I’ve been thinking a fair amount about narratives recently, for personal and professional reasons. On a personal level, I suppose major transitions in life always afford the opportunity to re-evaluate things—where have I come from, where am I going, what are my reasons, what have I learned, how will it affect what may or may not lie ahead, what changes should I make, how is God guiding, shaping, and using my story, etc, etc. These are normal things to consider whenever we close one chapter and begin another.
On a professional level, I am thinking about the Anabaptist narrative in more general terms as I am moving from a church in the Mennonite Brethren Conference to one that is a part of Mennonite Church Canada. In the grand scheme of the Christian world, this would probably be considered a fairly small sideways step, but for one who has spent his entire life in the MB Conference, it is a significant move nonetheless, and one not taken lightly. It is new structures, new people, new ways of doing things, new emphases, new strengths, new weaknesses…. A new narrative to learn and inhabit.
With all this going on in my head, a a post by David Stutzman from the Mennonite Weekly Review last week provided much to think about. Stutzman asks a number of important questions, but the overarching one has to do with how Anabaptists will define themselves in a world very different from the one that led to the founding of the movement. How will we, as Mennonites, deal with our newfound “normalness” in a post-Christendom world? How will we frame our narrative when there is no longer a big “Christendom” to define ourselves in opposition to?
Here are a few quotes I’m thinking about from Stutzman’s post:
The narrative of the Christian status quo has lost its storyline, and through that, so has the Anabaptist point of reference in its own narrative. So in an odd way, the church that always saw itself as marginalized is now experiencing a form of disestablishment. So what will our distinctive of peace and nonviolence mean in a post-Christendom era? What will our narrative of being the counter-Christendom church mean in the new post-Constantinian chapter of Christianity?
There are risks associated with being a “counter-_____” church, namely, what happens when _____ is no longer a reality.
As Mennonites, we have a unique set of challenges that accompany a post-Christendom shift. In fact, when we are honest, the implications of a changed Christendom present us with the similar sensation of disorientation, dissonance, disruption and disestablishment that is evidently present in the mainline traditions.
Whatever conference we happen to belong to, Stutzman argues that we need a new Anabaptist narrative for a new cultural reality. Other Anabaptist narratives have been articulated in very different contexts than the present one. Do we have the creativity, cultural insight, and gospel conviction to compellingly articulate an Anabaptist worldview in an overwhelmingly secular context? Do we understand the resources we bring to the table? Are we inhabiting the narrative of God in such a way that we can effectively discern the role we can play in the ongoing unfolding of the story?
At any rate, I’ll have plenty of time to think about personal narratives, Anabaptist narratives, and probably others as well over the next week or so, as I head off with some friends for a motorcycle trip in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. Eight hours per day of solitude in my helmet ought to be enough to decisively answer all of these questions, right?
Well, maybe not… Maybe I’ll just enjoy the ride.