A New Litany for Ordination

Ordination is a big deal. It only happens once in a lifetime. There is a standard litany for ordination. But, being a writer, as I prepared for my ordination last month, I couldn’t help rewriting the litany.

The standard Mennonite ordination comes from the Minister’s Manual, a handy little book published in 1998. The pocket-sized manual contains the words of institution for all our critical rituals and life transitions.

I believe in the power of a standardized litany, the power of all pastors reciting the same words of commitment at ordination. I also believe in low church, that each of our ordination reflects each of our journeys, and after all as a low church, ordination doesn’t set us spiritually “above” the congregation, but alongside of it in a particular way. Each candidate for ordination can adjust the words and be faithful to the ritual itself.

When I read Form 1 and Form 2 in the Minister’s Manual, neither one fit me well. The words were dry and formal, without imagery, the gospel commitments had no edge, no risk. It asked me to reaffirm the vows of my baptism, but didn’t say what those vows were. The repeated use of “brothers/sisters” excluded my gender nonconforming friends. There was an optional insert for the candidate’s spouse, but no insert for a single pastor to acknowledge the relationships that hold them in ministering work. Even more, the insert called the spouse to deeper commitment of their gifts without acknowledging the stress pastoral work (and helping professions) can put on a relationship and the importance of sabbatical, sabbath, and self-care. All of these seemed like very solvable problems, with a few substitutions and rephrasings. Continue reading

What to Watch in Orlando: An Unofficial Guide

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).

Orlando sunglasses

 

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Privilege is not Solidarity: Mennonites and the Anthem

As the national anthem began to play and all activity stopped in the stands, I became acutely aware that I was the only one not facing the flag with my hand over my heart. I hadn’t been to a sports game in months, but as I stood, refusing to pay homage to the flag, for the first time, I realized the way conscientious objection can feel like drowning.

Like many Mennonites, as a child, I was applauded when I didn’t stand for the anthem or say the pledge. Even in high school pep assemblies, when my silence drowned out by my peers’ dutiful pledges, I could hear the voice of my church community encouraging this separation between worship and worship of country.

I was slow to “get” the Colin Kaepernick controversy. I was stumped by the idea that the thing I’d done since childhood and been widely ignored for, was noteworthy, much less offensive. I’d spent a lifetime sitting in Kaepernick’s figurative shoes, and couldn’t remember ever being ridiculed by my peers. Then again, I was 21 before I saw my first football game, and it took years after that before I realized the sport was a religion in its own right. Continue reading

Who’s Afraid of Denominational Collapse?

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

On Grieving in Public on the Internet

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

After Hearing of Isaac Villegas’ Resignation

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

An Odd Bunch of Believers: The Sent Conference and Courage Beyond Institution

If I were to describe in one word my New Orleans weekend at Sent: A Mennonite Church Planting Conference, my word would be Rihanna. More specifically, Anti, Rihanna’s newest, experimental, and critically confusing album. Being at Sent was like four consecutive listens through Anti (I’m not sayin, I’m just sayin, maybe I listened to Anti four consecutive times, maybe I didn’t).

From the raspy, just-smoked-a-pack vocals on “Higher,” a bite-size track that clocks in under two minutes, to the lyrical, repetitious to the point of Taize, 6-plus minute “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” that’s the landscape of Mennonite church planting, not to mention the off-album trap-as-hell “B***h Better Have my Money” and whimsically rebellious “FourFive Seconds” with Paul McCartney–that, too, is the landscape of Mennonite church planting. For every church that pushes the boundaries of our definition of “Mennonite,” that same church is shouting canonically Anabaptist truths. Continue reading

Is it Time to Change Ervin Stutzman’s Job Description?

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

Executive Board Renders Itself Irrelevant, Again

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

Jesus Calls us to Heal–and Crowdfund

Every three or four months, one of my friends gets sick. Well. Many of my friends get sick, but one of my sick friends gets swamped with astronomical, life-defining medical bills. I usually hear about it through Facebook, which is a shitty way to hear that your friend is sick, but it’s even shittier when the news comes with a link to a crowdfunded webpage. Every few months, I have a friend whose medical bills are so unaffordably high that he or she has to ask for help, and the only place they can turn is to the Internet.

Medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. There are a billion and a half reasons why medical expenses are so high–unnecessary testing, bloated administration, overpriced prescription drugs, overtaxed system, bad insurance balances, capitalism itself. Whatever. Continue reading