Over the course of the month of May, the MennoNerds blogging collective that I am a part of has been reflecting upon how “Anabaptist distinctives” impact our thinking and living in the world. A while back, fellow MennoNerd, Tyler Tully wrote a piece called What are Anabaptists? where he outlined three core Anabaptist convictions:
- The centrality of Jesus above all things
- The essential community/free church of confessing, baptized disciples
- The prophetic and non-violent witness of God’s peace.
The challenge subsequently went out for all of us to write our own blog post on how these three convictions influence our own faith and practice. Read more
Our church has spent two hours over the past few Sundays wading into the potentially stormy waters of dialogue about human sexuality as part of our national church’s ongoing discernment process. Among the many interesting things that came up over the course of a very stimulating (although far too brief) conversation was the question of the boundaries of sin. “Why are we so hesitant to use ‘sin’ language?” was one question. Why indeed. It’s a good question. Read more
So, 2013 is drawing to a close, which means it’s time to take a peek in the rearview mirror and reflect a bit on the year that has nearly passed. In the blogging world, this means—what else?!—highlighting the most read posts on this blog over the past 365 days or so. It’s an imperfect tool of evaluation, obviously—a cursory count of clicks and page views hardly provides an accurate assessment of meaningful or substantive engagement—but I suppose it give some sense of the themes that drew people here over the year. Whenever I look at statistical summaries on this blog, I find myself scratching my head. That was my most-read post?! I don’t even like that one! Why didn’t ____ make the list? Posts that I am convinced are the best thing the internet has seen since, well, two hours or so ago languish in obscurity while others that I dashed off in twenty minutes generate more traffic than I would ever have expected. I suppose such is the nature of blogging. Read more
It happened again the other day. That predictable conversation that begins with, “So what do you do?”, traverses through the awkward terrain where it is discovered that I belong to that most bizarre and incomprehensible of categories—“pastor”—thus placing myself outside the boundaries of ordinary humanity, and ends, inevitably, with a tortured query about what kind of creature, exactly, a Mennonite might be. I can almost write the script by now: “You’re a what?” “Why would you want to do that?” “Don’t Mennonites drive horses and buggies and wear only black?” “How many kinds of Mennonites are there?” “You’re a what?! Add a few variations here and there, for colour and variety. Rinse and repeat. Read more
This morning was an errand-running, back-and-forthing, radio-in-the-car-listening kind of morning. Part of the time was spent listening to an interview with the “The Minimalists.” Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Milburn are currently on a mini-tour through Alberta to promote their book called Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life. It’s a familiar enough riches to rags kind of story. A couple of young, single, fabulously wealthy young men gradually discover that money and stuff can’t buy fulfillment and happiness and they decide to downsize. They flee the trappings of corporate America for the mountains of Montana where they live simply, write books, start a website and a small indie publishing house, and do all kinds of other things to spread the gospel of simple and intentional living. Wonderful stuff.
Today, however, was not the morning for me to hear the clarion call to simplicity and minimal living. Today is a day when I am feeling less than enthusiastic about the merits of smaller and less. Read more
How can the Mennonite Church be future-proofed? I clicked on the link with bit curiosity and no small amount of trepidation. It was an interesting choice of words. “Future proofed?” Would that be possible? Desirable? It turned out to simply be a brief article—with the much less exciting title of “Introducing the Future Directions Task Force”—about a group that was going to be looking at the issue of how to work toward financial sustainability at the conference level. No five easy steps, alas… Read more
The denomination in which I serve—Mennonite Church Canada—is currently asking its congregations to engage in a lengthy and challenging process of facing challenging difficult ethical issues of our day (issues around human sexuality, religious pluralism, pacifism, environmental concerns, etc.) head on and discerning together what the Spirit seems to be saying to us regarding how we are to respond as followers of Jesus. The “Being a Faithful Church” process is an attempt to put hands and feet to our theology. Mennonites affirm, among other things, the importance of community, the priesthood of all believers, the inappropriateness of hierarchical power structures and modes of relating to one another, and freedom of the Spirit to lead us into deeper and truer understandings of Scripture. The “Being a Faithful Church” process is an (ambitious!) opportunity for churches to demonstrate that we actually we believe what we say we do. Read more
