Friday night at the IWC* Guest House, by Jonathan Beachy

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Friday night at the IWC* Guest House

The knots in the homemade comforter
Feel like prayers trying to keep the
Hardness of the cold wooden floor
From seeping further into my back

Tonight the house is full of pain, past
Abuse, death, violence, terror—
Beds and sofas are full of guests
But there is floor space, and a comforter

The true comforter, however, is not under my
Back but in the room next door—
Abused, raped, threatened, desperate she
Pled for asylum for ten months

Her midnight songs and prayers opened doors
And now shake the earth in my heart
Rattling my complacence and false
Comfort on a hard wooden floor

—Jonathan Beachy, San Antonio, Texas, has spent a life time caring for and being enriched by persons society often rejects. Currently those persons are special needs students, but historically they have also included prison inmates, and indigenous persons in South America. Volunteering with Interfaith Welcome Coalition has allowed Beachy to see the face of Jesus over and over in the faces of refugee women and children crying out for help, for “caring for one of the least of these, is caring for me” (Jesus).

*Interfaith Welcome Coalition. IWC is a response and presence for refugee women and children who have fled unspeakable horrors in their Central American countries of origin. On their arrival at the Unites States border, they turn themselves in, requesting help. Their “crime” is to have requested help, and so they are detained in for-profit prisons (euphemistically called “Family Detention Centers”) until they can meet bond or are granted asylum.

Editor’s note: I want to thank Jonathan Beachy for being a catalyst for the launching of Kingsview & Co. His asking about venues for publishing poetry like this helped me decide it was time to extend DreamSeeker Magazine, which often published poetry, through this new blog. In light of this, I’m particularly pleased that Jonathan’s is the very first guest post. —Michael A. King

Blogging Toward Kansas City, Part 3: “On Not Knowing”

BarnFullPaintingOpen200x200x72Watching my grandchildren get to know God’s great world is one of the most magical things I’ve ever experienced. I’ll never forget my infant grandson crawling on a dock by the Olympia waterfront tracing and retracing with a tiny index finger a knot he spied in the wood.

Or my granddaughter at a similar age, not yet able to talk but saying so much with her gestures and face, slamming shut my unacceptable book choices (she knows what she wants read and reaches down for another option from the book pile if I choose wrong) before agreeing Richard Scarry’s book on rabbits was worth her time. On one page in the middle of rabbits a yellow bird shines out. I had earlier pointed the bird out to her. Now I asked her, “Where’s the bird? Can you show me the bird?” Tiny index finger headed toward the yellow. Miracle.

These two know so little. And yet as minute by minute they take in more and more, they’re touching so much grandeur. I want to learn from them. I want to learn how to do less seeing the world only through the fog of what I already know. I want with my mental index finger to do more tracing with awe the knots and birds I’ve barely begun to understand.

That’s why I include the column below, “On Not Knowing the Truth Before We Find It,” as Part 3 of “Blogging Toward Kansas City.” Though written in 1995, it touches on several factors still affecting my thinking and connects for me as well with the fresh new lessons my grandchildren are teaching me.

Ohe factor is the focus on finitude, on how much we can’t know and the consequent humility and need for each other this calls us to.

I wrote this column in the latter stages of completing a PhD  in rhetoric and communication at Temple University, where I was exposed to and influenced by the thought of Hans Georg-Gadamer. His project was philosophical hermeneutics or, to put it more simply, the process of how we come to understand something.

Gadamer was convinced that for finite humans there could be no universal, God’s-eye-view, because, as I quoted in Fractured Dance, “One perspective darkens another. A universal perspective comprising everything is a contradiction in itself which at most the metaphysical concept of God could assume” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 1997, 95-96, in Fractured Dance: Gadamer and a Mennonite Conflict Over Homosexuality, 2001, 270).

Repeatedly I found in Gadamer’s thought echoes of the Apostle Paul, particularly 1 Corinthians 13 in which Paul highlights faith, hope, and love as the greatest of these—and points to the boundaries of human understanding. We see the limits especially in that ageless verse 12 reference to our seeing now as if in a mirror, darkly, because we will only be able to see in full—or, as Gadamer might put it, as if through God’s eyes—then, face to face with God.

