Saturday, January 31, 2015

31 Days: Closing Remarks

It has been a busy, busy day and my brain feels frazzled and unable to string together any coherant closing thoughts on "What Makes A Mennonite A Mennonite?" It's been a long, stretching month for me! I have learned a lot. Writing things out has always been the best way for me to untangle a subject and that has been what this month was all about. I'm thinking next time maybe I could just untangle the subject in my own personal notebook instead of on the internet :) But then I would miss out on your bits of input and that would be a loss and a shame!

To those of you who commented and sent me emails, etc with your thoughts and questions and input and encouragement - you helped make this month worth it!! Thank you so much. And to the man at my house who spent (literally) hours this month hashing this subject with me and proof reading my posts and giving me ideas and cheering me on...... I could not have done it without you!!

I know there is so much more that could be said. I know there are still unanswered questions and some of you that I haven't replied to yet. Quite frankly, I am rather sick of thinking about this subject now! :) Hopefully I have stirred your minds this month. I don't claim to have all the answers nor to have figured it all out but I do hope to have shaken us out of our comfortable little boxes a bit, and pushed us to do some honest thinking.

So, what makes a Mennonite a Mennonite? Well, hopefully it's more than just cape dresses and straight cut suits and those things on our heads! Hopefully it's about a deep, meaningful relationship with our Father. And, hopefully, out of that relationship flows a longing to be the kind of person who will someday stand before Him and hear the words, "Well done thou good and faithful servant...." And for me, right now being that kind of person means being a part of a Mennonite church!

God's blessings to you wherever you are called to be that kind of a person.

Friday, January 30, 2015

31 Days: An Interesting Exercise

In order to illustrate the difference between a list/rules mindset and a heart mindset, I think it would be fun to do a little exercise. I am calling this exercise: Choosing the Best Spouse.......

The first individual you have to consider is a very conscientious man. He never gets upset, angry, moody, grouchy or stressed out. He always remembers Birthdays and Anniversaries and buys roses and gifts for all the appropriate holidays. He is a hardworking man. He makes plenty of money and provides for his family's every possible need or want. He tithes religiously and gives his 10% to the church. He is the perfect gentleman - opening doors for the ladies, offering them his seat, helping the old man struggling up the church steps, speaking courteously and politely to all he meets. He washes the dishes for his wife every Sunday. He puts the children to bed at night while she rocks the baby. He makes certain to have Bible reading and prayer with his family every day. He helps at the soup kitchen, and is at every work project, disaster relief opportunity and church function he can possibly attend. In short, if you can think of an action that a "perfect" man does that I haven't mentioned, he does it. He checks every box on every to do list possible. By all appearances, he is the Perfect Man.

The next individual you have to consider is not quite so perfect. He *does* have a temper and can get very upset. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it can be very embarrasing. He is a conscientious man though, and tries to apologize and make things right to the best of his ability. He doesn't always give his wife roses on Valentine's day or presents for her birthday or anniversary. He isn't a big gift giver and mostly says "Happy Birthday" and "I Love You" as his way of remembering special occasions. He is a hardworking man and makes good money, but he has a soft spot in his heart for the unfortunate and so has given quite a bit of his money to help the needy people he meets along the way. His family is taken care of, but they never have the nicer or fancier things and their house is rather small and cramped. His bank account is not overflowing by any means and some people think he should learn to manage his money better. He is not a person who does well at lists. A set time for family devotions is not something he views as important. He tries to teach his family about God in their day to day activities, pointing out God's handiwork in nature or asking his children about the words of a song they just sang and discussing what it means. He spends a lot of time with his family. They do lots of things together. Little things, like going to the park or playing games together and big things, like Zoo Trips or a week spent camping in the summer. In short, if it's on a list, he probably hasn't checked it off. Generally he is so busy spending time with his wife and family he doesn't have time to worry much about lists.

Sadly for both of these men, their wives have died and they are left alone with a family and no mother. By some odd coincidence, they both have asked you to be their wife. Which one would you choose?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

31 Days: Input From You

I thought I might share a few tid bits from some emails/texts I have gotten from some of you readers. I didn't ask all of you for specific permission to quote you, but I will do so discreetly and anonymously. I have enjoyed the interaction with you readers tremendously! Thank you ever so much for sharing your input, I would love to hear from more of you. I have picked out a few pieces here and there of things that were helpful to me or of particular interest...

"Too many Mennonites play the comparison game.... "If she can do it and be a Christian, than so can I!" Wait a minute!!! This is a horrible question and thought process! We don't evaluate our standards against other Christian believers! We compare ourselves to the heart of Jesus and how He asks us to live!"

"Every concerned family (or organization) has guidelines/rules that they go off of. The children need to obey whether they understand them or not. That's not saying they can't learn why someday when they're old enough to get an in depth answer. I guess I don't think we need to have a big or bad reason for every guideline."

On changing to cape dresses --
"I could see the point of cape dresses - and even quickly learned to appreciate them and how they did help keep my heart away from endless shopping at the mall and slowly sliding my standards of modesty."

"You keep mentioning being different. I'm wondering if that's a bigger deal in your mind than it is in other people's minds? In our church there is a lot of variety, in my opinion that means we are *all* different. We all are the odd ball in some way.... The older I get the more I see we draw lines at different places. One family may draw a conservative line on dress, another family may...draw a strict line on curfew or internet use or being on time and showing up every time the church doors open. Is one better [holier] than the other? I think not. While it would be easier to raise a family in an environment where we all have the same dress code and curfew, etc that's just not life. We all have areas where we draw a line more conservative than our peers making us/our children the odd balls. But I am also learning sometimes those more conservative lines are not always readily apparent. We just won't all have the same convictions. And I have no business judging others because I think my lines are more righteous."

"My problem with Mennonites is I see and hear so much focus on light (i.e. calling uniformity unity) and the Life seems so secondary. Like the specific "light" of doing things one way proves that you have Life. I guess I don't understand why you're choosing to stay where (I think) the focus is so external."

