Tag Archives: David Landis

You say you want a revolution

photo by Steve DintamanDavid Landis, dplandis@franconiaconference.org

Many people come to the Holy Lands trying to change the world. They come with an agenda, either to speed up the end of the world or find personal spiritual epiphany. Sometimes they try to call down justice to give the land to the Jews or create a Palestinian state. In comparison, most of the people who were born here seem to just want to live their lives in peace. In a land that has been a crossroads of trade, culture and religion for millennia, they are used to visitors coming and going with crazy ideas and absurd goals.

My most meaningful experiences in the past four and a half months have not been with revolutionaries, peace activists or religious leaders. They come from the normal people who populate the towns and cities, spending time with their families, and going to work each day. These relationships are built within an atmosphere of hospitality sharing the normal parts of life—coffee, tea, falafel and shwarama. These people seem to have a greater ability to see their neighbors as human beings, not as others representing a specific religious or ethnic background.

I’ve spent a lot of time walking the routes that Jesus would have traveled regularly in the Galilee. Nazareth, Cana, and Capernaum, as well as most of the places mentioned in the Gospels, were almost inconsequential in relation to the broader ruling empire. The two largest cities of power and glory in the region—Tiberias and Sepphoris—were never mentioned in scripture. Jesus’ disciples were common peasants and laborers with mixed and ambiguous perspectives on the Roman Empire. Many of them would have spent most of their lives just trying to feed their families.

flowers-1.jpgLast week my Israeli friend Maoz and I took a journalist and photographer from the Israeli Newspaper Ha’aretz on the Jesus Trail, a hiking route that we are developing to connect these places. It was a lot of fun to share some of the places of Jesus’ life with them, explaining why they were significant to his history and the Christian story. When we passed by an ancient synagogue at the ruins of Arbella, they shared pieces of their Jewish heritage with me.

Together we visited the Mount of Beatitudes, all remarking on the ugliness of the church’s interior and how much more beautiful the green paths of the countryside is in comparison. I think it all made us wonder about the difference between Jesus the Jewish peasant traveler and the Christianity that has developed since he walked these hills 2000 years ago.

I am currently taking a seminary course that explores the first century context of Jesus’ life. In my research, I am continually struck by his normalcy. Although history does indicate that his life brought revolution to western civilization, I often wonder if his intention was to be someone who would change the world. My suspicion is that he was just trying to live his life well and help a diversity of others to do the same, directing their journeys toward God.

There is a saying that if you spend a week in Israel you can write a book about your experience, and that if you stay for a month you can produce a really good article. The adage continues saying that if you stay here much more than this, you won’t even know what to say.

tea-1.jpgThe longer I stay in Nazareth, the more I just want to live my life in the company of close friends, sharing the hospitable space that happens over a cup of coffee or dinner. This renews and sustains our relationships and brings us joy each day. And perhaps because they’re not trying to start a revolution, these interactions may change the world.

Since God is great: Opportunities for peace in the Holy Land

David Landis
dplandis@franconiaconference.org

dave-blog2.jpgIn the morning I often go into the old Nazareth market to buy fresh pita bread for breakfast, where a small bakery is located on the corner near the White Mosque. The bakery is a maze of clockwork conveyor belts that passes dough through the oven, depositing hot puffed pita balloons onto the tray below, where I can watch them deflate as they cool. The store is run by a hunched-over greying Muslim man with glowing eyes. He speaks English well and is always friendly when I come to buy my daily bread.

The other day when I went to get a pita pizza at the bakery, I decided to take an opportunity to practice my developing Arabic skills. I began with Marhaba (hello), and he responded, Keef halak (how are you doing?). After I replied Mabsut (good), he corrected me by stating that I should say instead, Hamdu l’Allah, meaning “Thanks be to God.”

He asked me how we should respond to this and I ventured, Allah Akbar, meaning “God is greater.” Happy with my correct reply, he went on to tell me that we should first thank God before saying we are doing well because God is greater than what we want or how we are feeling. He reminded me it is because of God that we can do well, as God is greater and we must submit with gratitude.