If this is so, then how profoundly we need each others’ partial glimpses of truth. How truly we need to journey toward understanding anything together—amid and toward faith and hope and above all love. Otherwise we lock ourselves into that tiny slice of truth which is all any given person can individually grasp.

Researching and reporting the story I tell in Fractured Dance—of what befell Germantown Mennonite Church, the congregation I had pastored eight years before, including when I wrote Part 2 of “Journeying Toward Kansas City”, also affected my thinking. I felt that my own understanding of how to proceed while pastoring at Germantown looked ever more fallible in hindsight.

And I concluded that a great tragedy of the process that culminated in Germantown’s excommunication was how little evidence, as Gadamerian researcher, I could find that participants (including me as delegate in addition to researcher) in the discernment truly understood—or even sought to understand—each other across our differences. Great trauma ensued for many, the wounds still often raw to this day. This intensified my aching for approaches that honor the finitude of all positions taken in relation to a divisive issue, draw us toward affirming commonalities even amid differences, and jointly put our index fingers on the knot whorls and golden birds of God’s universe.

A second reason I include the column is that it seems to me to take us at least a step or two beyond the stereotype (and sometimes reality) that highlighting how little we can fully know of God’s truth in this life is more a progressive than a traditionalist move. The column gives us respite from our apparent current impasse in any quest to understand sexuality together by gnawing at a different riddle: amid various understandings of how the earth and life came to be, might views grounded in evolution or intelligent design generate some common ground for mutual learning?

I realize divisions in this area at times remain as fierce as ever. Yet sometimes instead of declaring war, adherents of various views actually work with each other. My favorite example of this is in a “Statement on Creation and Natural Science” prepared by science professors at my own alma mater and current employer, Eastern Mennonite University. The statement carefully notes various ways of understanding creation. Yet precisely because it does not impose stark either/or choices it leaves me with a sense of the wonders of God’s handiwork far grander than if I were told either affirm God’s creative work in precisely these ways or choose evolution and nary the twain shall meet.

Perhaps some would assess that the statement does favor the progressive over the traditional in acknowledging the factors a theory of evolution foregrounds. Yet on the other hand ardent materialists would likely flinch from the powerful foregrounding, throughout the statement, of God’s creative work. For me, at least, all positions touched on contribute to an outcome far more magnificent than if perspectives were primarily placed in combat.

I see perhaps less rather than more evidence that this type of magnificence emerging from pooling our finite understandings is emerging in relation to sexuality. There we do seem caught more in battle than in a project of thinking and praying and discerning together in which all perspectives contribute to a breadth and depth of understanding grander than any of us alone could achieve. There we do seem to be doing more knowing the truth before we find it than actually seeking it in the whorls and birds. Still I dream toward the type of approach the EMU statement on creation exemplifies. I worked at this in editing the 2007 volume Stumbling Toward a Genuine Conversation on Homosexuality, and I see it in embryonic form in the 1995 remarks below.

On Not Knowing the Truth Before We Find It

The conference speaker’s proposal startled his audience. There at a Temple University rhetoric conference, John Campbell told fellow secular scholars that if they really believed what they claimed to believe, they’d want both creationism and evolutionism taught in public schools.

Many of Campbell’s listeners were academics whose project is to show how scientific thought isn’t based entirely on facts but includes the same forms of argumentation we all use when we try to convince someone our view is right. One way we persuade another, for example, is through choosing appealing words.

This is why the labels in the abortion debate have changed over the years. People are no longer anti-abortion but pro-life, because who wants to be against life? People are no longer pro-abortion but pro-choice, because who doesn’t want freedom to choose? Even if there are unchanging facts hiding under each label, the way we view these facts changes according to which name we use for them.

Campbell’s own project has been to show that Charles Darwin was aware of this power of the right words to make one view of the facts seem more persuasive than another. That’s why Darwin chose the label “natural selection” to describe his theory of evolution.