"Maybe those who want rules have valid, workable reasons. Who said rules don't work? I mean who determines that they have/or haven't, do/don't work? I have to think of those who don't have well are they passing along values, etc? ... How can it be that someone from the world becomes convicted that they need to dress modestly and start to dress in skirts and wear a headcovering because they feel convicted about it, while we start down the path of looking more like they used to and do the things they wouldn't feel comfortable doing anymore?"

As you see, it's been an interesting month! :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

31 Days: In Summary

We have established that what is in the heart is what is important, but what should be in the heart? I think, if we are honest, we would all consider ourselves to be basically good people. Even the murderer would probably consider himself to be a basically good person. The Bible says the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, so it would seem that we need something outside of ourselves to evaluate our own hearts.

This, I think, is where the 'law' comes in. The law is meant to show us where our hearts are wrong. We read that we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves and we say, "Hmmm...... I don't really love my neighbor that way, there must be something wrong with my heart!" The law is meant to show us our sin and point us to Christ, but that is all. The law does not *keep* us in Him; does not *prevent* us from leaving Him, it only turns us in the right direction. Once we have found Him and He has changed our heart, the law kills the Spirit.

We *are* instructed to be DOERS of the Word not just hearers, so we know there is action required. I think we have tried to make people be DOERS by making rules to ensure that they DO. Instead of encouraging and promoting and teaching changed hearts, we have focused more on making sure everyone is DOING - or at least making sure it *looks* like everyone is DOING. I know this is almost heresy in our Beachy Mennonite circles, but I don't believe unity and uniformity are necessarily one and the same. I don't think God intended them to be one and the same. We have adopted the idea that they should be one and the same and the only way to accomplish that has been to ensure that everyone is DOING the same thing by setting out a list of specifics.

This, then, is really the conflict between the "Heart" and the "Rules" people: It is not *whether* there should be any rules, but WHO MAKES THE RULES.

What the "Heart" people are saying, is that God has already made the rules! He has already set down what is right and wrong. He has said "Be modest", "Don't steal", "Love your neighbor", "Be kind", "Think on these things"...... The "Rules" people seem to think they need to 'help God out'. It's not enough to let people obey God's rules - they might not all interpret them the same way! If God says "Be Modest", we need to define it. If God says "Don't steal", we need to define it. And by being so intent on defining everything, we miss the Spirit of the Law entirely!

As churches, we do need to hold up what God has said is right and wrong/good and evil. The problem is, we have become so focused on specifics that it is almost impossible for us to allow people to live out their Christianity in the broad measures of what God says is right and wrong. The "Heart" people's tendency then, is to be so general in their call to right living that almost anything seems to qualify as right living. The bottom line is this: We are called to be doers; changed hearts produce changed actions. Changed hearts produce people who's deepest desire is to know what God says is right and wrong and, in turn, do it. There may be some place for restrictions that are not *Saving* but are cause and effect 'saving' long as they are clearly marked as such! Let us not teach as Gospel and Truth what the Bible does not spell out as Truth. And, while we do need to decide what modesty (or any other Biblical principle) looks like in our own church or personal life, let's focus on calling people to Holiness - to what God says is right and wrong (modesty vs immodesty) and stop focusing on our own personal/church's application.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

31 Days: Where should our focus be?

It is so, SO easy for the Christian life to become about following a certain "formula" to make us Holy. Without even realizing it, we think that if we follow God than our lives will look like A B C. But that's not really the way it's supposed to work! There is no one perscribed way to please Him - if you drive a car with a black bumper it means nothing; if you wear black shoes Sunday morning it means nothing (what is it with black anyway?); if you always wear button up shirts it means nothing; if you choose to wear a cape dress it means nothing.

Christianity is about the relationship, not the actions. The actions are the result of the relationship, and just like my marriage doesn't look like everyone else's, neither does my relationship with God. Instead of focusing on "How are they doing it?" and "If it's ok for them it's ok for me" or "They can't be right if they're not doing it the same way as me", we have got to come back to our own personal relationship with the Father. And a personal relationship with the Father is all about the asking, the rapport, the we-want-to-follow-YOU-not-some-idea-we-swallowed.

I've heard it put this way: We fellowship around the Life that we have, not the Light that we have. The Life is our Lord Jesus. The Light is what He is showing us in our own lives. He is not showing us all the same things at the same time. If we try to fellowship around the Light, we will all quickly become frustrated with one another and go our separate ways. If we fellowship around the Life that we share, we can rejoice and encourage each other.

Monday, January 26, 2015

31 Days: Why the Focus on Clothes?

As Mennonites, we seem to spend a lot of time focusing on clothes. If we really want to call people to Holiness, it involves so much more than just the way we dress. Why don't we focus on how our houses look? Our businesses? Our possessions? The vehicles we drive? Seems to me God talks a lot more about riches in the New Testament than He does about clothes! Some of the plainest Mennonites I know have the largest, most elaborate houses and the newest, shiniest vehicles and the most immaculate, manicured yards and the newest, most up-to-date gadgets. How does this fit into the 'stranger and pilgrim' mentality we say that we hold?

How come we fuss and argue over clothing, but nobody can touch our riches? We seem to view wealth and possessions as a sign of 'Good Stewardship' and 'God's Blessing' and God forbid that anyone should question that! This, in turn, makes us very susceptible to a 'holier than thou' attitude when it comes to people with less. People with less are looked at as Poor Stewards and what do you expect? We couldn't help them out with our hard earned money because *gasp* they might go out and make poor choices with it!

I don't know. Somehow I just don't think that's what Jesus meant when He said "Give to him that asketh thee...." It might be what He meant when He said "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God" though! I don't know. What do you think?

