Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why I like the Mennonites, Part 2: Warts and All

I wrote a post a few months back titled "Why I Like the Mennonites". Several let me know they would like to hear more when I had been part of the community longer. I think some thought I was being a bit idyllic. I was. Mennonites, like everybody, have warts. And when we have them, we don't like to show them. I read The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray and would highly recommend it. Not just for Mennonites, or people seeking to become Mennonite, but for everyone that wants to see how Anabaptism can enrich your faith. Murray does not hide the warts. The good and the bad are revealed for all to see. Hence, the title of the book.

I made reference to Brian McLaren's book, A Generous Orthodoxy in part-one of my Mennonite musings. His suggestion is that we take the best from all traditions; that each heritage has something to offer, and like the body of Christ, we all need each other. Greg Boyd believes the Mennonites have something valuable to offer the Church, and I agree with him. He says quite eloquently,
"Cherish Your Treasure! Not in a prideful way, of course, but simply as a precious gift God has given you and that God wants to give the world through you. Be daringly flexible on all matters that aren’t central to the Kingdom (e.g. worship styles, dress, etc.), but be utterly uncompromising on all matters that are central to the Kingdom (viz. everything that pertains to living a Jesus-looking life). My Mennonite sisters and brothers, you have what multitudes in the rising Kingdom movement are longing for. You can provide a home to so many who right now are looking for one. If you hold fast to the faith you’ve been entrusted with (Jude 3), you may just find your fellowship exploding in the years to come. For, I believe, the Anabaptist vision of the Kingdom is a vision whose time has come."
I have found the welcoming Mennonite fellowship I have been attending these past few months to be just that. I still feel like I've come home. Recently, I was invited by the Mission and Service committee to join them on a trip to St. Paul, Minnesota to visit Third Way. I spoke about this new church in my last post. They are an intentional community of Jesus followers that have sought out the Mennonite denomination and asked to join as a participating community of faith, adhering to the Central Plains Mennonite conference confession of faith. What is so amazing to me is how an established, traditional church has been willing to listen and learn from a group so different from them. I just soaked in the experience. It was a torrential rain in the desert of my soul.

Like I said before, Mennonites are good at listening. I've seen this first hand and heard some stories told about intractable situations in the past that were negotiated with patience and prayer to the point of resolution. The local congregation I attend has lasted for nearly 114 years without splintering. Amazing as that sounds, I'm guessing some of their toughest days are ahead. There are at least two possible reasons for this: One, at the same time many are discovering the treasure of the Anabaptist heritage, many Mennonites are letting their distinct theological perspective be diluted by American evangelicalism, or co-opted by politics either to the right or the left. This is not the first time a leavening of a Spirit-filled movement has affected a potent work of God. In the 1920's there was great fear about the influence of "modernism" in the Church. Out of that fear grew the evangelical movement which many would say has led to phenomena like the "religious right" and alignment of church and government. And though some might think those are good things, the net loss was the distinctiveness of some spiritual movements in a joining with a generalized evangelicalism largely undergirded by fundamentalist reformed theology. Now that the Church is firmly rooted in modernism, the same kind of fear of "post-modernism" is affecting a portion of Mennonites to mix the Kingdom of God with nationalism, and even soften their long held stance on violence.

A second concern, and seemingly more troubling for Mennonites is the issue that many denominations are in dispute over at this moment: sexuality. This has come up for the Central Plains Mennonite Conference in specific ways over the last 15-20 years. What interests me most is how it has been handled more that what resulted. Remember, the Mennonites have this tradition of slow deliberation. All voices are invited into the dialogue. Much prayer is undertaken. Unity is of prime concern. Community discernment is the process. Trust in the Holy Spirit as guide. These tried and true tools have been employed for five hundred years with effectiveness. Surprisingly, with this divisive topic, all seem abandoned. As I understand it, as often as there has been a conflict regarding sexuality, there has been haste to make a decision.

The Central Plains Conference is facing this problem again. My hope is that fear is not the guiding force in these proceedings. That those involved will not forget where they come from. That Jesus' example of a Third Way will prevail and the long held confession of Discipleship into Faithfulness will hold sway. If you haven't guessed, I'm an optimist. I think we can do it. We can get through this one like we have gotten through martyrdom, harassment during wartime, listening to the radio, women in leadership. All of the tools are there. It's been done before. God help us.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Next Cohort Meeting

We had a great meeting with Phyllis Tickle last Wednesday discussing her book, Prayer is a Place.  What a pleasure to join her in conversation over Skype.  I expressed our thanks to her and she wishes everyone who was there the very best!

Our next meeting will be the second Wednesday of March (which happens to be Ash Wednesday).  It is March 9th from 12-2 p.m. at Fusion Coffee in Coralville.  We had 10 people in attendance as we squeezed around the table for a wonderful time of community and faith stories.  That is the most yet and it is very encouraging the support and dialogue that is happening among such a diverse group.

Our next meeting we will be discussing N.T. Wright's book, After You Believe.  Pick it up and join in the conversation.  You can also find more articles, audio and video from Wright here.  We look forward to seeing you at the cohort meeting.