The White Mosque was originally constructed to foster better relations between Christians and Muslims in Nazareth. A blessing of accountability was given to the mosque, indicating that if a Muslim preacher ever spoke against the Christian community in Nazareth, the minaret would crash to the ground and destroy the building. To this day the mosque stands near the center of the Old Market, where many come to converse, trade, and interact.

dave-blog.jpgI am challenged by the initiative of the Muslims of Nazareth to extend a hand of coexistent hospitality to their Christian neighbors. I am encouraged by the 138 Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals who came together in October to unanimously declare the common ground between Christianity and Islam in a historic document entitled, “A Common Word Between Us and You.” Their invitation to the global Christian community is that we take Jesus’ two greatest commandments seriously, to love God and to love our neighbors.

Learning a new language is a humbling experience; one that teaches much about the contexts and cultures of our neighbors’ lives. It is a deliberate decision to learn to love what is unfamiliar and greater than ourselves, which directs our attention to God.

Choosing a humble learner’s approach is the act that begins the process of mutual understanding, the essential initial building blocks of peacemaking through transformational relationships. This is the bridge to taking the next difficult step that Jesus requires of us, to love our enemies as well as our neighbors.

By living in a place where I am required to interact with Jews, Muslims, and Christians on a daily basis in order to go about my life, I am continually learning that indeed, God is greater than our differences. Open and honest relationships, like God, acknowledge and transcend the labels we have constructed to separate ourselves from each other. The invitation to love our neighbors is open and awaiting our participation.

For more information on the letter “A Common Word Between Us and You” sent October 13, 2007 and the Mennonite Church USA response visit: Mennoweekly.org

Photos by David Landis

Breathe deeply and step forward

David Landis
dplandis@franconiaconference.org

Shabbat, the Hebrew word for the Sabbath, begins at sundown on Friday. During this time many religious Jews in the Jerusalem area migrate to the Western Wall to offer prayers, commencing the holy day of rest and celebration.

In August I was walking through the Old City streets towards the wall among Orthodox Jews, as well as a group of young Mennonites from the United States. As we approached the Wall, we stepped back to gather our observations and hesitations. The mass of men and women clothed in black and white closer to the Wall were swirling, praying, praising and dancing in ways that looked foreign to us, yet beckoned as genuine and holy. Some wanted to approach but wondered, “What will they think of us if we go there to pray if we’re not Jewish?”

After some conversation, we imagined a young Jesus in our same situation, and it seemed obvious that he would have stepped forward. Tim and I decided to put on paper kippot and move closer. Soon we were swept up in a circle of young Jewish men, singing boisterously and dancing in a circle with arms around each others’ shoulders. There was a spiritual energy that I haven’t felt in a long time. Our hesitations were absorbed by the movement of the community.

As we walked back toward where the rest of our group had been curiously watching, an older Orthodox Jewish man approached us and said with a warm smile, “I just want you to know that you are welcome here and that God is not Jewish. And I know this because you are breathing; you are alive here with us.”

The words stuck with me. In Jewish tradition, breath is the spirit of God signified by the Hebrew word ruach, which also has linguistic connections to the wind, soul and spirit. Ancient Hebrew has no vowels, as these sounds represent the breath of God articulating language through the reader’s recitation. As a result, the communicated message is an inspired interaction with God, sculpting the meaning of scripture to speak to the context of the community.

The Holy Spirit invites us to see God moving through each other, whether expressed through our inspired words, the breath that sustains us, or the effects of the wind that fill our sails and drive us to new horizons. As Anglican Bishop John V. Taylor states, this is the “Go-Between God,” the invisible “current of communication” that streams between us when we truly recognize the presence of the other.

Over the past few years, I have felt the wind pulling me across the Atlantic and Mediterranean back to the Middle East, a place that has had significant spiritual influence on the whole of humanity as well as my personal journey. Returning has never been a matter of if, but a matter of when. And now the time has come to make the move.

Next week I will shift my location of residence to Israel to experiment with new models for how God communicates through all of us. This initiative of Franconia Conference, via Jerusalem, will seek to develop new ways to build a culture of engagement and connectivity through networking, communication and movement within the global Anabaptist community. I will be writing and adding photos regularly to http://via-global.org, so keep checking to interact as the initiative develops.

