We sat down for a little email interview with Mark Van Steenwyk of the Mennonite Worker (right) in Minneapolis a few days ago. He is spearheading a new “School For Revolution” debuting October 23rd to 25th this year:
**This post was edited on September 13, 2014 at 8amEST.
RD: What led to the start of this new “school?”
MVS: Dorothy Day referred to Catholic Worker communities as “schools for revolution.” I resonate with that idea. Our goal at the Mennonite Worker is to ruin people for productive life in the empire; we want all of our residents to be captivated by Jesus’ kingdom vision.
But the problem is that we only have so many bedrooms. We are a small intentional community of two households. We wanted to explore ways that we could ruin more people. That is why we are launching a few new initiatives. This month we open the Gene Stoltzfus Center for Creative Peacemaking. It occupies the lower level of one of our community houses. We have a lending library there, keep regular times of prayer, and host a weekly 12 step group for those addicted to Empire. We are also planning a number of events, such as the “School for Revolution.”
The School for Revolution is a sort of primer on radical Christianity for those who live in the Empire. It is rooted in the five core values of the Mennonite Worker: to follow in Jesus’ way of hospitality, simplicity, prayer, peacemaking, and resistance. The first “school” will be a full weekend that blends contemplative practices, analysis of empire, and radical discipleship…all culminating with an agape meal that we create together. We limit it to 20 participants (we filled up within two weeks for our first school), and hope to offer it at least 2 times every year. We may offer it as a week long intensive in the future as well.
The School of Revolution is a collaboration between the Mennonite Worker and MICAH (the Minnesota Institute for Contemplation and Healing). Dan Wolpert and I will be leading the school together. Dan will be bringing in a contemplative and spiritual dimension to the school that is often left out in radical experiments.
RD: Are others doing similar experiments elsewhere?
MVS: Sure. Folks all over the country experiment in radical education. Off the top of my head…Will O’Brien has been stirring things up in Philly with the Alternative Seminary for a while now. Ched Myers and Elaine Enns puts on the Bartimaeus Institute. Nichola Torbett in Oakland has been working on the Seminary of the Street. Closer to home, Jin Kim at the Church of All Nations has been developing a full cohort-based radical educational model called the Underground Seminary.
RD: Who do you hope attends the School For Revolution?
MVS: Our focus is going to be on folks who have some basic sense that something is wrong, but need deeper analysis and help figuring out how to answer the question: “So what do we do about it?” Though I think the school would be a valuable experience for folks who are merely curious (I’ve been surprised by the radical change I’ve seen in people who’ve come to my workshops who had no idea what they were getting into) as well as for more “seasoned” radical Christians.
RD: What are your greatest fears and anxieties heading into this new project?
MVS: I guess my big anxiety is sustainability. I want to do more of this sort of thing, but have never figured out how do dedicate myself to such work and, at the same time, adequately provide for my families needs. We live simply, but there are limits. Another anxiety I have is that it will simply collapse into “preaching to the choir.” I’m motivated by a desire to awaken people’s Gospel imaginations. It is hard work, to be sure. But I have no desire, whatsoever, to simply huddle up with like minded people and commiserate.
RD: BTW: What’s the latest with the Mennonite Worker up there in Minneapolis?
MVS: Besides the new Center for Creative Peacemaking, we’ve just finished remodeling our kitchen. That’s been a big deal for me, since before buying the newest community house, I’d never have described myself as “handy.” We designed and renovated it ourselves and finally have the sort of kitchen that works for a busy intentional community.
We have a few new residents joining us this fall. I’m glad to have them…new residents bring excitement and freshness. They’ll be participating in this School for Revolution, as well as a basic 9 month curriculum as they immerse themselves in our community. We’re excited about the intensification of learning for new residents.
Thankfully, Dan (the contemplative guy) has a lot of experience with such stuff and was not only able to help build the kitchen, but also teach us some renovation skills.