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 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/21/science/pudendum-women-anatomy.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Science 

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 athttps://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html 

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.

Turning Waste Into Walls in Taos

Can I just say: I know the coolest people?!

Pastor Zach Martinez and Todd Wynward (both credentialed in Mountain States Mennonite Conference!) along with Ryno Herrera dropped yet another great podcast recently. This one is about what happened when the city of Taos decided to no longer recycle plastic, and folks at TiLT decided to take matters into their own hands–they’ve figured out how to divert plastic from landfills and instead turn it into all sorts of structures like benches, storage sheds, wind shields, etc.

Check out their PODCAST HERE and a short video to see them actually create a structure here:

Assembly Myths . . . BUSTED!

Since registration is open and things are falling into place for the event, I set out to debunk the most common myths about Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s Annual Assembly, which will be held in Cañon City this year July 30-Aug 1.

Myth: Assembly will be lame this year.

Fact: Assembly will be fun this year. Come on, is it ever not fun?

Myth: There’s really no way of knowing the theme of Assembly.

Fact: The theme this year is Blessed Unproductivity: Resting, laughing, and playing our way towards heaven (on earth). And the scripture that’s centering us is: “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” -Luke 12:27. And the centering poem is Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. Google it.

Myth: Cañon City? That’s super far away.

Fact: You have been totally willing to travel long distances to watch your favorite sports team lose, visit your grandchildren, lounge at the beach, and/or attend Comic Con. How about a couple hours out of your usual commute to spend time with your buddies (or soon-to-be buddies) from Colorado and New Mexico attempting to follow Jesus just like you? I could be wrong, but I feel like that’s not too much to ask.

Myth: You can pretty much show up anytime in July or August and Assembly will be occurring.

Fact: Assembly will be one weekend only this year (like every year). That weekend is July 30-August 1, 2021.

Myth: I don’t have to register until the last minute if I’m attending virtually.

Fact: Registration closes Friday, July 23 at 5:00 pm for everyone. Attendance at the Sunday morning service does not require registration.

Myth: No one has recorded anything about the Abbey event complex’s history. It’s an enigma.

Fact: The Abbey was started by Benedictine monks who moved to the area from Pennsylvania in 1886 for missionary work. Learn more in this issue of Zing! or here.

Myth: Wait, are these real myths you’re busting?

Fact: Okay, so full disclosure: I may have created most of these myths to then debunk them, so technically the myths themselves are myths, but they’re fun right? Just keep reading and don’t worry too much about it.

Myth: If you attend assembly, you have to leave your artistic expression at home.

Fact: We have a professional artist and conference intern Sidney Nuñez who can lead you in a Bob Ross-style painting workshop. We’ll also have a talent show on Saturday night where you can share all the flute, tambourine, acrobatic, and stand up comedy skills you’ve been withholding from us until now.

Myth: There’s no winery nearby.

Fact: There’s a winery nearby that you’re totally welcome to visit!

Myth: But isn’t Covid still a thing?  

Fact: Yes. Please do not attend if you are diagnosed with Covid or experiencing Covid symptoms—we will waive our refund policy and give you a full refund if you need to cancel for that reason. 

Everyone in attendance is encouraged to wear masks. We strongly encourage anyone unvaccinated and children over age 2 to wear masks. The majority of our children’s activities are planned for the outdoors, and some adult activities will be outdoors as well. We’ll also have hand sanitizing stations available, and folks will be able to socially distance as family units during mealtimes. NOTE: We are in the process of re-evaluating these guidelines and will give you updates if things change.

For anyone who is uncomfortable with these restrictions, please join us virtually, as we are offering a hybrid option this year!

Myth: Every second of my time will be scheduled for the whole weekend.

Fact: There are many times you could steal away for downtime, PLUS two whole hours on Saturday morning are devoted to blessed unproductivity which includes socializing, board/card gaming, sports, hikes, or whatever else accomplishes very little while being very enjoyable. (Someone snuck in a service project during that time too…not sure how that got under the radar.)

Myth: I heard the speakers will be lame.

Fact: Ouch.

Myth: The jovial spirit of this article makes a mockery of the serious tone that must be established for any serious Assembly.

Fact: Lol. Did you hear the subtitle? Resting, laughing, and playing our way towards heaven (on earth). Sounds like you need lightening up the most. Maybe at Assembly this year?

So there you have it. Real and fake myths busted just in time to register for Assembly. See you there!

Gun Violence Prevention Roundtable June 25-27, 2021

What a wonderful and challenging weekend of discussing, learning, and acting to prevent gun violence in our communities! So glad that Mountain States Mennonite Conference could partner with RAWtools to make this happen (along with other lovely sponsors: Boulder Mennonite Church, Mennonite Central Committee, and Everence). Highlights for me included seeing my pastoral intern Sidney Nuñez share her gifts via live artwork, watching the moving documentary Beating Guns (that literally caused tears to stream down my cheeks in the first 4 minutes, whew!), hearing from a panel discussion that included our very own Pastor Claudia, whacking a gun into submission (a.k.a. into a garden tool), and meeting Shane Claiborne, who was very nice to me despite my awkwardness (does anyone else out there get weird around famous people even if they’re only famous in certain smallish circles? . . . No? . . . Just me? . . . Okay cool.)

Here’s a prayer I’d like to share by Mennonite Church USA Staff with Mike Martin, director of RAWtools. I’m adding Boulder to the list as it joins the (way too) many cities devastated by gun violence.