If we are called to be Holy, shouldn't that include our whole life, not just the way we dress? Is it possible that we Mennonites have focused so much on dress that we have missed the importance of living the way Jesus would have us live in other areas of our lives? Does it soothe our consciences somehow to dress plain and set apart from the rest of the world? Does it make any sense to take the verses about the headcovering, and modesty and such, literally but come up with excuses to not take the verses about riches literally?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

31 Days: Asking Honest Questions

How do we deal the practical situations that come along in real life? How do I decide the answers to those questions I asked in the last post? I think it's important that we ask ourselves some honest questions about those things. "Why do I want to sew the extras on my dresses? Do I really think they will make me look more modest?" "Why do I want to join the crowds wearing the latest fashions? Do I really think it will increase my testimony to the world around me?" "When I stand before God and He says 'When I said women should have their heads covered, did you really think that's what I meant?' Can I honestly answer yes?"
The answers to those questions aren't based on rules, they're based on what I know of the Father's heart. Your answers to those questions might be completely different than mine and I have to be ok with leaving that between you and God. And, sometimes I think the answer is that it doesn't really matter! I don't really think God cares what color shoes we wear to church Sunday morning. He might care about our motive for the color shoes we are wearing, but the color of our shoes? I doubt it.
This whole idea is why, when it comes down to it, I don't believe it is necessarily 'safer' to raise a family in a group of people who look the same as us. I don't know but what children might be better off in a setting where everyone doesn't just do the same things! Children are not dummies. I have been amazed at the conversations we've had with our 10 and 12 year olds! You might be surprised how well children can answer those "Why" questions, and how much more permanently life changing is it to be pointed to the Father's heart then to be taught to live by a list of rules?!
Obviously it's possible to teach our children to think in any setting; it takes being intentional no matter where we are. But I think our Mennonite, run-by-standards churches have undermined the call to Holiness and have instead pushed the call to a list mindset way more than we realize! We're turning out children who have no idea how to ask the honest questions. Their only focus is "There's no RULE about this!" And if there is a rule "Let's do as little as possible to get by!"

Saturday, January 24, 2015

31 Days: Who Makes Me Behave?

Okay, so now that I have given myself the freedom of opening the door and have chosen to go ahead and keep being a Mennonite, how do I live my life?

Let me be clear here: I am not talking about being part of a church that has written standards that line up with or are stricter than your own convictions. If you are a part of such a church you have agreed to uphold those standards and therefore, in my humble opinion, you should uphold them! If, as is often the case, the standards were made a very long time ago and half of them aren't being kept by half of the people or they don't make sense in this day and age but no one is willing to talk about changing them, maybe it's time to either a) follow them anyway because that's what you agreed to do or b) find another church!

But what if you find yourself in a church where there are no standards, or where the standards are way more liberal than what you want for yourself, how do you decide how God would have you live your life? Please, no offense to anyone here, I'm just trying to be practical --- How do I decide whether it's important to wear black shoes to church Sunday morning? If the 'scarfy deal' (as some people around here call them) is the thing everyone is wearing these days, is it ok if I join the crowd? If sewing trim and ruffles and extras on dresses is the norm, how do I decide what's ok for me? If other little boys wear shorts when it's hot and some little girls wear pants when it's cold, howIf a small, lacy veil is considered having one's head covered, should I consider that sufficient for my head too? I could go on and on here, but you get my point.

This reminds me of a conversation Chris had with one of our children. The child had done something and argued that we hadn't *said* not to do that! Chris said, "But come on, you knew it wasn't a good idea, right?" The child had to agree that they knew. Then Chris said, "There doesn't have to be a RULE about everything. Who makes me behave??" Weeeelllll, the child was sure that he's an adult and therefore he just....behaves! We laughed about that, because we know you don't just suddenly become an adult one day and magically start behaving!

We say that if we just KNEW what God wanted us to do, we'd do it!! The truth is, most of us are like the child who knows deep down when something isn't a good idea but a lot of times we just don't really feel like behaving! There's not always a specific rule that God spells out for us, but usually if we want to please Him we know deep down what He wants us to do.

I really think that's what God longs for from us - I know that's what I long for from my own children! Yes, it pleases me if they keep the 'rules' we make for them as a family. But what I really want to see, what makes me the happiest as a parent, is when I see my children in a situation where I'm not there to spell out how to behave and they behave anyway!

Friday, January 23, 2015

31 Days: Why Mennonite?

Why AM I a Mennonite? In the midst of all the questions over what kind of church we should be part of, I got the place where I wondered if it even mattered what kind of church you go to?! If the bottom line is our own relationship with the Lord, why can't I go to any old church?

To be honest, I suppose you could! Still, there are SOME specifics set out in the Bible and, for myself, I think the Mennonite's core beliefs line up the closest with what God lined out for Christians in the New Testament. For that reason, I really don't want to be part of any other church. I don't believe, however, that all the Mennonite's applications are nearly as "Thus saith the Lord" as we like to make them sound. For example, I don't believe a cape dress is the only way to be modestly dressed. I've seen plenty of cape dresses that are anything but modest depending how they're made! But, for myself, I think it's a good application. It's what we both grew up with; it's what seems respectful to both sides of our families so it's what seems right for us at this point. But that doesn't mean it's the only way.

I guess that's what I've been trying to say. Most Mennonites can't be honest enough to say "A lot of what we do is really tradition, not right or wrong." If they say that, their whole belief system is suddenly threatened! So, instead of opening that door, they try to keep everything inside of 'the way we've always done it.'