What Campbell stressed at the conference was that based on the facts he had observed, Darwin could as reasonably have chosen the phrase intelligent design. Natural selection isn’t itself a scientific fact. It’s a name intended to make persuasive Darwin’s view that something is in charge, but it’s nature rather than God. If Darwin had been comfortable including God, he could have been true to what he was seeing by describing it as the result of intelligent design.

The scholars squirmed. Many agreed with Campbell’s understanding of science. They agreed that science is made up as much of subjective interpretations of what humans observe as of provable facts. They agreed that to apply this reasoning to evolution was to conclude evolution was only one of several ways of interpreting the evidence. But they sure didn’t like the notion that this meant creationism should be taught as a legitimate alternate view of the evidence.

At least some of these academics, whose lifework has been to show how you can’t be sure of anything, had no interest in holding lightly to evolution. When push came to shove, they were fundamentalist evolutionists. Evolution was just plain the way it had to have happened, and that was that. Period.

But as discussion of Campbell’s proposal continued, it became clear that one reason the scholars were fundamentalists was fear of other fundamentalists.

Campbell had argued that public schools waste the energy of millions of Christian parents and students by trying to cram evolution down their throats. Such schools convince Christians you just can’t reason with secular humanists, so you have to fight them tooth and nail. Campbell dreamed of the creativity that would be released if schools instead aimed to teach the facts without the labels—then invited students across America to wrestle together with what theory best made sense of the facts.

The scholars liked this vision. But they couldn’t buy it, they said, because Christians wouldn’t genuinely search for the best theory. Instead they’d take over the school boards and the schools. They’d cram six-day creation down everybody’s throats, whether this fit the facts or not. “You just can’t reason with Christians,” the scholars said.

As I listened to the scholars and thought about Christians, I concluded each had a point about the other. Whether fundamentalist evolutionists or creationists, we’re so sure we know our destination before we start the voyage you wonder why we bother to travel at all.

I wished, that day, that with Job we’d all hear God thunder, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? . . . Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:1-4). I wished that with Job we’d realize how often we utter what we do not know (42:3). Then we could begin the adventure of journeying toward truth without knowing it before we find it.

Michael A. King is blogger and editor, Kingsview and Co;  dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary; and publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC. This column was first published in Christian Living, September 1995. King is grateful to the late editor David E. Hostetler for being willing to support this type of writing in the original Christian Living Kingsview columns.

Blogging Toward Kansas City, Part 2: “Who Are You?”

BarnFullPaintingOpen200x200x72Does our precious Lord still lead us on through storm and night? I lean toward “yes” as I review our survival of prior tumult.

As introduced in Part 1 of “Blogging Toward Kansas City,”  below are reflections I offered 28 years ago on Purdue 87, a biennial convention of what was then the (Old) Mennonite Church. I’m pleased to note that I managed not to comment only on sexuality—even as toward the end the references inevitably, given how central discernment of these matters was at the time, do arise.

Though it was already fading into the mists of time and memory for many (even as for others the way of life continues to this day) I’m struck by how much closer 1987 was to an era influenced by (Old) Mennonite Church plain living and Swiss-German ethnicity. At the same time, the 1987 Purdue participants have moved far enough into various forms of diversity that their quest for ties that bind amid the differences is strong.

Amid it all, at least in my own fallible take, there was some confusion. Who are we? Where are we going? If anything, the questions seem only more intense as we head toward Kansas City 2015, the biennial convention of Mennonite Church USA, and its processing of new resolutions on sexuality. So I’m comforted to experience that the effort mutually to allow our precious Lord to take our hand still seems a vision worth pursuing.

Who Are You, My Audience?

I am a writer. A writer needs an audience. The audience I care about most deeply is the Mennonite Church. But who are you, my Mennonite audience? I ask that question all the time, trying to refine my understanding of who you are so that what I write can be ever more accurately aimed. I particularly asked it as I stepped into the Amelia Earhart Residence Hall to begin my six days as a delegate at Purdue 87 and collector of observations for this article (which the Gospel Herald editors have agreed may be an “impressionistic” piece).

