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Let’s Not Neglect Mary, Full of Grace

MC USA published this article on their blog here.

Ever since preaching during my first pregnancy, I’ve been especially drawn to Jesus’ mother
Her pioneering spirit as the first disciple, the first human to say, “Yes!” to inviting Christ’s life to
weave into hers.
Her ability to calmly ponder things in her heart, as opposed to what I would likely do: totally
freak out (a.k.a. stay in the “perplexed” state of mind that she felt at first).
Her courage in leaving home for the sake of her loved ones.
Her flexibility with her birth plan that definitely didn’t go as expected.
Her enduring some of the most intense physical pain that humans can endure, squeezing
Joseph’s hand tight in unsanitary conditions with no meds and no reassuring doctors in sight.
And then her care for new life—not only in the early moments of nursing little Jesus, but in day-
in-day-out teaching, bathing, feeding, cleaning up after him, dealing with his two-year-old
tantrums and his 12-year-old independence, and singing him worldview-shaping and power-
upending songs as he fell asleep that might have started with lyrics like, “My soul proclaims the
greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior…”

And so for the last few years, I’ve lamented that those of us who are not Catholics are have not
always given Mary the respect she’s due (fear of deifying her, perhaps?)…

So in order to enhance our contemplative practices this Advent/Christmas season, here’s a
Mary roundup of a few things that honor this exemplary disciple and mother whose legacy of
care belongs to all of us.

” No Wind at the Window “: A colleague/friend recently recommended this song to me and it’s

See stained glass picture. My mother (also named Mary) brought back Madonna and Child from Kitengela Hot Glass in Kenya in 2011 and it’s been hanging in the kitchen window of each place I’ve lived in since.

An article by Nate Rauh-Bieri published last week by Sojourners compares the words of Mary’s song to the words and deeds of climate activists, especially young women and girls. Nate describes “the revolutionary power of language and the way it can ignite a shared desire for a just world.” 

Yale Center for Faith & Culture has a couple podcasts on Mary. This one is pretty interesting:
Mary Theotokos .

From my childhood: Sister Act’s “Hail Holy Queen” .

Artist Janet McKenzie : See her prints here. Pieces like “Holy Mother of Comfort and Solace,”
“Mary Mother of Mercy,” “Holy Family,” and “Madonna and Child with the Origami Angels”
feature diverse images of Mary. (Christmas gift idea: get someone in your life who loves Mary
the greeting card set #4 of all Mary images.)

Sherah-Leigh Gerber just wrote about Mary’s soul-piercing call in Anabaptist World. She eloquently says: “We all can be like Mary: willing, even when fearful…Our journey is one of endurance, for we are part of a people of promise. We have received a vision of what can be and carry the hope of what is to come.”

Classic “Ave Maria” with Andrea Bocelli.

From John Donne’s circular poem “La Corona” :
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou are now
Thy Maker’s maker, and they Father’s mother
Thou has light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.

A Madonna and Child painting by our very own Mary Ann Conrad, current congregant and
former youth pastor at Albuquerque Mennonite. She says: “I recommend painting a Madonna as
a spiritual exercise that has most likely moved people over the centuries…As I worked on this
painting I was amazed at how moved I was, first as the mother and second as the child in her
arms. And when the mouth of Jesus just would not take shape and turned into a pacifier— well,
that was a moment when the humanity and vulnerability of Jesus became real to me.”

And finally, a blessing from Joanna Harader’s Expecting Emmanuel: Eight Women Who
Prepared the Way
, a new book that’s coming at you highly recommended and inspired some of
my reflections here.

Mary’s Blessing
My fellow travelers—
you who flee danger,
and you who return home;
you who make a faithful pilgrimage,
and you who search for what is lost:
I cannot tell you where the road will lead,
who will accompany you,
or what stars might guide you.
I cannot promise ease or safety.
I cannot say whether you will have to turn around
to go back for something left behind.
I cannot guarantee that every blessing you receive on the way
will be a blessing you want.
But I hope this blessing is one you will carry,
a blessing to ride comfortably in your pocket,
or rest softly in your hands;
a blessing to accompany you, whatever the journey brings:
May you know God in your own heart
and in the heart of your faith community.
May you be brave toward your fear
and persistent through deep difficulties.
May you hold your responsibilities faithfully
and lightly—with grace and joy.
May you teach well
and learn well.
May you give attention and compassion
to the lives that surround you,
and to your own hard and beautiful life.


