I haven’t written into this space for some time now. I apologize for the ways in which that is obvious in what I write below and for the ways it may cheapen my requests from you all. Almost embarrassingly, I’ve been forced to skim over your most recent YAR conversations so that my input doesn’t completely fail to hit some thread of relevancy and interest. Disclaimers…disclaimers… here’s the word I’d like to share:
This is, firstly, a ‘howdy’ from Southeast Asia – northern Laos (Vientiane), at the moment. Secondly, it is a more direct plug for BikeMovement Asia, recently alluded to indirectly on this site by Hinke, Jason and possibly others. Thirdly, it is a suggestion that BikeMovement – in its attempt to draw out individual and collective stories – is one way to approach the theological/social ‘doing’ that is being reckoned with in conversations here. BikeMovement Asia does a lot of talking too. The same sort of talking/analyzing that happens on this sort of site. But we live the stories as well. I don’t know what it means for you all there, experiencing it all in a sort of ‘second-hand’ way, but I would like to invite you to look more closely at what BikeMovement has done and is doing… We have pictures and journals and other information on our website.
Then there’s a question that has come up for me – maybe the most relevant piece in this context. It’s a question about the global Anabaptist church that comes out of my experience with BikeMovement USA last summer and my experience thus far with BikeMovement Asia. Last summer BikeMovement USA raised over $20,000 for AMIGOS – an organization loosely connected to Mennonite World Conference and deeply concerned about connecting Anabaptist communities around the world. My own personal rhetoric, last summer, about the global church – probably as a result of my close relationship to the AMIGOS vision – was fairly inclusive. I talked, along with others on the trip, about the importance of learning new ways of worship from Anabaptists around the world. I wondered how we could claim to know what ‘Anabaptists’ were, in the contemporary context, when the ‘West’ was severely outnumbered in terms of global Anabaptist churches and baptized members. I, mostly indirectly, challenged mid-western Mennonite farmers to go to Paraguay in 2009 and visit with their Anabaptist brothers and sisters from around the world – I figured it would give them something to think about. Essentially, I was at a place where I understood the US American and Canadian Mennonite churches to be an incomplete part of the global Anabaptist community. And I still think that’s a helpful way to frame the discussion.
But there are other ways. My experiences with the church here in Southeast Asia have forced me to develop a more cynical view of the “global Anabaptist community.” I will put it provocatively. I put it in quotation marks because I’m not sure there is, or ever will be, a “global Anabaptist community.” I think I was naïve, last summer, in thinking about this global church as some entity existing similarly to a relatively local church – sharing money, challenging each other politically, spiritually and theologically – thus the global ‘community.’ I imagined a global Anabaptist church that never ultimately shared the same theologies, worship styles, understanding of church hierarchy, etcetera, but a global church that challenged itself toward valuing its internal differences – even to the point of shaping itself as a whole so that the theologies, worship styles, understandings of church hierarchies, etcetera became similar considering the contexts in which each sub-group existed.
My vision was of an overarching, ‘global,’ Anabaptist Church that would help to diversify and standardize more responsible (ethically, theologically, spiritually, historically) global Anabaptist communities. I wanted to call Anabaptist Christians in Indonesia “brothers and sisters” not only because we both appreciate the profundity of the work of Jesus, but because we also remember the work and theological implications of the 16th century Anabaptism and embody Holy Spirit worship through Cambodian-style ‘enthusiasm of the convert.’
This conversation quickly turns into one about Anabaptist identity. Southeast Asia has frustrated me because Anabaptist/Mennonite means ‘good global repute’ (mostly social repute) and has almost nothing to do with a certain set of convictions or standards about the Reign of God. I was sitting with young Mennonites in Phnom Penh two weeks ago and, besides the remarkable young man who translated the Confession of Faith into Khmer, the ‘Mennonites’ were completely silent on issues that I would associate with Mennonite/Anabaptist. And maybe that’s a key to this thing as well. Maybe there’s not a right way to be Anabaptist in the 21st century, but it seems that there are ways that are different enough that we might consider admitting our differences and just getting together for big MWC ‘reunions’ – where we just eat and drink and talk about Mary – and stop pretending that we have much of anything religious in common.
But, at the same time, I still believe the stuff I was saying last summer. I think Mennonites in the US might be better off if they would dabble in some Cambodian worship styles that would raise their heartbeats a bit. I think the Phnom Penh Mennonite church could learn a lot from some theological history – who were the original Anabaptists, should they care? I think that mid-western Mennonite farmers would understand the Reign of God more fully if they would spend time with Mennonite farmers from South America.
-Part of me wants to draft strict standards defining what a Mennonite/Anabaptist is and isn’t – standards we could use to include and exclude people and shape a ‘true’ global Anabaptist community.
-Part of me wants to let post-modernity redefine the title completely, based on all of our individual stories and experiences – redefine completely, so that I forget to get all caught up in the history of our suffering European ancestors.
Part of me knows that what makes most sense is probably somewhere in between.
Words on the global Anabaptist/Mennonite church…?