One idea I have of who you are lingers in me from the days when I was growing up as an eminently ethnic Mennonite, with a lineage traced by one of my aunts all the way back to Berne, Switzerland, and the fifteenth century. This is who you are to me whenever I don’t stop to critically ask who you are, who you have become: you are women in cape dresses, hair up, coverings on; men in plain coats, mainly black or a deep dark blue.

You know who you are, what the Bible says, what God wants from you, or at least you look like you do, each plain line of your clothing quietly stating your clarity. You are my father, who knew, when we youngsters pleaded with him (sometime during the ’60s) to buy a guitar, that God wouldn’t want that (he later changed his mind). And my mother, who once knew when my hair was too long and my sisters’ too short. You are the bishops and the preachers—all men—lined up at the front of the church, who knew what was wrong and exactly how to fix it.

Then I worshiped with who you are today, there in the Elliott Hall of Music. I looked around. A handful of plain coats. A scattering of coverings. The women’s hair cut, and certainly not up. Some men in shorts and sandals. Youth everywhere, youth who remember not what I remember, who certainly show little outward evidence of being Mennonite, gearing up to tell me how outdated I am when I’ve barely gotten done telling my parents the same. And on stage . . . oh, onstage! Big black boxes hooked up to awesome amplifiers. Guitars. Electric basses. Saxophones. And more. Then the music, booming, thumping, dancing out, interspersed with drama and liturgical dance.

Are you my audience, you Mennonites comfortable with the things I never expected, as a boy, to see in my church? And if you are, who are you? What do you need me to write about? Or is that who you are? The coverings and plain coats are vanishing, but I remember them. You remember them, you even wore them, many of you. Who are you, you who remember these things even as the big black boxes shake the floor? Some of you look like all this is a little jarring; your bodies seem to shrink away and your faces seem a little stony and I wonder if you’re trying, as I am, to hold yesterday and today together.

And I listen to some of you who came with me from Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia. You are not ethnic Mennonites. You have many feelings. The worship is freer, wilder, more exhilarating than you expected. But you wonder, did you get here too late, after what you might have loved most about being Mennonite has long passed? Then the beat turns slow and deep, the saxophone comes out and mourns, and a musical form alien to our tradition manages, hauntingly and paradoxically, to capture and speak to the heart of our tradition as the notes and words of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” [Thomas Dorsey] weep in our midst.

Over in the Stewart Center you delegates gather many times to ponder many things. On the day you talk about human sexuality (which turns out to mean mainly homosexuality), one wonders if guards will be needed to hold at bay the hordes trying to crowd into the auditorium. You seem to feel that while some old things have been let go, here is a place to hold firm, to remain clear, to keep the boundaries tight. Some of you clap whenever someone suggests the boundaries should be tightened even further. Are you my audience?

I leave that session. The first person I see is you, a woman I know and care about. You are lesbian. I don’t know what, precisely, you are feeling. I do know pain shimmers in your eyes and trembles across your lips. You are a human being, who hurts and fears and yearns to be loved, as do we all. You have just listened to the clapping resounding whenever statements that feel to you like rejection are made. Are you my audience, oh sister I dare not name?

You deal with women in leadership, with whether Mennonite institutions dedicated to peace should be withholding payroll taxes dedicated to war, with what Mennonite Publishing House should be publishing, with so much more. You are not of one mind, not at all, on these things. Who are you, my audience? Maybe I should give up writing to you. I don’t know who I’m targeting. You’re confusing me; I, who am part of you, am confusing me. Especially after I talk with you non-ethnics accompanying me, and you tell me there’s beauty among us, if only we could better value and articulate our heritage.

What I observe in you, what I feel in me, is that we’re a little lost. Oh, we’re striving forward, grasping toward the Goals for ’95, and that’s fine. But still, “who are we? what are we becoming? where are we going?” we keep asking each other. We can be grateful that, according to the story we are living out, the story we came together to celebrate, those that know they are lost are the ones most likely to be found and led home to who they are by their precious Lord.

