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

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“But Woe to You…”: Towards a Judgemental Church

I frequently hear the refrain that “church” ought to be less judgemental; that, in fact, the church should get out of the business of judging altogether. The church is called to love and this precludes an exercise of evaluative judgement, especially towards other people; or so the argument goes.

In this post I want to put down in writing the discomfort I feel regarding this rhetoric of anti-judgement. Besides seemingly being ignorant of Scripture and Jesus’s own proclivity towards very judgemental words and actions, there are two broad problems I have with “non-judgemental church”.

First, the call for a non-judgemental church is steeped in privilege and secretly re-enacts oppressive moves. In brief, I find it difficult to see how a non-judgemental stance does anything other than legitimize oppressive action. When, for example, in Canada, we look at centuries of ongoing white colonization or the web of deliberate lies, cover-ups, and misinformation involved in increasing environmental degradation and do not judge it, we legitimize it. When we do not judge (harshly judge!) such violences and their perpetrators we proclaim that either these destructive actions are not really destructive or that they are but that this is not a problem. In either case, in going through the motions of non-judgemental openness, we give our tacit or explicit approval to oppression. In doing so we absolve ourselves and others from responsibility for our/their actions, for these actions will not be judged and thus must not matter too much. If, on the contrary, we desire real changes towards just societies then we need to acknowledge that such change involves judgement. That is, we must name certain actions and behaviours as utterly impermissible and work to move ourselves and others away from these. Otherwise we’re putting forward an ignorant and sentimentalized version of “justice” and “love”. Love or justice that does not judge is neither love nor justice but a simple denial that oppression and suffering are real problems. (As a sidenote, this is also why asking people whether they worship a “God of love” or a “God of judgement” is a tremendously stupid question.) Continue reading

Religion, Authority, and the State

See that fine lookin’ city up there? That is beautiful Belgrade, Serbia. And that is where I will be in a couple of days!

My abstract was accepted to the Religion, Authority, and the State conference hosted by the Ecclesialogical Investigations Network is taking place in Belgrade this year. I will be presenting on the following (more or less). 

Heresiology, Epistemological Violence, and cross-cultural Christianity: what happens when evangelism works?

An indispensable contribution of post-modern thought to contemporary theology is to affirm the inherent contextuality and particularity of Christianity.  That is to say, contemporary Christian theology in the West is thoroughly Amer-european.  In the process of the colonization and evangelization of North America, the particularity of Christian theological beliefs was posited universally. I submit that this move is epistemologically violent and has serious repercussions for the relations between Amer-european and Aboriginal Christians in North America.  Namely, the former still holds a monopoly on Christian truth claims, both ecclesially and academically. Continue reading

Pride 2013: “I’m Sorry” event

My friend Jamie is the pastor of Little Flowers, an intentional community in Winnipeg’s West end.  This is the second year the community has organized an “I’m Sorry” event for the city’s annual Pride Parade. Unfortunately I couldn’t join them due to a flu, but here are some highlights from the event. (Photos and letter courtesy of Jamie).

Pride 2013

Continue reading

New Book! Imagining the Ethics of Diaspora

Theory Printers has kindly published my honours thesis.

 

From the preface (by David Driedger who bl0gs over at the de-scribe):

“Melanie Kampen’s book is an exploration on the possibilities of peace and conflict.  Using the images of exile and diaspora Kampen is clear that this sort of exploration cannot happen abstractly, with a view ‘from nowhere’. Both conflict and theory are situated in particular places and discourses.  ….Her three main conversation partners are writers who have caused no little interference within their own disciplines – but more than that, these writers also represent separate disciplines which are still often patrolled so as to keep from interfering with each other. And despite or, perhaps better, through their interferences these thinkers approach the question of peace and conflict. In the area of theology John Howard Yoder has attempted to interfere with the dominant paradigm of what he calls constantinian Christianity. In the area of sociology John Paul Lederach has interfered with dominant paradigm of analytic conflict resolution. And finally in the area of philosophy Jacques Derrida has interfered with the logocentric bias of traditional Western thinkers. Imagining wagers on the possibility that giving attention and even multiplying these interferences may be the way to yield new ways of imagining peace.”

A print edition is forthcoming soon. In the meantime, you can download it here.

 

A Choir’s Manifesto, or, Yoder’s Desire and Deleuze’s Church

Those of you who are paying attention to cool things happening in Winnipeg (my assumption is that this is most people)  have probably heard of, heard, or seen the Riel Gentlemen’s Choir. A few months ago I drafted a preliminary version of a manifesto for the choir. After much delay I have now completed a second draft. While consciously it is an attempt to articulate what it is that we as a choir do/are, it also more or less ended up being an unconscious attempt at a synthesis of Yoder and Deleuze. It’s also a fun piece that I very much enjoyed writing.

