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Take courage; free the elephants

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What’s next for the Mennonite Brethren family?

In this last print issue of the MB Herald, we’re celebrating the past – the great gathering place of the Mennonite Brethren family this magazine used to be – by thinking about the future. Who do we want to be as a family of churches together?

Some have greeted the closure of the Herald with sadness and dismay, some with excitement for new possibilities, and others with indifference.

Why would it matter?

As former editors reminisce (page 10), the Herald used to be one place we listened to each other. That it stopped being so may only be a tragedy for staff who worked so hard on it; but that we don’t listen to each other much at all – anywhere – is a loss for the whole family.

The Herald was a place to gain not just a theological identity, but a tangible sense of being part of a family together. It’s where we practised being a communal unit whose members don’t always agree or necessarily like each other, but were committed to connectedness anyway.

Maybe there is a better way to accomplish this with the tools available today – but we need to engage.

Why did we stop talking?

Our house is filled with rooms we can’t enter. Behind one door after another is an elephant we’re unwilling to deal with. Now, we’ve relegated the Herald to the attic. At this rate, will this house become uninhabitable?

Ironically, there is hope in this seeming decline.

As Janessa Giesbrecht points out (page 4), the church grew the most when it was under stress.

In our own history, when earlier Mennonites were in pioneering mode, the differences that had separated the closely related but sharply divided groups in the good times didn’t matter enough to keep them apart. Once-estranged churches shared worship spaces and pastoral care until prosperity enabled independence that drove them apart again.

We can hope the Collaborative Model is a significant step toward more cooperation. Scarcity and pragmatism have motivated our agencies to share resources and work more closely together.

From local churches up the denominational structure, can we learn to recognize gifts in each other?

God has humbled us, leaders said at the AGM while others retorted, Don’t blame God for our ill-considered choices. Yet, our reduced condition – however you might diagnose its cause – may have positioned us to listen to who God is calling this ragtag family to be together for him.

God may not have gotten us into this spot, but if we’ll stop and listen, God may have something to teach us – and it might not be how to get out, but how to thrive differently in a new space.

The greatest threat to the church today is not the secularism we decry but the status quo of injustice, David Warkentin eloquently warns. The decay may be coming from inside.

The house Jesus is calling us to live in isn’t furnished with convenience or comfort but humility and hard lessons.

So, what’s my prayer for the MB church?

I pray this family would demonstrate that being a Christian means fostering shalom – holistic flourishing – for all. That we welcome the “other,” not merely in charity but with genuine hospitality and mutuality – be that stranger/newcomer, people of a lower socioeconomic bracket, advanced age, differently expressed gender, or those we simply don’t like.

I pray we may have the humility to learn from these teachers. And to open our door to those who are left behind.

I pray we would become conscious of our lifestyles – of the rampant waste and consumerism we so blithely partake in, without much thought to the ripple effects on the most vulnerable who are far removed from us.

I pray that we become aware that systems are not neutral: they can privilege some and oppress others, and it’s hard to recognize when we’re benefitting from the former.

I pray we would follow God by seeking flourishing – not rule compliance – as holy living.

For us to practise this, I pray for courage.

The courage to speak the truth – and to hear it with grace.

Can we find the strength to say difficult things directly to the people with whom we need to have the conversation? Can we listen to others without becoming defensive or discounting their influence?

As we hear and speak truth, may we live it. May we become people of grace as Jacquie Block says, characterized not mainly by what we do but by how we are: patient and kind, as Jesus is.

May we exercise and encourage that grace, that truth, that resistance to the inertia of injustice right here within our MB family as we follow Jesus together.

9 comments

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9 comments

Gordon Matties January 6, 2020 - 08:47

Well said.

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Karla Braun January 6, 2020 - 18:59

Thanks, Gordon.

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Laura Kalmar January 6, 2020 - 09:03

A fitting final comment, Karla! Well said. And a job well done to you and your staff over the past years. It is in large part thanks to you that we have a Herald website (and Facebook… and Twitter….) May those vehicles continue to allow us to have the important conversations, share our gifts with one another, and “be transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.”

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Karla Braun January 6, 2020 - 09:51

Thanks, Laura.

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Lorne Welwood January 6, 2020 - 12:28

I am obviously not an MB Herald “insider,” and don’t feel the loss of a print edition as some others may, because I been using the electronic version for years. I have been a member of a local MB church since about 1990 and a reader of the Herald. Maybe the staff of the Herald got a “message” from somewhere that there were elephants in rooms that the Herald could not go into, I was unaware of it.

What are the elephants and where are the rooms? If these are, as implied, detrimentally closed to us, lets open them up and get the light on them.

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Keith Reed January 6, 2020 - 16:07

“God may not have gotten us into this spot, but if we’ll stop and listen, God may have something to teach us – and it might not be how to get out, but how to thrive differently in a new space.” Thank you, Karla.

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Karla Braun January 6, 2020 - 19:00

Thanks, Keith.

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Dick Leppky January 10, 2020 - 13:35

Some great comments Karla! As an occasional observer/contributor, you may guess the ‘keys’ I would focus on. Actually, Lorne Welwood offers an important point: “Maybe the staff of the Herald got a “message” from somewhere that there were elephants in rooms that the Herald could not go into.” Certainly, from my limited perspective/experience, it would appear that such ‘rooms’ exist. This is unfortunate but actually very common in evangelical denominations today…….and the list of rooms is continually getting longer, i spite of the fact that the “elephants” are actually Biblical..

“The courage to speak the truth – and to hear it with grace. …….”.etc. Would be a great starting point for denominational leaders to, not only reflect on – but to get serious about listening…….as an alternative to only reflecting on academic ‘philosophy.’ (Truth – rightly divided, does not reveal itself by the intellectual reviews of various philosophical reflections of other people’s books. It comes only from the revelation by the Holy Spirit – through the word for word study of God’s Word.) (Colossians 2:8; 2nd Timothy 2:15.)

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Don Peters January 14, 2020 - 10:14

Good thoughts, Karla. Thanks. The irony is that while we’ve finally reached the stage of freeing elephants or at least “naming” the elephants in the room, we’ve also weakened (or eliminated?) our ability to call out to each other.

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