Mennonite Church USA delegates vote to become more LGBTQIA inclusive

Travis Clarke, delegate from our conference, reporting out from his table group
MC USA put me in their article. Ah!

Over Memorial Day weekend, a little over 500 delegates met in Kansas City to vote on three resolutions. The resolutions addressed making churches more accessible to those with disabilities and retiring the membership guidelines, a 20-year-old document that requires pastors’ credentials to be reviewed when they perform a same-sex marriage.

But the most controversial was the “Repentance and Transformation” resolution which passed by a slim majority at 55.7%. Written by a group called the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors, this resolution not only “rescinds” the membership guidelines but also confesses harm, affirms the gifts of LGBTQIA folks, and commits to inclusive actions in the future.

I attended this Kansas City delegate session with other representatives from around our conference. On the morning of the Repentance and Transformation vote, I woke up early (not the usual for a night owl like me) and I thought, “Well crap. I have to speak in front of 600ish people today, don’t I?” I felt deep down that it was time for me to share my perspective–that we are a conference with lots of diverse perspectives on this topic which is a beautiful thing, and that the Spirit is calling our denomination, like it called Jesus, to welcome those from the margins and draw them to the center.

So here’s an excerpt of what I said that MC USA published in this article:

Amy Zimbelman, conference minister, Mountain States Mennonite Conference, said: “We are a small conference, and we have a handful of churches that do not consider themselves to be LGBTQIA affirming. We are also the first conference to ordain an openly gay pastor … It’s been beautiful to see what happens when pastors and congregations who profoundly disagree with one another stay in fellowship together … When I study the Bible, I see a Jesus who hung out with all types of folks. It did not taint Jesus’ relationship with God’s Spirit to have a drink with diverse people — in fact, it was a sign of the coming Kingdom of Heaven that the marginalized are brought to the center … Let’s keep eating and drinking and learning together … with our marginalized LGBTQIA siblings.” 

In my full remarks (which required talking fast as we only had 2 minutes each), I talked about one pastor in his 80’s who got to know the LGBTQIA pastors in our conference and it changed his mind–he now affirms their role as pastors. He told me, “Who am I to hinder God’s call on their lives?”

I also talked about another pastor who only affirms heterosexual marriage to this day, but still gets drinks with Randy Spaulding, an openly gay pastor and one of the writers of this resolution. This pastor values their friendship, acknowledging that it asks more of Randy than it does of him.

Randy Spaulding (left) with this table group.

If these pastors who are more conservative on LGBTQIA inclusion had taken their ball and gone home years ago because they disagreed with others in our conference, there would be less fellowship across difference, less growth, less humanizing a controversial topic for them and their congregations. This resolution is not punitive–it’s not requiring any church to agree with the statements. It’s not forcing anyone to leave. It’s simply admitting that harm has been done and moving forward towards a future when all God’s children are welcome at the table and might even bring a casserole now and again.

And that’s something I’m glad God’s people could affirm.

Anabaptist World article here.

MC USA articles here and a clearinghouse of lots of MC USA articles about the weekend here.

Success! Faith & Life Forum educates, inspires

We learned about The Myth of the Perfect Victim: A Biblical Case for Taking Survivors Seriously at our virtual Faith & Life Forum on March 26, 2022. Our speaker was Rev. Dr. Susannah Larry, author of Leaving Silence: Sexualized Violence, the Bible, and Standing with Survivors.

Here’s the edited-down version of the event on YouTube:

Reviews from folks who attended the event include:

Excellent presenter. She was very well-prepared and made the material that is sensitive and could be uncomfortable very understandable.”

“The presentation was accessible and practical.”

“Excellent topic, excellent speaker, excellent leadership, excellent breakout spaces and facilitators.”

“One of the most educational events I have attended in Mountain States Mennonite Conference.”

Click on the video to see for yourself–hope you find it helpful and informative!

JOIN US! The Myth of the Perfect Victim: A Biblical Case for Taking Survivors Seriously

Click here to register.

Author, professor, and ordained minister Rev. Dr. Susannah Larry has a contagious passion for the Hebrew Bible and a commitment to Christ’s Church that she brings to all of her work. You won’t want to miss hearing from her. Please click here to register. Registration closes Wednesday, March 23 at 5:00 pm.