Michael A. King,  is blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; Dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary; and publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC. These reflections were first published in Gospel Herald, July 1987, p. 548. In 1987 King was pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church and the editor of Gospel Herald was Daniel Hertzler. King is profoundly grateful to Hertzler, who played a central role in helping King develop his writing voice.

Blogging Toward Kansas City, Part 1: Introduction

 

BarnFullPaintingOpen200x200x72Recently both Ron Sider and Tony Campolo have been commenting on LGBTQ relationships. They hold opposing views. Nothing unusual about that these days—but their lives have long intertwined and only recently did Campolo announce he no longer shared Sider’s perspectives. Both were professors at Eastern Baptist (now Palmer) Theological Seminary in the 1980s, when I was drawn there partly because of them (and became Ron’s student assistant and later co-author of a book on preaching).

When Campolo announced his change of  views, he said, “Rest assured I have already heard—and in some cases made—every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University.”

Meanwhile Sider has been articulating his understanding that on the one hand a church too often homophobic  needs to be clearer than it has been that welcome is extended to anyone who is “an openly gay, celibate Christian.” On the other hand, Sider underscores this foundational understanding: “the Bible affirms the goodness and beauty of sexual intercourse—and everywhere, without exception, it is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman committed to each other for life.”

I think of these colleagues, leaders, mentors reaching such different conclusions. I think of circles of loved ones, including my own, in which the Campolo/Sider differences are woven into the very fabric of  souls and relationships. God’s gracious arms reach out to welcome those of us who identify as LGBTQ and seek profoundly committed relationships within which to love and be loved, say some members of the circle. Yes, and I join you in extending that embrace, say other members. No, says a different member, sometimes a parent, sometimes a child, sometimes a sibling, sometimes a dear friend. That’s a false grace, an erosion of faithfulness to the Bible; if I support you  in cheap grace, I’ve failed truly to love you.

It’s because I think of these faces and relationships, so dear and yet so torn, that I can find no other approach for myself than to yearn for a community that tries for the miracle of embracing us all, in all our oppositions, in all our alienations. I ache for a community that asks us to live in the pain of holding dear even the other I believe so wrong.

How we address these matters has long been crucial for Mennonite Church USA, the denomination to which I belong, which has in recent decades joined many other denominations and faith communities in struggling to discern, amid deep divisions, how to view same-sex relationships. A number of times, particularly since the early 1980s, MC USA or its predecessor denominations have reached high-voltage junctures.

Now we’re approaching another one: “Kansas City 2015,” a biennual convention of Mennonite Church USA, its opening worship slated for the last night of this month and key discussions of sexuality resolutions scheduled for July 2. At Kansas City the stakes may be historically high as some would wish for full and unambiguous inclusion of persons who identify as LGBTQ, others want MC USA to maintain a traditional position reserving marriage and full expressions of sexuality for men and women, and some speak of a “forebearance” in which we agree to walk patiently with those holding views with which we disagree.

The fact that I’ll be among writers providing Mennonite World Review with a blog post on Kansas City 2015 got me thinking about “Purdue 87″—the last time I reported on a denominational assembly. I wondered what I would learn from reviewing my impressions 28 years ago in preparation for this 2015 reporting. I was struck, to use an unoriginal line, by how much has changed and how much has remained the same—including in relation to LGBTQ relationships.

So I want to draw on the angle of vision shaped in me through being a reporter on and delegate at Purdue 87. I also want to test the perspectives I’ll be taking to Kansas City, because some of them may be wearing out. It’s not clear to me, for instance, that the dream I’ve articulated above, of somehow including all in the MC USA wing of the body of Christ, whether straight or LGBTQ, whether or not we agree, will survive developments that may lie ahead.

To work at such testing, let me first say more about the potential cross-connections between Purdue 87 and Kansas City 2015. Then I’ll overview the seven-part series of “Blogging Toward Kansas City” posts through which I envision working at the testing.