Let us all take a deep breath and invite the Spirit of God to inspire our lives with new understandings of each other whether on the way to Jerusalem or simply on the way.

Returning to Dreams in the Middle East

After a busy weekend traveling over northern Israel, it feels like home to come back to our hostel in Nazareth. We were all pretty tired and parched from the heat and travel, but as Karah said, it doesn’t get much better than watching the sun rise over the Galilee and set over the Mediterranean.

It has been two years since I have been in this part of the world, and before coming back to lead this trip with Youth Venture, I was looking through some of the journals I had written from when I had traveled here in 2005. I found this journal (http://www.vivaelviaje.com/blogs/vivaelviaje/archives/000146.html), where I talked a bit about my Israeli friend Maoz, and how he had a vision to start a youth hostel in the Arab city of Nazareth to build peace in his country.

And coming back now, it’s amazing to see what has happened. Maoz’s dream, The Fauzi Azar Inn, has helped to revitalize the old city of Nazareth and bring life back to the semi-desolate marketplace and stones of the medina. He has helped to foster interaction and hospitality between international visitors with both Arabs from Nazareth and Israelis looking for a weekend getaway. Many volunteers for Nazareth Village stay at the Inn and visitors to the Inn visit the village. Those from Nazareth speak about Maoz with great respect, as they know that he has helped to build peace in the town of Jesus.

When we oriented ourselves to the village last week, we sat in the first century synagogue and discussed Luke 4:14-20, where Jesus returns to his home town after his time in the desert, and says:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As a group, we have been meeting many different people in this complex land, each with their own story and perspective. This weekend, we will be traveling to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and experiencing the heart of this country where more religions and people mix into a city that is unlike any other in the world.

Through becoming a part of the Biblical story and living amidst the stories of many others, we are continually learning what the Luke 4 passage meant both for those in the first century and us today. We are anticipating what it will be like to return to our home towns in two weeks and share this will our churches, families and friends.

On Sunday, we were at the beach near the ancient Caesarea aqueduct, hanging out with Maoz, his wife Shlomit, and their 18th month-old son Liad who is the happiest boy you could ever imagine. I feel priviledged to be here again and to be a part of the ever-developing story of the people in this region. It’s exciting to imagine what the next chapter, and how it may be connected to us all.

David Landis
dplandis@franconiaconference.org

Witnessing for peace and saving our soul

img_2412-2.jpgAt a forum discussing the war in Iraq at Eastern Mennonite University in mid-February, professor and former MCCer in Iraq/Jordan Peter Dula stated that there are two things we know we can do to nonviolently counter the war—refusing to pay war taxes and getting off the oil grid by using public transit or riding your bike. After the discussion, a group of students began considering what it would be like to bike to Washington, DC, for the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq event the following month as a tangible expression of what it means to live and witness for peace. One member of the EMU community stated, “I use my bike for transportation as a statement of active peace building. If I get smeared one day by a tractor trailer on the road, how is that different from those who lose their lives for their beliefs?”

The Christian Peace Witness for Iraq event was planned by a diverse array of Christian denominational leaders, including Susan Mark Landis of Mennonite Church USA’s Peace and Justice Support Network. The purpose of the event was to gather as many Christians as possible for a worship service in the National Cathedral, followed by a march to the White House where a number of persons would stop in from of the gates to pray for the end of the war. Since it is illegal to gather in front of the White House for any reason, the people praying knew they would be arrested and fined for their nonviolent civil disobedience. This would be our collective witness.

Buses began organizing to transport people to the event, including groups from Plains Mennonite Church, Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, the Lancaster, PA area, and Eastern Mennonite University. Around the time of the conversation at EMU, I posted the event on Facebook with a group called “Anabaptist Network,” which seeks to connect Anabaptist-oriented persons for collaboration for events, gatherings or discussion. An open invitation to the entire group resulted in over 60 persons RSVPing to attend, coming mostly from the east coast but as far as Indiana and Illinois.

img_2891.jpgWe decided to try to get there by bicycle.

