Highlights from San Jose 2007

Today marks the midpoint of my time at the Mennonite convention here in San Jose, so I thought I’d make an attempt to share some highlights from my time here thus far.

From Sunday afternoon through noon on Monday, I attended Live the Call: Conversations about New Models for Church, a meeting of the Urban Leaders Network. Going into the meeting, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it turned out to be a very engaging and interesting 24 hours. Jason Evans, of The Ecclesia Collective in San Diego, kicked things off speaking on Live the Call: Conversations about New Models for Church (yes, an awfully generic title) in which he touched on a lot of Anabaptist themes that I found central during my time in the UK, such as

  • looking for what God is already doing rather than asking God to bless what we are doing
  • challenging the consumer model of church in which the church is reduced to another vendor of services in the marketplace and potential members hunt around to find the one that fits their needs best
  • the experience of an atheist friend of his who felt like a piece of meat when visiting an unnamed church where people found out he wasn’t “saved”.
  • for non-Christians, Jesus is interesting, but their experience of Christians is a major stumbling block
  • how can the church undergird new expressions without institutionalizing and/or squelching them?
  • sustainability for a movement or group does not mean survival, it reflects a ethos, vision and mission that are consistent and life giving

Jason pointed out that followers of Christ are not going to make good citizens and “that is not going to be digestable for a large segment of the community”. He suggested that the new movement of Christians recognizing this (and the ideas listed above) is the “prophetic instinct in the body” in reaction to the ever increasing obsession with violence and consuming in the culture around us.

Another highlight of the Urban Leaders Network Meeting was a panel of young adults discussing their dreams for Mennonite Church USA. This included Nekeisha Alexis-Baker (of Jesus Radicals), Heidi Aspinwall, Hugo Saucedo, Joel Shenk and Immanuel Sila, a refreshingly diverse mix of young people from many different backgrounds. Here’s a bit of what they said in response to the question of “What would you do if you were in charge”:

  • “Being in charge” implies hierarchical leadership, which is part of the problem. Shared leadership that give real ownership of the church to a wide range of people would be a better option.
  • the importance of “faith generating experience” – productive faith rather than consumptive faith i.e. year long focus on fundraising for overseas mission trip with only token engagement with local community
  • being willing to let things end rather than an obsession with survival and the immortality of insistitions
  • Hispanic Mennonite sharing about his frustrations with Mennonite game and the way it excludes people and the traditional power structure that has not adapted to include people of color.

One final image from the Urban Leaders Network for me came from Wayne Hochstetler, conference minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference who shared about the Southern Illinois Mission Partnership in which the Mennonite church in Argentina has sent a missionary to Southern Illinois for a 5 year term to help Illinois churches do church planting in area where no Mennonite churches currently exist. One of the strategies they have discovered is to visit the local McDonalds in each town where local residents gather on Saturday morning to begin building relationships and learning more about the community. Sometimes this grows into meeting in people’s houses, but sometimes it stays at the McDonalds.

Since Monday evening I’ve been wandering around the San Jose convention center, listening to speakers, going to worship and talking with old friends and meeting new ones.

On Tuesday morning I went to the adult worship service which was focused on brokeness and the importance of not rushing to happiness (as Ken Medema put it) in the process of reconcilation. I was pleasantly surprised to find a significant portion of the service devoted to hearing stories from the Native American community. We watched a powerful video about the bill in front of the US Congress to acknowledge the long history of unjust treatement of Native Americans and to apologize to Native Americans. The video gave a brief overview of the history of violence and genocide of Native Americans and included interviews with Native Americans as well as Senator Brownback (R) of Kansas who has sponsored the bill.

The video was followed by a moving testimony by Steve Cheramie Risingsun that reminded the gathered Mennonites not only of the massacres and the forced displacements of Native American people groups, but also the more recent history of Indian Boarding schools in which Steve’s parent’s generation was beaten for speaking their own language and children were forced to sit in the hot sun under a sheet covered with their own urine to rid them of bed wetting. He asked, “when all this was done to them in the name of Christ, who do they cry out to?”

Later that day, Mennonite Church USA delegates unanimously voted to support the apology.

I’ve been to a number of interesting seminars as well, but I’m afraid this post has gotten too long already for you to read it, so I’ll have to save those stories for another post.

Comments (4)

  1. Miriam

    There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, and I’ve been sure to miss nearly all of it by working 12 hour days making my money off Mennonite culture.

    Thanks especially for the summary of the young adult panel, Tim. I was sorry to miss that.

    One question from your summary of Jason Evans: I keep hearing the sentence, “looking for what God is already doing rather than asking God to bless what we are doing,” but I never see anyone flesh that out. What does it actually mean or look like? Where do you look for “what god is already doing” – and does this mean that god will never do anything new? How do you propose we distinguish between god and some middle-aged guy with a very cool idea?

    Or, in one question: It sounds so nice, but how do you find this phrase actually helpful in practice and application?

    Reply
  2. Jason Evans

    Eric,
    Thanks for you comment. I’m sorry the phrase I used was not clear enough. Let me attempt to clarify:

    You said, “I keep hearing the sentence, ‘looking for what God is already doing rather than asking God to bless what we are doing,’ but I never see anyone flesh that out. What does it actually mean or look like?”

    What I meant is that I am convinced God is up to a whole lot of things outside of the blessing or impact of the church. I’m sure you’ve heard people pray that God would bless whatever their ministry is in their prayers. What I want to emphasize is that there is a whole lot that God is already up to and the church is not there with God often times.

    You also stated, “Where do you look for ‘what god is already doing’ – and does this mean that god will never do anything new?”

    Where do we look? Well, for starters, the poor and the marginalized. Wherever they are God is certainly up to something interesting in their midst that your church has no clue about. Jump in and discover where the kingdom is unfolding.

    As far as doing anything new, on the contrary, I’m convinced that our Creator is always up to new things. It is often us, within the church, that have compartmentalized God into the structures we feel comfortable with; neglecting to look beyond the christian ghetto.

    Lastly, you wrote, “How do you propose we distinguish between god and some middle-aged guy with a very cool idea?”

    Honestly, I’m not certain I understand what you are attempting to imply. Maybe you could help me with that. Hope this helps.

    Cheers,

    J

    Reply
  3. Miriam

    Jason: Right from the source. Thanks for your response. When you explain it I like where you’re going, and what your concern is. Let me better try to explain my problem with the language.

    I think everyone would claim that they are joining in God’s work. Since God has never signed her name in front of a notary (that I’m aware of), or put out a list of the projects already in the works, it’s a bit arbitrary to say one project is and another is not “what God is already doing.”

    If I were the organization receiving your accusation I would just say “But this is what God is doing. Where do you get the idea that it isn’t?” Thus not-yet-middle-aged me slaps God’s name on my project, and who are you to say if it’s mine or God’s? You might claim God’s activity is somewhere else, but how are we to tell the difference? Do we just argue back and forth about who is joining God and who is asking God to join them? It sounds to me like you might be proposing some more specific criteria?

    Reply
  4. John

    Have you explored the availability of the powerful video you referenced. I would like to get a copy. This was a moving and important service for me.

    Reply

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