Navigating change

January 30, 2013 | Viewpoints | Number 3
Karen Martens Zimmerly |

On Jan. 11, I joined an Idle No More event initiated by Mennonites in Winnipeg on the same day aboriginal chiefs met with the prime minister. One driver who was temporarily stopped by the marchers enthusiastically shouted out her car window, cell phone in hand: “I’ve just tweeted your event!” Within minutes, another voice from a passing car yelled, “Get a job!”

There are numerous media links to inform us what the Idle No More movement is about, but how do I evaluate where I sit on this issue, or, more appropriately, how will I respond, not only in conversation but in relationship with our aboriginal neighbours?

How does following Jesus help the church scrutinize current challenges in our Canadian society?

During a conversation on the sidelines of a soccer tournament, a public servant told me that it is usually power and greed that gets politicians in trouble. And then he said, “All politicians should have a theology degree.”

While we might heartily agree that studying theology—God and God’s relationship to the world—could help political leaders navigate the sticky challenges they encounter, such reflective study is also critical for the church today, as we fumble through an ever-changing world. So how do we figure out God’s relationship to our world? Are we even asking what that relationship is all about?

Voices across the country, and increasingly from all age demographics, are expressing restlessness. People are growing impatient with the church and understandings of God that were influenced by the Christendom world of the last century, saying:

  • “Why is the church silent, so that individuals are accessing alternative healing and medicine outside the church?”
  • “I don’t want to come to church to sit and listen, or attend a meeting. I want to make a difference.”

In a world where it is easier to identify what is not working than it is to select strategic responses, we need theological reflection to help us navigate this time of incredible change.

Not all of our children and grandchildren attend Mennonite Church Canada schools, but we still need these schools to help form leaders for the church’s engagement with the world, where sustained and critical theological reflection happens, not only in the traditional theology class but across all disciplines.

How does God and God’s relationship to the world meet our ever-expanding knowledge of science? How does it jive with the Indian Act and our relationship with indigenous communities? How does theology shape our response to calls for assisted suicide, reduced social services and an economy that views monetary gain as the measuring stick for well-being?

These are hard questions, so hard, in fact, that they sometimes render us helpless. Now is not the time to abandon theology, but to engage it rigorously between the classroom and our homes, our churches and our neighbours on the street. Like the four women who began the Idle No More movement in response to abuse of water and land, we need to be captivated by God’s movement in the world to find our way home.

Karen Martens Zimmerly is denominational minister of Mennonite Church Canada.

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