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.