Every Lament is a Love Song: Three Leaders Speak About Lament and Hope

Mama Z with her grandbaby Owen

In loving memory of my mother-in-law, who passed away February 20, 2022. Thank you, Carol Zimbelman a.k.a. Mama Z, for showing your family and community God’s love in how you listened, quilted, crafted, cooked, hugged, and spoke. You’ve given us plenty to lament until we meet again.

The Stockdale Paradox has been in the back of my mind recently. The idea is this: You must have the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your reality, whatever they might be; at the same time you must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end.

The Stockdale Paradox arose out of the Vietnam War from the experiences of Jim Stockdale. He was a prisoner of war for 8 years without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He was tortured repeatedly, leaving lasting disabilities.

And he found that the prisoners of war who fell into despair and hopelessness didn’t survive. But those with another mentality also didn’t make it out alive: the optimists. The prisoners who glossed over the bad, who falsely reassured themselves: “We’ll be out by Christmas. We’ll be out by Easter,” only to see Christmas and Easter come and go—they died of broken hearts.

This paradox rings true no matter how difficult our situation: to stay healthy and sane, we must lament. We must give voice to the truth that things are not as they should be.

And then we must hope.

I asked three leaders in our conference how they go about lamenting and hoping in times like these, when the prayer request lists I see and pray over from our 17 churches are filled with individual and collective tragedies. If laments are the love songs of those who have loved deeply and lost, how do we sing those songs well, without falling into either false optimism or despair?

Here are excerpts from their thoughts, first on lament.

Brenda Fox of the Prayerstream ministry based in Boulder said that trauma separates us from our bodies, and that responses like overwhelm, anger, and rage can be ways of not being present and not feeling the depth of our discomfort and grief. One antidote is silence, both individually and collectively.

“When I heard about the Marshall Fire and I could see and smell the smoke, when I heard about Annie’s son [a young boy who died unexpectedly in a car crash], I felt nauseous. I felt unbalanced,” Brenda says.

So she turned to the spiritual discipline of silence.

“Silence was a spot where I could feel this wellspring of grief. Every tear that’s been shed is like the ocean—when I’m at the ocean I don’t try to understand it. I feel awe or playfulness, or mystery and fear. I feel deeply the solace that was there for me in the silence without having to figure out what to do—it puts that part of my head to bed for a little bit.”

“And silence with others—it’s deep and buoyant. My small drop of grief may be indistinguishable from the ocean, but it is carried by the presence of the ocean. [Collective silence] opens a spaciousness so that maybe movement would come from that place.

“Grief needs space,” she says. “It doesn’t need an answer.”

Hannah Martin, the children’s pastor at Beth-El Mennonite, sees lament as a major part of who she is: “I know it sounds weird, but I am the biggest lamenter,” Hannah says. “I love embracing suffering.”

She says that her lament practices include vocalizing to her community that things are not as they should be, and weeping.

“I weep for others. That’s what Jesus did. When you feel something, I should be able to feel it too, because being able to feel others’ pain and lament connects us and makes us human. Hebrews 13:3 says to remember the prisoner as if you’re chained to them. That’s the way I live out my faith.”

Hannah practices communal lament by sharing children’s books with the small humans under her care (see her list of favorites at the end of this article).

“I love to share truth, from both history and the present, where our kids can learn that their experiences aren’t the only experiences. Children’s books simplify hard things to grasp and create a space for understanding both what you’re going through and journeys you’ve never been on.” In other words, they’re a starting point for empathy.

Steve Ramer of Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship is also an experienced lamenter. Most of his sermons contain lament, as he is not afraid to name suffering and call out injustice. The yard in front of the church, and the church building itself, is also a kind of lament—folks are living there rather than in houses. The church’s Director of Outreach Renee Schmidt points out that the yard makes the public uncomfortable as a visible sign that things are not as they should be.

Steve says that it’s important to not be afraid of lament. Instead of running away from it, bring it to God and others through preaching and prayer.

“I think back to my childhood and I’ve faced some difficult times that were, in my mind, hopeless,” Steve says. “My mother who had depression, my own experiences of depression. It’s important to allow yourself to experience hopelessness and name it: ‘Oh God, I have no hope.’”

So where is hope to be found in the midst of all this suffering and lament?

Steve often finds that sitting with the discomfort might be a way through it: “What helps me find hope eventually is feeling hopeless and allowing myself to be there.”