With cold rain in the forecast, three of us including my sister Kristina and EMU student Jon Spicher left Harrisonburg early on Thursday to get in as many miles as possible before hitting the worst of the weather. Loaded down with camping gear to spend the night somewhere outside of the capital, we crossed the Massanutten and Skyline Drive ridges while the skies were clear, stopping at small stores and diners to fill up our water bottles or break for a snack.

At our lunch stop in Rappahannock County, we drew the curiosity of the persons behind the counter at a deli. A middle aged man told me of his daughter’s experience as a soldier in Iraq and his own frustration and confusion about our government’s approach. When he was her (and my) age, he had been in Vietnam. He feared that she would have to live through the same painful reality he continues to experience. When I invited him to join us in DC the following evening, he said, “There’s no way… the last time I tried to go to that city, I only got as far as Arlington Cemetery and had to turn around. I’m with you though… God bless you…”

Throughout the day, we plugged on, feeling the weight of our camping gear, but glad the rain held off into the early afternoon. With freezing rain in the forecast for Friday morning, we decided to try to push into the city on Thursday to beat cold riding in the morning. Unfortunately, the rains came around 4:00pm. We felt the struggle of the journey, but continued in good spirits.

Wet roads and railroad crossings are a dangerous combination for bikers. As we crossed tracks in the wet afternoon, my tires slipped and I fell. Kristina, following me, skidded while trying to stop and landed on my bike. As we got up off the road, we noticed that Kristina’s leg had scraped across my chainring, acquiring multiple scrapes and a not-to-be-ignored laceration. Jon ran into a restaurant to get first aid supplies. We cleaned up the wounds and regathered ourselves to figure out what to do next.

img_2898.jpgAlthough Kristina wanted to finish biking into DC, we decided that it would be best to get her to an ER to be checked out. Manassas was the closest hospital/train, so we headed off in the rain in that direction. Ten miles later, we ended up at the Price William Hospital’s ER and sat down to wait. Six hours later, we found out that the cut needed six stitches. Thankfully, Kirk Hanger, pastor of the Nueva Esperanza/New Hope congregation in Alexandria, VA let us crash at his house that evening and even came out to meet us at the hospital at 11:30pm.

In the morning it was raining and sleeting pretty hard so we loaded the bikes on the Metro to get into the city. We were thankful to have arrived, and the struggle that it took to gather seemed quite significant in respect to the purpose of the journey. We discovered that the bus from Christopher Dock had cancelled due to the icy weather, as well as three from Harrisonburg and a few from Lancaster.

When we entered the cathedral’s sanctuary Friday evening, it felt as if everything began to calm into an ecumenical space charged full of reverence and refuge from the weather. We knew we were in familiar territory under the protective roof of the church, away from the sleet outside.

img_3010.jpgDuring the service, Rev. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, Senior Pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta pulled attention to Matthew 16:26. He reflected on how our decisions within the American lifestyle have lead us to the point where violence is necessary to gain what we do not need. “What good is it to gain the entire world, yet forfeit our soul?” As our country seeks to gain the entire world, how can the Christian community in America live so that we do not lose our soul? How can we meet the world in a way to effectively communicate this question?

Jim Wallis of Sojourners rounded out the lineup of speakers with his usual address and we headed out of the sanctuary and into the world where the weather had pleasantly transformed into a light snow. Friends from different parts of the country caught up with each other along the way. As we passed various countries’ embassies, many persons waved and cheered to us. Our cadence was kept by the drum beats of the Psalters, a group with Anabaptist connections originally from Philadelphia. Together we walked with excitement and a steadfast pace for four miles down Massachusetts Avenue to Lafayette Park where we stood face to face with the White House.

When we got to the White House, the police were ready with spotlights on us. The organized direction of the procession dispersed around the White House gates and I lost track of what was transpiring, wandering around the area and climbing a tree to take photos of the crowd. Someone was listing soldiers’ names through a bullhorn, but I couldn’t make out what else was happening. People went forward to get arrested. The White House’s lights went off and someone muttered about how the President wasn’t even there. I hung around the area with friends until about 1am.

img_3115.jpgThe next morning I learned that 222 people were arrested at the White House, each paying a $100 fine. The national media covered the event immediately and minimally, but Mennonite media channels are still compiling information. I hope the world was watching; at least acknowledging that over 4000 people made the effort to communicate, to witness.

