As a Mennonite community, the community I pastor, we are on a journey throughout Lent in which we seek to focus on Psalms of Disorientation and Reorientation. Walter Brueggemann is the one who gives voice to this understanding of the Psalms (cf. Praying the Psalms, Spirituality of the Psalms) and expresses that the Psalms of Lament are meant to disorient us.
In the spirit of disorientation and reorientation, this past Sunday our Adult Christian Formation class talked about the uncomfortableness or disorientation that comes when, we, in seeking to offer a place of peace, we make space for persons God brings into our community – which suggests that being missional can be very disorienting for us in the cherishing of our comfort zones.
One of the statements/confessions we make in our Mennonite community is that in seeking to be a missional community, we are open to whomever God brings into our midst. Yet, in stating that, we realize that this can make us very uncomfortable, no matter how missional we seek to be.
This could be true for a number of reasons.
First, making space for those the Spirit brings into our midst changes the dynamics of our community. The personalities, the questions, the passions, the theological perspectives these persons bring changes our personality as a community. (Likewise, when people leave, our community’s personality changes as well). I see this happening.
As new persons in our midst, I receive them as a gift to our community, yet their presence shakes us up a bit – in a good way. In hearing the questions they are asking about what it means to be an Anabaptist, about their struggles they are facing in their spiritual journeys that is leading them to explore how being an Anabaptist may offer fresh insights and ways of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ, in being receptive to the theological perspectives they bring challenging our understandings, making room for the exploration for their ministry passions and ways they seek to minister and serve others – all this stretches us and re-creates us as a community.
If we were trying to preserve what we have or who we are – this would create tension and conflict. Yet, our seeking to participate with God in God’s mission as a community, we are discovering that we are learning to rely on the Spirit more as we make space for whom God wants us to make space for.
Second, we recognize that these whom God is bringing into our midst have needs that we may not have skills to address. It might be tempting for us to direct them elsewhere to a different community that has more specialized ministries, were it not for the fact that we receive them as ones whom God has brought into our community. This is indeed challenging to our comfortableness because the Spirit is leading us to develop skills for ministry, skills for being empathetic, skills for engaging others, in order for us to more effectively participate in what God has in mind for us as we engage in God’s mission.
But the other side of coin, if you will, is that not only do new persons bring the possibility of new sets of needs, they also bring with them giftedness which can serve to equip the larger community – God is fully aware of how these ones God brings into our midst, not only change the personality of our community, but also equip us further so that we would be more able to do what God is calling us to do as his missional people in being sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign.
For example, in our community we are asking the question of how might we as Mennonite Church – a peace church, reach out to returning Iraqi veterans who may be struggling with their involvement in violence, in killing, in war as a means to resolve conflict. As Mennonites we are often more adept in guiding our young people to seek alternatives to military service in being conscientiously opposed to participating in violence as a way to resolve issues – even political issues. And so, we are discovering we may be less adept to help returning soldiers struggling with PTSD, or other emotional and mental scars due to their involvement in killing other human beings. However, not only are we discovering that these new persons in our community expressing a passion to minister peace to all, including returning soldiers seeking peace, but we are also discovering that we as a community are being equipped through the perspectives and giftedness they have to offer.
There are likely other reasons, but these two are enough for now.