July 19th, 2010 – by Brian Gumm, July 2010
First, let me say something rather unremarkable: I’m Brethren because I was born that way. My parents, my congregation and its pastors, and church camp and youth leaders all did a marvelous job of not running me out of the church. In fact, it was at times me that was running out of the church, and everyone else working together to lovingly keep me in. So as I begin to answer the question of “Why I’m Still Brethren,” it starts with that life-long relationship with followers of Jesus Christ who have called themselves “Brethren.” From that faith community, I also heard from a young age that the church needed me and was eventually called by them into the ministry. So formed the first 28 years of my life…
Two years ago, my family made the decision to uproot from our native Iowa and move to Virginia so that I could study in the Seminary and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. Moving here was our first encounter with Mennonites, and little did I know that this would put me through a year of what I’ve called my “Brethren identity crisis.” I quickly developed a deep admiration for the Mennonites around me and their self-awareness of their Mennonite-ness and Anabapist-ness. For Brethren as I experienced them (in myself as well), there was a certain…something that felt…Brethren, but it was rarely articulated or in the collective consciousness. One reason I’m still Brethren comes out of a sense that many Brethren have forgotten, or worse, have never heard, what their story is and why their witness is important. If we’re Brethren we need to know the Brethren story and be imaginative storytellers, folding our own rich history into the infinitely-richer biblical narrative and the gospel that Jesus embodied and offers us still. Put as a question: What makes the Brethren story worth living, much less telling?
Part of what helped me through my Brethren identity crisis was academic study that put words to the Brethren experience, things that I already knew in my bones. This is the paradox of the Brethren: What do you Brethren believe? Answer: Look at how we live. It’s a simultaneously foolish and brilliant approach to the Christian faith and another reason I’m happy to be in the Brethren flock. What I fear is that “how we live” has been subverted by complex societal-cultural forces that we’re ill-equipped to even sense, much less respond to. Further, these forces are shot through with spiritual conflict that we’re equally ill-equipped to deal with. Mind you this not a conservative v. liberal rant, but rather a modern-postmodern social-theological critique, and an area in which I feel called to minister.
So why am I still Brethren? Because of love. A love with which God first loved us. That love of God I felt deeply in my Brethren congregation. It’s that love I’m led to express and teach in my fellowship, a calling I’m humbled and thrilled to take up. Ω
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