Other practices, like appreciating art and music—especially the lyrics of U2 and Bruce Cockburn—and the beauty of creation, are also important to him: “Being in Colorado and looking at the mountains—how big and old they are, reminds me how little I am and my problems are in the scheme of things.”

And Steve also turns to community: “When I’m connected with others and in distress they can carry me through and vice versa.”

Like Steve, Hannah also believes that lamenting itself is vital: “I find hope in the lament,” she says. “When I am feeling the pain, it reminds me that I’m human and I have feelings for other people.”

Hannah’s laments then draw her into community with Jesus.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have that hope in Jesus, that I had someone with me bigger than me and that I’m not in control of it all,” Hannah says.

And she then looks around and finds herself in good company: “It is Christ-like to suffer and to suffer with others, and when someone else is upset by this injustice as well, it gives me hope,” Hannah says.

Brenda Fox also emphasizes the importance of dwelling in lament and cautions against rushing
to hope too quickly: “I’m a strong critic of our cultural use of hope,” she says, “this idea that I’ll just go through this little tunnel of grief and get out of it. I’ve worked a lot with survivors of war trauma, and I’ve seen that the next generation bears the marks of what the last generation refused to do . . .

“To be alive hurts. To have a body hurts. We bury our loved ones. If hope is a thread of endurance and comfort, then our culture needs to do a whole lot of work to weave a deeper hope. We need to construct a cultural context to grieve with each other. We have an opportunity to come together in new ways and old.”

Brenda describes the beauty of art, and an artist who made paint out of ashes from the East Troublesome Fire. She painted the cross section of a tree’s trunk, and people could draw a line for each person affected by the fire. The lines became the tree’s growth rings. “When God shows up, it’s beautiful,” Brenda says. “Even in a room with death, beauty goes on.”

East Troublesome Fire art installation

Hannah’s top book picks for lamenting and building empathy:
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfield
The Circles All Around Us by Brad Montague
The Flower Man by Mark Ludy
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (chapter book)
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (chapter book)

A Future of Peace (Not Endless War)

Click here for the Gazette article.

We made the front page of the Colorado Springs Gazette! At a community panel discussion on the future of warfare, a group of us sang, held signs, and engaged in conversations to bring attention to a future of active peacemaking/nonviolent resistance instead of endless war. So proud to be bringing the peace with my fellow Mennonites from across Mountain States Mennonite Conference in partnership with Colorado College students and other activists!

“Everything is Connected”: Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic

Gnostic (pronounced NAW-stick): a person who believes in the separation of the body and soul, usually privileging the soul.

“Soul and body, body and soul—how mysterious they were!…Who could say where the fleshly impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began? Was the soul a shadow seated in the house of sin? Or was the body really in the soul? The separation of spirit from matter was a mystery, and the union of spirit with matter was a mystery also.” From The Picture of Dorian Gray1.

Oscar Wilde’s classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray wrestles with the relationship between the body and soul. In the haunting tale written in 1890, Dorian’s body stays perpetually handsome and youthful while his soul is displayed apart from him—in a painting. As Dorian becomes more and more corrupt, the painting starts sporting a sneer, then wrinkles, and finally has blood on its hands.

And (spoiler alert!—but I trust 131 years is enough time to read it) the story does offer an answer to the soul/body question. Dorian finally attempts to destroy the picture of his deeper self that has become like an unwanted conscience to him. He finds a knife that will “kill this monstrous soul-life, and without its hideous warning he would be at peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it.”

He is later found on the floor: “a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was.”2 It turns out that body and soul were inseparable all along—there is no destruction of one without the other following suit.

Gnosticism, the belief that the body and soul are separate entities, and that the soul matters more than the body, began within Christianity in the First Century. The Church throughout time has decided that it’s not actually a Christian belief.

It wasn’t until I interrogated my faith full-time for three years (yeah divinity school!) that I realized how much one of the oldest heresies had infected my way of thinking, and that the separation of body and soul is bad for both.

But what’s really at stake? How might gnosticism affect us personally and collectively?

First, if our personal spirituality is disembodied, it is anemic. Faith is not about floating doctrines or ideas in space, unaffected by our actions. Bodily practices shape us. As Stanley Hauerwas says: “Christianity is to have one’s body shaped, one’s habits determined, in such a way that the worship of God is unavoidable.”3

Spiritual disciplines have stood the test of time as tools that have the power to connect us to the divine—whether Sabbath or meditation or voluntary poverty or service or fasting—and they can only be accomplished in our own bodies. It is by submitting the body to fasting or walking on a pilgrimage that the mind and soul may follow.

As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it: “There is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth—no real distinctions between secular and sacred, physical and spiritual, body and soul.”4 Therefore, our routines, our relationships, our day job matters greatly. Because, of course, we find in life that what we do, what we fill our minds and bodies with, eventually becomes who we are.

Furthermore, separating the body and soul can lead to hatred of one or both. In Dorian Gray’s story, he gave in to every bodily impulse and attempted to ignore his soul. But for many of us, the opposite is a struggle. 

In a pandemic that forces our bodies to be separated from one another by Zoom and masks, we may find ourselves hating our own vulnerable bodies, wishing for invincibility. The same can be true of racism that teaches people in the BIPOC community to be disconnected from their own bodies. And in a culture that pushes unattainable standards for how our bodies should look, women in particular may find ourselves hating our physical appearance, rejecting our bodies while somehow thinking we’re not rejecting “who we are.” (The language we use doesn’t help. One part of female anatomy—the pudendum (a.k.a. the vulva)—is literally translated “the part to be ashamed of.” There is no male equivalent.)5

A subconscious or conscious downplaying of the body can also, tragically, be a justification for abuse. John Piper, a public theologian and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, has said that women should endure a season of verbal abuse and occasionally “being smacked” by their husbands if it is “not requiring her to sin [spiritually] but simply hurting her [physically].”6  James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has said that some wives seek abuse for the “moral advantage” that a black eye gives them as a “martyr”7—as if women are just itching to elevate their ethical standing by sacrificing their bodies to their husbands’ fists. The logic justifying intimate partner violence is oftentimes undergirded by Jesus’ own suffering—he submitted to bodily torment and therefore abuse victims should too, presumably for the development of their character and the salvation of their marriage.

How tragic! Our bodies are beautiful and imperfect and complicated and deserve to be honored by ourselves and others, especially those closest to us. Abuse damages our whole person, not just our bodies; therefore, the justification and celebration of abuse and violence have no place in Christian thought.     

Gnostic thought is possibly even more destructive on a collective level. Gnosticism downplays or denies entirely the interconnectedness of all things. It starts with our individual bodies but then easily spreads this ideology to other bodies, like the body of the earth. This has real implications for our work of justice, especially creation care.

For much of my life, I believed that food/health/bodies were somehow in a separate realm from faith/the church/souls. Nurses and farmers worried about digestion and soil science and Brussels sprouts, while the church worried about right doctrine. It never occurred to me that the church potluck was a spiritual event—that who grew the food, the land and hands it came from, and our consuming it together were all things that mattered to our souls (clearly I hadn’t read enough Mennonite cookbooks!). It also never bothered me that the pastors I grew up listening to in the evangelical church didn’t preach against the fossil fuel industry’s destruction of people and the planet for the sake of profits. 

But from the Eucharist to the feeding of the 5,000 to turning water into wine to the countless meals Jesus shared with friends and “sinners,” we find that land, soil, and food matter. And from the many interactions Jesus has getting up close and personal with bodies, whether his own body in the incarnation, death and resurrection, or others’ bodies through touching or healing, we find that bodies matter. The Word could have stayed Word but it didn’t—it became Flesh and hung out with us in all of our complicated, messy realities.

So what’s the antidote to gnosticism? Unsurprisingly, the remedy is interconnectedness. As Sam Wells puts it: “The Church has no deeper work than reconciliation: its work is to reconcile people to God, to creation, to one another and to themselves.”8 Or to put it another way: “Everything is connected” Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si, “and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river, and mother earth.”9 An awareness of this interconnectedness is at the heart of deep spirituality, and is the means and end of our Christian lives.

Gnosticism is a pervasive and tenacious belief, and replacing one worldview with another takes time—I may very well be in recovery for the rest of my life. But hopefully my community can help me as we embrace that we are all in this together, that the physical and spiritual are inextricably linked, and that the body of the earth and our own needy and vulnerable bodies are always, always deserving of love.

1. Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900, The Picture of Dorian Gray. (London; New York: Penguin, 2003), 62.

2. Ibid, pp. 228-229.

3. Stanley Hauerwas, “The Sanctified Body” in Embodied Holiness, ed. Samuel M. Powell and 

Michael E. Lodahl. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 22. 

4. Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World. (New York: HarperCollins, 2009).

5. Rachel E. Gross, “Taking the ‘Shame Part’ Out of Female Anatomy” The New York Times. September 21, 2021 at 

6. Amy DeRogatis, Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism. (New York: Oxford, 2015), 102.

7. Kathryn Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009), 84.

8. Samuel Wells, A Future That’s Bigger Than the Past (London: Canterbury Press, 2019), 27.

9. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (Given in Rome at St Peter’s, 2015). Accessed September 24, 2021 at 

Blessed Unproductivity

I recently preached a sermon at Beth-El entitled Blessed Unproductivity (a.k.a. sacred downtime, holy rest, Sabbath). You can listen to the audio here.

Some thoughts from the sermon:

Why be blessedly unproductive? Because humility is hard to come by, and if the creator took a breather, then the world will almost assuredly not fall apart if we relax for a bit. Another way to say it is: The Sabbath teaches all beings who to praise.

Why be blessedly unproductive? Because it reminds us of our interconnectedness to each other, which grows in us a hunger for justice. We work for a world where no one would have to work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. Where workers have (not the privilege but) the right to a day off. 

And, likewise, that the land would not be exploited but would also practice jubilee: “Sabbath is a gift to the tired fields and animals . . . Just because the land and the livestock cannot hire lawyers doesn’t mean that they haven’t been violated.” This practice is infused with a vision of humane life for all creatures. As Pope Francis just said in an address a few weeks ago: “If we learn to truly rest, we become capable of true compassion.”

Why be blessedly unproductive? Because it has everything to do with heaven. It is the culmination of creation. It is Shalom here on earth. In the life to come, we will not need to labor to make ends meet. We will not need to do missions outreach anymore. We will have right relationships. Sabbath gives us a window to look into the reality of heaven.

As Rabbi Heschel says: “The Sabbath, thus, is a profound conscious harmony of humans and the world, a participation in the spirit that unites what is below and what is above. All that is divine in the world is brought into union with God. This is Sabbath, and the true happiness of the universe.”

Why be blessedly unproductive? Because it connects us to creation.

I want to share this poem by Wendell Berry called The Peace of Wild Things:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Listen to the sermon here for more of the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of Blessed Unproductivity/Sabbath. And a shout out to some of my mentors on this topic: Abraham Heschel, Wendell Berry, Barbara Brown Taylor, Lauren Winner, Mary Oliver, and of course, Anita Amstutz, an active leader at Albuquerque Mennonite in our conference who wrote a book on this very topic.

Beyond Hallmark: Ideas for Honoring your Pastor

MennoMedia is publishing a series of resources entitled What now? Leading churches through Covid and they asked me to write a piece with ideas for honoring pastors during October, which is Pastor’s Appreciation Month. So here are 18 ideas for appreciating your pastor(s), organized via the five love languages. Hope it sparks some appreciation!

For highest quality and to be able to share the article, you can click to download it here. Or just scroll down to see a screenshot…

Summer Intern Sidney Nuñez Helps Kick Off Future Anabaptist Leaders Program

SIdney explains her liturgical artwork.

Mountain States Mennonite Conference is starting a new program called the Future Anabaptist Leaders program. Basically, we’re excited about empowering the next generation to try on leadership roles in our churches and passion ministries. Young adults ages 18-30 can spend a summer or school year serving our area ministries to offer their gifts and perspectives and help us envision what the future of the church will look like, while learning from us about the great things happening in Mountain States.

To learn more, check out the Future Anabaptist Leaders program info on our website here.

We’re setting up a fund that you can donate to here. Your donation is matched by our conference up to $6,000!

And now to highlight the pioneering intern who served the conference this summer and whose internship is now, sadly, coming to an end:

9 Questions for Summer Intern Sidney Nuñez (of varying degrees of importance)

By Rev. Amy Zimbelman

Sidney Nuñez has been Preaching, Painting, and Peacemaking in an internship this summer. She’s supported by her home congregation of East Holbrook in Cheraw, Pastor Brian Hanneken, and Pastor Amy Zimbelman of Mountain States Mennonite Conference. Shes been having holy conversations with church and nonprofit leaders, guest preaching, sharing some of her art (at RAWtools event in late June and MSMC Assembly in late July), exploring her sense of call to ministry, and more.

