Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary Blog

“Patient Vigor” for interesting times

September 15, 2014

Big Ben. London, England, United Kingdom. Credit: Misterzee (Wikimedia Commons)

Big Ben. London, England, United Kingdom. Credit: Misterzee (Wikimedia Commons)

I love my job. I often awaken with gratitude welling up—this despite enormous stress throughout “our industry”: theological education.

Two years into the job, I sought out a spiritual director who wouldn’t hesitate to ask me tough questions. I figured I might be overlooking unexamined issues or unacknowledged angst.

But gratitude persists—and has been remarkably constant for four years as the prevailing energy that informs my life of prayer. Even so, it continues to surprise me—particularly in the dark times when tasks overwhelm, self-doubt looms or family and global crises invade.

One of the reasons gratitude pervades is that I am blessed to work in a mature, non-anxious community of faith. I am surrounded by colleagues whose patience, wisdom, love, devotion to God, creativity, kindness and peaceableness is profound.

Did I say patience? Yes. Patience!

Patience isn’t a quality I’m accustomed to reflect on much. It is listed among the fruit of the Spirit—but not one that stands out. Yet, according to church historian Alan Kreider, patience is at the heart of the early Christians’ missional and social strategy.

In a faculty conversation about the current tensions swirling around how we regard persons of same sex orientation, a colleague spoke of the need for “patient vigor.”

Patient vigor (as I understand it) means a willingness to listen calmly to each other, to the Scriptures, and to God’s Spirit rather than getting riled up by the polarizing, raucous clamor of the culture wars.

Patient vigor means listening to the full counsel of what is needed so that “every part is working properly, [promoting] the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph 4:16).

Patient vigor means courageously acting for justice and lovingly speaking the truth in the face of vicious attacks and mean spirited spurning of brothers and sisters.

Patient vigor means fearlessly living with unresolved questions even as we actively engage in compassionate hospitality and mission everywhere we live and work.

AMBS’s mission of reconciliation includes a readiness to resource the whole church during this time of intense, prayerful discernment. We recognize that as a church, we’ve allowed competing claims about what the Bible says to divide rather than unite us.

AMBS faculty have a profound respect for the Scripture’s power to reveal God in Christ to us—scriptures we must listen to over and over again, with vigorous patience, to discern the mind of Christ for these “interesting times.” The faculty have begun to provide resources that call us with patient vigor to:

  • Re-learn the spiritual disciplines necessary to hear God’s gracious Spirit in Scripture and in each other.
  • Listen to the full-orbed witness of Scripture with the best available skills of interpretation.
  • Prayerfully adopt a confessional posture in the midst of conflict.
  • Commit to pray for the well-being of our enemies, including those with whom we most vehemently disagree.
  • Be teachable—ready even to be broken open to receive a previously unrecognized word from the Lord: “You have heard it said… But I say to you….”
  • Locate our own stories within the arc of God’s Shalom Story.

As an Anabaptist learning community, we are unafraid of the hard questions. Instead, we are exhilarated by them—believing that the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit will unite our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I am grateful for faith communities who are learning that the Spirit’s precious and sweet fruit of patience is indispensable for discerning the mind of Christ—Christ “who has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Eph 1:14).

Sexuality conversation resources from the AMBS faculty are available in the Publishing and Research area.

Tags: sexuality

The DNA of Unity and Diversity in God’s Image

February 24, 2014

Credit: Nevit Dilmen. Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Nevit Dilmen. Wikimedia Commons

I’ve long said I wish as a church we could open our hands to receive the irreconcilable dilemma we’re faced with around sexual orientation, as a gift from God. Am I out of my mind to say this? Maybe. But I do not assert this glibly. As a 60 year old, I know the crucible events in my life—as wracked with pain as they are—drive me deeper into the love of God. Break my heart open. Make me more humble. And perhaps a tad wiser.

I believe enough in the good providence of God to ask—why has this conflict—a conflict that tears us down the middle in families, congregations, denominations, nations—why has this conflict shown up with such ferocity? What does God want us to learn as a people? What does God want to teach us? I am energized by the questions and therefore receive the monumental dilemma about how to be faithful Christ-followers with our sexuality as a gift. God is calling us to grow in faith and faithfulness.

How are we being asked to grow? To read our Bibles with new, intense questions. To do the messy, marvelous theological work that is required to understand what the unsettling Spirit is calling us toward in this day. To fulfill the law to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves.

As the church is wracked with painful conflict (and yes, it is horrible what we’re doing to each other in social media), the educator part of me thinks of this as a developmental stage. Groups have stages, as do individuals. Any one of us who has been a teenager or parent stumbling around to negotiate differences, knows about the difficult work of differentiation. It seems our default setting as Mennonites is to cut off relationships and withdraw into a “pure” enclave of the like minded, heaping vitriol on the other side. This is classic sectarian immaturity. Experience has shown that the differences follow us into the enclaves and only fragment us further.

When received as a gift, as an essential part of healthy development, the wrestling eventuates in an amazing kind of growing up together—where parents and teenagers grow wiser and more able to embrace varying degrees of difference within the family.

The theologian part of me asks again—how might we open our hands and hearts at this moment to discover the gifts of God’s grace within our irreconcilable differences? Rather than threatening, accusing, and demeaning each other—how might we receive this conflict as God’s invitation to meet at the foot of the cross?

AMBS New Testament professor Mary Schertz writes that taking the cross of Jesus seriously means that suffering love is to be played out in the arena of discernment around difficult issues, as in all other areas of our common life. There can be no holier, compassionate work than to engage in the difficult conversations we currently find ourselves within.

Being honestly transparent with each other is humbling, hard work and yet that is when we come to know how gracious is the love of Christ “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Our hearts will be tugged (painfully) wider and wider open as we hold together what seems irreconcilable. Isn’t this after all what is so astonishing, that we serve a Lord in whom “all things hold together” and through whom “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things”?

Jesus taught us that the fulfillment of the law is all about loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. The fulfillment of the law is all about the integrity of life—where internal affections and external actions harmonize. The fulfillment of the law is about putting our desire for God above all other desires and judging all human desire in light of our desire for God.

So yes, we can open our hands and receive the irreconcilable dilemma we’re faced with around sexual orientation as a gift from God. Why? Because we are made in the image of God. Every one of us. The image of God is our most fundamental DNA.

As persons who bear God’s indelible, grace-filled imprint, we can learn to discern together—even grow in wisdom and maturity together. With the illuminating Spirit as guide, we can teach each other about the diverse ways we fulfill the law by putting our desire for God above all other desires; our love for God above all loves.

“God so loved the world ….” Clearly God has hope in humankind and in the church. God hasn’t given up on us. And so, we live in hope.

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Comments that contribute to the focus of this post are welcome. Comments that in our view demean or disrespect persons will not be posted.

Tags: pastors , sexuality

This blog is hosted by Sara Wenger Shenk. While Sara is president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, she writes as a practical theologian trying to make sense of everyday life—in light of God's reconciling mission in the world.

The views Sara shares here are not the voice of AMBS. As a woman, mother, author, educator, lover of God, Sara is a restless scout—searching out ways that lead toward God’s shalom. She doesn’t assert answers so much as pose questions, test assumptions, resist labels, play with possibilities, experiment with integration, practice wholeness. She hopes this blog will provide a spacious forum for thoughtful discernment around sometimes contentious issues.