July 19th, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder, July 2010
The Gospel of Luke contains a number of metaphors that might describe my spiritual journey — lost sheep; lost coin; lost son. Jesus often spoke about his love and compassion for the lost and forgotten, and that includes those who wander away from the community of faith. Like many of my peers, I spent years outside the Mennonite church. Unlike many of them, I eventually found my way back.
Even though I grew up outside the typical “Menno ghettos,” I am deeply affected by my Mennonite heritage. My family comes from the Conservative Mennonite Conference and I spent many summers as a child visiting my “plain” grandparents and attending church with them. At the same time, I also attended Reba Place Church in suburban Chicago with my family. There I experienced an urban Mennonite community that was committed to radical Christian discipleship. Looking back, I believe these two experiences kept me connected at least culturally to the Mennonite faith during my “agnostic period”, but they weren’t enough to keep me active in the church.
Why did I leave? I had questions and doubts. Part of the problem was that my family background prized certainty. My grandfather, who was a lay minister in the Conservative Conference, often emphatically used the phrase “I firmly believe” when making faith statements. Weak faith was almost as bad as no faith at all. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ had redeemed his sins through the cross and resurrection. I concluded that if I could not believe in this Christianity thing completely, then I couldn’t believe in it at all.
At the same time, I had mentors and adult friends who encouraged me to question, explore, and doubt. I did have space to explore hard questions, so the problem was not just that I came from a “religiously restrictive community,” but rather that Christianity itself stopped making sense. Once I no longer accepted its fundamental story, all the apologetics, rituals, preaching and testimonies stopped making sense as well.
Why did I come back? I came back because one rainy Sunday morning, in a small Mennonite church in the Inland Empire of Los Angeles, I felt the Spirit nudge me to ministry. I came back because I started “showing up” at church and the more I participated in the life of a congregation, the more this Christianity thing made sense. I found ways of entering the Christian story spiritually, intellectually and imaginatively that not only connected to my experience, but also began to shape me in unexpected ways. When I finally was baptized in my mid-twenties, I still had my doubts, but I also felt that I could commit to this faith community in spite of them. As I continue to seek Christ, I continue to be surprised by how this story shapes who I am.
I’m a Mennonite because this tradition, with all of its problems and shortcomings, is my spiritual home. I’m a Mennonite because of my ethnic heritage. I’m a Mennonite because I trust its hermeneutic and witness to the world. I’m a Mennonite because I seek to follow Christ. I’m a Mennonite because Jesus found me and brought me back to the church.
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