Ignoring Elephants – an introduction to Mennonite thinking

A couple of months ago I picked up Rhonda Janzen’s book, “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.”  It is one of those reads that can cause you to laugh out loud.  I found it to be a good reminder of my Mennonite heritage.  I believe that more books need to be written that help explain Mennonite cultural idiosyncrasies.

Last week, in a meeting in Durham, N.C., I was reminded of a unique Mennonite theological perspective when a pastor made the following statement, “The only sacrament the Mennonite church has is community.”

Most other Christian faith traditions hold to a number of sacraments such as communion, baptism and foot washing.  We Mennonites do all these things, but community trumps everything.

If you are going to hang out with Mennonites, this is important information.

Sometimes our need for community looks a lot like passive aggression.

We will not confront a person or an issue if we think that doing so will drive people away from the table.  It is more important to be together and ignore the elephant in the room than to confront the elephant and risk not being at the table.

This way of living can be infuriating to people who would rather lay it all out on the table.  I have witnessed many people scream in frustration at our passive-aggressive ways of dealing with everything.  I will be the first to admit that our commitment to the sacrament of community is not always efficient, honest or healthy.

Laying it all out on the table is not always helpful either

Does everything need to be dealt with immediately?

Maybe there are times and situations when it is better to ignore the elephant.

Is avoiding controversy and pain always bad? 

Maybe it is more important to focus on what we have in common, even if it is just the willingness to sit around the table ignoring the elephant, than to start with our differences.  If you eat enough meals together, eventually you (we) will find the courage is found to confront the elephant together.

There you have it, the Mennonite gift to the rest of the church – community as sacrament.



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3 responses to “Ignoring Elephants – an introduction to Mennonite thinking

  1. Heidi

    Wish I had understood it this well, at the beginning of the journey. But it didn’t take long to ‘catch,’ and many meals have been shared. The elephant gets discussed eventually. Maybe after dinner, over dessert.

  2. Jim

    I am always willing to poke the elephant in the room

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