I recently sat down with Sidney and was able to ask some hard-hitting questions.

1) Dogs or cats?

Dog for sure. 

Obviously we’re off to a good start here with the correct answer to that question.

2) Most used emoji?

Probably the rolling on the floor laughing emoji.

3) So who exactly are you?

I am Sidney Nuñez. I have brown hair and brown eyes which you can’t see because I’m squinting them laughing all the time—usually I have the loudest laugh in the room. I’m a mom, wife, business owner, artist, and professional dreamer. My business is interior design—I redo kitchens, bathrooms, etc. I also paint indoor and outdoor murals. Basically, I make peoples’ houses pretty. 

4) Most people hate public speaking. What makes you different, in that you want to preach?

When I began to register this “quiet call” it was so faint the only thing I could figure out was that I was supposed to share something. What that was exactly? No clue. Then as I listened more, I realized that I was supposed to be sharing God’s word. Then I was asked if I would give the message at our church. What do you say when you feel God’s presence in a question? I don’t like public speaking, or standing while people are sitting, or even writing for that matter, but “Yes!” was my answer. I know He goes before me, and through this faith, I found confidence. Then when I was asked again, I delivered my second message to the congregation. Shortly after that, my husband and I had a conversation with our pastor, Brian and his wife Twila. He asked if I would prayerfully consider a future in ministry; I thought God’s call suddenly got louder. 

With the conference minister as my advocate, I’ve had more opportunities to develop and practice my preaching skills as I get to know the 17 churches in our conference.

5) What makes you interested in peacemaking?

Under Pastor Amy’s leadership, I’ve had access to a variety of leaders who are doing God’s work in Colorado and New Mexico and I’m eager to become a part of that positive impact. As a young woman of equal parts Caucasian and African American origins, 2020 was a truly eye-opening year for me. I grew more knowledgeable about the struggle and oppression of some of my ancestors and the privilege of others. 

Another reason for my personal growth of recent years is my wonderful spouse. Having a husband who is here as an immigrant from Mexico has shown me a perspective that I would have otherwise been blind to. I now know loving others who are different from us changes us for the better and helps us grow in compassion. I know that I have a story that some may need to hear, but now I am curious—who out there has a story that I need to hear? Whose voice hasn’t been heard? I’ve realized recently that I want to hear from those who are weak, downcast, mistreated, or poor. I want to support and build up those who are oppressed, without peace, needing hope, or seeking a savior. What I want to learn most is: how can I best serve them? 

6) On a scale of 1 to favorite thing ever, how much do you like painting?

Painting—which involves using our hands while using the creative parts of our brain—is a passion of mine. We all have experiences of falling victim to things like loneliness, anxiety, bitterness, depression, anger issues, and negative thought patterns; taking our thoughts and energy and committing them to a task like painting changes those thought patterns and de-stresses the body. But in addition to fighting against the darknesses in our minds, art can also connect us with community. This summer I’ve been using my artistic gifts to strengthen both individuals and the community as a whole. 

My favorite way of doing this is by hosting painting events/classes. I’ve seen how painting together can strengthen relationships, and I’m excited to be bringing this to the conference. [Note: Sidney’s painting workshop at Annual Assembly was very well attended and received lots of positive feedback!]

7) I ask all the pastors this question, and since you’re considering pastoral ministry, I think it’s time to ask you: 

Would you rather have a tail that wags when you’re happy, or hair all over your body, even your face?

Tail for sure. Hair all over your body seems itchy, for one. Also I have an ant allergy—that would get tricky with hair all over—they could get lost. When I get bit by an ant I get loopy, and too many bites could be bad. Every time I get un-humble I remember that God can take me out with an ant.

Okay that question took an interesting turn. 🤣

8) If you were a wrestler what would be your entrance theme song? 

Kanye West’s Selah.

(Cue the music, especially the “Hallelujah” part. I think it can be applied to internship entrances and exits, not just wrestlers.)

9) Anything else? 

I put “praising my savior all the day long” at the end of pretty much everything. Not sure if that’s relevant to this.

There you have it. Feel free to donate to Sidney’s internship and future interns by clicking here. If you donate $40 or more before August 31, 2021, we’ll send you a free print of her artwork! We hope you’ve been able to connect with the loud laugh and engaging, faith-filled presence of Sidney Nuñez around the conference this summer, as she praises her savior all the day long.