Many of us expect Kansas City 2015 to be a difficult convention. Blogging for The Mennonite, pastor Jessica Schrock Ringenberg has said that “I am dreading convention” and that even though she normally loves conventions, “this year I have a pit in my stomach that makes me feel sick every time I even think about it. ” This, she explains, is because so many of us are confronted with how we answer “The Question” amid awareness that the stakes are high and depending on setting any answer can get us in trouble.

Meanwhile Purdue 87, held at Purdue University in Indiana, has become famous (or infamous) in Mennonite circles for its adoption of what was to become known as the “Purdue statement.” This was when two denominations, the (Old) Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) were still years from finalizing their merger and reconfiguration into Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Thus the GCs, still holding separate assemblies, had the prior year adopted their own similar statement in Saskatoon. The overlapping statements were thereafter often referred to as “Purdue/Saskatoon” and continue to be referenced in MC USA’s current membership guidelines.

There was plenty to confront at Purdue. The July 28, 1987 issue of the Gospel Herald reported that this is what happened when the delegate sessions turned toward consideration of sexuality: “Ushers had to turn people away at the doors . . . as debate got underway on the final report of the Human Sexuality in the Christian Life Committee.”

The report highlighted that on these matters “Mennonites express considerable diversity and can’t agree on what the Bible teaches. . . .” It explained that by a large majority delegates approved the Purdue statement, which both affirmed that full expressions of sexuality are reserved for heterosexual marriage and articulated a covenant “to study the Bible together on the subject and to dialogue with each other.”

The full text of the Purdue statement actually said much more about dialogue:

 We covenant with each other to mutually bear the burden of remaining in loving dialogue with each other in the body of Christ, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that the Holy Spirit may lead us to further truth and repentance. We promise compassion and prayer for each other that distrustful, broken, and sinful relationships may experience God’s healing.

We covenant with each other to take part in the ongoing search for discernment and for openness to each other. As a part of the nurture of individuals and congregations we will promote congregational study of the complex issues of sexuality, through Bible study and the use of materials such as Human Sexuality in the Christian Life.

The Gospel Herald summary of those paragraphs entirely through the word dialogue points to the possibility that delegates may not have grasped, as was exemplified in To Continue the Dialogue, edited by C. Norman Kraus (Pandora Press U.S., 2001),  just how momentous, complicated, and contentious the covenant to dialogue would prove to be. For long years and through many interpretive permutations the church wrestled with what it had committed itself to. Was it to continue conversing about how to care for each other even as the reserving of marriage for a man and a woman was non-negotiable? Or was there readiness to allow the Holy Spirit to shed further light on how holy sexuality might come to be viewed as extending to same-sex relationships?

The report on sexuality ended with these words, in parentheses: “(Gay and lesbian Mennonites in attendance at Purdue 87, through a statement they issued later, said they felt ‘rejected’ by the action.)”

A number of thoughts emerge as I ponder what happened at Purdue 87 combined with Ringenberg’s dread (along with countless more, I’d guess) of Kansas City.

(1) A first thought is that we might want to be sobered. Again and again Mennonites have sought paths for putting divisions over sexuality to rest. Yet as Ringenberg’s comments highlight, no such destination seems in view. Whatever resolutions are adopted or rejected at Kansas City, it may be instructive to ponder to what extent the Purdue delegates could have forecast developments they wittingly and perhaps mostly unwittingly contributed to.

(2) As one whose own belief in my ability to see the future has been chastened, I want to underscore being much more uncertain than I once was that I grasp which choices will yield which results 28 years from now.

(3) In the aftermath of Purdue it has long seemed to me that there will be no putting behind us divisions over sexuality unless we find some clean, clear, genuine way to live with diversity of understandings. I see no way forward that fails to provide for what I’d call “faithful dissent” or some call “variance”—a term not yet common in 1987 but now pulled to the forefront by the reality that any effort to forestall variance has ultimately only energized it.

