Barbara Yoder teaches English as a Second Language at the University of Kansas. Formerly, she worked as an art museum educator at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee. She and her husband, Roger Martin, belong to Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kansas, where they both serve on the worship committee. This piece was written as a companion to Roger’s post, The night I didn’t fight.
My husband and I are driving home late at night, and I’m in tears. We’ve come from the latest meeting of a group of friends who’ve gathered since 2003 to eat hors d’oeuvres and discuss a wide array of topics. Tonight the focus was prejudice.
As I predicted and dreaded, hurtful things were said about the group I most identify with – Christians.
I’m Mennonite, born and raised. My husband Roger, is newer to the faith. We met at our small church in a Midwestern university town, and most of our friends are non-believers.
Tonight wasn’t the first time my friends had lambasted Christianity in my presence, and it wasn’t the first time I’d driven home in tears. But it was the first time I seriously considered quitting the group.
When my friends had said hurtful things in the past, I’d explained with cool reason that Mennonites didn’t fit their sense of Christians. I’d said that Jesus preached loving-kindness, peace, justice and tolerance, qualities these good folks hold dear. I described how Mennonites practice Jesus’ radical example of non-resistance, and how our ancestors were martyred by the thousands for it.
I distinguished between “Christians” and Christians — some may have co-opted Jesus’ title, but others tried to enact his teachings.
This went nowhere.
Tonight, when a group member spoke of her prejudice against Christians, I knew she meant Christian fundamentalists, not Mennonites. The formerly Catholic retired professor of nursing said that her sister’s life was wrecked when, as a young woman, she had joined a “rabid born-again sect.” Upon her death, divorced from both spouse and Catholicism, she was refused burial in the local Catholic cemetery. I can see why my friend became a Buddhist.
This story opened the door to a torrent of angry comments. Someone, perhaps sensing my discomfort, submitted that there’s a difference between fundamentalists and other Christians, but her comment was lost in the din. At least that’s how I remember things.
Roger experienced the discussion differently. He felt none of my distress and alienation, and he tried to soothe my feelings on the drive home. But the unsootheable feelings burrowed in and set up housekeeping.
Should I stay or quit?
For several weeks, I searched myself and scripture for answers.
While my first inclination was to quit, my second was to pray. I prayed to feel better. I prayed for my friends, prayed to love them. I prayed for God’s will. I prayed to embody Christ. I prayed that my light might shine. I sound like a goody-two-shoes, I know.
In her book, “Help, Thanks, Wow,” Anne Lamott talks about prayers said in desperation. “God help me,” is a great prayer, she writes, “ … as we are then at our absolutely most degraded and isolated, which means we are nice and juicy with the consequences of our best thinking and are thus possibly teachable.”
I explored scripture, too. Jesus says we should be happy when people insult or mistreat us for his sake. “Rejoice and be glad, because a great reward is kept for you in heaven” (Matt. 5:11). I chafed at the thought of doing the right thing for a carrot, my heavenly reward, so I kept searching. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says we ought to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. This too, didn’t feel quite right.
I did feel mistreated, but the offenders were my friends, not my enemies.
Maybe all this praying and supplicating and reading did result in my best thinking. Maybe I’ve been teachable, too. All I know is that one day, I probed the sore spot in my heart, and it no longer hurt. I realized it was over. I knew without a doubt I would stay. The next meeting is at our house, and the choice of topic is ours to make.