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"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger

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Mennonite

A stroll around Goshen

(or ‘What I did on my day off’…)

The ordinary family is on a road trip to Illinois with a couple of days to rest in Goshen. And when in Goshen, here’s how I like to spend a morning…


Better World BooksStart at Better World Books, my favorite used bookstore. Browse for an hour or two (yes – I can browse that long) and try to not to pick out too many books. Today, I purchased with three.


Ten Thousand VillagesGo around the corner to Ten Thousand Villages. Take a look at the new fairly traded items from all around the world, sample some coffee, and ultimately come away with a bar or two of fair-trade chocolate. Today I got the Panama extra dark (my favorite – 80% cocoa) and the caramel crunch with sea salt (addictive!).


The Electric BrewFinish up at The Electric Brew. Order a mocha or latte (almond latte this morning) made from fair-trade beans they’ve roasted in-house. Sit down with one of my books (or a friend) and enjoy the ambiance of a local coffee house. Enjoy a square of the previously purchased chocolate. Watch for the “who’s who” in the Goshen Mennonite community.


Of course, given more time (and a ride to elsewhere in town), there are a few other places that I’d visit. I have a weakness for handmade mugs, so I’d go to the Old Bag Factory to browse Goertzen Pottery. And I’d swing by Goshen College for to stroll around the campus of my alma mater. Today I got a decal for the back of our van.


We have another day here before we continue west. We’re looking forward to some time at Camp Mennohaven with our church family from Lombard.

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Belated, late night convention thoughts

(I’m writing from Pittsburgh 2011, MCUSA’s biennial convention. I had planned to do more blogging. Alas, with a variety of unforeseen family stuff, it just hasn’t happened. So I begin here with a reflection on Shane Hipps’ message at the opening worship service. This blog is cross-posted at the Pink Menno website.)


From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

II Corinthians 5.16-20

It’s late Wednesday evening at the Mennonite convention in Pittsburgh. I’m typing in my hotel lobby, so as not to wake the sleepers in my room. I had intended to do some reflecting Monday… or Tuesday… or even this morning. But sometimes the days don’t quite go as expected at convention.

On Monday evening, we opened the week with a joint worship service of youth and adults. In his message to us that evening, Shane Hipps considered how we often find two impulses at odds within the Church: the desire for holiness and the desire for justice. However, Shane told us that Paul (in his letter to the Corinthian Church) describes a third, more difficult option. This option is a higher calling. It is the way of reconciliation.

Shane also took some time to describe the cells in a healthy organism: how they grow, divide, and specialize to take on the variety of tasks that need to be done. But when cells grow and divide unchecked, the organism faces something sinister: cancer. Shane expressed concern that the Mennonite Church is approaching this point. Therefore, he implored us to take up the way of reconciliation.

He reminded us that throughout its history, the Church has faced growth-related challenges before. If I recall correctly, two problems for the early Church (the slaughter of meat and the debate surrounding circumcision) were cited. These days, we don’t regard these things as problems at all. The two sides were reconciled long ago.

Shane took some time to describe how it is possible for both sides (holiness and justice) to quote scripture and to enter into a “victim” narrative. “The problem is that the emotions of justice and purity (anger, fear, and hurt) are innate to us. They come naturally. Justice and peace are categories of the world. When you have categories, suddenly you have colors, and when you have colors, you have tribal warfare.” (I’m not sure that the quote is quite right, but that’s what mPress has, so I’ll go with it.)

Wow. I came out of the first worship feeling… what? Hurt? Convicted? Guilty? Here I had come to Pittsburgh ready to wear my pink stuff, but maybe what I’m doing is causing division. That requires some serious reflection on my part. So that’s what I started doing, even as the rain was still falling on the roof during the Monday evening worship service.

And after a couple of days, here are my thoughts:

1) The use of the word “color” was unfortunate. In a public way, it singled out (without actually naming names) those who are on the “justice” side. I am, of course, referring to Pink Menno. One might imagine that such a direct reference would result in some degree of shame. The result of this shame would be a tendency to withdraw; to become colorless, if you will. That would be unhealthy.

(The cancer metaphor was also unfortunate, because of its unintended implications for the nature of Pink Menno.)

2) There are issues of power that weren’t addressed. It is difficult to talk about reconciliation when one group wields power over another. The very real situation is that LGBTQ persons are not welcomed at convention or in positions within MCUSA. Pink Menno, MennoNeighbors, and BMC are not allowed space in the exhibition hall. When they wished to hold a welcoming worship service, it had to occur at a nearby UCC congregation. At some point, issues of power and oppression must be addressed as a precursor to reconciliation.

3) We may wish to consider some more recent examples in the tension between holiness and justice. It is true that we don’t think about ritual slaughter and circumcision much any more. But we are still thinking about gender and race inequalities. To the extent that reconciliation has occurred, it has occurred because injustices were addressed. That work continues.

4) Shane described reconciliation as a higher calling than working for holiness or justice. I don’t necessarily disagree. On the other hand, I wonder if Jesus didn’t see reconciliation as being intimately connected to justice. In the Gospels, we see the tension between holiness and justice when we examine the interaction between the Pharisees and Jesus. And Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Mercy is the inclination to justice, while sacrifice is the inclination to holiness. Jesus transgressed the walls erected in the interest of holiness to reach those who were “unclean”. In the process, he judged that the walls themselves (and not the persons) were that which was unclean.

Note: The Wipf and Stock booth in the exhibition hall has a wonderful book (“Unclean” by Richard Beck) which specifically addresses these issues.

5) Finally, I am reminded that Pink Menno is a group which is fundamentally about reconciliation: reconciling all God’s children into the Church.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I decided to relax about wearing pink. And I was glad to see a different color metaphor reported in the second edition of mPress this week. The president of Mennonite World Conference said:

For me, Mennonite World Conference is like a flowerbed with many beautiful colors. You walk the streets and reds, yellows, and blues. That’s what Mennonite World conference is all about.

I envision a flowerbed that includes some pink, as well.


I write all of this with some amount of trepidation, realizing that I have a natural tendency to get defensive when challenged. So in humility, I welcome loving discussions from anyone. I am not part of the LGBTQ community. On good days, I’m an ally. But I am a white, educated, middle class, North American, heterosexual male. I have just about any privilege one could imagine. I try to hold that lightly.

If you happen to read this before the end of convention and care to chat, look for the guy with the crocheted pink hat. That’s probably me.

Worship ideas… “The Naked Anabaptist” by Stuart Murray

At the beginning of July, I became the Lay Minister of Worship in our congregation. I work with the pastors and the Worship Commission to plan our worship services, and I also serve on the Ministry Team – a sort of board of directors for our congregation. The job is both more hectic and rewarding than I would have thought.* It is hectic just because of all the details to keep in place. It is rewarding because I love my community and I’m thankful to be able to serve them this way.

* The most ironic part of this is that Ordinary Spouse was in this position before I was. You’d think that I would have known what I was getting into. Nope.

Anyway, since this role is consuming a sizeable chunk of my mental energy these days, I thought that I might share some of our worship ideas, from time to time. This blog entry is the official kick-off for that. (Kick-off, as opposed to the ‘first’. For the first, go back to lent this year and check out the bulletin covers.)


Stuart Murray has recently released a book entitled The Naked Anabaptist. Of course, many people hear the word ‘Anabaptist’, and they think ‘Mennonite’ or ‘Amish’. (And they probably don’t think ‘naked’.) But Stuart (writing from a British perspective) wanted to ask, “What is left after you strip away all of the cultural trappings that are traditionally associated with Anabaptists?” His answer to that question has found its way into this book as a group of seven core convictions. He discusses them in a recent article in the Mennonite.

 

In my congregation, we’re using the book as the basis for an eight part series* reflecting on our faith and on Anabaptism. I think that my hope is twofold. First, given the division that the congregation has experienced in the last two years, I hope that the book provides a common focal point. Secondly, though, I hope that we find this book to be challenging. Challenging because true discipleship is always challenging, and because I think that the Mennonites have allowed some of their distinctive witness to diminish.

* If you’re doing the math and it isn’t working (seven convictions; eight-part series), it’s because we’ll be celebrating All Saints Day in the middle of the series. All Saints celebration is an important tradition in the congregation that we didn’t want to skip, so we made it part of the series. We’ll be remembering both our loved ones and our ancestors in faith who have died.


A couple of notes:

 

1) Coincidentally, the Mennonite congregation in Metamora, Illinois, is also doing a series using this book as guidance. Michael Danner (the pastor at Metamora) always has interesting thoughts on his blog.

