Is this a Political Meeting?

Not all Christians vote. I do. For me it’s one of those privileges I’ve been given that I don’t want to take for granted. I’m  skeptical about what actual goods state politics can realize. I doubt, for instance, that our governing authorities can make us better people. They can’t do much to make us more patient, more loving, more honest or more courageous. I vote, though, because it’s a modicum of power that’s been given to me and I want to use it to help our communities be more just. Not everyone has that opportunity.

There are two passages that frame the possibilities of governments biblically. One in Romans 13, where Paul describes governing authorities as God’s servants. They keep chaos in check by preserving a basic civil order. For that reason they deserve our support. beastThen there is Revelation 13, where governing authorities are depicted as a diabolical beast. The beast is worshiped because of its immense power and its seeming invincibility. For that reason they deserve our skepticism.

I vote, but I don’t think that’s the most ‘political’ thing I do. This evening I meet with the committee that plans our congregation’s worship life. It will be a political meeting. We will talk about allegiance and sovereignty. We will talk about how to cultivate certain virtues and ways of being. We will talk about economics and global alliances. We will do all that without mentioning a national government. It will be political, but it will have virtually nothing to do with a state. My point is not that state politics don’t matter—of course they do. My point is simply that Christians always hold more than one form of citizenship.

Experimenting with Heterogeneity

Today the delegates for Mennonite Church Canada have voted to create space and leave room for churches that want to fully welcome gay and lesbian persons, including those in committed same-sex relationships. MC Canada AssemblyThe vote was to do that while at the same time not revising the Mennonite Confession of Faith that, more or less, defines marriage in a traditional way. It’s an interesting path forward. In effect it continues the practice already in place but now gives it the official sanction of the national body. This decision isn’t so much about sexual ethics as it is about a way of being church. In the floor discussions today there was a strong affirmation of the importance of unity, a unity that runs deeper than unanimity. The various churches represented here do not see these issues in the same way but most of us do think it’s possible to remain together in spite of that. The recommendation was affirmed by something like 80% of delegates, far exceeding the 50% plus 1 requirement. Continue reading “Experimenting with Heterogeneity”

“Betwixt and Between”

I’m at the national Mennonite Assembly in Saskatoon held at Generic Convention Centre XYZ900. It’s the usual suspects that gravitate to the mic at these sorts of events—not entirely but mostly. Person A, seemingly bent on being the hero of the traditional way, steps to the mic and goes through the usual litany of thumping Bible references. MC Canada AssemblyEveryone has heard these before. We learn nothing, except that person A now feels released from some sense of prophetic guilt. Then person B, seemingly intent on taking an epic stand in the opposite direction, steps up to another mic and reaches for a King-Gandhi-Luther (insert other moral hero here) reference. Again, we learn nothing, except that now person B feels released from some sense of prophetic guilt. Then there is person C, who says it’s all about love, and person D, who says we just need to pray more, and person E, who says it’s all about unity, and, of course, person F, who says unity is impossible because many have already been hurt and have left. The conversation around Christianity and same-sex marriage has been rehearsed so many times in so many places I wonder why there are still those out there who think there is a ‘solution’. Continue reading ““Betwixt and Between””

Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue

Last month an essay of mine was published in the Journal of Brethren Life and Thought. Since that journal is probably not one that will be showing up in your mailbox anytime soon, I thought I’d included a bit of it here. The piece is based on a presentation I gave some years back; I’m happy to see it in print.

Simplicity strikes many of us as a good, if occasionally naïve, thing. In his “A Salutation of the Virtues” the thirteenth century saint, Francis of Assisi, cast Simplicity as a courtly sister to Queen Wisdom, outranking Lady Poverty and Lady Charity. In the twenty-first century we may well be intrigued by Simplicity but we probably lack the saint’s solemn devotion. Consider the TV reality show “The Simple Life,” which cast socialite Paris Hilton in the role of a farm worker. The foibles of the out-of-place heiress generated spinoff shows around the world. thrill of the chasteThe irony of simplicity’s attraction in a complex and fragmented time is captured in Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s marvellously titled book Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels. There Weaver-Zercher explores the growing American fascination with “bonnet rippers.” She relates that in 2002 only two such books were published. In 2012 there were 85.[1] This growth betrays, she thinks, a desire on the part of readers to be transported from a hypermodern and hypersexualized present to a simpler way of life. Weaver-Zercher is not alone in her analysis. Sociologists Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman offer a corroborating conclusion about our cultural fascination with plain living. In a book about Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren they write,

Despite all our comfort and convenience, the possibility that [members of these plain communities] are happier haunts, indeed, torments the postmodern soul.[2] Continue reading “Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue”

The Dust of Cardboard and Old Boxes

My hands are dusty from packing up my office. I don’t know why that is. Where does the grit on these brown boxes come from? Most of what I’m packing is books. I pack the majority without thinking about them too much. They’ve been friends on the shelf; they will get along in a box for a few weeks. A few, though, find an intermediary resting place on my desk. I need companions for a little while longer.

A copy of Jim Reimer’s posthumous essays docks there because I owe a review of it to a Canadian journal. I’ll think it over when we drive through Reimer’s home province of Manitoba. I keep out Robert Louis Wilken’s book on patristic theology too. I love the church fathers for their ignorance, that is, their ignorance of the divide between practical and academic theology. I’ll need mentors in a few months. Buechner’s memoir of vocation also finds an open slip. The back cover says he was a Presbyterian minister. dbonhoefferAnd then, I add a pair of books by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Life Together and Letters and Papers from Prison. I have the new blue and white volumes, with the footnotes about the footnotes.

[Read the rest of the essay on the Collegeville Institute website here. Check out the rest of their site while you’re there. It’s full of good stuff.]