As people ask me about the event, I’m not quite sure what to say. The cathedral experience was meaningful and conversations with various “Anabaptist Network” persons during the march were fun. I enjoyed waving to persons working at the embassies. Collectively it felt like we were a part of something.

Yet I’m still struggling with many questions out of this experience.

Why was the ending anti-climatic? Was my destination the cathedral sanctuary or the seemingly ineffective and disorganized manifestation outside the gates of the White House? Why did three bikes make it from Harrisonburg, yet three buses did not? How do the stitches in my sister’s leg relate to the wounds of hundreds of thousands in Iraq? And how was the man from Rappahannock County with us and where is his daughter at this moment?

Why does our coherence seem to dissolve when we try to relate to the world beyond the church community? What does it mean to gain the entire world? Where is our soul throughout the entire journey when seeming ineffectiveness makes us cynical?

To become witnesses for peace and hope also for our soul, it seems that there must be more we can do and much more that we can imagine.

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Why the incarnation principle still applies: Taking relationships seriously means you need to show up

img_0241.jpgDavid Landis, dplandis@franconiaconference.org
Associate for Communication and Leadership Cultivation

“When we’re all gone, this church will disappear,” stated an older gentleman from a church whose population of young adults is virtually nonexistent.

When I began working for Franconia Mennonite Conference in early 2006, it didn’t take much time to realize that many young adults are loosing connection with their home congregations, both unintentionally and intentionally. Many leave for college, begin an international service term or settle into jobs, shedding familiar connections to explore an adult role within their surrounding community.

As a young adult often feeling this same disconnect, my curiosity was sparked to investigate the situation. Though much has been presumptuously stated about why young adults are not connecting, it seems that a lot of what is heard are words and ideas not supported by experiential investigation.

In order to explore our questions, we decided to visit students from our conference’s congregations at various colleges. Food and drinks always seem to gather college students, so spaces were set up at restaurants and coffeehouses for conversation. We hoped to bring an atmosphere of hospitality to the students in a manner that wouldn’t beg them to come back to church, but rather honestly seek the best ways to mutually listen, understand, and support.

Dinner with Goshen students at “Hacienda”Although it might seem obvious, we clearly discovered that the very act of going and listening is the most practical starting point for understanding each other. In a world where those close to us are often separated by vast geographic distance, it takes a lot of energy, time and financial investment to make these journeys. Yet these precious resources of our culture are what we sacrifice because we care. An incarnate sacrifice indicates that we are committed to actively pursuing relational understanding.

The incarnation is a foundation of the Christian experience. In John 1:14, Jesus initiates his relationship with humanity when “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” Jesus came seeking new human relationships.

We all believe that relationships are the core of our meaningful experiences. Much energy in the church has been invested into the familiar phrase, “strengthening our personal relationship with God.” Young adults have directly and indirectly communicated that we understand what it means to be in relationship with God by how we are in relationship with others. As Jesus said, “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.” We show how much we care by what we do.

Making the sacrifice to walk alongside each other on the journey indicates how much the relationship is valued. Many young adults do not hear from their home congregations while they are studying and serving far from home. Some have indicated that theyfeel their congregations view college or international experiences as a time to “sow wild oats” as prodigal daughters and sons, later to return to the way things have always been or suffer guilt otherwise. For many, these experiences are the first opportunity to freely explore difficult issues. This period of questioning is a time of trying to grasp how experiences interact with integrity to the world around us and nurture healthy, holistic relationships.

For many, the church has been a place that privileges those who seem perfect and successful. Idealistic morality is the socially rewarded goal, it’s a standard that all of us fall short of attaining. Our personal struggles are then the most difficult to discuss. By restraining from these difficult, personal conversations, we stress and damage the relationships within the community, eventually producing a desire to escape what seems like a facade.

img_0257.jpgMuch of the pain that estranges us from our church community is due to broken relationships. We grow up in a tightly connected group seeking to explore what it means to personally follow Jesus with our daily decisions. It’s a difficult process that often separates us from each other. For the church community to holistically engage this learning process, we need to be able to re-imagine how to move toward each other.

