By Scott Roth
Scott Roth is a credentialed leader in Franconia Mennonite Conference that is exploring and creating cultural masterpieces through Urban Expression North America and Young Life. Some of his current projects are the reconciliation of Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences, directing Bike & Sol, a community non-profit bicycle shop, and establishing and growing the ministries of Young Life in the Upper Perkiomen School District. Roth frequently speaks and writes for organizations and publications on youth formation, community development and incarnational ministry.
This post is a reflection from the Conference Ministers’ Gathering, in Banff, Alberta, Canada, December 4-7, 2019.
I am a sinner. I attend a church full of sinners, and Jesus died for my sins. This is a common way of viewing our identity with Christ. I often have been taught and heard these phrases. Yet, I do not hear the fact that we are, first and foremost, beloved. Beloved by our Creator, in whose image we are made. The one who lived and showed us a way to live that is epic compared to our own human condition. The one who died and rose from the grave to create a bridge for us through grace to be with him forever! Why? Because our Creator loves us.
This was the narrative from our time in Banff, Alberta, Canada. Conference ministers from Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) and Mennonite Church Canada retreated to the Canadian Rockies to reflect and engage with Betty Pries, CEO of Credence & Co., Kitchener, Ontario, and Sue Park-Hur, MC USA’s denomination minister for Transformative Peacemaking. They led sessions on dealing with conflict in a variety of ways and scenarios, showing how we can realize our own story and the story of others as they intertwine in conflict. I cannot do the teachings justice by trying to summarize every nuance, but I want to reflect on us, as a denomination, and on what it means to be a people that is beloved.
Conflict resolution starts at the core of recognizing that each person is beloved by God. At our essence, we are children of God – individually and wonderfully made. As we see this, it is our basis for handing any conflicts that arise between us. We start with that foundation and build from there with an attitude of curiosity.
Think of a time in your life when you were at odds with someone. Was it your first instinct to understand and know where the other person was coming from? Or was it to try to defend and debate your side of the story? In other words, are we ok with trying to understand the other person with whom we are in conflict? Do we take the time to really dig deep with them and plunge the depths of their “why” regarding the conflict? It is through this curiosity of understanding that we can begin to build a bridge that leads to a restored relationship.
Many times, this is easier than healing “systems.” Systems get created over time and are reflective of those who have power and authority of the system. I am sure that if you take time, you can name many broken systems. Apply the same principle that those put in authority and power of these systems are beloved by God. In my heart of hearts, I don’t want to hear that about certain systems! I mean, come on, Jesus, can’t you just smite them off the earth, so we don’t have to deal with them?
As I continue to reflect on the Conference Ministers’ Gathering, I think of Jonah. Jonah had this attitude about Nineveh, the capital seat of the Assyrian Empire and a city that took three days to cross. This was a system. Jonah wanted God to smite the whole city. He was so entrenched in his thinking that he was willing to be thrown into the sea to avoid God’s plan. Wow, that is stubborn!
Even dealing in a system situation, we see that having a beloved attitude would have changed what Jonah was looking to do. His approach would have been different, because his heart would have viewed the people of Nineveh differently.
We need to be a people who know we are beloved and seek to show others they are beloved. Over the years, I have watched many people leave faith communities without ever really recognizing that all involved are beloved. Can we start doing this more? Can we see the other person sitting across the table as beloved – no matter what they may think or do? Can we plunge into the depths of their lives with curiosity to know them?
I leave you with this quote from Betty Pries: