Joel and I have been in conversation for years now. As maybe this blog will reveal over time, he’s just the kind of friend to push your thinking forward when you are getting complacent, frustrated, stuck, inappropriately indignant, or just plain intolerable. We all need those kinds of friends, and I’m fortunate Joel has been one for me.
Like Joel’s story, my own isn’t the straightforward narrative of a “cradle Mennonite.” I grew up in rural Lancaster County, close to my Amish neighbors, who sold us raw milk, used our telephone in an emergency, and occasionally babysat us. I was a wildly churched child, attending every Vacation Bible School in our rural area and hitching a ride to Sunday School from any neighbor who would tolerate me. In adolescence, I decided to stick with the Mennonites for reasons that were clear even at the time: every church preached that we should be like Jesus, and the Mennonites I knew best fit that description as I understood it at that time: patient with each other, humble, and radically hospitable, even in poverty. Like many adolescents, I detested bullshit, and the Mennonites addressed the hypocrisy of Christian support for war explicitly by calling it what it is—sin—and fighting against it. The peace that comes from living with consistency was more appealing that anything any other faith could offer, and I’ve been Mennonite ever since.
My faith has been the least complicated part of my life. I’m not naïve about the Mennonite tradition, Mennonite organizations, or Mennonite people, but I continue to be inspired by the best of each. I fail often in my faith, but it never fails to provide me with a higher standard than that which I’d default to if I weren’t committed to the disciplines of simplicity and peace-making. After decades of practice, I’ve got the hang of a lot of it—some of it ingrained since before I joined the church, from living in a Mennonite enclave. It informs my politics, my relational style, my parenting, my research, and my teaching in ways that I sometimes only become aware of after someone else points it out. I take that as a good sign but also as a reminder to always be critical about faith because faith, taken seriously, has consequences.
I consider this blog a public effort to do that well or at least often, even if we’re not talking about religion explicitly. And I’m grateful for the challenge and the chance to do it with a longtime friend.