Mennonite or Not?

She sat in the backseat of our car with her crooked, disarming smile, a swatch of reddish gold hair hanging over one eye.

“So – did you grow up this way, or not? Mennonite, I mean.”

So out-of-the-blue, unexpected. Why did I cringe?

“No…” My words sounded little and shy, even to my own ears. Did I feel ashamed of my answer? Could I claim my heritage with thanksgiving? Why did it feel like less to offer?  “No, I didn’t. It wasn’t till I was almost seventeen.”

“I thought so!” Her reply sounded sure, convinced.

I sat quiet and my mind swirled with an array of conflicting thoughts. Why did she think I wasn’t Mennonite my whole life? I guess I am a poor representation of Mennonites after all.

“What do you mean? Why did you think I wasn’t Mennonite my whole life?” I asked. The curiosity would eat away at me if I didn’t.

“I don’t know,” Her voice trailed off and she looked out the window for a moment. “You have a sense of humor. They’re so sober. I like a sense of humor.”

My brain feels taxed and overwhelmed. How do I interact in this conversation? There’s a conflict somewhere and I’m sitting right smack dab in the middle of it. What do I say?

We talked about conflict in Sunday School, conflict between believers and conflict between the unsaved and the saved. We pondered questions like, How can conflict be resolved? and What are the main sources of conflict?

“Cultural barriers,” Someone had said. Why had my stomach churned furiously then, at that moment? Why had my heart struggled with ridicule and compassion and conviction, my feelings clashing loudly and frantically entangled?

1) I despise labels. (Suit yourself, but I don’t like being shrink-wrapped and nicely packaged into a stereotype.) I’ve heard so many discussions where it seems to come down to the single question: Are you Mennonite or not? Why are we always looking for a label?

2) I climbed out of bed this morning and thought to myself: Treat people like a project and they become one. I feel like I’m just learning (in almost my twenty-sixth year of life) to simply love people, free of agendas. Jesus allowed me to feel like someone’s project and it opened up a transformational depth of understanding. Treat people like a project and they become one.

3) The ultimate purpose of my life is pretty straightforwardly simple: make disciples of Jesus. It’s why I hate cultural barriers and labels and stereotypes. Was Jesus Mennonite? So what does it mean to make disciples of Jesus? What does that look like?

She spoke words that both warmed and scandalized my heart. She brought the conflict to my doorstep and casually, honestly plopped it down to stare me in the face.

1) I love the people in my church. They make me laugh, they confound me, I enjoy them, they love me. I am inspired by the many sacrifices they make for each other. They convict me.

2) I am frustrated with Mennonite culture. Shouldn’t Jesus be more approachable than this? She clarifies my struggle with her innocent remarks. I know the reality of the people I go to church with, but why is it a reality veiled to the rest of the world? Why do the people in my church – only sinners, saved by grace – seem sterile and untouchable?

I am greatly conflicted.

I am certain this is only part one to the thought process. And the blog posts.

I am confident that no matter what conclusions I make (or don’t make), I am bankrupt without love.

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9 thoughts on “Mennonite or Not?

  1. WOW!!! Love your writing and I can so identify with it cause I’ve been asked the same question many times but I was raised a Mennonite from birth… This stirred my thoughts in many ways… can’t put them all into words at the moment but thanks for sharing your heart!! I have been told I am the most nonmennonite Mennonite a person has met;) Don’t know whether that is a compliment or not!!! God’s love needs to be shown to Mennonites and nonmennonites!!! Why is it easier for me to do one then the other??:( Lord may all the not like you things in my heart be gone and may I love others with the great love you have lavished upon me…

  2. Renee, for several years now it has bothered me that people want to put a label on me. I know what i was and i know what i am today, i am a follower of Jesus Christ so that makes me a Christian. I hate labels, it takes away from Christ. So shine for him! My love, Holley

  3. This is really good. We/I am increasingly aware of how labels hinder Christ’s work… interestingly, Jesus himself refrained from associating with only one people, but mingled with Jew and Gentile, sinner and saint alike. Maybe it’s impossible to reach concrete conclusions, but thanks for the reminder that it’s possible to love no matter the culture.

  4. This is so good… I’ve often struggled with these questions and the best answers, yet it is so hard for me to clearly put into words! Thanks for your inspiring thoughts!

  5. Renee~
    I was looking at you in church this morning, thinking about how beautiful you are and being amazed by what God is doing through you.

    These questions you ask are much the same as mine. I have wrangled with them again and again, hashed out with my family late into the night …and still i (and we) ask them. Are elements of our culture a hindrance to the gospel? How do we magnify Jesus and not a certain culture? What is culture, and what is Truth? What does a Jesus culture look like? How can we, the Jesus people, be approachable and accessible, as Jesus was, to sinners??

    I am often frustrated with these unanswered questions, and sometimes I am frustrated that they keep resurfacing and I don’t feel real if I don’t ask them.

    but this, i know…

    1) Only Jesus gives life. My very wise dad, who asks questions himself, says this is the only thing worth living for….follow Jesus. I know that this is his highest goal for his children…not “follow Jesus and…” but simply, seek to know and to imitate the Person of Jesus Christ. He tells us to read the rest of the Scripture through the lens of the gospels. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    2) You are absolutely right, that we are bankrupt without love. We often hear, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” but what are the first two commandments?? Love God, love your neighbor as yourself.

    3) I want to get together for coffee. 🙂

    Love,
    Rosanne

  6. Somehow your blog has not been on my radar. The other night I was awake and on facebook using Geryll’s phone. I saw a link to your blog and devoured several posts. Your writing is candid and challenging, just like you.

    Rosanne says well what I as a life long Mennonite wrestle with again and again. Mennonites need to hear what you and your young friend have to say.

    I’ve been much more deliberately friendly to the people I meet in the days since I’ve read this 🙂 I say, “God, save me from giving people a sour picture of You are!”

  7. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails
    with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service?

    Cheers!

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