In relation to sexuality, Mennonites faithfully seeking to submit to Scripture, God, the teachings of Jesus, and the sanctity of conscience continue to reach different conclusions. And far from shrinking through the passing of time, through efforts to finalize sexuality-related discernment, or through the hope that just one more statement will permit us to move on to other things, the differences have widened year after year. If Kansas City 2015 doesn’t provide in some way for variance, I expect the struggles that led to the Purdue statement and then were fed by decades of conversation over what Purdue (and Saskatoon) really meant will unfold once again.

Simultaneously, I recognize that precisely my conviction that space for faithful dissent is essential for moving beyond the decades of impasse is in the end an ingredient of the impasse. Others believe that a clarity not muddled by the faithful dissenters is key. Thus we find ourselves impaled once more on the horns of the dilemma.

(4) Finally, amid all the pre- and post-merger streams of MC USA have faced during the past generation, here we still are, often saddened if not wiser (that remains to be seen) but still traveling on.

On the one hand, there is plenty to mourn. We’re so at odds that MC USA entities are deciding to leave MC USA and to invest in alternative denominational structures or networks. Total MC USA membership is down by thousands when contrasted with 1987’s comparable statistics.

On the other hand, beyond the dread Ringenberg understandably articulates, I also detect ongoing passion and anticipation. And even dread is a marker of intense investment in the church. Many of my Mennonite colleagues and friends report a sense, which I share, of readiness to trust the Holy Spirit, to let go of dreams that may prove unworkable, to dream new dreams, to contribute to the fresh ways of shaping the body of Christ that may emerge if old ways come undone.

So I believe Purdue 87 is instructive. Looking back may help us understand what we do or don’t want to decide next. Yet precisely because we’ve been at this for decades now, Kansas City and the journey beyond will likely not simply reenact Purdue. Kansas City can take us into new fields and forests and cities and churches of that better country, God’s country of Hebrews 11, awaiting those who by faith leave behind what has been and travel toward “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

As I seek to be a voyager to that better country and to report on it at Kansas City, I want to prepare myself. That takes me back to this “Blogging Toward Kansas City” series, which I conceptualize this way:

Part 1 is this introductory post. Then I envision six more posts, five of them reprints with contemporary introductions of past essays or columns. This one and the last are intended to offer largely new writing.

Part 2 will focus on “Who Are You, My Audience?” my original report on Purdue 87.

Part 3 will reprint “On Not Knowing the Truth Before We Find It.” Here through evolution and “intelligent design” (as framed by lessons from my grandchildren) I explore how, if we truly believe our knowledge is fallible—as I do—we might establish models for pooling our insights to achieve something grander than any of us alone can manage.

Part 4 will feature my article “Painholders on Holy Ground,” in which I ponder the riddle of the “open” being closed to the “closed” and the “closed” being closed to the “open” and wonder if “painholders” offer us hope for a way forward.

Part 5 will reprint “Double Conversion,” in which I draw on the story of Peter and Cornelius and a worship service to yearn for ways we could lay our divisions at the foot of the cross.

Part 6 will offer my recent article on “Honoring Conscience in Plays and Sexuality Wars.” Here, amid rising doubt as to whether we can find reconciliation across such different voices of conscience, I still yearn for the Holy Spirit to offer us a Pentecost miracle.

Part 7 will be my new blog post from Kansas City, “Bending the Curve,” deadline 6:00 p.m., July 1, slated to appear both in Mennonite World Review and here in Kinsgview & Co. I look forward to journeying with you.

Michael A. King is blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary; publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC; and author, Fractured Dance: Gadamer and a Mennonite Conflict over Homosexuality (Pandora Press U.S., 2001),

Editor’s note: As was also the case with its prior incarnation, DreamSeeker Magazine, Kingsview & Co is not intended to be mostly about our divisions over same-sex relationships. But for the next few weeks, amid the potential for major developments in my denomination, it often will be.

Launching Kingsview & Co

BarnFullPaintingOpen200x200x72Blogs on Kingsview & Co, which is an extension of DreamSeeker Magazine, are from main blogger Michael A. King combined with intermittent guest posts.

