There is so much that I am grateful for today, and all the smaller pieces are made possible by the main gift. My parents bought a week-long pass to go to Mennonite World Conference, being held this week at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg (it will likely be another 40 years or so before it’s in this area again). Then they told us they wanted to keep the kids one day and give us their passes so we could experience a day of the conference. I’ll write the short-hand list of gratitudes, and then give fuller explanation below.
1. Beginning with Doubt
2. Heaven–Saints and Songs
3. “Nou Se Wozo”
4. Education that Transforms
5. Losing Cynicism
6. Being given a new name for God
1. The theme of today (the first full day of the conference) was Walking in Doubt and Conviction. The speakers in the morning shared about the power of doubt, how doubt is what forms the questions that compel us to seek answers, how doubt keeps us honest. The first speaker, Rebecca Osiro from Kenya, spoke about how poverty and oppression can cause people to doubt. The second, Tom Yoder Neufeld from North America, spoke about how wealth and privilege can cause people to doubt. They wove a balance between their words. The third speaker, a young woman from Ethiopia–with the perfect name Tigist Tesfaye Gelagle–spoke of an analogy she had heard about doubt and conviction being the two pedals of a bicycle: you need them both to make the bike go. Even outside of a religious context, I think these would be some very powerful ideas. Questions generate answers, producing forward movement. I have a rather intimate relationship to doubt as part of my own spiritual story, so this was a perfect beginning to the day.
2. My voice is hoarse from the delicious experience of singing with thousands of Mennonites and Anabaptists. Three of the all-time highlights of my life have been singing at Mennonite World Conference in France in 1894, singing at MWC in Winnipeg in 1990, and singing today at MWC in Harrisburg. The final song, spontaneously requested by the day’s moderator, was a reprise of yesterday’s processional: “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In.” Sublime moments.
Earlier in the evening, Dr. Carol Ann Weaver led us in a song, “First, the Gamelan Orchestra will play through it, then we’ll sing two verses, then the Orchestra again, then we’ll do two verses, and then. . .we’ll be in heaven.” That was pretty much how it happened.
3. Daryl Snider and Frances Crowhill Miller played “Nou Se Wozo.” (The link is only the end of the song, but a beautiful part of it, thanks to Larry Zook.) A song of resilience in the face of trauma and anguish. A gift. “Don’t forget: We are Wozo!” (Resilient reeds.)
4. We took in a workshop on Education that Transforms. This seems to be, as much as anything, the deep theme of Mennonite/Anabaptist education: transformation. Empowerment, Changing Perspectives, Heart full of Love. Learning from educators around the world!
5. The earnest and good-natured Pollyanna that you may see when you see me is not an illusion or a lie. I truly do look for the positive and seek to be joyful. Still, I am sort of like that one naughty relative at your family reunion who simply won’t make it through the reunion without a hidden flask. Well, maybe not at your Mennonite family reunion, or mine. Except for me. And it’s not filled with aged Scotch. It’s filled brimful with cynicism. I only take it out for occasional sips, but I feel like I need it as a sort of buffer, a protective coat between me and the real world.
During the years when I was losing my religion, I fought a really long and hard battle to break out of the cage. Not everyone goes through it with such intensity, but for me it was a serious struggle. I had dreams during that time of being incarcerated in a maximum security prison, of being beheaded by a mild and gentle Mennonite woman in a covering. When I walked back in the church’s back door, I did so on my own terms, always with an eye toward the doors and windows, to be sure that the escape routes aren’t blocked. And every once in a while, I take out my flask of cynicism and remind myself that I can still leave again any time I want. I have, however, encountered very few cages in the place where I have landed.
Still, it was a little disconcerting today, in the middle of a rather large group of gathered earnest people, to realize that I had completely misplaced my cynicism. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Today, I just loved being a Mennonite.
6. One of the ways that I have maintained my relationship to the church on my own terms is to collect names for God. There is no way that I am going to put the God-Bird back into its cage, so I keep trying to expand my knowledge and consciousnss of that Divine and Mysterious Presence. This morning, Rebecca Osiro repeatedly spoke of God as The Thorn Remover (Ja Kon Kudho), and the other speakers took up the use of the term. I like the concept of the Divine as a Remover of Thorns.
May we walk in Beauty!