Our hospitality, whether social or theological, indicates the approachability of our community’s relationships. Hesitancy to begin the journey is perceived as fear from the perspective of those who are ready to explore the path ahead together.

Creating and sustaining these connections takes gracious energy. We need to show up and meet each other where we are at if we are going to take relationships seriously. We all know this is the truth, and we all desire it. We need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to courageously invest in this grace, whether we are going to make the journey?

All of us, young and old, do not want to suffer this journey of exploration alone. Young adults desire wisdom and guidance from older adults who are willing to ask difficult questions with them. Many older adults who have lived through difficult questions are waiting to be asked about them. We are all hesitant to approach that vulnerable moment where the incarnation becomes paradoxically personal and communal, where words become flesh to bring forth grace, truth and ultimately new life.

Embodying compassionate dreams and awkward visions

David Landis
dplandis@franconiaconference.org

David LandisOur leadership cultivation and communication team meets on Tuesday mornings at Bucks County Coffee in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood. I often wake up early to make the bike trek south from Harleysville, finishing the route along the Schuylkill River.

This journey frequently presents challenges and discomforts—cold rain, irritable and inattentive drivers with perceived time constraints and occasional flat tires. Each ride presents opportunities to learn from unpredictable twists and turns. Preparing myself for this weekly jaunt from the suburbs has become a disciplined ritual. Arriving at the coffee shop a few minutes early often creates a welcome space to recharge for the day.

On one of these mornings in Manayunk, we invited a few others to talk about peace and justice initiatives in the Philadelphia region. With a slightly larger group, we chose to meet at the outdoor tables along the street because there wasn’t enough room inside. During the meeting, a lively older homeless man rolled up in his wheelchair and requested money to buy tokens for the public transit system.

We offered to buy him coffee and a bagel instead, which he accepted after an initial rebuttal. He began to eat and said, “Life is good. I got all this stuff.” A minute later he added, “No, I’m not eating that. I don’t need no sugar. I ain’t eating that…” We continued the meeting as he sat next to us, the situation progressing with a delicate balance of awkwardness and compassion.

The interruption was interesting on various levels. Because we had decided to meet in a place other than a Mennonite office in the suburbs, we had an opportunity to meet a person with physical needs living among us, providing a new relationship and the accompanying sense of discomfort. It was an opportunity to extend hospitality, comfort, and care for someone who might not be able to make it on their own. It was the chance to actively create community.

The discomfort, risk, and awkwardness inherent in encounters like this are ultimately what bring forth new life. And it often seems it’s most difficult to engage these growing pains with the people who are closest to our hearts—our extended church family: children, grandparents, students, and campers. By risking our comfort to care in these familiar relationships, we will be able to extend trust to those who are currently outside of our church culture—whether on the streets of Manayunk, from a different denominational background, or those who may be suffering from the war in Lebanon or experiencing religious persecution in Indonesia.

This issue explores how seeking to live out Anabaptist values can proactively foster agents of change for the reconciliation of relationships within our communities—locally and globally. It is easy for Christians to agree that there is opportunity for compassion. The challenge that will take us beyond what’s comfortable will be acknowledging our obligation to actively care by working for transformation in our community.

Julie Prey-Harbaugh’s article offers a new way of understanding and participating in Jesus’ saving work. She dreams about how the body of Christ leap will leap into action to meet the pain of broken relationships. As Brad Glick walks through the personal journey that inspired his preparation to work for structural change within social systems that inhibit the potential of our future, he quotes Beverly Harrison saying that children embody the vision and dreams of their culture. This culture is the Anabaptist community we create. Julie presents a good question then for our discernment: “What are your deepest desires and hopes for their lives?”

May God give us strength to move beyond our fear into the awkward future that awaits us for the sake of both this generation and the next.