Over the past two thousand or so years the Christian church has consistently, in its worship, its leadership structures, its pedagogy, and its general ethos, deviated from the spirit and intent of the community Christ envisioned. Rather than becoming a community of believers gifted and called to participate together in the ongoing task of becoming disciples of Jesus in life and worship, the church has become an institution maintained by professionals. There have been exceptions along the way, to be sure, and of course God has seen fit to work with and through the church with all of its errors, but the general trend throughout most of church history has been to move away from multivoiced communities of active participants toward mono-voiced institutions filled with passive consumers. It is time for this trend to change. This is the provocative thesis of Sian and Stuart Murray Williams in their book The Power of All: Building a Multivoiced Church. Read more
It is not at all uncommon for me, as a pastor, to encounter some variation of the question, “So, what’s the deal with all the different denominations in Christianity? Why can’t you all agree on anything?!” Read more
Well, it’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks of travel and holidays back in British Colombia which has, obviously, meant less time for writing here. I plan on posting a bit more in the coming weeks, but things will likely remain a bit slower than usual over the next little while as I try to get caught up and settle back into a regular routine. I am also planning on tackling the intimidating stack of unopened/half-read books that I have accumulated over the last year or so. I spent much less time reading than usual during the last year as I stepped into a new job, and I am beginning to think this needs to change. I plan on reading more and, perhaps, writing a bit less over the rest of the summer. Read more
One of the highlights of our last week and a half or so in Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island has been the opportunity to reconnect with some of the many good friends we made during our six years out here. Aside from the irritation of fighting a cold almost from the moment our holiday started, it has been a great time filled with great conversations and great people. Read more
A few weeks ago, someone who has been worshiping at a Mennonite church for nearly a year, and who had no prior exposure to or experience with Mennonites, remarked to me that, while they had deeply appreciated their time with the community, it seemed to them that Mennonites were basically people who did lots of good stuff and liked to do things together. It is a common enough sentiment. Many expressions of Anabaptist faith can come to seem like little more than an ethical system designed to produce Christ-like behaviour and character with little, if any attention, paid to the indwelling presence of Christ and the ongoing power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Read more
We have a tendency to want to create a God in our own image who we can then emulate.
These were the words of Perry Yoder, professor emeritus of the newly renamed Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, at a theological studies conference put on by Mennonite Church Alberta that I have been attending in Calgary over the past few days. We have been talking a lot about how we read the Bible—about the presuppositions that inform our interpretations, about how our various traditions dispose us toward certain possibilities, about what to do about seemingly irreconcilable texts, and myriad other issues around reading and understanding Scripture. Including, as the quote alludes to, the constant temptation to read Scripture with an eye toward the God we expect (or would prefer) to find. Read more
Part of last weekend was spent in Calgary at a provincial gathering of Mennonite churches and organizations where our time together was focused upon the theme of “Delighting in Scripture.” It’s a very pious sounding theme, isn’t it? Good Christians are supposed to love the Bible, aren’t they? It sounds like something we should all be doing all of the time. It calls to mind impressions I had in my childhood that if you were a follower of Jesus, you couldn’t wait to read your Bible and eagerly did so whenever the opportunity presented itself.
During my time in the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, one of the issues that generated a fair amount of interest and controversy was that of the nature of the atonement. I have devoted a number of posts to this topic over the last few years (see the”Atonement” category at the bottom of this page), and have found the atonement debates simultaneously stimulating (it’s just a flat-out interesting theological issue) and frustrating (we have not always been able to talk about this matter as civilly as we ought to). It is an issue that continues to generate considerable conversation, whether within Mennonite circles or in the larger church body. Read more
In light of my comments in a previous post about the subtle differences in emphasis between the two streams of the Mennonite world I am becoming increasingly familiar with, I was intrigued to come across a passage by Ron Rolheiser in my reading this week that addresses the importance of both the private (i.e., individual piety) and the public (i.e., concern for justice) dimensions of Christian spirituality. Read more
Part of this week was spent at a gathering of Alberta Mennonite pastors just north of Calgary. The drive alone would have made the trip worth it. I had forgotten how spectacularly colourful autumn in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains can be! More importantly, though, it was a good opportunity to connect with new colleagues, as well as to get a sense of some of the strengths, challenges and theological perspectives of a conference that is still fairly new to me. Read more