What am I? (Or, Joshua talks about not being a very good Mennonite)
We all ask this question of ourselves from time to time. Who/what am I? For some people this is a fairly simple question, either because they have a good hold on who they are as people or because someone’s defined it very firmly for them, or because they don’t really give stuff much thought. For others, it is a profoundly difficult question, especially those out there that are uncertain of their gender, or their sexuality, but that is an issue that I don’t have to deal with so enough of that.
I fall somewhere between those two extremes, I think about any number of topics a lot, and due to my work I often end up with time on my hands where I’m able to spend it thinking. Plus I have a blog, which at one point actually was about photography, which means I get to inflict my thoughts on various topics upon total strangers.
I’m not having an esoteric faith question here, but as I sit down and think about it, I’ve been to a LOT of churches/denominations in my time. This comes in large part from the fact that my father was a Christian school principal for the first 17 years of my life, and that was the educational setting I grew up in. A quick examination of my memories yields me the following list of denominations/creeds/whatevers in no particular order. I’ve provided links to a few of these because they’re fairly obscure.
· Independent Baptists
· The Bible Fellowship Church http://www.bfc.org/
· American Baptist Conference
· UCC http://www.ucc.org/
· United Methodist Churches Free Methodists
· Evangelical Free Churches
· Christian Reformed Church
· Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
· Disciples of Christ/Christian Church http://www.disciples.org/
· Mennonite Church USA http://www.mennoniteusa.org/
These are all churches where I’ve attended multiple services, and/or multiple congregations. I’ve also occasionally attended Southern Baptist, Anglican, Salvation Army (yes it’s a church) a few charismatic/Pentecostal churches, and Roman Catholic services but always because a friend invited me.
Anyway, as you can see, I’ve been to church once or twice in my life. Because of this I often find it difficult to define exactly what variety of Christian I am. All these churches have something they can teach us as Christians, be it the concentration on grace that comes from the Calvinists, or the social gospel from UCC and Salvation Army congregations, or the living in the world but not of it that the Mennonites and other Anabaptists continue to expound even as they continue to look more and more like “the world”.
You’ll notice that I used the word “they” to describe Mennonites there in that last paragraph. Yet I often identify myself as a Mennonite. It’s not that I was born to a Mennonite family, far from it, I never attended a Mennonite church until I was seventeen, despite having lived around Mennonites and Amish most of my life to that point, and it is the church I was baptized in, at age eighteen. My family is of English decent, and no one I know speaks Pennsylvania Dutch. Now that’s not a huge issue in Mennonite circles any more, but a generation or two ago Mennonites were an almost exclusively German-American with some exceptions. Now it is common in the United States at least to meet African American Mennonites, Latina/o Mennonites, African Mennonites, Native American Mennonites and Indian Mennonites along with pretty much every ethnic European group as well.
Almost a year ago now I was invited to church with a dear friend and her family. At lunch after the service her mother asked me what sort of church I attended when I was home in Upstate New York. I answered with the truth naturally that when I was home I attended a Mennonite church. Being in Texas, I then had to explain what a Mennonite was, as there are not a lot of them in the Dallas area, and her mother had never heard of them before. My explanation went something along the lines of “the Mennonites are a Christian church believe in being pacifists, and try to base their beliefs on the Sermon on the Mount”, or something along those lines. Her response was something along the lines of “Well that’s a good thing but what do you believe.” I didn’t have a good answer. I really still don’t.