There is freedom in being able to open that door and say "I know I don't have to be a Mennonite to get to Heaven. I know dressing this way, doing these things, aren't the only way to live out what the Bible says, but I don't think it's a wrong way, and for me -right now- I think it's a good way." And I know. Saying it and really living that way are two very different things. How well I know! But I think it's the right way.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

31 Days: The Truth Will Set You Free

So, can you live with the door open? I know the staunch Rules People will say, "It will never work to not have rules!" All I can say to that is, "Ummm.....and your way IS working???" Maybe our idea of something 'working' is what we've gotten wrong? Honestly, I don't think there is some certain 'way' we can stick people into and they will come out as uniform, holy little Christians, there's just not! We'd like to find a way, but I don't think we ever will.
This is the place where I come to and I get stalled. I know this stuff in my head but I still cling to the idea that life would be so much easier lived amongst a group of people who dressed just like me and thought just like me. I'm beginning to believe, though, that the Kingdom of Heaven has a lot more variety than I ever imagined. Truthfully? I think the Kingdom of Heaven is a lot messier than our tidy little list of church standards has ever let us believe possible.
It is true that what is in the heart is what comes out. It is also true that what I see on the outside of a person that looks wrong to me may not be wrong at all to God. God works with us as individuals. Some truths that He has shown me, He may not have shown you and vice versa! We all have our places where we can learn something new - if only perfect people get to Heaven, there's not going to be anybody there! But I will be the first to admit that it's hard to rid oneself of the judgemental attitude. Hard to sit in the Sunday school class and listen to the "fancied up" lady make the spiritual comments and think something besides "Really? Seriously??" as I look at what, to me, looks like sure evidence of where her heart has gone far astray... And it's hard to be different. To be the mom who watches her children in the crowd and prays "Oh please, don't let them feel like the odd balls in their plain dresses and shirts...."
I think we often have this attitude of "Well they better go to hell for that! I mean, here we are living these chaste, high moral lives and, my goodness! They better not be able to do that and get to Heaven!" I think that attitude is so far from the heart of God. He's not willing that any should perish and I think if I want to have a heart like God I need to change my attitudes towards other people!
So, yes. I think it's imperative that we are able to open the door to the truth. I think it allows us to see the vastness of God's big picture a little better if we can actually open the door and be ok with all the messiness that might create. That doesn't mean I want to run through the door, shedding my traditions left and right as I go! It does mean that I want to be able to be ok with the truth. And the truth, after all, is what sets a person free.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

31 Days: Saved By Grace

We've gotten this idea in our heads that rules prevent bad behavior. That's really not true. I love Chris' example of smoking to prove this point. As a child growing up, he had relatives who smoked. He saw first hand what it did to them, how it smelled everything up, how awful it was! Do you think his parents needed to make a rule that their children weren't allowed to smoke? No way. He has never had any desire whatsoever to smoke! People who have no desire to do something don't need a rule prohibiting it! And those who want it badly will usually end up doing it anyway regardless of a rule.

Rules tend to promote self righteous, works based people who "earn" their salvation by doing the "to do list". If I do everything on the list I am a good person! That makes us feel comfortable and secure in our salvation. We don't need the help of God's grace - we've checked off all the requirements and we're good!

Being called to Holiness, however, shows us one thing - we are sinners! When I am pointed to God and what HE says is right and wrong and I am longing with all my heart to do what is right to show Him my love, it doesn't take long to realize there is NO WAY I can ever get it right!! It is only by His Grace that I can be saved. And, just in the same way that Chris looks at me with love the night he comes home and the baby has been screaming and the three year old cut their finger and supper simply is not ready and says "Its ok. I know your heart and that you wanted to have supper ready on time." So God looks at me when I fail and says, "I know your heart, I know you love me and really want to obey me. Its ok."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

31 Days: Called to Holiness

People, as a general rule, want a "to do list" in life. (Or at least that's what we think) Give us a list that we can go "check, check, check - I'm good!" any day over having to figure out what needs to be done. In my marriage, I'd rather Chris would just tell me what he wishes I would do to make him feel loved, figuring it out is too much work! But, on the other hand, I feel the most loved by Chris when he does the things that make me feel loved without me ever saying anything, ya know?

God doesn't call us to a lot of specifics in the New Testament, ever notice that? For instance, He says "Be ye kind one to another". You can't really make a tidy checklist out of that command because, while 'Susie' might feel it's kind to be told exactly how I felt about what she did, 'Jane' might feel just the opposite! God doesn't spell every little thing out about how to be kind, He leaves that up to us to figure out. He doesn't call us to a long list of specifics, He calls us to TRUTH.

If I love Chris, I will want to do what I know makes him feel loved. If I know that having supper ready when he comes home from work makes him feel loved, I will want to do everything I can to make that happen! I'll plan out my day so that I get supper started on time, I'll get the children to help make it happen, I'll be certain nothing interferes with making that goal. I might even make sure I meet him at the door with a smile! On the other hand, if I am looking at it as my "check list" to show Chris that I love him, it will just be a chore that has to be accomplished. Something I can cross off my list with a sigh. Something I can hold my head up proudly over and say, "Well, hey! I had supper ready when you got here!"

Same way with God. God commands us to be kind. We know that if we love God we will obey his commandments. If it's just a checklist to ensure my righteousness, I'll treat 'Susie' and 'Jane' the way I think is kind and go on. "Hey! He said be kind, I was kind, I'm done." If, however, I truly love God and want with all my heart to show that by being kind, I will do everything I can to figure out what would feel kind to 'Susie' and 'Jane'. If I know it would feel kind to 'Susie' to be told how I felt, I'll tell her - even if that's hard for me. If I know 'Jane' will be hurt by me telling her how I felt, I'll hold my tongue - even if I'm dying to let her know how I feel!

This is what God calls us to. He doesn't call us to keeping a list, He calls us to Holiness.

Monday, January 19, 2015

31 Days: Can I live with the door open?

In my struggle to figure out what to do with truth, it's felt sometimes like my Mennonite upbringing and the mindset that's given me are more of a curse than a blessing! If anyone would have asked, I would have said I am not "rule" oriented. I didn't grow up in a church with written standards, hello! I wasn't taught by my parents to do things just because that was the rule. But the whole "living by the rules" and the high priority of unity colors my mindset more than I care to admit! Opening the door to truth left me feeling vulnerable and uncertain about what I really believed.