2) This past Sunday, our congregation looked at the resources that Anabaptists have for living in the post-Christendom era. ‘Christendom’ is the uneasy alliance between the church and state that has existed since the time of Constantine. Whenever people call the United States a “Christian nation”, they’re talking about Christendom. As a result of Christendom, Christians in this country have a number of privileges that they take for granted. Murray argues that Christendom is ending (in North America and in his native Europe), and that something else will take its place. However, we don’t yet know what that “something” is. In the meantime, we have post-Christendom.

Ironically, the American Spectator recently published an article entitled “Mennonite Takeover?” If that seems a bit far-fetched, there are others who agree with you.

A Pretty Good Weekend, Day 1

Well – it’s the beginning of another work week, but I wanted jot down some thoughts on this past weekend, in case I ever want to remember it.

So am I a real Mennonite now?

For the sake of the story, I’m actually going to begin right in the middle of the weekend: the worship service yesterday morning at church. We began a series of eight Sundays looking at Stuart Murray’s new book, “The Naked Anabaptist“. It tries to address the question of what Anabaptism would look like if we stripped away all of the cultural stuff that comes with it in North America today.* And yesterday, our pastor gave four examples of the the cultural stuff: food, four-part singing, playing the Mennonite game, and quilting.**

* I may eventually get around to blogging about the book. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I like it. It’s challenging and very readable. Follow the link in order to learn more.

** I think I got those right, but I didn’t jot them down during the sermon.

So why is it that I’d begin telling about my weekend by starting in the middle? Because on Saturday, I partook in all four of those examples at the Michiana Relief Sale in Goshen, Indiana. I don’t know if anyone else would find that amusing, but to me it felt a bit like the beginning of Lent. Saturday was the equivalent of Mardi Gras: Menno cultural extravagence. And Sunday was like Ash Wednesday: getting back to the ‘bare essentials’.

Much to many people’s astonishment, this Relief Sale was my first. Now – to those of you who aren’t culturally Mennonite, that won’t be anything earthshaking. But for someone who is as culturally Mennonite as I am, it’s a bit surprising that I’ve made it this far through my life without getting to one. For example, my sister estimated that she has been to about fifteen of these. And my wife has been to Relief Sales in four different locations. Yes – they happen all over the place.

Since this was my first sale, I decided to record some sights:

We missed the Friday evening events while we were travelling from Illinois to Indiana, but we got up in time to eat breakfast at the sale on Saturday. When we got to the fairgrounds we parked in the orange lot… which is distinguished by a picture of a watermelon! Go figure.

Since this was my first sale, I don’t claim to speak with any authority, but it would seem that getting there for breakfast on Saturday is a ‘must’. Here was the line for the ‘all-you-can-eat’ pancakes.

And here is my breakfast.

(It’s not all-you-can-eat sausage, but between you and me – that’s not a huge loss.)

It was a cold day, so I washed that down with a mocha, courtesy of the Electric Brew.

And from there on, I spent most of the day at the quilt auction.

As far as I know, the highest price paid for a quilt on Saturday was $5000. On Facebook, one of my cousins expressed some incredulity that I’d enjoy watching people buy quilts. But I actually had a great time, in part because I just like auctions. It’s always fun to try to understand the incoherent jabbering of the auctioneer and to watch the crowd’s enthusiasm when the bidding gets competitive.

Let’s see… highlights other than the quilt auction…

  • I saw friends from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. I stopped counting at fifteen while I was still in the breakfast line.
  • My daughters took train and elephant rides.
  • I had a pecan pie for lunch.

And that’s about it. According to my wife, that’s all it ever is: food and auctions.

That was Day 1 of a Pretty Good Weekend. Day 2 is here…

Finding Community

This morning at my congregation I’m giving the message – the first one that I’ve ever shared there. My message is drawn from my reflections on the lectionary readings for today, especially the gospel: Isaiah 65.1-9, Galatians 3.23-29, and Luke 8.26-39. Here’s what I’m sharing (placed after the jump, due to its length)…

Continue reading “Finding Community”

A New Kind of Christianity – Q#1

Earlier this year, Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity, was published. I was anxious to read it because of how valuable his other books (especially A Generous Orthodoxy) have been to me. Brian and others have suggested that God’s Spirit is causing Christians to explore new ways to live faithfully in a post-modern world (“Emerging Church” is one name that is often given to this movement), and that there are some common questions that people are asking as a result. In his new book, Brian raises ten of these questions. I think that the questions are exciting: first, because I was asking many of the same things, but more importantly because I believe that they provide space for new life in the Church.

