Bending the curve toward love and life

Jul 2, 2015 by

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I dreamed I was at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, Mo. In a seminar, we were each to remember an experience of God’s grace. My dreaming mind went to this true story:

When I was seven, I ate bananas intended for something else. We lived on a four-lane Mexico City street with a tree-lined median. Racing to the median, I dumped the evidence then ran back — forgetting cars. With screaming brakes and horn, a Jeep hit me.

A nearby stoplight had turned red; traffic was slowing; I was more bruised in ego than body. I scrambled up, pretended getting hit by cars was standard fare for me, and ran home as the driver stared.

I won’t claim detailed metaphorical connections while offering impressions from Kansas City 2015, but herewith some broad links:

First is being launched by a minor decision into near-catastrophe. Small moves can have large consequences. Many of us are feeling this at KC 2015. As hymns are chosen, worship leaders decide what to highlight, speakers connect our circumstances with the Luke 24 disciples mourning dead Jesus, we’re attending to the smallest nuances.

We hear of gun-rights exercisers in tension with the local Moslem mosque. We learn of tiny gestures of reconciliation growing between two alienated communities. “Are we really who we say we are? Or is ours an idle tale?” we’re asked. We also engage endless war, abuse, justice amid racism, a remembrance of the Native Americans others of us displaced and more. But over it all swirl LGBTQ-related dynamics as we wait to learn whether sexuality discernment becomes a Jeep hitting MC USA.

I asked KC 2015 participants whose journeys with God catch my attention to offer impressions, hopes, fears. L. Keith Weaver, moderator of Lancaster Mennonite Conference, touches on our mix of feelings amid not knowing what the small or larger gestures of coming hours will produce:

I am feeling an awkward mix of joy and grief as I greet and worship with friends and colleagues in MC USA. It is a joy to experience God’s presence in his gathered people, celebrating God’s redeeming grace and sustaining love. There is also grief in knowing that conflicting values will make it difficult to experience the organizational unity we had hoped could emerge. God grant us mercy and grace as we seek to follow Jesus on the way.

A second broad link is loss of control amid chaos. I had some ability to make choices before and after being struck. Yet when I failed to anticipate traffic, chaos took control.

At KC 2015, wise folks are paying attention to traffic amid prayerful awareness that a Jeep could wreck our discernment. Still, so much we don’t control. The discernment is unfolding not only across many layers of MC USA but also entities some may join instead of MC USA. Decisions across any layer can cause unpredictable ripples and counter-moves.

Among many naming the consequent anxiety is Theda Good, a pastor at First Mennonite Church in Denver. Good anticipates renewing and building relationships at convention but is also “aware of the anxiety in the family system.”

“I feel it,” she said.

Lois Johns Kaufmann, conference minister for Central District Conference, confesses to:

. . . anxiety as I think about the weight of our work together and the range of expectations we brought with us. This feels like a pivotal moment in the life of our church. It is a crucial time, not because the way will be crystal clear by the end of the week, but because this is not a business-as-usual convention.

Many are experiencing heavy hearts. Echoing Weaver on grief, they doubt any discerners can control an outcome that holds us institutionally together. There is sorrow that this may be their last MC USA convention.

The third broad link with my story — the care of a gracious God — places me on shaky ground. If God’s care spares me, why do countless others, equally deserving, appear not to receive it? Still I believe that in ways we can’t reduce to formula, God bends the curve of Creation toward life and love.

Maybe God didn’t bend the curve toward life after a boy hid banana peels. Yet I’ll trust there was a divine nudge in my dream of telling KC2015 participants that being spared death by Jeep was an experience of God’s care. I’ll trust this amid the longing many feel for God to bend this moment’s curve toward love and life.

Good’s hope is “that we will find ways to love, honor and cherish each and every family member while acknowledging we do not and will not agree on so many different topics.” She believes “The sexuality conversation will not be the last in which we will hold strong divergent views.” Good trusts that as the curve bends “we will find our way and continue to be known as a church of love and peacemakers.”

Harold N. Miller, pastor, Trissels Mennonite Church, thinks the week may “be good for the church. Perhaps it’s trust that our leaders have good instincts for what will hold the church together.”

He said:

Perhaps it’s a deep hope that our delegates are committed to “listen to the Scriptures for guidance” (in the delegates’ Table Group Covenant Litany), that we won’t abandon one teaching stance without deliberate, churchwide Bible study to discern whether we should embrace a new stance or affirm the Membership Guidelines resolution.

“The only explanation that is certain,” Miller stresses, “is that my peace was a gift from the Spirit of God.”

Johns Kaufmann concludes:

More than anxiety, I feel grateful to be part of this church I love, participating in the hard and holy work of being in community. A wise person once said that every relationship is an opportunity for spiritual growth, because every relationship forces us to let go of illusions. I wonder what illusions God is asking me and us to release.

Michael A. King is Dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va., and publisher of Cascadia Publishing House LLC. He is blogger and editor of Kingsview & Co.

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