If you take away the rules and say, "You know, the truth is I don't have to be a Mennonite to go to Heaven", what do I do with that? For many Mennonites, this suddenly opens the door to many things, a lot of them things that they've always chafed at not being allowed to do! I think that's why we see the "Rules" and the "Heart" sides so strongly. It's like there's only two options - either keep the door tightly barred and closed, ("Woah, woah! We can't say that our rules aren't really necessary! Every organization needs rules. You can't get rid of the rules! No, no! Keep that door shut!!") or then fling it open wide and tumble over each other to get out the door, ("All that matters is what's in the heart! Works will not get me to Heaven!").

But what if you don't really want out the door, yet you realize that, in truth, the door doesn't actually need to be closed? Is it possible to live with the door "open" but not necessarily go through it? Is "Can I get to Heaven if I do this?" the best question to ask when trying to decide how God would have me live? After all, "Can I do this and Chris will stay married to me?" is not really the best way to have a good marriage relationship! Is there a "Higher Road"? What does God call us to?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

31 Days: What Do I Do With These Truths?

The need to make a decision about a church has forced me to look at what I really hold as truth in my heart. Truth is sometimes confusing. Sometimes it makes us have to think too much, it's much easier to just do what we've been doing - or that's how I am anyway! But then, I don't really like to think......or I didn't used to. :) Before I married a thinker I would have laughed in your face if you had told me I would someday do such a thing as write on a "theological" subject for 31 days!! There are a number of things I've realized to be truth, and it's been hard to know what to do with some of them. Here they are in no particular order:

~ It is possible to be a Mennonite and not be a Christian.

~ It is possible to be a non-Mennonite and be a Christian.

~ My cape dress, black shoes, lifestyle, what have you, does not save me.

~ There is the possibility of two people interpreting Scripture differently and both getting to Heaven.

~ It is not as crucial that everyone in my church looks the same as I once thought.

Some of those things I knew before, some of it I just never stopped to spell out. What do I do with it? If my lifestyle doesn't save me, why am I bothering to keep it? There are certainly some things about it that I wouldn't mind doing without! If others can look different, is there any reason for me to hang on to the old ways? I don't particularly enjoy being an odd ball, I can tell you that much! Shoot, if there are going to be non-Mennonites in Heaven why am I even a Mennonite??

See what I mean? Much easier to stay in the safe, comfy "box" we've always known than to be honest and face the truth and answer the hard questions!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

31 Days: Passing It On

I'll be honest with you, I've had plenty of doubts about our decision. It would be so much easier to make these kinds of decisions if there were no children involved! If I only had to worry about me, or me and my husband, things would be so much less complicated. It's one thing to know what you believe personally, and have the strength to stand up for truth when the questions and pressures come along, but how do you pass that on to your children? Being born into a Mennonite home won't save them; every one of them has to make their own choice!

Chris and I both grew up in homes where our Parents clearly took the responsibility for raising their children. Sometimes our families did things differently than the rest of the people from our church. For instance, Chris wasn't always allowed to go to every youth activity; I wasn't allowed to wear certain things that my peers didn't think twice about. Sometimes I look around at young people and the things they wear and the places they go and I wonder, "Where are their parents???!!" It seems like no one can tell their children no these days. It's unheard of to expect your children to be different than the rest of the crowd!

I was talking about this with a friend this summer and I said, "How did our parents do it? Why did you and I come out the other side making the choices we did?" I think what she said is so, so true. This is not a direct quote, but the basic idea:

"I think the difference is that what our parents taught us was from their hearts. They weren't just following a set of rules because that's what the church required. They were doing it because those were their true convictions, what they really believed was the best way of following God and the Bible. And we knew that."

The fact is, as parents, we pass on what is really in our hearts whether we realize what is in them or not! That's sobering.

Friday, January 16, 2015

31 Days: Our Decision

When you boil it down, hash it out, look at it from every angle and turn it inside out, the truth is this: neither side is completely right nor wrong. We finally came to the conclusion that it is completely possible to successfully raise a family of five in either group! The catch is this - if we want our children to grow up as Thinkers, as people who's goal is to live the life Jesus wants them to live, than we have to teach them to be that way.

If we chose to place our family in a "Rules" atmosphere, then our teaching would need to focus on the fact that rules do not save us. That just because we're doing what the church says doesn't mean we're right with God. That our relationship with God is the most important thing of all. That, ultimately, what's in the heart is really what is important in the end.

On the other hand, if we chose to place our family in a "Heart" atmosphere, then our teaching would have to focus on the fact that, while what's in the heart is the most important in the end, what shows up on the outside is a sure indication of what is in the heart. That just because something CAN be done doesn't mean it's the best thing to do. That it is important to "take the train to the end of the tracks", not just to consider the now.

In our situation, we chose the second option. While the rules side seemed, in some ways, "safer" (we wouldn't have the pressure of looking different), the heart side seemed more conducive to healthy conversations with our children about why we do what we do and how do we think God wants us to live? That certainly doesn't mean our children are guaranteed a safe passage into the Kingdom of Heaven. But that goes without saying - there are risks on either side of the spectrum!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

31 Days: Painting With a Wide Brush

So, have you decided where you would choose to raise your family of five? Makes you feel like throwing the church under the bus about now and saying, does it even matter what church you go to?? Why do we even bother?

I hope you realize I am painting the picture with a very wide brush here. I know full well that not every Mennonite falls completely into the "Rules" side or the "Heart" side. Still, the whole traditional Mennonite mindset has taken over our minds and affected us more than we realize or want to admit! Take it from someone who didn't even grow up in a church with written standards who could hardly get herself to wear something other than black shoes to church Sunday mornings; it affects us.

Subconsciously we gauge our rightness with God by how well we are keeping the "to do list". It easily becomes not about what God thinks of what we are doing, but about whether we've checked everything on the checklist and if we've checked everything off? We're fine! I'm telling you, it messes with our minds! And it skews our understanding of law vs grace.

