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A Night With Mennonites and Jim Wallis

Hello blogging friends,

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the bi-annual national meeting of the Mennonite Church USA in Columbus Ohio. I love this group and am always delighted and humbled to be given a chance to pour into it.

I first engaged in an animated 90 minute conversation (Q and A style) with an auditorium packed with pastors and other Mennonite leaders. I opened with a few words reiterating my conviction that the Mennonites are at a critical point in their history. I believe that the way Mennonites respond to opportunities and challenges facing them over the next decade will determine whether they become increasingly stagnant and dwindle in numbers or experience incredible rejuvenation and explosive growth. I am passionately convinced that if Mennonites will hold fast to (and in some cases, return to) their historic vision of a non-violent, self-sacrificial, counter-cultural Kingdom that transcends nationalism and politics, and if they are willing to become very flexible with their distinctive cultural traditions, Mennonites are positioned to provide a home for the increasing number of people such as myself who are discovering this vision of a beautiful Kingdom and who therefore are repudiating “Christendom” (the traditional “church militant and triumphant”). Many of us want to be rooted in a historic tradition and fellowship that espouses this vision, and this makes becoming a Mennonite very appealing.

In any event, after my opening remarks, these leaders picked my brain on topics ranging from homosexuality to politics to evangelism. It was a lot of fun and seemed to help some of them work through certain issues.

Immediately following this I was quickly ushered over to speak to 4,000 youth at the Columbus Convention Center. I was impressed, and a little surprised, by how incredibly rowdy the whole thing was! Whatever remaining stereotype I had of Mennonites as quiet, shy and conservative was pretty much blown away ten minutes into this rally as I witnessed hundreds of kids jumping up and down and screaming to extremely loud worship music. But then in the next moment the whole arena was robustly singing a very sweet Mennonite hymn in beautiful four part harmony (a remarkable, distinctive aspect of traditional Mennonite worship). I loved the diversity!

After about an hour of this, I had a lot of fun giving a sermon on being filled with the Holy Spirit and practicing the presence of God. Though I think my subject matter was a bit esoteric by Mennonite standards, it seemed to be received pretty well. This was followed by an incredibly loud and rowdy rock concert by the band Kutless. This certainly isn’t my favorite style of music (I think it would be classified as “heavy metal”), but I have to say these guys were really good. Maybe not quite up to N.D.Y. standards, but that’s hardly a fair comparison. ; – )  Most importantly, the drummer in Kutless was kick’n!

After about an hour I left the concert with my ears ringing and made my way back to the hotel. I couldn’t seem to get tired, despite reading a boring book, so I thought I’d take my reading down to the hotel lounge and have a nightcap to hopefully get sleepy. There I ran into my old friend Jim Wallis who was just on his way out with some of his friends.  We ended up hanging out and discussing theology and politics for another hour and a half. I appreciate that Jim’s the kind of guy you can vehemently disagree with, and have fun doing it. No one’s mind was changed, but we had some good laughs and I learned a good bit about what’s going on behind closed doors in the Obama administration.

Around 2:00 AM I finally got tired and ended up getting a refreshing 5 hours of sleep, dreaming about screaming young Mennonites jumping up and down to rock music.




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