I wrote an article for our monthly Mennonite Brethren publication, Christian Leader, entitled "The New Old Spirituality." The result was a fair amount of critique and criticism and three months worth of letters-to-the-editor. My intent was to demonstrate how teens and young adults are vitalized by new forms of prayer, forms which have their roots in ancient practices. Here's a thrilling image: teens waiting in line to pray! Somehow that got lost amongst a discussion of what is orthodox or pagan. Prayer, it seems, is only to be practiced in certain approved fashions.
Here's what I've learned:
- There are many MBs who are anti-Catholic; my apologies to my Catholic friends, people who are deeply committed to following Christ and his teachings.
- There are many MBs who are afraid of anything new. Many complaints came from those saying that Menno (Simons) would never do this (whatever "this" practice might be). They point back to a standard that was set by Menno and must be maintained. Hmm, but didn't Menno himself start new practices? See http://rollovermenno.wordpress.com/ for more critique at this level from a group of folks who are self-proclaimed gatekeepers of Menno-traditions. [Update: I just discovered that this site is now password protected - not quite sure why.]
- There are many MBs who are afraid of anything old (or older than 1525). Prayer labyrinths, lectio divina,the Jesus Prayer - not acceptable, they're not found in the Bible. Hmm, tell me again what verse the organ is found in? (I do think I saw some cymbals and tambourines mentioned a number of times however.) How about a sanctuary, pews, the sermon, the baptistry, the professional pastor, etc.?
- Paranoia spreads quickly and anything a person disagrees with can be labeled heresy.
- We're becoming more Southern Baptist by the day; my apologies to my SBC friends, people who are deeply committed to following Christ and his teachings.
If you are interested in reading the article that started the controversy, here is is. Here's a teaser as well:
Imagine this scene. Teens silently form a line in a hallway, patiently waiting late into the night to enter a room in which they will experience an ancient spiritual discipline: contemplative prayer. When they emerge from the prayer room an hour later, many have tears in their eyes, smiles on their faces and peace in their hearts. They have just walked a prayer labyrinth, an interactive eleven-station experience in which the participants learn to practice the presence of Christ. Scenes like this are happening again and again in churches, camps and conferences all over North America.
Interested in reading some of the letters-to-the-editor? Here are a few snippets and links for full texts.
"As MB congregations are moving further away from a historical connection with their Anabaptist heritage, they may be hindering their ability to present the gospel to a postmodern world." full text
"Why is the prayer labyrinth, an ancient pagan practice, entering into MB circles?" "We need to remember that Menno Simons wrote a renunciation of the Roman Catholic Church...." "These 'new old practices' you are advocating are dangerous and experiential of old forms of mysticism. It sounds no different than promoting Ophraism and her influences with new age gurus." full text
"All this makes me think that perhaps a practice's origins in pagan culture or its absence from biblical text isn't the guiding principle for whether we reject or accept it, but rather whether or not it reflects biblical truth and principles and either draws us to Jesus and each other or not." full text
Please leave a comment if you would like to add to the conversation. Here's a previous post I did on a prayer labyrinth.
Here's a picture of Menno. He really was an amazing and inspiring man of God. In this picture he appears as preacher and theologian.