There’s this saying among environmentalists: we won’t save a place we don’t love; we can’t love a place we don’t know; and we can’t know a place we haven’t learned.
With regards to Future Church Summit, conventions in general, and whether or not Mennonite Church USA has any future relevant to anyone outside ourselves, I’ve come to a similar proverb: we won’t create a future we don’t love, we can’t love a future we can’t imagine, and we can’t imagine a future if we need to control it. Continue reading
Ahhh, Orlando. With a biennial convention, it’s easy to lose track of the details. If reading two years of The Mennonite is TL;DR for you, here’s a overview of what will really matter in Orlando. I’m calling it the Gossip Girl Guide because it covers the gap between the institutional view and the ground-level view (also because xoxo, you know you love church polity).
This post first appeared in Mennonite World Review.
Early in my teen years, I asked myself if I really wanted to belong to the Mennonite church or if I was doing it out of family habit.
But during my freshman year of high school, as the U.S. charged toward an open-ended war in Iraq, my 14-year-old self arrived at a war protest with my family, weaving through the crowd until we saw the quilted, colorful banner that read “Mennonites for Peace.”
That spring, I walked miles across Seattle’s protest-riddled streets, running between the church’s delegation and my friends from public school, who had no church to march with. Somewhere in that year, in the chaotic, warmongering Christianity of the Bush presidency, I decided that not only could I commit to the Mennonite church but, later, when I finally digested my call to ministry, that there was nowhere else I would rather pastor.
When I was installed as a pastor at Lombard Mennonite Church, I felt the presence of every Mennonite church I had attended and a deep, abiding love for the denomination that raised me. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking about dancing. How much I love it. The places I’ve danced–literally thrown up my arms and been absorbed by the beat–in the middle of something terrible. How dancing is always a desperation, a need to move every limb and moment and be as present in every nerve of my body, as embodied, how the extreme of embodiment is the beginning of the mystical. About dancing as a sacrament, the way I nod–head bob, even–when I read my friends’ posts about dancing as a form of worship, how queer clubs are the closest thing queers have to church.
How I once said to a friend, “I love dancing.” And he said, “No you don’t, I’ve seen you not dance. You don’t like going out to dance.” And I said, “No, I mean dancing when it’s safe. Like at liberal arts college parties when you know everyone in the room and you know no one is going to hurt you, they just came to dance.” That may be the least Anabaptist thing I’ve ever said. Somehow, in a religious tradition that spent 400 years eschewing dancing, the act of having a body with music still feels sacred to me. Continue reading
I left my unfolded laundry in the hallway. Again.
I don’t say this is the best decision, only that I made it
for my own deliberate and necessary reasons.
I thought this was forbearance, you not throwing
my laundry all over the front yard. You meant you’d
only throw it when you were indignant. I thought
foremost in an argument, we say family. This was
a family meal, we admitted that first. We agreed
to the rules of eating: to not shun. To not make motions Continue reading
At the end of January, Ervin Stutzman, the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA was appointed for a third term as Executive Director. This decision was made by the Executive Board, who has a mixed track record on keeping an ear to the ground floor of the church. And at first, I was a little puzzled; most of the progressive pastors I know have strong and personal negative reactions to Ervin. How could he be reappointed so easily?
I don’t object to Ervin’s reappointment. In fact, it seems necessary and unobjectionable. What I am calling for is a thoughtful reflection on what work we want Ervin to be doing.
I have no personal axe to grind against Ervin (and I call him Ervin only because I was raised by Goshen College, where Anabaptist conviction has led to this notion that we ought to address each other not by hierarchical titles, but by first names). I’ve only met him once–and while he was dismissive of my question and the idea that young adults should be (more?) involved in church leadership, he was also encouraging of the church, in general. Ervin is a guy who loves church. That was clear from the first and only time I heard him speak:
But loving church does not a spiritual leader make. He is not appointed by the church to be a spiritual guide for all our faith anxieties. In his last term, we–the Church–treated him like a spiritual guide, like the spiritual guide, and onto him we cast our spiritual burdens. He became the go-to spokesman on the church’s tense feelings about sexuality and, from my own distant evaluation, he rose to the role as though he felt it were his obligation. But in doing so, he also made his institutional bias so clear that he’s lost the trust of many who are working for inclusion. And that’s not healthy for our dialogue. Continue reading
As usual, the report of Executive Board’s meeting brings up the question: What the — did you actually do? After this weekend’s meeting, today brought another convoluted and dysfunctional report from our most centralized leadership body.
Most Mennonites aren’t terribly interested in Executive Board, and for good reason. In a healthy organization, EB has little to do: their primary job is to manage the finances and administration of MC USA, the organization. CLC (the Constituency Leaders Council) is responsible for keeping a high-concentration of theology in that cocktail of worldly tasks. When we get mired in conflict–like our present debate over GLBTQ inclusion–EB is, in a way, called upon to overextend their original mandate. That’s important–a crisis requires additional leadership, management, and discernment. EB isn’t violating their original mandate; they’re stretching their responsibilities because questions about theological vision necessarily impact administration, finance, and structure of the organization. Continue reading
We have a phrase around here: Chicago over Everything.
No, you can’t make your own hoodie.
It means we have mad love for the city when they do something right: when Chance the Rapper is on SNL, when people start blowing up about Vic Mensa, when the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2016… and when the city messes up, we keep our pride and stay loyal.
I’m starting to believe Lancaster Mennonite Conference has a similar phrase, because these days the shout rising up seems to be Lancaster over Everything. How odd that when Iglesia Menonita Hispana, the body of Spanish-speaking Mennonite congregations in the U.S., met together in November, the question appeared to be “Can we, as a body, stay affiliated with Mennonite Church USA, given their (ambiguous) stance on homosexuality?” Instead, it became clear that those answering “no” were almost all in Lancaster Conference and already planning to leave the denomination. (Mennonite World Review has an excellent print article about this that I haven’t been able to find online.)
So IMH remains part of the denomination, albeit with 25% of congregations moving on. Most Spanish-speaking churches want to stay in MC USA. But those who are connected to Lancaster conference, when given the choice, have chosen Lancaster over everything. So once again, our church split is confoundingly geographic. Something about Lancaster Conference is the greatest thing since sliced bread, at least for those who are part of it. Continue reading
It certainly appears that the church’s extremes got more extreme this weekend, as it concerns LGBTQ participation. I don’t think this is the case, though–no one has gotten more extreme, they’ve just finally shaken off the paralysis of conflict and are becoming courageous enough to be who they wish to be. Lancaster Conference is making good on their threat to leave the denomination, while Western District Conference has agreed not to punish credentialed leaders who preside at same-sex ceremonies, as long as they have congregational approval.
Have we really become more polarized since Kansas City? Doubtful. How much do these two decisions change things? Continue reading
So we want forbearance. And we want things not to change. All the reports I’ve seen from last week’s Mennonite Church USA read like howling at the moon. They are fresh wounds and many of them deeper for having spent a week together. I have a jumble of thoughts that I’ll try to piece together coherently in the coming weeks, but here is where I begin.
We walked away from Kansas City certain of one thing: we done fucked up good this time. Continue reading