The goal (says Brian) is not to arrive at a set of answers, but rather to begin a conversation. Now – Brian is sometimes accused of presenting his (unorthodox? heretical?) answers to these questions as being definitive and not open to discussion. However, I decided it would be healthy for me to take him at his word – that this really is a discussion – and enter into it, as well. I even recruited my Ordinary Spouse to read the book and discuss it with me. My goal is to do some reflecting here on each of his questions. We’ll see how this goes, starting with question #1…


Question 1 – What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?

Western Christianity (according to Brian) tends to read the Bible in reverse, looking back through the influence of our modern teachers and preachers, through the Reformers, through the Church fathers (where are the mothers?), through Paul, eventually seeing Jesus. The result is that we see a biblical narrative that is strongly influenced by Greek thought and Roman empire. This storyline consists of six segments: 1) it begins with perfection in Eden, 2) veers downward through the Fall 3) into Condemnation, 4) which then leads farther downward to Hell 5) or to back upward via Salvation 6) to a restored state of perfection in Heaven. This “six-line” narrative reveals the influence of Greco-Roman thought by morphing the garden into an ideal, neo-Platonic state of being. This perfect “state” (in which God also exists) is glorified; change or “becoming” (which reflects Aristotelian influence) is discouraged – in fact, God avoids it (which is why Jesus had to die for the sin of humanity… but that comes up in a later question).

Brian then asks a question which is troubling: “Can we dare to wonder, given an ending that has more evil and suffering than the beginning, if it would have been better for this story never to have begun?”

In contrast, what would we find if we set aside some of the usual lenses through which we view the Bible and tried to see Jesus and his ministry through the Old Testament? Brian points out that words like “fall” and “original sin” aren’t used in the Hebrew scriptures; that Eden isn’t described as “perfect”, but as “good”; that God doesn’t avoid humanity and has no problem looking at sin; that in fact, God has always been intimately involved in guiding human development. He outlines three parts to the biblical narrative that are suggested by Genesis, Exodus, and the prophets (especially Isaiah). First, we have a tendency to mess up God’s good creation, but God works for reconciliation. Second, we oppress others and suffer oppression ourselves, but God works as liberator. Third, God has given us a vision of a coming kingdom – not one in an eternal heaven, but rather one that we are to work toward here and now on earth.

Response

Ordinary Spouse and I are in agreement with Brian’s assertion that the “six-line” narrative is a common way of approaching the story of the Bible. We recognize the dualism inherent in that approach, although we don’t have the knowledge to critique its origin in Greek thought. (Indeed, Brian acknowledges that he simplifies things quite a bit.) In our experience, Mennonites often tweak this story line by adding an emphasis (either lived or preached) on our responsibility to our neighbors – to pray for “God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven”, if you will. Yet, it seems to us that in the absence of any motivation to do otherwise, Mennonites adopt the predominant, Evangelical “six-line” narrative that Brian outlines. Sermons often emphasize personal salvation, and altar calls occurred with some regularity (though perhaps not weekly). But no one asked Brian’s question: why would God create a world where the ultimate average trajectory is downward, rather than upward?

I have never thought about the issue of being vs. becoming to the degree that Brian does. However, I don’t think I’ve viewed God as static in the way that Brian associates with the “six-line” narrative. A random thought: it’s fascinating that God views creation as “good” and then “very good”. Why wouldn’t God just make everything “perfect”? One might argue that God values the creative aspect more highly than the finished product (which isn’t to say that the finished product isn’t important). To consider this thought a bit more, we see throughout the Biblical story that God allows (even encourages and invites!) a creative struggle with humans. Already in the garden, we see Adam naming the animals. We see Abraham striving for the future of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob wrestles with God. Prophets demand justice. And so on. And we see an upward trajectory throughout the Bible as the human creative urge learns to align with God’s.

I do wish that Brian would have addressed the concept of Hell a bit more in this section (and maybe that’s still to come in the book). There are some pretty vivid images of Hell in the New Testament, and though it is clear that the images are not intended to be literal and that the New Testament understanding of Hell is different than what the modern Church seems to have inherited, we still should understand how these images fit into the story.

Overall, though, I really appreciate the effort that Brian makes to give us a view of the Biblical narrative as an unfolding relationship between God and God’s people – one that is moving toward the prophet’s vision of God’s peaceable kingdom here with us.

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