We all have a tendency to put people into a box. The first or second question that comes out of many of our mouths after meeting someone is often linked with where they work or what they do (especially for us men). As if we are defined most importantly by what we do or the career we have chosen. Being more of an introvert and not being the quickest thinker on the planet, I must admit that I have used this rather annoying question on more than one occasion – because I couldn’t think of anything more brilliant to initiate a conversation.
At the bookstore, we get a different side of that same coin. After concluding a sale, customers sometimes ask, ‘‘Are you a Christian?’’ and follow it up with ‘‘What church do you go to?’’ Depending on the response, they can determine where we are on the conservative- charismatic spectrum and generally what are our theological tendencies. However, there is something inside me that rebels against those labels and so I used to say that I go to a Christian church. That didn’t give away my personal beliefs and often created confusion on the part of the person asking, as that really didn’t help them to place me into their filing system.
Recently however, I decided to come out of the closet and admit to being a Mennonite Brethren, thinking that would clear the air. However, for most Quebecers, that label is about as helpful as being a pre-millennial, mid-tribulationist (which I am not by the way), where only a few people know what I’m talking about. Some no doubt believe that the name ‘Brethren’ might refer to our being some sort of chauvinistic sect! The question that invariably follows is ‘What is a Mennonite?’ My standard response was that we are a small group of evangelicals here in Quebec whose beliefs are pretty standard, except that we tend to be pacifists.
And then a few months back, a colleague ordered a book ‘The Naked Anabaptist’ by Stuart Murray. The title so intrigued me that an extra copy was ordered for the Verdun store, knowing full well that it would find its way into my backpack and then onto my bedside table. Reading the book really opened my eyes to the church family of which Kathy and I are a part.
In case you are interested, following are some of the distinctives of the Anabaptist tradition, at least according to Mr. Murray. For a more complete understanding, I refer you to the above mentioned book. To be honest with myself (and you, dear reader), in spite of agreeing with all of these particularities, not all of them have been translated into my heart and then action:
- Jesus is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of the church, and our engagement with society;
- Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible. And this perhaps in contrast to other denominations’ emphases on the book of Acts, the Epistles, or even the Old Testament;
- The frequent association of the church (especially in North America) with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless, and persecuted;
- Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability, and multi-voiced worship. We are committed to developing churches in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender, and baptism is for believers;
- Spirituality and economics are interconnected. In an individualistic and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation and working for justice.
- Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus, we are committed to finding nonviolent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, churches, in society and between nations.
I don’t know what you think, but when I read them over, they ring absolutely true! But as mentioned, my struggle is living with and acting out these great principles. When was the last time that I attended a peace march? Truth be told I’ve never been in one. When was the last time that I helped out at food kitchen or visited some old timers, put away in a home for the aged? When was the last time that I even talked about the present prison system and how it is so broken, helping neither the perpetrator or the victim? When did I give (time or money as examples) not out of my surplus, but when it actually ‘hurt’. When did my rhetoric about global warming go beyond words?
Here is a challenge for both of us (you the reader and yours truly)! Let us take some concrete steps to follow the Lord we love. Continue to talk about the incredible love story of Jesus (whose death and resurrection we celebrate this week) and the salvation gift that has been freely given. But also to get off our fannies and become the salt and light that we profess to be!