction reminded of how often women experience this kind of treatment, and much worse. (Don’t believe me? Go read this blog on being a woman in philosophy -or any male dominated discipline in the academy).

I also reflected on how isolated these kinds of experiences have been for me, realizing that most of the push-back I’ve encountered as a woman academic has been less in the academy than it has been in the church – specifically, among Mennonite churches. Continue reading

On why I am starting to hate the idea of making a difference

“You’re making a real difference.”

So I was informed by the keynote speaker at a fair trade chocolate meal I was at. The action of buying a ticket to a three course gourmet chocolate-based meal was, apparently, making that bit of difference that this world needs.

Before I go on I’d like to state that I thoroughly enjoyed the event and am only supportive of fair trade initiatives. But, I hated being told, multiple times, that buying a ticket to a nice meal was making a difference and that I could make even more of a difference – you know, really make that difference – by buying more fair trade products.

On an immediate level my objection stemmed from being reduced to a consumer. I suspect that our speaker did not intend this, but her constant reassurance that we were making a difference (and could do more!) made me feel like my primary mode of agency – especially insofar as we’re talking about doing good – was in commodity consumption, and petty commodity consumption at that. In a related vein, I did not like someone naming my effortless evening out (an expense I undertook for fun) as something akin to the difficult and complex work of peace and justice. Buying fair trade coffee and chocolate is probably a good thing, at least in many situations; but we ought not to misname it. Continue reading

Re: A Soldier Shunned

The Winnipeg Free Press published an article today on the phenomenon of Mennonite soldiers and WWII.

Over 40% of eligible Canadian Mennonites enlisted in the Armed Forces during WWII. The varying reactions this provoked at home, the activity of COs during and after the war, and the long-term results of this mass enlistment on the Canadian Mennonite community are all interesting, complex, and important stories.

Unfortunately, the Free Press seems to have taken this story as an opportunity for military propaganda. Soldiers are simply praised for accepting new values and bravely breaking with tradition, even when they did so because they “were looking for adventure.” The potential courage (and real consequences) of breaking with the sentiment of a country at war is not addressed or acknowledged in any manner. And, the author, Randy Turner, condemns those Mennonite churches who “shunned” unapologetic returning soldiers. It’s not explicit, but it seems like he, like those I wrote against a week and a half ago, thinks that the church should not be in the business of judging, but should rather unconditionally support each person in his or her individual choices. Add to this a number of historical discrepancies, and you end up with a very bad article. Continue reading

Thinking Spatiality: Nature, Repetition, Identity

moon phasesVine Deloria Jr.’s book God is Red has become a landmark in Native American intellectual circles.  Part theology, part philosophy of religion, and part anthropology of Western Christianity, the book articulates fundamental differences in worldview between Native tribal religions and Western American Christianity, and offers critical reflection on Indigenous-Settler relations both past and present.  The crux of Deloria’s argument turns upon a fundamental distinction between spatial and temporal ways of thinking.  He contends that Native American cultures think primarily in terms of space while time is the primary category for Western Europeans.  Additionally, Natives understand the world and the meaning of life in terms of nature in contrast to history, which tends to dominate Western thought.  Space and nature are indissociably linked in Native thought and experience.  Communities are arranged in a circle and by the four directions (tribal camps opened to different directions, North, South, West, East).

Their sense of time is also determined by spatiality.  Time is conceived in the world’s natural cycles, winter and summer, hunting seasons, planting and harvesting cycles, patters of the moon, etc.  Time is the repetition of events that occur in nature, and Native communities orient their life around these spatial repetitions.[1]  By contrast, Western Europeans orient their life towards the future, towards goals, destiny, and final purpose.  The cultivation of land and the development of cities were events in space/nature conceived of in terms of time.  Progress, development, colonization, even evangelism are temporal concepts that reflect a linear view of the world, of life.  And history, the writing, preserving, and making of history—a chronological account of the world (rather than a cyclical one)—preoccupies and determines much of Amer-European life.  History conceives of space/nature in terms of time, while in spatial thinking time/history are oriented by nature.[2] Continue reading