But, enough of that, maybe you would like to hear how we came to a decision about where we wanted to raise our family of five?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Off The Record

I'm at a tire convention with Chris right now, so if you've been noticing strange things going on around here it's because I'm having lots of time with a computer and internet access! :) I only have internet access from my phone at home, so I'm pretty limited with what I can do. For a very long time I have wanted to mess around with a header for my blog but just never got the chance. Well, here's my chance! I won't tell you how many hours I spent on it last night :)

The problem is, I'm still not completely satisfied. Some of you may have seen that I first did a simple font change with no pictures. I LOVED the font but my heart was kinda set on using pictures so I went ahead and worked at figuring that out. Well, with my limited knowledge, I couldn't make that font work with pictures so ended up changing it. Now I'm not sure which I like better??? If you have input feel free to share but I just wanted you to know what's going on if it keeps looking different everytime you come around here! :) Amateur at work.

Also, you can't imagine how ready I am to talk about a different subject!!! One thing writing for a long stretch on one subject does is make you notice all kinds of other things that would make great blog posts! I'm stuck and frustrated at about day 20 right now...having a hard time getting my thought to translate into readable words....... So, prayers appreciated!

Toodle Doo.

31 Days: The Rules People

On the other side of the equation are always a group of staunch Rules People. They hold unweildingly to their written standards and the safety of boundaries and uniformity. Change is the bane of their existence; to change means certain failure in their opinion! They shake their heads sadly at the Heart People and watch expectantly to see all their convictions fall away with the straight cut suit and black Sunday shoes."When the coverings get smaller, the women lose their submission!" "Once a church loses the straight cut suit, you soon see a downward spiral!" "Allow musical instruments and you'll soon see the radio and all the evil influences that come with it!"

The answer to all of these dire predictions, of course, is to cover everything with a rule. This poses several problems. One is, the focus invariably shifts from "being a Christian" to "following the rules". As long as I'm doing everything the church requires, I must be right with the Lord! Another is the obvious fact that it is impossible to cover every single attitude, action, BREATH, with a rule. This ability of people to find the loopholes in any set of rules inevitably forces the Rules People to appeal to "common sense" (the heart) when dealing with some clever rule skirting person or practice. Which makes the Heart People smile and nod knowingly. Rules don't work....... in the end the heart is really all that matters anyway!

Another thing that tends to happen, is that the responsibility of raising godly families shifts from the Fathers to the church. It is no longer about Fathers leading their families into "What does God say?" it is "Well, the church does or doesn't allow it." Too often these children grow up just waiting for the day they can go to a more liberal church. Why? Because that's what they have been taught - follow the church standards and go to heaven! So, they find a church that says what they want to hear. They don't really have any convictions of their own, and often their parents didn't either, it was "Just always done that way".

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Day 31: The Heart People

Not everyone accepts the "this is the way we do it" explanation. Some say, "But WHY is this the way we do it? There is no reason under the sun that we need to wear black shoes to church! Does the Bible SAY we need to wear black shoes to church?" These kind of people are not generally looked at with appreciation and respect among their Mennonite peers. While non-Mennonites view their disallusionment with more of a "This is not what we were looking for after all, we'll keep on searching" attitude, those thinkers within the church view it more as a reason to speak up and take up a new side!

These people form the "Heart Side". They are thoroughly sick of rules and living by the letter of the law. They argue that it's too easy to look good on the outside - follow all the standards to a T - but on the inside be full of sin. They push for a turning back to the Bible and examining what it has to say with honesty, openness and a willingness to change the things that have "always been done that way" if they are found uneccesary. Their focus is on the inside, the heart. "What's in the heart is what counts" is their mantra.

The problem is, their lack of teaching in the Art of Thinking often comes back to bite them! In their fierce scorn of standards and all the politics that go with them, they often choose to throw it all out. Too often they throw out more than they bargained for! Instead of asking thoughtful questions like "Why do we want to change?" or "Where will this track end?" They allow their reactions to drive their decisions and before they know it, they look around and wonder how did we get way out here??

31 Days: Our Greatest Weakness

Let me be the first to say, I am under no delusion that there is a Perfect Church out there somewhere. There just simply is not a Perfect Church! After all, what are churches made up of? Imperfect humans. Need I say more?

People tend to have their weaknesses. One person struggles with anger, another with lying, another with immorality...and so on. One of the Mennonite's weaknesses seems to be the failure to teach the Art of Thinking. I suppose it's normal to not need to think much about something you are born into. Someone born on a dairy farm, for instance, is submerged in the routine at such a young age they hardly even have to think about learning the process. I, on the other hand, would need to put a lot of thought into learning the ropes of a dairy farm!

In the same way, those of us born into Mennonite homes generally take up the lifestyle without much thought. Why do we wear black shoes to church? Why solid colored dresses? Why white, long sleeved, button down shirts for the men on Sundays? Well, that's just the way we do it! The standards spell it out for us and that's the way it's always been done. There tends to be a lack of explanation of "why" it's done that way, the emphasis is mostly on making sure you do it! After all, there's safety in a unified group and why change something that has worked for years?

This lack of thinking skills is something those coming into our churches from a non-Mennonite background pick up on easily, and it doesn't go over too well with them! However, they aren't the only ones who struggle with it. There are a few thinkers among us...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

31 Days: Rules vs Heart

It's this very controversy - blessing vs curse - that brings me to where we found ourselves three and a half years ago when God opened doors for us to move our family across the country to a different state. Please don't get me wrong, no offense to the people in the state where we moved, this issue is EVERYWHERE in the Mennonite world! It's just that we so happened to put ourselves smack in the middle of two sides - the old, traditional, "Rules" side and the new, revolutionary, "Heart" side. And we needed to make a choice. Which side did we want to be on?

