Holy Spirit pt2: “the assembly, potlucks and sexuality”

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I was not present at the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly in Kitchener-Waterloo Ontario this past July.  However, in hearing a report back I am beginning to wish that I had been. I understand that in the next coming years there will be significant discernment on the matter of sexuality as it relates to the church, the bible, and our world. The obvious ‘white elephant in the room’ when we talk about sexuality and the church at the moment the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Questioning community and it’s interaction and participation within the greater body of Mennonite Church Canada.

Good!  It’s about time we roll up our sleeves and talk about this… like really talk about this. Dare I say that I think it is coming about 20 years too late?

Jack Suderman wrote a brilliant paper called “Being a Faithful Church: Testing the Spirits in the Midst of Hermeneutical Ferment”which makes a strong case for the consistent necessity of good ol’ fashion communal believers church discernment on the places and spaces where the Holy Spirit is and moving toward.  The dream of believers church discernment would be a community interpreting scripture and it’s own immediate cultural context on a continual basis in an effort to, hopefully, incarnate the hope of the gospel as the Holy Spirit leads. This discussion my friends is one place in which we find the Holy Spirit in Anabaptist/Mennonite theology.  The thing is, it’s all grounded in a people gathered in faith.  I don’t know about you, but when I think of gathering and Mennonites I think of potlucks.

And I love potlucks.  I love going down into the church basement and finding tons of similar looking salads, cold farmer sausage, jello with the fruit in it, and chilli. The even better part about the whole thing is the opportunity to connect with other members of the community who, in an ideal Menno world, brought food too. It’s a beautiful picture seeing a bunch of people, sitting together, partaking in a common meal, who are wholly gathered in the name of the great “I AM.” It’s but one picture of a community incarnating unity. Its a unity grounded in the unifying grandness of a worthy to be worshipped God.

This doesn’t just happen at potlucks.

The beautiful part about this whole discussion is the assumption that the Holy Spirit is present where the few or many are gathered (Matthew 18:20 is an interesting text to take a look at, particularly in light of this discussion… read it here). This includes potlucks and nitty gritty discernment gatherings. It really is a back to the basics moment in Mennonite/Anabaptist praxis. Here is an opportunity before the Anabaptist/Mennonite community to participate with the Holy Spirit in the discernment of a fundamental issue as it relates to something that is incredibly human.  It presents an opportunity to strive to be in touch with the active God of the past, the future, and the here and now.

I have been part of discussions on the topic of human sexuality before. Some were positive and others were not. But, even though this communal discernment thing is daunting I take hope in the God of hope. I take hope that it will be done in respect and mutual understanding and being ok to disagree. I hope that a community of people who are united in faith can find room for all
people with various thoughts and wonderings and count them as valuable for the discernment of this topic.  But I would also like to see this conversation move into a more tangible reality, rather than the pure talk that can dominate and castrate issues like this.  Ultimately making it impossible to move into the practical.

The trick then will be to make this discernment full of respect and understanding.  Which means no ‘us’ vs ‘them language.’  If there is some of that language in this post, it is most certainly not intentional.  It is a tough road to navigate, however it is also a prime opportunity for a community to discern the Spirits moving.  What does the ideal discussion and discernment look like if we are to be in tune with the Holy Spirit?  How does the Spirit of God manifest itself in difficult times like this?  Other denominations have tackled this conversation and the implications have been mixed.  I hope that we can push forward on this without any division, which is a common hope of many.  But, before we think of that I can’t help but wonder if the most important elements moving forward with this discernment on human sexuality is connecting wholly and completely with a God who is bigger than that which could divide.  Let’s be getting our ‘discernment on’ over a good ol’ fashion Mennonite potluck and talk life and God which would be a back to the basics of Mennonite/Anabaptist praxis.  Can you imagine, different people with different points of view, coming from different places and different life experiences gathered together sharing a common meal?

(for other posts in this series)

Holy Spirit pt 1 “the crazy uncle nobody talks about”

Holy Spirit pt 3 “where you are present matters” 

Holy Spirit Pt1: “the crazy uncle nobody talks about!”

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I once overheard friends of mine refer to the Holy Spirit in Mennonite theology as the crazy uncle that nobody wants to talk about.  You invite him to family gatherings, acknowledge his presence, but hope he doesn’t cause too much trouble.  The last thing you want is for him to suddenly inspire someone to speak in tongues, speak prophetic words into someone’s life, or break people out into spontaneous energetic intercessory prayer.

I don’t think it was a piercing critique.  But it was a comment that certainly got my attention simply because at the time I couldn’t remember when I witnessed someone speaking in tongues, or speak prophetic words into someone’s life within the context of a Anabaptist church.  As I continued to ponder this comment, I did a quick scan of my 20 years spent in Anabaptist circles and I could certainly see how in some instances the Holy Spirit has been seen as the ‘crazy uncle’ nobody wants to talk about.  The ‘crazy uncle’ can be awkward.

There are stories about this awkward ‘crazy uncle.’

I heard a story about a guy who had prophetic words spoken into his life by someone with a microphone.  The microphoned prophet, inspired by the ‘spirit of God’ went on to tell this individual that he should choose a certain vocation in life because he was gifted in these areas.  A few arduous years later, he finally came to the conclusion that this prophet with a mic was a bit off and he was not gifted in these areas.  These were years that took a lot out of him, and ultimately years he would like to get back.  But because the words came from a prophet inspired by the spirit, he had to take them seriously.

The movie Borat is a mocumentary about a reporter from Kazakhstan coming to America.  Included in his journey is a pit stop at a church in the Mid-West United States.  During one part of the service many of the people were speaking in tongues.  He took the opportunity to do the same.  He proceeded to make a mockery of the church and those around him by babbling uselessly and having people intensely praying for him.  This is an example of a story caught on film.  But it is a story that is not uncommon and have heard similar first hand experiences.

There is a good chance those of you who read this are thinking of a story right now…  stories that are awkward or worse.  This is what crazy uncles that you don’t want to talk about do.  Make things awkward, so you just don’t invite him to the party anymore.  Ultimately, I believe these are not the actions of a worthy to be worshipped Trinitarian God who actively loves and seeks redemption and restoration for humanity and creation.  The Holy Spirit from that God is definitely invited to the party.

It becomes awkward when people take these supernatural elements of the Holy Spirit and turn it into a show for others.

Speaking in tongues and prophetic words are biblical expressions of the Holy Spirit.  A quick read of 1 Corinthian’s 12:4-10 will identify these ‘supernatural’ gifts of the Spirit as good and holy.  I think about what my friends said about the Holy Spirit in Mennonite circles being the crazy uncle, are they accurate?   Are these expressions vacant from the Anabaptist world because we treat the Holy Spirit like a crazy uncle?

The Holy Spirit is not limited to these supernatural forms mentioned above.  To say so would be to limit God’s interaction with the world.  This is why the critique was not so concerning to me.  God’s Spirit is active within Anabaptism.  There isn’t an overall disassociation with the Holy Spirit because it is the ‘crazy uncle.’  I just haven’t seen anyone speak in tongues or speak prophetic words into someone’s life.  The void of this in some Anabaptist circles is definitely worth exploring and will speak to some of the distinctives of the Anabaptism that we see today.

(for other posts in this series)

Holy Spirit pt 2 “the assembly, potlucks, and sexuality”

Holy Spirit pt 3 “where you are present matters”