Perhaps I am writing this because where I live, I have to explain at least once a week what a Mennonite is, our core values and goals, and this makes me long to see more of us practicing them. Perhaps I am writing this because I am tired of silences and homogeny of so many different kinds…who knows? I’m just glad that YAR offers a chance to talk…
Here in Athens, Ohio, we take pride in many things: our farmers’ market, fair trade coffee shops, beautiful hiking trails and rock formations, and the obvious diversity in our population: undergrads known for making O.U. the on-again-off-again #1 party school, international grad students, professors in tweed jackets, and colorful Appalachian locals. I revel in the atmosphere of a college town, especially one so “progressive,” at least for Ohio. I have to face it; I like to feel “different,” on the “verge” of something, and Athens allows me to have this faith in Humanity’s ability to create and evolve. Speaking of the “p” word (“progressive,” in case you are confused), one would think that being Mennonite would immediately peg us as “different” in the larger society. But the kind of Mennonite I want to be–actively seeking out peace and justice according to Christ’s example, accountable simple living and community, and heck–maybe even preaching one day– does not involve head coverings or long hair and dresses. So what distinguishes my “sect” of Mennos, those who have greatly assimilated back into the dominating culture out of fear, comfort, or for some other reason? I’m talking mostly here to more rural Menno congregations. What makes our church services and lives unique from other Protestants? At times, I ache for something visible to “mark” me as a Mennonite Anabaptist. Wearing my “I love the people of Iraq” and “Pray for Peace: Act for Peace” buttons aren’t enough; many others can don these and practice any number of faiths, and if I wore them to my home congregation, I would be “drawing attention to myself.” It seems like acting locally for my faith now-a-days is labled “political.” Ummm…Don’t we strive to follow the example of one of the most political figures in history?
Why do I want to be “recognized” so badly? It isn’t for fame or acceptance, that’s for sure. Well, as I mentioned already (though still considered “prideful” in some churches) I want to be seen as “different,” living “off the map” or with a version of Christianity that is not based on Paul’s teachings but more firmly on Christ’s, knowing that this is not always a popular example. “So live your life like Christ would, and people will notice,” you might be thinking. Sure, Ok. Sounds like a plan. But I still have to ask, what is Mennonite Church USA doing today to present itself (ourselves) as an alternative example of Christ-like living? It is wonderful to have so many missionaries abroad, to send school kits to Africa and hold relief sales. We are so good at global action, but our local communities, our country as a whole needs as many prophets as they can get. What if EVERY Menno was a supporter of the peace tax fund? What if EVERY Menno carpooled at least once a week? What if someone from each congregation wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper each week? These might seem like small and silly examples of living out our peace and justice mantras, but I think they would make people take notice. We need a revival. A big, peace-preachin’, harmony-singin’, truth-speakin’ revival. How great it will be to know ourselves again, to let the world know US, not by our silences, but by our “loud living!” Let’s be different; let’s more than call ourselves Mennonite–let’s BE Mennonite!
Hi – great post. I’m not an anabaptist by background, but I think you’ll find there are a whole bunch of people feeling like this. Somehow we have to dig deeper, try harder, do more, talk less. Be the change we want to see in the world. And I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to face the challenge that would inevitably bring in my life.
Becca thanks for this challenging post. Your vision for Mennonite revival is exciting. One of the challenges would be trying to agree on how we should be living differently. I recently visited a rural Mennonite church recently and was aware of how differently their experience of living out their Mennoniteness might be. While some valued peace as a central part, others were more likely to see it as a part of Mennonite history. I asked one man who had joined the congregation after attending an Evangelical Free church what attracted him to Mennonites and he wasn’t able to identify any particular differences, besides a vague sense of Mennonites being nice people.
One Mennonite organization that does seem to connect with Mennonite across the board (besides MCC) is Mennonite Disaster Service, which is a distinct expression of something Mennonites can all do together.
A look at the birth story of MDS is quite interesting. On the MDS history page, a section headed “A Spontaneous Movement” describes how Mennonites on a Sunday School picnic wanted to “seek opportunities to be engaged in peaceful, helpful activity…just where we find ourselves.” This vision has a striking resemblance to what you’re talking about, Becca.
At the same time, the sucess of MDS can also draw out some of the differences among Mennonites. I heard an anecdote about a MDS coordinator in Kansas who chastised a prominent local Mennonite for speaking out against the Iraq war in a newspaper article. The MDS representative explained that identifying Mennonites with anti-war liberals would make raising support for MDS a lot more difficult in the conservative state.
Becca: I live in Brazil, the city is Curitiba. I’m a brazilian mennonite and I think that I know what you are talking about. Every monday, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. in our mennonite Church “Familia Crista” we are praying for the revival among mennonites in the hole world. God bless you. Francisco. [57 year old]