Monthly Archives: January 2014

Learning to see

Greetings from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.  It’s ccccold with lots of snow on the ground, but a surprising number of people have shown up for this year’s Pastor’s Week.

There’s been a lot of change here even since I graduated in 2006.  Aside from some new and upgraded buildings, and a new President, Sara Wenger Shenk, there is a whole generational turnover happening on faculty.  The baby boomers are retiring and the gen Xers are coming into leadership.  There are some really strong new professors here, and five of them are the featured speakers this week. 

The theme this year “Help me see Jesus!  Help me see, Jesus.”   

Yesterday in the morning Andy Brubacher Kaethler, Professor of Christian Formation and Culture, spoke about our need to read our culture.  There is a script, a narrative, behind assumptions and actions, and we are all living out some kind of script that we are handed or that we help create.  For example, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”  Andy noted that the role of the church is not to be anti-cultural, but to be counter-cultural, to provide an alternative story, a script that leads to whole-hearted living.  Jesus’ name for this was ‘the kingdom of God.’ 

In the afternoon Rachel Miller Jacobs, Professor of Congregational Formation, spoke about “Reading the Bible with Jesus.”  She highlighted the biblical phrase “the mind of Christ,” which the Apostle Paul speaks of in his letters, and suggested that this is an alternative consciousness out of which we approach the world – the same consciousness from which Jesus operated.  The most common view of Jesus is soteriological – understanding him as one who saves us.  She offered that another view of Jesus is sophiological (Sophia = wisdom) – one who teaches us how to see.  This includes seeing scripture the same way Jesus viewed his scripture, the Hebrew Bible – deemphasizing the imperial and violent parts of the tradition and always asking, ‘where is it going?’, what is it pointing to?

I find this emphasis on how we see to be encouraging.  For a long time the Mennonite Church has been strong on ethics, faith as action, putting faith into practice by loving neighbor and working to make the world better.  All good.  But the trend I’m seeing, which I find very positive, is a recovery of the mystical aspects of faith.  Faith not just what happens in front of our eyes, but what happens behind our eyes.  Faith as a new way of seeing, and that new way of seeing transforming us and the world as faith is put into action.

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Coming of Age

How do you know when you’re no longer a child and have grown into a new stage of life? 

Cultures throughout time have had various rites of passage that have marked this transition, and at Columbus Mennonite we are beginning a Coming of Age practice of our own, to be celebrated during worship on Sunday, February 16th.  This year we honor six jr. youth: Quinn B, Steven A, Micah N, Jack Z, Phoebe Y-T, and Maddy R-W.  The jr. youth will be preparing for this time by helping shape and lead part of the worship service: choosing a scripture, hymns, and words that reflect their own journeys to this point.  They are also personalizing notebooks that will be filled by the congregation with blessings, words of encouragement, and naming of their gifts. 

This is where you come in.

Between now and mid-February we will be collecting notes from Columbus Menno folks – you! – addressed to these jr. youth.  Having these notes is a significant part of their Coming of Age experience as they represent the voices of their community blessing them and calling out their gifts – gifts they may not yet be able to see in themselves but which are becoming evident to those of us who relate with them.  Gifts they will continue to nurture and develop as they cross the threshold into adolescence and form a more solid sense of their own identity.  There are many voices in this world telling them who they should be, what they should desire, what they should buy, what it means to belong, how they should live; and it is the privilege of us as a faith community to be a wise and spiritually grounded presence and voice in their lives on these kinds of matters.

So here’s what we are inviting you to do:        

Compose a several-sentence note to each of these jr. youth.  These notes can be blessings, a brief personal and meaningful memory from when you were their age, encouragements, a Bible verse and what it has meant to you, attributes you have observed that you admire in the young person, your best hopes for the young person, or a naming of their gifts.  Not everyone will know the jr. youth well enough to write a personalized note, but all who wish to write something are most welcome.  These notes will be compiled and arranged in their notebooks, presented to them during the Coming of Age service February 16th.

Everyone will have slips of paper in their church mail boxes on which they can write the notes, returned to either Ruth L or Jenny C by February 9th.  Words can also be emailed. (Ruth and Jenny will print and paste!)

This is a new endeavor the congregation and we’re creating something we hope will grow to be a formative experience for all of our young people – something to anticipate, something to undergo, something to remember.  Coming of Age!

 

Gay update

Nothing like starting off the new year with one of the most contentious issues facing the wider church.

There are a number of happenings right now having to do with how the Mennonite Church relates with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and self-identified queer persons (LGBTQ).  Mountain States Conference (one of 21 area conferences in Mennonite Church USA) announced in November that it intends to credential Theda Good for pastoral ministry at First Mennonite Church, Denver.  Theda is in a committed relationship with her female partner and this is the first time an openly gay and partnered Mennonite pastor will be credentialed in the US.

Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia has announced that it is beginning a six month listening process regarding how it can be a safe space for LGBTQ persons and campus hiring practices.

Both of these actions have prompted Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA, to write a letter to church leaders in which he says, “…The Executive Committee plans to meet at the end of January to discern how to best respond to these situations, in preparation for the Executive Board meeting in mid-February.

I earnestly desire that our church be faithful to scripture and God’s call. The issues that we face cannot be solved by human effort alone. We need the enablement of God’s Spirit, and the strength of God’s Word. So as you pray, I invite you to let me know if any particular scriptures or devotional insights come to mind.

You may feel free to forward this message to pastors or congregations who have interest in the denomination’s response to the recent announcement.”

The denomination is also in the process of updating its Polity for Mennonite Leadership.  The most current draft includes language that says pastors are not to officiate at a same-sex union/wedding and doing so is cause for their credentials to be reviewed.

Toward the end of last year a group of pastors composed a letter addressed to denominational leadership affirming their solidarity with an essay written in November by Ron Adams, pastor of Madison (Wisconsin) Mennonite Church, called The Rule of Love, in which he told the story of his gay brother who committed suicide and was never affirmed in his full humanity by the church.  His words included this: “Denominational guidelines exist regarding the conduct of pastors.  Those guidelines include consequences for pastors who bless Jesus-followers whose partners are of the same sex.  … But speaking as a pastor, if I am asked to choose between adhering to those guidelines and welcoming and blessing someone, anyone, seeking to follow Jesus, I will welcome and bless.”   Any credentialed person in the denomination is welcome to sign this letter, which I have done.

So…this is what is in the mix right now.  Our congregation has affirmed that “Columbus Mennonite Church is an inclusive congregation seeking to follow Jesus’ teachings of love to all, justice for all, and fellowship with all.”  Although the statement does not name the issue outright, we are committed to affirming and blessing (and being blessed by!) LGBTQ persons.  Amen to that.

Ervin Stutzman is calling on the denomination to pray, and that’s a good invitation.  Some of you may also wish to take up his invitation to write to him directly with scriptures that inform your view and ways you hear the Spirit speaking to the denomination at this time and place.  His email address is ervins (at) mennoniteusa.org   If you write, I would encourage you to say which congregation you are connected with (mainly so he knows that the words are coming from someone within the denomination).