As of this September, I'm carrying a column in Purpose Magazine - sort of a Mennonite Guidepost -the kind of thing you'd find on the coffee table or in the bathroom of a nice Mennonite home. You can check it out at MennoMedia.org if you're interested.
The good folks at Purpose said I could post articles here once they were out in print. This one was under the theme of "redemption":
Newness of Life
I've been to visit the Orthodox Mennonites a few times now. They fascinate and compel me, these "plain folk."
The barn-raising I came out for still stands as the deepest sense of "we" that this recovering member of a "me" generation has yet to encounter. It had all the team spirit, the physical strain, the risk of injury, the strategy, and the bravery of a major sports event--that last unitive sacrament of my culture--without any of the aggression; we were profoundly together, without being against anyone else.
On each visit, their minister takes pains to explain to me that the point of using horse and buggy or hand tools or wearing plain clothes is not those disciplines in themselves, but to "walk in newness of life." Funny, that this fellow with the big salt-and-pepper beard, the quaint Germanic accent, the house, clothes and mannerisms of yesteryear should commend his way of life to me as a way of pursuing "newness."
In my culture, there are endless products and services aimed at selling me that elusive sense of newness, of being reborn: the home renovation, the makeover, the Go Away to Discover Myself trip--all ways of achieving "the new you." In my case, I got suckered trying to reinvent myself by spending thousands of dollars on a triple set of caps and gowns, if you know what I mean.
But what is it that truly frees us to walk in newness of life? The Orthodox Mennonites have decided that beyond sharing ideas and words, Christ-followers need to share life. They fear that the individualized Christian is like the seed sown among the thorns: "The cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing." I fear I have little evidence to counter them.
When I get back in the car and drive away from the horse and buggy folk, I'm left asking myself: How do the technologies I use (or don't), or the standards I aspire to (or disregard), facilitate my walking in newness of life? How do they build up or weaken the "beloved community?" What bodily work is spiritually healing? And perhaps most importantly, am I asking these questions and choosing my disciplines alone, or with soul friends?