Thanks to Kampen for initial conversations on the nature and shape of this manifesto and to the many chorister-gentlemen who gave valuable feedback to the initial draft.

[R]ise up on your own two legs and sing with your own God-given voice. To confess, to whine, to complain, to commiserate, always demands a toll. To sing it doesn’t cost you a penny. Not only does it cost nothing – you actually enrich others (instead of infecting them)….The phantasmal world is the world which has not been fully conquered over. It is the world of the past, never of the future. To move forward clinging to the past is like dragging a ball and chain….We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full.

-Henry Miller (quoted from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia)

A gentleman is defined as a man who exhibits chivalrous, courteous, and honourable qualities. Were these happier times, this reminder alone would be sufficient to describe the character, mission, and purpose of the Riel Gentlemen’s Choir. Alas, this is not the case. Our world is not chivalrous, courteous, or honourable, and as a result these virtues have been distorted beyond recognition. Effectively disguised under a veil of scripted collegiality that pretends to gentlemanliness, we live in a world that is in fact barbarous, cruel, and underhanded. Continue reading

Rethinking pacifism with Agamben’s remnant

In his commentary on Romans, Giorgio Agamben writes that the remnant (in Israel’s history) “is precisely what prevents divisions from being exhaustive and excludes the parts and the all from the possibility of coinciding with themselves.  The remnant is not so much the object of salvation as its instrument, that which properly makes salvation possible. In Romans 2:11-26 Paul describes the remnant’s soteriological dialectic with clarity. The “dimunition” (hettema) that makes Israel a “part” and a remnant is produced for the salvation of the ethne, the non-Jews, and foreshadows its pleroma, its fullness as the all, since, in the end, when the pleroma of the people will have come, then “all of Israel will be saved.” The remnant is therefore both an excess of the all with regard to the part, and of the part with regard to the all.  It functions as a peculiar kind of soteriological machine. As such, it only concerns messianic time and only exists therein.  In the telos, when God will be “all in all,” the messianic remnant will not harbor any particular privilege and will have exhausted its meaning in losing itself in the pleroma (1 Thess. 4:15: “we, who remain alive, unto the coming of the Lord shall not overtake then which are asleep”). But in the time of the now, the only real time, there is nothing other than the remnant. This does not properly belong either to an eschatology of ruin or salvation, but rather, to use Benjamin’s words, it belongs to an unredeemable, the perception of which allows us to reach salvation.” (Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, trans. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 56.

How does this notion of the remnant, of messianic time in relation to the eschaton and salvation affect how we think about the work of the church?  One must note here that when Agamben employs the terms “instrument” and “soteriological machine” (above) we are not to think of means and ends logic.  The remnant is not that which somehow moves history forward towards salvation.  What do instruments and machines do? They play and compose music, they produce something.  What do they produce? A remnant, remnant relations. The remnant, for Agamben, is a relation, a way of relating to others that does not coincide with itself.  It maintains an inherent antagonism to any identitarian establishment, territorialization, or domination.  “This “remnant” is not any kind of numeric portion or substantial positive residue.”(Agamben, 50) But if we think of the Christian church as emptied of its identitarian contents, its propositions of belief, how do we speak of something characteristically Christian? Or, to put it differently, what then is the work of the church if not to bring about the the Kingdom of God on earth as inaugurated by the Messiah? A remnant-church does not empty us from all work, but reconfigures the way we think about what constitutes Christian work.  Insofar as we can talk about Christian practices, we must think of them as contingent rather than as content-actions or a prescriptive list to adhere to.

Let us take the example of pacifism.  Most of the Anabaptist-Mennonite heritage takes this to be a position inherent to the practice of Christianity, discipleship to Jesus.  But is this a definitively Christian concern?  Is pacifism or non-violence, if you prefer, an inherently Christian belief?  Does Christianity specifically contain certain practices and not others? With Agamben in the background, I submit that pacifism or non-violence is not a position, a place from which we stand, from which we see the world. Pacifism is a practice, and as such it names a way of relating to others. Pacifism and non-violence are often understood as propositions or categories of things we believe in. But pacifism must be thought of as enemy-love, a term that shows the inherently relational quality of the concept (which is really not a concept at all).  Enemy-love is a way of relating to others, not an objective action.  Practices must be thought of as relational/relations, and insofar as they are remnant, insofar as they maintain their non-coincidence with themselves, their antagonism towards sovereignty, they are Christian practices.  Therefore, something like war, violence, colonialism, will be excluded from Christian practice, not on doctrinal grounds but because of how these relate to others.  Non-violence can be called a Christian practice insofar as it renounces its own sovereignty (read: establishment/domination) and any sovereignty.

The original Italian title of Agamben’s book is Il tempo che resta, The tempo that remains, or The tempo of the remnant.  It is not by chance that the word tempo is also a musical term connoting rhythm and movement alongside time.