reflections from Kansas City

I returned from Kansas City on Sunday evening and am just now beginning to get my bearings. Which is good (!) and necessary (!) especially considering that the fridge is obscenely stuffed with cucumbers and zucchinis, the raspberries are demanding daily pickings, and there is a bucket of apricots sitting smack dab in the middle of the floor.

It doesn’t help that the week away was intense—I went as a delegate for our church—leaving me feeling unmoored and raw. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Mennonite church, we, like many churches, are in the process of figuring out how to deal with the issue of homosexuality.) While the church is, I believe, moving toward inclusion, there are many sincere and caring people who believe this is wrong. I have relationships with people from both sides, and trying to treat each perspective with integrity and compassion was much harder than I expected (silly me). There was (is!) so much pain, hurt, and anger!

And love. There was lots of that, too.

When it comes to big institutional decisions, I am usually on the fringes where it’s—I can now see very clearly—all too easy to pass snap judgments and dole out condemnation on people of other persuasions. This time, I had ringside seats at the table of power and a vote. After the day with the votes, I went back to my hotel and (foolishly) clicked onto Facebook. My feed was roiling with indignation and righteous rage. I immediately felt sickened.

Actually, it wasn’t the rage that surprised me, but the onesidedness of it. I had just come from meetings in which many people from all sides felt unsure and tormented, and for a whole variety of reasons. To see that agony reduced to one-liners was a slap in the face.

Maybe it was a deserved slap? Part of me thinks so, absolutely so. It was certainly to be expected, once I stepped back and thought about it. (One’s brain gets a little foggy under all that florescent lighting and with only chilly, conditioned air with which to oxygenate the brain cells.) Another part of me felt angry. It’s unwieldy to do church business with 800 very different life experiences. Give us a little grace, please.

But what does it all matter, anyway? It’s just words. People will move forward, or away, and life will go on. As one person noted, when people leave the Mennonite church (and, from all the leaving that goes on, this practice would appear to be one of our most beloved traditions), it doesn’t remove them from God—it’s not like we have the monopoly on faith. Viewed from a certain angle, all the turmoil seems kind of ridiculous, like a toddler crying for some tape to fix a broken pretzel. There are more pretzels than you can even imagine. Just eat your snack and go play already. Yet, how we deal with each other in our crisis make all the difference in the world. Really, nothing matters more.

The delegate sessions did not feel good—at times they felt downright terrible—but they were sacred. What a gift to be witness to the struggle. What a gift to experience such self doubt. What a gift to have no answers.

Surrounding these events, I noticed two beautiful things. First, during the last session there was a time of lament for the family and friends of the LGBTQ community. Before they read their laments, they asked everyone who had a loved one who was hurting because of our decision to please stand. More than half the delegates stood, progressives and conservatives both. This issue isn’t going away any time soon, people. Second, a friend, a gay man, posted this on Facebook: We are in this together. I commit myself to all my brothers and sisters as we follow Jesus together. That the church is extended such grace-filled commitment, by the very people we are inflicting pain upon, gives me courage and hope. So much hope.

And now, for those pickles…

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.7.14), the summer’s first trip, let’s revolutionize youth group mission trips! please!, creamy cauliflower sauce, French yogurt cake, our 48-hour date, and the big apple.


  • Karren

    In today's world of ever increasing extremism of personal opinion, it is rare to hear of groups actually working to find a consensus they can all live with. It's hard work, but so very important. Thank you for your caring attendance and all the work you go to to find a way around the narrowness of usual thought. Love the postings, and don't let the naysayers discourage you.

    No apricots at my house, but black raspberries await jamming.

  • Anonymous

    I am perplexed. What does the commandment against adultery mean to Christians, if everyone can just work out with their partner what kind of relationship they wish to have prior to marriage?Doesn't the Mennonite Confession of Faith teach against premarital sex?

    • Jennifer Jo

      Re the Mennonite Confession of Faith and premarital sex, yes: "According to Scripture, right sexual union takes place only within the marriage relationship."

  • dr perfection

    Isn't the decision whether to abstain from sex prior to marriage a personal thing and not the business of anyone outside the couple involved, including the Mennonite church?

  • Anonymous

    What a challenge for you and all the delegates. Thank you for your prayerful service. One question has been going through my mind…My husband and I did not have sex before we married, and made this choice based on our shared Christian (specifically, Mennonite) faith. Do you see the abstinence until marriage teaching as still relevant today? Will we as a church encourage monogamous homosexual couples to refrain from sex before marriage, as the church has taught for heterosexual individuals? I am interested in your viewpoint on this.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Interesting question! I'm not sure what the church "teaches" exactly. I mean the rules and such. Don't the guidelines/teachings vary somewhat from church to church? I agree with Dr. P (below) that it's ultimately up to the couple to work out the details.

      What I think is most important, regardless of a couple's limits (or not) on physical intimacy, is that all relationships—homo AND hetero—are to be respectful and caring, mutual and mature.

  • Philipp Gollner

    Great to meet in person, thanks for your time – and for a fabulously well presented seminar. Still hoping for a more lighthearted KC15 recap by someone one of these days. There were, after all, enough bizarre and hilarious ongoings too, as always when religious folks take themselves very seriously.

  • Rebecca

    My home denomination recently went from sitting in rows and voting like some kind of senate to sitting in tables as you describe. Apparently it made a HUGE difference in the proceedings – made them more likely to be Christ-pleasing instead of Christ-grieving!

    The FB friends giving you trouble for not being tough enough are likely reflecting the luxury of not looking one's opponent in the eye.

    I think our problems are inherent to trying to do business with 800 people. I'm with Wendell Berry: humans cannot think globally, much as we'd like to, great as it sounds. Trying to lumber around in the bigger-is-better institutions we've created squashes a lot of people, cultures, and environments. (Shudder – all that AC)

  • Anonymous

    I am floored and angry at your post. I can't accept reading your blog knowing that your faith does not accept me for who I am. I am sad to be leaving.

    • Unknown

      Of course, you're free to follow (or abandon) any blog you wish. But I am a bit perplexed at your reasoning for no longer reading Jennifer's. Her blog rarely mentions this topic at all. Are you really going to stop reading because you know that, somewhere in the background, you have a strong disagreement with her church's doctrine? Even when her blog itself has never– and, I venture, will never– be trying to accuse or harm you?

  • Lana

    Sadly, in talking with our pastor, the group who is struggling most is our teens. He said that the kids are being ostracized if they do not rainbow stripe their profile pic on Facebook and they are confused and hurting by being unfriended by dozens. I had no idea.

  • Melodie Davis

    I very much appreciate your take, Jennifer, especially since I wasn't there for the first time in about 22 years. I appreciate the way you nuance the proceedings and I do feel like with time, there is hope for continued reaching across lines of understanding and perspective. I will share your blog post later today on the Third Way FB page if that's all right. (I also wondered if you had taken a blog hiatus working on your book!!)

    • Jennifer Jo

      Of course you may share it!

      As the book gears up (fingers crossed!) blogging will slow a bit, though I hope it doesn't come to a complete halt. I enjoy it far to much to let it go altogether.

  • Janeen

    Jennifer, thanks for your reflections. I really resonated with them. It was good to be at the same table and get to know you. Let's stay in touch.

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