Monthly Archives: June 2017

Holy Indifference

 

It’s church conference/convention season.  Last weekend was the Central District Conference annual meeting in Bluffton, Ohio.  Next week is the biennial Mennonite Church USA convention, held this year in Orlando, Florida….conveniently close to Harry Potter World, which will be a Christmas in July for our girls.

I was so disheartened by the last convention in Kansas City that I have largely disengaged from denominational discussions.  My main involvement has been through conversations around “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” the only resolution we’ll be voting on this year.  Yesterday I had two separate conversations with Columbus rabbis, leaders of BREAD congregations, as a way of being accountable to local relationships for what we’re saying in this resolution.

A key part of the Orlando Convention will be the Future Church Summit.  The national level of the denominational structure is recalibrating its role and seeking input from delegates and stakeholders.  There is talk of movement away from policing the borders (my words, not theirs), moving toward a focus on resourcing conferences and congregations which will be given more autonomy.  The Future Church Summit will be an attempt to reimagine what we can do together.

The best phrase that comes to mind for my own attitude entering this is “Holy Indifference.”  It’s taken from Ignatian spirituality, and can be a bit misleading.  Indifference doesn’t mean apathy, or not caring.  It means openness to the Good, whatever that may be.  Loosening one’s grip on the form that the Good will take.

I am much more optimistic about local church than national church, but am trying to have something resembling “Holy Indifference” in my mind entering next week.  I will try to blog with a couple updates during the week on how it’s going.  Prayers welcome for all gathered.

Joel

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“ …to work amongst…”

 

“Try not to think in terms of superimposing our own tastes and objectives on the lives of others but rather to make our energies and talents available to those who would want us to work amongst them.”

— Judith Tokel, meeting notes from the American Addition Neighborhood Council, December 9, 1968

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I’ve been doing some poking around in the CMC archives.  They’re in the back of the Upper Room, the last stop of the elevator.  The celebration of CMC’s 55 year anniversary this August, combined with the more casual pace of summer, makes it a good time to poke.

The very first file in the first drawer is labeled “American Addition.”  It was, and still is, a small predominantly African American neighborhood on the near east side.  In the late sixties and early seventies, this congregation, then called Neil Avenue Mennonite Church, became heavily involved in working alongside that community to form the Amercrest Improvement Corporation to make substantive improvements to the neighborhood.  This included volunteer labor on houses, and petitioning City Council to remove dilapidated housing and extend bus, gas, and sewer services to the neighborhood (sewer lines had been previously installed, but many of the houses hadn’t been hooked up).

It was a major work, one of the key ways this congregation engaged African American neighbors during the Civil Rights era.

Which is why I find those words from Judith Tokel so compelling, recorded in the meeting notes, preserved in our archives.  They appear hidden in the middle of a paragraph, but serve as a fine definition of mission, conscious of power dynamics: “To make our energies and talents available to those who would want us to work amongst them.”

Mission work of churches can so frequently perpetuate uneven power dynamics rather than transform them.  The attitude of which Judith Tokel writes is a good foundation for the important work of being in active solidarity with others.

And the work continues.

Joel

 

 

Homework

 

2016 was a big year for news, dominated by the US Presidential campaign.  So guess what the top read New York Times article was for the whole year?  It was an essay by Alain de Botton titled “Why you will marry the wrong person.

The title, and article, is meant as an insight that frees us, rather than dooms us, in marriage.  I’m presently doing pre-marriage counseling for two couples, and this article is a newer part of their homework.  De Botton writes:

“For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative. That is why what has replaced it — the marriage of feeling — has largely been spared the need to account for itself.”

So de Botton gives some suggestions for how that accounting might happen:

We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: ‘And how are you crazy?’

He continues:

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

As I look over the CMC June birthdays and anniversaries, this is one of those months dominated by anniversaries.  Abbie I will celebrate 16 years on the 16th.  It’s sweet.  We’re more aware than ever how we each of us are crazy, and we’re in it together.

The points of this article ring true for me.  It’s a small consolation to know America got a larger dose of this wisdom than that of any other Times article last year.

Alain de Botton was also interviewed in February by Krista Tippet for the On Being podcast: “The true hard work of love and relationships.”

Joel