Did we want the "Rules" side - the side that looked the most like we did, appeared to hold more the same convictions as us concerning dress and many other things, seemed like a safe place with less peer pressure to raise a family of 5 young children? Or the "Heart" side - the side that was more concerned about what was in the heart than making sure everything looked "right" on the outside, the side that focused more on "what does the Bible say?" than "what do the standards say?", the side that looked different than us but shared many of our concerns?

Tell me, where would YOU choose to raise a family of 5 young children?

Friday, January 9, 2015

31 Days: So Very 'Cursed'

I've seen the cycle over and over - in stories and in people I've known personally. You have a seeker, someone who is searching for something to fill the void in their life. Someone who has been reading their Bible with an open heart and is so done with Christianity that changes nothing practical in a person's life. One day, they come across Mennonites and a light bulb goes on!

"Ahh!" They say. "Here are people who are actually taking the scriptures and allowing it to change their lives! This is what we have been looking for!" So they come to our churches, and we welcome them. We teach them what we believe, and how we put those beliefs into practice in daily life, and they feel like they've finally found something. And then, something happens.

Somewhere along their journey they are almost certainly in for a disappointing discovery. What they thought was a group of people who had allowed Scripture to change their hearts, and thus their lives, are actually not that at all! They are actually mostly a group of people who, 1) are doing what they do because the Standards say they have to, and 2) spend most of their energy trying to come up with reasons that what they are doing isn't really necessary.

Can you imagine the let down feeling? The disillusionment, the confusion? Is it any wonder so many of them end up chucking it all and walking away?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

31 Days: So Very Blessed

We who have grown up in a Mennonite home are so very blessed, did you know that? I'm not being sarcastic here, I'm being serious.

I remember an incident that happened maybe four years or so before I got married. My parents and I were attending a seminar. We were the only Mennonites there amongst a sea of strangers. During a break, a lady struck up a conversation with my dad. She had the usual questions about our denomination, what we believed, etc. Then she wondered, with a knowing nod, "Do you homeschool your children?" My dad said no, that we had our own church school. She clearly seemed surprised and a bit puzzled by this.

Turned out, she was a homeschool mom. Being a Christian (I don't remember denomination), there was no way she wanted her children under the influences of public school. She couldn't quite understand why we wouldn't have chosen homeschooling as well? "We find that even in sending our children to Sunday school they encounter many of the same influences they would face by going to school! Isn't it that way for you?"! Not that there would be no influences in a church school or in Sunday school, but the same ones as public school? No.

How do you even begin to explain the difference in our culture? The common ground that is shared across the board, the instant oneness you feel with another Mennonite without ever having met before, the unheard of idea of knowing you could call up any Mennonite in any state you were visiting and they would welcome you for the night........ How does one even completely realize the vast difference, when it is so normal; so everyday; so common place; so taken for granted?

There is no question that many, many on lookers find something attractive about the Mennonites. Even the most cynical among us would have to admit that there is something that draws those who are seeking to the unusual and set apart culture of the Mennonites. Sadly, our biggest blessing often turns out to be our biggest curse.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

31 Days: A Different Way

The church I grew up in also held to the basic beliefs that I posted earlier. Their focus, however, was that the Fathers are responsible for their families, not the church. Therefore, they chose to have the Fathers decide on specific guidelines for their own families. There was a "church conscience" - a general concensus of what the church believed and how they should look - but no specific written standards.

Members were asked to agree to giving and receiving counsel and input from each other and the men met periodically to evaluate where the church was headed and to talk about any issues or concerns that needed to be addressed. The goal of all this was to foster personal convictions rather than just blindly doing whatever the church said to do.

This worked well for our church for many years. We were pretty removed from "Beachy-land USA" and the pressures of changing times and fashions. As time went on and the church grew, with people coming in from different views and backgrounds, it became harder to maintain the close feeling between members and the ability to all be "on the same page". It takes a lot more work to communicate with your members and address and resolve issues than it does to make rules for them to follow!

Fifty some years down the road there's a wider difference in practice between members than there used to be, but that's still the basic premise of church operation for them.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

31 Days: How Does It Work?

All Beachy/Mennonite churches hold to the basic statements of belief that I just laid out. The way it works out in a practical sense is, each church takes these beliefs and decides how they will apply them to their lives. Traditionally, every Beachy/Mennonite church has a list of standards (rules) written up which their members agree to uphold as a way of putting their beliefs to practice and upholding a sense of unity in the church.

These standards vary widely from church to church. Some spell out explicit details about how members must dress, restrictions on the types of vehicles their members drive, and so forth. Some churches hold standards that are very detailed, some that are more generalized.

Having a list of "rules" is viewed by many as a safer way to: 1) Keep a church from straying away from it's beliefs. 2) Keep a group of people unified. 3) Provide a safe environment to raise families.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the church I grew up in chose to do things a little differently...

Monday, January 5, 2015

31 Days: What Do Mennonites Believe?

So, what makes a Mennonite a Mennonite? Or, what makes a Baptist a Baptist for that matter? What we mean by these titles, of course, is that we identify with a certain group of people because we believe the same things they do. By using a title, we immediately let people know who we agree with; what our beliefs are. And, if we don't know exactly what a Methodist believes? We can always go home and google it! :)

Just for the sake of all being on the same page, I am going to be "google" for you today. You can find a more complicated/detailed version of what Mennonites believe, but here are the basic beliefs we hold:

*The Beachy/Amish Mennonites are a Christian group with an Anabaptist heritage, evangelical emphasis, and community-based traditionalist practice. They are neither a mainstream church nor a cult, but are rather considered a sect, orthodox in Christian belief but somewhat separate from society. Some distinctive beliefs include:

~ Baptism upon confession of Jesus Christ by a person who has reached accountability. Thereafter the church community provides members with lifelong accountablilty in order to uphold God's directives for holiness as revealed through the Bible and by the Holy Spirit through the brotherhood.

~ Emphasis on the essential role of church community as a supporting organism for spiritual growth, fellowship, and accountability.