Lord, hear our grief…

We pray for the lives lost in Boulder, Colorado, Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois, which join the climbing number of those lost to gun violence in America.
Comfort the mourning, the grieving, the broken-hearted.
Compel our prayers to turn into actions.
May the triggers of our streets be beaten into plowshares.
May the triggers of our hearts be met with the open arms of our neighbors.
May we trust in the transformative power of your refining fire.
Forge us to be instruments of your peace.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
May our posture be of a readiness to steady a plowshare.
May we take hold of your olive branch that plots for peace.
May the plowshare break the earth of senseless violence.
May the furrows bring us a harvest of solace, a never-ending rest from violence.
May we sit under the vine and fig, on earth as it is in heaven.
May it be so. Amen.

What happens when a congregation’s boundaries aren’t healthy? (And some ideas for a vaccine)

As I write this, I got my second Covid vaccination today, one step ahead of the general public as a credentialed faith leader. (Yay for connecting in person again FINALLY!)

Well before vaccinations, physicians knew that people who had an infection one time recovered more quickly if infected again—and these people were said to have “wise blood.” The Covid vaccine is, of course, giving me “wise blood” without the disease—it’s training my body to recognize Covid so that if the real thing comes, my cells will have the information they need to neutralize its threat it before it takes over.

How does a congregation function like a good immune system and say, “We love you–but no, that’s not who we are”?

As Peter Steinke writes in his book Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach, congregational bodies are very similar to human bodies. Anxious and destructive forces are constantly a threat to our congregations. And just like in our individual bodies, the church community needs to be clear about what is self and what is not self. Is that new ministry idea in line with our mission and vision? Who should become a leader? Is that negative behavior something we want to tolerate? In other words, our church organism needs a healthy immune system. We need wise blood.

But what happens when a threat starts taking root in our congregation: a wave of gossip and hurtful criticism finds its way into the mouths of many congregants, or a church treasurer singlehandedly makes financial decisions to punish a pastor he doesn’t like, or a leader sexually harasses a congregant? (All real-world examples unfortunately.) How does a congregation function like a good immune system and say, “We love you—but no, that’s not who we are”? 

In some denominations, the “immune response” would come primarily from external entities, like a vaccine. In the Methodist Church, for instance, if a pastor committed misconduct, the bishop and district superintendent would be responsible to deal with it. 

But Mennonite polity (polity: form of government, a.k.a. how power works) is much more grassroots, in the anti-authority tradition of the Radical Reformation. Unlike Catholics, Methodists, or Episcopalians, Mennonite Conference Ministers and MC USA staff can influence congregations but hold minimal power of accountability. In Mountain States Mennonite Conference, conference-level leaders can grant or remove credentials but they cannot hire or fire anyone, or remove any leader (elder, church chair, treasurer, etc.) no matter how serious the offense—rape and murder included. 

So who keeps the church healthy when general anxiety or a real threat take hold? 

The answer comes from within the body: leaders in the congregation are tasked with this work. 

Because of these power dynamics, I’ve seen that mature, courageous church leaders who are in tune with the congregation make all the difference in the health of Mennonite churches—both formal leaders like pastors and elders, and informal leaders like church matriarchs and patriarchs who may have no official title but are often extremely influential.  

The upside of this form of polity is that no one is coming in from the outside and telling a congregation what to do. The tricky part about this polity is that no one is coming in from the outside and telling a congregation what to do. It gets particularly tricky if the destructive force is a well-loved, longtime pastor, or a core member who donates a substantial amount each year. We see from the MAP List how hard it can be for congregants to hold their own friends and even family members accountable. Do I listen to these accounts of sexual abuse from a woman I barely know, or do I trust my cousin’s story who’s pastored this church for years?  

With all this in mind, here are some healthy lifestyle measures that might strengthen our churches’ immune systems:

Continue reading “What happens when a congregation’s boundaries aren’t healthy? (And some ideas for a vaccine)”

Defund the Police: An Anabaptist Idea?

I’ve spent the last 10 years looking the aftermath of state violence right in the eye—bodies and psyches irreparably damaged by car bombs, rape, machetes, and gunshots. This violence happened to my clients through no fault of their own, often on the basis of their race or ethnicity. These uprooted lives became fellow Coloradans and given a specific status: refugees. Refugees were invited here by the U.S. government for their safety, and each one hoped that the violence could become a distant memory left behind in their home country.

The recent Derek Chauvin guilty verdict was something, but it felt a little like a hiccup in the long labor pains birthing justice.

But as Americans turn on the news recently, we’ve been horrified (though probably not shocked) to see the same story of state violence finally getting airtime in our country—lives ended before their time, communities terrorized. In 2015, a quarter of those shot by the police were having an emotional or mental health crisis at the time of their death (1). And from 2013-2017, Black people in the U.S. were more than three times more likely than White people to be killed in a police encounter (2). The recent Derek Chauvin guilty verdict was something, but it felt a little bit like a hiccup in the long labor pains birthing justice. Not only individuals, but the entire system they represent needs to change.

Various ideas are circulating of what to advocate for. One idea is defunding the police—in fact, Mennonite Church USA has just come out with a curriculum with that title. But is that too extreme? What about reforming or reimagining the police?

Continue reading “Defund the Police: An Anabaptist Idea?”
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