Below is the most recent prior Kingsview post, released in DreamSeeker Magazine 2012 at Kingsview Autumn 2012, and functioning here as the first post of Kingsview & Co.

Families:
Where Torment and Transcendence Mix

Michael A. King

The death of both my parents amid journeying with various friends and colleagues through complex family dynamics has made me want to zoom out to bigger-picture reflections. What keeps coming to me is this: Families are where we primally and intimately experience torment and transcendence.

I hasten to recognize that torment probably isn’t how those blessed with sunnier family experience would put it. And transcendence may not compute for those who have known primarily ways families maim.

So let me simply report why I think of both torment and transcendence.

Torment because I’ve seen so much of it in family layers going back generations. And in communities, often church-related, I regularly participate in. The torment can range across mental illness; the pain such illness inflicts on sufferers and those who love them; suicide; amid inability to navigate inherited shadows passing them on to others; divorce and its trauma for those separating as well as children, relatives, friends. I know a family in which attempts of children to grow up lead to being literally disowned; there is torment here for those disowned even as surely the acts of disowning flow from their own prior wells of anguish.

I could go on—and on—but my point isn’t to belabor the torment. I simply want to name it plus offer the severe mercy of acknowledging that the torment is not rectified by being Christian but accompanies us as Christians. No example I’ve offered flows from non-Christian family life. I don’t blame Christianity—but those of us in Christian families can empower shadows through believing there must be something non-Christian about them, hence we may take our church selves to church, sequester our family hurts at home, and in so doing often deepen rather than heal them.

I’ve seen this dynamic in relation to suicide and its frequent companion, depression. Many of us were formed within an understanding that suicide was sin and depression a sign of spiritual failure. Suicide has been viewed as so grievous we can even tell of suicidal loved ones whose bodies congregations wouldn’t allow in cemetaries. Seeing association with depression or suicide as shameful has made us reluctant to talk about such matters, to make them part of our church lives or faith journeys, to trust that rather than God’s judgment added to the depressive’s or the suicide’s torment, grace even here, and maybe especially here, can sorrowfully and tenderly abound.

And maybe that takes us to the cusp of transcendence. Because when families are able, imperfectly though truly, to confront their torments, they can become zones of amazing grace.
Not cheap grace. Any family who has walked through the worst of the worst knows grace is costly, bought by tears, sleepless nights of reliving nightmares, choices to grow even when one’s family soil seems too shallow to offer nurture, turning to mentors and therapists and friends and sometimes our own family members with readiness to keep loving even when it hurts like we imagine hell itself to hurt.

Recently a friend I’m in touch with only on Facebook, but with whom I share roots going back to our growing up together as children of missionaries, posted that a giant of our missionary youths had entered hospice care. This stirred us to share memories.

My friend remarked of the dying missionary and his wife that they “were probably the first people I met—as a young child—that were very very much in love and full of creative, imaginative energy. I’ll never forget them running across a field, hand in hand. I was very young and there is no photograph of that moment, but it is engraved in my mind.”

Chills. Tears. That is a picture of transcendence. Family can carry us beyond our worst to miracles larger than we achieve in isolation. Hand in hand across a field. So classic a film-like image as to be almost a cliché but in the best sense of cliché—though we risk cheapening it by repetition, the reason we’re thus tempted is that it’s so primally and powerfully true.
I think of the day a dying mother, amid a family’s shadows, embraced a child. And in that embrace said to one who was long an adult yet also a child tremulous still, “I love you as you are.” Transcendence.

Again I could go on. Because could we with ink the ocean fill, we wouldn’t exhaust the love, of God or for each other, that allows us to turn scripts of even family torment into narratives of transcendence.

Michael A. King, Telford, Pennsylvania and Harrisonburg, Virginia, is Dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary; and publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC. This column was first published in The Mennonite (Oct. 2011).

 

Extending DreamSeeker Magazine through posts from Michael A. King and guests