~ Nonresistance, that is, returning good for evil and not resisting a persecuter. This includes non-involvement in armed combat.

~ An extent of practical everyday separation from mainstream society, especially in areas of social and recreational activities, personal adornment, amusement, speech, gender roles, and schooling.

~ A covering for women in obedience to 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.

~ Godly judgement is to take place within the church. The church is not responsible for judging the Christian devotion of those outside the immediate church and constituency, but rather to tend to the flock.

~ This is paralleled by an outreach program that aims to inform and encourage non-Chrisians and lax Christians of the fallen state of man and the opportunity to follow Jesus Christ as devout servants of God.

* Taken from the website

Sunday, January 4, 2015

31 Days: Why the Title?

One of the things I went around and around about the most the last 3 months was a title. What was I trying to accomplish by writing? What was my point, really? Again, I found my inspiration on facebook (what can I say?). I noticed an interesting post one day with a long string of comments. The gist of the post was this: the lady (a Mennonite) was with friends and being introduced to a new person. They gave her name and said, "She's Mennonite, but she's cool! You know how when you see Mennonites at the store and you walk the other way? She's not like that." The concensus was that Mennonites are scary but this lady was a real person. She was asking for input as to what others thought of this.

She got quite a lot of input on that post but one comment grabbed my attention. Here's part of the comment: "There are lots of well dressed Mennonites who don't have a clue what they believe, and even more who are losing every scrap of appearance of Mennonite possible. And, lots of "good" looking Mennonites who swear, speed, flip people off, cheat on their spouses, etc. After all, what makes a Mennonite a Mennonite? ....if you see they have manicured yards, perfect flower beds, georgous handmade clothes, well behaved children, huge home cooked meals, own their own businesses and all the other things typical of Mennonite practices, you can bet they have their missing links..... I don't make a very good Mennonite. I just dress the part. My children fall apart in Walmart, and I avoid flower beds and I follow traffic laws. My aim is to live the life Jesus wants me to. Right now that's attending a Mennonite church......"

The last two sentences grabbed me. What really does make a Mennonite a Mennonite? Is it the trademark things that clearly point us out as such? Or is it the aim to live the life Jesus wants us to?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

31 Days: Why I'm Writing

A while back I saw a link to an article on facebook. The article was about a group of Mennonites in another country. I clicked the link and read with interest as the reporter described her visit with this Mennonite group. She described the church service she attended, the way the people dressed, what they did, how they acted. She described the fellowship meal following, and the afternoon of visiting and game playing. It was when she started relating her conversation with the Pastor and his wife that I began getting this sick feeling in my stomach.

I shook my head as the Pastor explained to the reporter the beliefs we Mennonites hold - nonresistance, simplicity, modesty, separation from worldly influence - and how we practice those beliefs in a practical way. He elaborated on how they strove for simplicity, how they limit their time and exposure to electronics, the internet, world news, sports, fashion and on and on. And all I could think was, "You poor, deceived reporter! You have no idea, none at all!"

I feel a little bad writing this now. Possibly I was judging the whole thing very unfairly. Possibly that group of Mennonites were as perfect as they sounded. Possibly their daily walk actually matched up as well with the beliefs they claimed to hold as that Pastor made it sound. I don't know a soul from that group of Mennonites, but somehow I rather doubt that had the reporter chosen to live with them for a year, she wouldn't have soon found some very confusing inconsistencies and disappointing delusions in the "perfect" world the Pastor painted for her!

It was after reading this article, and my reaction to it, that it seemed I heard "Write!" So, here I am.

Friday, January 2, 2015

31 Days: Introduction

I grew up in a small Mennonite church in rural Arkansas, far from most other "main line" Mennonite churches. Our church was considered a bit different for several reasons: 1) It's small size. 2) It's interaction with the community. The church was started as a mission church so the intention was to reach out to the non-mennonites. I was shocked, as a youth, to realize how odd that interaction was to many other Beachy/Mennonites. 3) It's lack of a written standard. Our church had no written standard which was an unheard of phenomenom in the Beachy/Mennonite world!

I think it was the combination of these factors, plus my own "accepting" nature, that spared me many of the rules/clothes/regulations struggles my peers faced. I was brought up on the Plain/Conservative side of the church partly, probably, because I grew up as the Bishop's daughter. There were times when I resented that fact or wished to do things others were doing. To be honest though, for the most part I was rather pious about it all. I think I always felt a little glad that I was 'more godly' and accepted my lot as the 'good example' as a sort of badge of honor.

I grew up and married in this setting, and we lived there for the first 10 years of our marriage. Three and a half years ago we moved our little family across the country to Ohio and suddenly I was faced with a new experience in church life, convictions, position and personal beliefs!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

(2) 31 Days: Hesitations and Disclaimers

Just a few things here at the beginning...

There are several reasons I hesitate to broach this subject, especially in such a public place. One of those is the fact that there are quite likely a number of non-Mennonite people reading this blog. It's not that I mind non-Mennonites reading along, they're more than welcome! I'm just afraid what I have to say won't make sense to them unless I go to exta lengths to make explanations. I guess I will write as if to a Mennonite audience, and if anyone has questions puzzling them, you are more than welcome to ask them - either in the comment section, or by emailing me personally.

Another reason that I hesitate is the fact that, frankly, I don't feel like I have this thing all figured out! I'm halfway afraid I'll get to about day 15 and not know what else to say. Or, worse, suddenly realize I've dug myself such a hole that I'll never be able to get back out! I enter this little project with lots of prayer and uncertainty. God has brought many little things into my path the past 3 months that have seemed to confirm that this is what I am to do, so I'm going to try! Just remember - I don't pretend to have all the answers. This is more about me sorting out my own beliefs than anything else!

I welcome your input. I promise to not be offended with your contributions and, when I get in over my head, there's this very wise man at my house who I'm counting on to bail me out! :)

That's it.