Coming off the ‘high’

July 2, 2014 | Editorial | Number 14
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

By the time this editorial sees the light of print and the Internet, some 500 delegates attending our national assembly in Winnipeg will have discerned, debated, parsed and probably tired of the theme for the event:  Wild Hope, faith for an unknown season.

The perceptions of what happened there will be as varied as the people attending.  Because of the issues highlighted, some will have taken new heart in what they hear and discuss, others will say there was nothing new, while yet others will likely despair. That’s because we, as Canadian Mennonites, are a diverse gathering of believers, who, though having different histories, coming from different places and holding a variety of worldviews, are one body in Christ.

Diversity, though, can become a cliché that diminishes its rich meaning as a characteristic of a people called out to be everyday followers of Jesus, a communion that delights in challenging each other to greater faithfulness, a gathering of persons taking a high view of Scripture as their basic text and a healthy respect for robust imagination in applying and interpreting what all this means in a new and uncertain age when some of the familiar goalposts disappear.

Which means that “uniformity” is gone, but a greater commitment to “unity” is one of the foundation stones, replacing some of the crumbing stones of doctrinal statements and historic confessions. Which means we are no less committed to “church,” as we have known and have practiced it in the Anabaptist tradition, but recognizing that it will happen in new and refreshing ways that address challenges we have not faced before.

For the adventuresome, this is exciting and exhilarating. For those wanting security through definitive statements and black and white guidelines in living out the Christian faith, this can be threatening. Both dynamics can live side-by-side if we pay attention to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that his followers be “one.”  Notice, not “right,” but “one.” Being “one” trumps “being right.” Recognizing that there are “risk-takers” and the “risk averse” are keys to this unity, this oneness.

This might be new thinking for some of us. Our past does not bode well for us.  We have split and split again and again over who is the most “right,” who is the most faithful, who uses what Scripture in the most “literal and truthful” way. But that has not served us well. Those on the margins have felt alienated and have left. Many of our children and grandchildren have not found this kind of environment welcoming and spiritually formative.

Assemblies are prone to spiritual highs. The family reunion atmosphere engenders goodwill and generosity with each other. A spirit of unity is generated over four days that feels good and motivates many to take this enthusiasm and creative thinking/discussion back home to fellow-believers who were not a part of  the “high” and move forward with new vision.

Then reality hits.  Without the camaraderie underlying those four days of rich fellowship and thoughtful discussions, the reception to all this is met with a dull thud. Those not attending are not nearly as fired up, nor can they fully grasp what is so new and exciting about what is being translated back home. A certain pall falls over all that dynamism.

We suggest, then, that delegates think long and hard, even while enjoying this “festival of inspiration” in Winnipeg, about how and what will resonate back home for the more than 30,000 who did not attend. And to be diligent and patient when they return and not despair if it is not greeted with the same enthusiasm that was experienced in “Jerusalem.”  To be persistent and longsuffering, even as they pray with Jesus that we, as his followers, are “one.”

And while the focus in Winnipeg will have been on sexuality and future directions, there are many other pressing issues with which we are dealing as 21st century Christians in our changing culture. There will be a tendency to major in the sexuality/future issues and miss the importance of a host of other issues, such as creation care, our new and enriched relationship to our indigenous neighbours and emerging New Canadian churches, the always-present need to find our place as “strangers and pilgrims” in an increasingly hostile political climate, the need to keep our own local congregations as intentionally inter-generational as possible.

The wise path is to keep all these issues in balance and not to be side-tracked or blind-sided by the high profile ones.

--Posted July 2, 2014

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