Saturday, March 21, 2015

"Mennonite Sins"

I'll bet I've got your attention now. Well, just hear me out before you get in a huff or blow a gasket somewhere.

Let me start by saying that I am unashamedly Anabaptist. When I read of the early leaders in the Anabaptist movement my heart is deeply stirred. When we toured Menno-hof in Indiana years ago I would have liked to spend some time alone in the dungeon room where I was very nearly moved to tears. I embrace the Anabaptist movement and to be honest I can't imagine I'll ever be anywhere else.

Of course, it is sort of a shame that the movement had to end up being labeled "Mennonite" after church leader Menno Simons. Although I wasn't personally acquainted with him, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have wanted it that way. Sad to say, it didn't stop there.  (churches getting named after men) I was just thinking today about the Wislers and the Hornings, the Joe Wengers and the Swartzentruber Amish, the Holdermans and the Hutterites. And they're only the ones I thought of in the first minute or two. The one the closest home to me would be the "Beachy" church. While I have never been Beachy myself, this church group was named after my great grandfather Moses Beachy.

But all that aside, there is a tremendous lot of good that goes on in our circles. But as I said, we've got a few sins. Now I'm not throwing stones, I love my people. It's just that we have a few things that we are "known" for, and they aren't complimentary.

Sin 1. "A Feeling of Superiority"

Maybe I'm overly sensitive about this one. I'm always thinking about how something sounds to someone who isn't Mennonite or maybe is now but didn't grow up in the culture. And maybe things said at times aren't meant the way I'm taking them but they sure sound that way. Things like "even in our conservative Mennonite churches" we're having this or that problem. To me it sounds like we're considering ourselves as the very pinnacle of Christendom.

I know some people love genealogy and it is interesting to find out how someone is kin to someone we know, etc, etc. But I've seen people have long conversations with a stranger over that type of subject and then the next stranger shakes their hand and his name is John Doe and the person says "Nice to meet you and have a good day". End of conversation. How do you suppose that makes John Doe feel? Inferior, that's what.

We met a couple once in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the one and only time we "Mennonited Our Way" while on a trip. Their names were John and Mary Miller. Contrary to what you're thinking, they were NOT from Mennonite background. Some years before they had become interested in the Mennonite church and decided to go to some retreat or conference put on by a Mennonite group. When they were registering for the conference, they of course gave their names. The man at the desk threw back his head, "John and Mary Miller", he said, "Fine Mennonite names! And what church do you come from?" They told him it was St. Paul's (Lutheran or Catholic, I can't remember) That really threw the registering guy for a loop and was the end of that conversation.

People, we need to be thankful for our heritage, but please oh please! We are NOT superior! We are only sinners saved by grace alone. When we develop a superior attitude we are becoming dangerously close to becoming first cousins to the Pharisees.

Sin 2. "Pride"

Ouch, that hurts. How can this possibly be true for a people who take such pride in their humility?

Pride is a sneaky thing. It's very much related and a part of Sin 1. One of the things that I think is so sad about pride is that it keeps us from being "real". I'm a huge fan of being real; I think it's the only way to go. Now I don't mean we have to tell everyone every last thing.  But what really gets to me is the thing of trying to act like we "have it together" at all cost. I mean, the worst thing to happen would be for everyone to find out that we aren't as perfect as we want everyone to believe.

I've been pretty free the last number of years to admit my doubts, fears and struggles. Sometimes I think people worry about me and think I shouldn't talk about doubt, etc. But some of my doubt provoking circumstances everybody knew about anyway so I might as well be honest. Last Sunday evening I was in charge of a song service at church and once again some of "the struggle" came out in what I had to say.

Later that evening there was an email in my inbox from someone who was at the service. They wrote in part- "Thank you so much for the song service tonight. Your honesty about the struggles of life is always encouraging."

I wrote back in part- "You are welcome for the song service. I guess I don't know how to be too much other than who I am, which is very imperfect and full of doubts and struggles. If the people that "have it all together" want to have their song service that's fine with me, but I'll have to have mine my way."
We do no one a favor (ourselves included) by trying to hold up the "having it all together image". It's pride, plain and simple.

A few months ago Myron and Heidi had a non-Mennonite family for Sunday dinner and we were invited as well. I knew this couple had learned to know Myrons thru Ben Waldners somehow. (Ben and Myron are married to sisters Lucy and Heidi) And Ben is a marriage counselor at Deeper Life Ministries in Ohio. So at the dinner table I had the conscience thought that this was a delicate subject about how they learned to know Ben and Lucy and then in turn Myron and Heidi.

Not to worry. Their candor and openness was beyond refreshing. They told of how they struggled in their marriage. How things got so bad they separated. And how they went to Deeper Life to try to piece their marriage back together. "Oh yeah," the husband said. "We've been to Deeper Life a number of times. In fact we take vacations FROM Deeper Life!"

That is so not the Mennonite way of doing things. I can rather imagine a quiet Midwestern vacation trip that might have landed the Mennonite couple at Deeper Life, but nobody back home is ever gonna find that out!

 People, please! We need to be more real! It's pride that holds us back.

Sin 3. "Stinginess"

Oh, but we're just thrifty. Yeah right, we're thrifty and stingy both. I know there is a fine line between the two but we get across the line enough that we are known for it. We can sniff out a bargain a mile away and watch out you don't get run over in the crowd if the freebies are being given out somewhere.

Some years back someone told me a Mennonite joke. Now what makes a joke funny is if there is enough truth in it to touch a nerve. (or maybe it makes it not funny)

It goes like this: There was a little barber shop in town and one day a Catholic priest stopped by for a haircut. When the job was done he asked what he owed and the barber said he didn't owe anything, that he was a man of the cloth and he wasn't going to charge him. The priest thanked him and left. The next morning when the barber got to work there was a box of five cigars on his front step.

That day a Baptist minister came for a haircut. When it came time to pay the barber told him the same thing. The Baptist minister thanked him and left. And the next morning when the  barber got to work there was a box of five fried chicken pieces on his doorstep.

Later that day a Mennonite preacher stepped in for a haircut. When it came time to pay the barber gave his same speech. "You're a man of the cloth, I'm not going to charge you", he said. The Mennonite preacher thanked him and left. And the next morning.................................................?,
there were five Mennonite preachers on his doorstep.

I've heard business people from areas of the country with large Mennonite populations say that the people they dread dealing with the most are the Mennonites. They always try to drive the hardest bargain. Especially if they know you.

One business owner I heard of said that all his "friends" come in his shop and expect to get a discount because they are his friend. He said he never could figure out why it never works the other way; why they don't come in, look at their bill, and say, "I see the bill is this much, but since you are my friend I want to pay you a little extra." I've never forgotten that story and while I don't nearly always do it, there have been times I have paid extra. Especially when I was suspicious that someone had given me an good deal in the beginning.

People. We have work to do. Let's try our dead level best to make sure we are not known by these behaviors. None of these sins I've mentioned are ones that we would even in our wildest dreams sit down and make an effort to teach and pass on to our children and grandchildren. But we do teach them in how we live.

There are more sins I'm sure. But that's enough for one dose!

People. Jesus is pleading with us.

Go and sin no more.