This post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s #BeTransformed series.
Over the past few weeks, I have been able to see Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) at its best. It was unexpected, because so often, I am responding only to the frenetic polarizations in our denomination. But over the past few weeks, I have experienced MC USA at its best, a community of grace and love. The outpouring of love and kindness, as I mourn the loss of my mother has been deeply moving to me — more than I could have expected. I am forever changed and forever grateful to my Mennonite family. Thank you for the emails, letters, prayer shawls and phone calls. They have meant a lot.
Two life events changed me for the better: the birth of my daughter, Andre-A, twenty-four years ago, and the recent death of my mother. Both events have softened my heart and have caused me to appreciate the finite time we have on the top side of this earth.
I deeply believe that life is too short for anger, hatred and for us to dwell on the insignificant.
“Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14, NRSV).
My daughter’s and son’s births helped me see the joy and pleasures of life beyond my narrow focus — in a sense how I imagine God sees me. And my mom helped me see myself in ways that only a creating mother can, to reference James Weldon Johnson, “like a mammy kneeling over a baby.” My mother wasn’t perfect, but she introduced me to both God and grace. She taught me that my life was a gift from God and that I should honor God with every gift embedded in my soul. My mother taught me grace by loving me and guiding me, no matter my shortcomings. She believed in me. She loved me unconditionally, and she is the standard by which I measure how great of a father I can be. My children softened a young, foolish heart of stone and allowed my life to have a meaning greater than my own life. They also keep me humble, which is a good thing.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NRSV).
As the MC USA delegates get ready for the special session of the Delegate Assembly, I hope we can keep the event in perspective. I hope we come armed with only humility and empathy. I hope that the polarized debates, the voting and the fear don’t cloud who we are at our best, a loving community of grace, joy and peace. I have stated ad nauseam that our documents will not save us. Transformation in MC USA will not come from delegate debate but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The written word will never be as powerful as the Word embedded in the hearts and minds of our members. Love and affirmation won’t come from a simple majority but from a true understanding of who we are in Christ Jesus.
Article 10 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective says, “The mission of the church does not require the protection of any nation or empire. Christians are strangers and aliens within all cultures. Yet the church itself is God’s nation, encompassing people who have come from every tribe and nation. Indeed, its mission is to reconcile differing groups, creating one new humanity and providing a preview of that day when all the nations shall stream to the mountain of the Lord and be at peace.” Reconciling differences and the pain of struggling together are at the core of our mission.
In the latter stages of her dementia, my mother shared with me a surprisingly inspiring moment of clarity. “I just say what I have to say. You can’t worry how folks are going to react,” she said. I have upgraded that wisdom a bit. I say, “Live your life, and love the life you live.” Life is too short to worry about the trivial. Have faith that God is big enough, omniscient and omnipotent. God can handle the issues of sin, both inside and outside of the church. What if we focused our time and energy on loving our neighbors, loving our families and being a loving community? Let’s have faith that God is in control. God can reconcile the things we are fearful of, and God is in control of the big picture. We have to acknowledge that God is better at reconciliation through a transformative spiritual process than we are at any process we have put together. We are always going to fall short. I learned a long time ago that my life went better when I listened to my mama. She spoke from the heart. She didn’t fret about what others would think, but most importantly, she trusted God.
When we gather for the Delegate Assembly this May, and as you prepare in your local community, I asked you to come with a heart and attitude softened through transformation.
Our renewed commitments state, “The Holy Spirit dwells in and among us, transforming us to reflect God’s love. Through worship, the Spirit gathers the body of Christ, where our diversity reveals God’s beauty. The Spirit empowers our communities to embody the grace, joy, and peace of the gospel.” The Spirit is powerful, the Spirit speaks to us, and if we allow it, the Spirit can unite us.
Again, I thank you, Mennonite Church USA, for being a loving community in my time of grief. I hope that we can learn to share grace, joy and peace as we gather in our homes, congregations, conferences and as a denomination.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
Read more about this biennium’s theme, #BeTransformed, here.