David Landis is an Associate for Communication and Leadership Cultivation for Franconia Conference.

a conversation over pizza at Providence

dave-blog-1.jpgI was the fifth passenger in Earl Anders’ car, crammed into the back seat with two older Mennonite women with coverings, glad that I was offered a ride instead of biking through the dreary day. Most of the drive’s conversation was in the back seat, observing how greatly the landscape has changed since they have last been taken this trip to the area where they grew up. They talked about the tragedy of increased housing prices and decreased number of farms, and how years ago the boys used to shake the bridge across the creek when the girls would walk across. They kept apologizing for the conversation.

I was asked to share about Bikemovement at Providence Mennonite Church in Collegeville (PA) for the Maturing Pilgrims monthly luncheon. The afternoon’s adventure began as we pulled into the parking lot of the church, which can only be reached by driving through a housing development. I’m guessing the church was once in the middle of Pennsylvania farmland, but has since been surrounded, almost engulfed by buildings, highways and change.

We shared a pizza and soda luncheon, supplemented with enough home-made desserts to fulfill an entire potluck meal. One woman took a bite of her slice covered with onions, peppers and mushrooms and exclaimed, “I’ve never tasted anything like this before.” I smiled and said it was a great meal. I guessed that I was the only person under 60 in the room.

Following lunch, there was a series of jokes like: Q: What is a Gorilla’s favorite fruit? A: An ape-ricot. Or Q: Why can’t pigs drive cars? Because they don’t have horns? was a proposed answer, but no, it was because they were road hogs. They wondered if I enjoyed the pizza party. Multiple comments were made about how the pizza was an unusual experience at the monthly event.

During the introduction to my presentation, a smoke alarm with a low battery kept chirping on the ceiling in the middle of the room. Ralph, the tall pastor who was introducing my presentation, noted that the battery was on its last leg. Others around the room kept acknowledging the steady chirp,whispering to each other about the noise. Finally Ralph reached up and yanked the thing off the ceiling, hoping to be done with the annoyance and setting it on the table. He proceeded to report on a person from the group who is in the hospital due to a heart attack as the group entered a time of prayer. The smoke detector chirped again. A man at one of the tables started pulling it apart to get the battery out, hoping to be done with the distraction. Chirp. The prayer continued, “Dear God, be with these people during this time of trial…” Chirp… As the prayer ended, the device was disassembled and silent.

pb260494.jpgI was on. I shared about Bikemovement and our purpose, struggles and dreams. I shared mostly with photos and personal stories. We talked about how many churches are struggling to connect with their young adults, how many are leaving and not returning. They mentioned how the Baptist church next door is always full to the brim on Sunday. We acknowledged that we all have struggles and broken relationships and that the church can be a relevant community to gather and grow together. They shared with me how they used to bike around the area on single speeds to get to school or visit friends. Some said they used to go to church events for the social space, perhaps to meet the girls from the far edge of the conference—Blooming Glen, about 10 miles up the road.

One woman stated, “Well, we can’t bike with you, but at least we can contribute financially.” They suggested that an offering be taken to give to the MWC AMIGOS fund to bring youth from the global south to Paraguay 2009. They loved being able to joyfully give.

After we formally finished, the conversation and questions continued. One gentleman expressed concern about the future of the church. He said, “when we all are gone, this thing will be done. We try to go into the surrounding development and invite them in, but they don’t seem to care. They just don’t seem to want to come to church.”

We discussed whether we really know what our neighbors want and are passionate about. He said, “I don’t know, but I don’t think they want to come to church.” His friendlycuriosity seemed somewhat frustrated as he searched his mind for answers.

On the way home the women continued to chat and point out the changes. “That house over there, with the boxy room on top, was my aunt’s. We all used to call her Auntie Castle, because of the house. The trolley car used to re-charge in this building there. My brother would take it down to the city when he was in medical school.”

I had never known that a trolley came this far north along the Perkiomen Creek from Philadelphia. Now the suburbs are overrun by an army of SUV drivers, and public transportation has died out. I spend much of my time commuting by bicycle in a land that is always changing.

The Perkiomen trail that I occasionally use to bike to Philadelphia for meetings was once these old trolley tracks. The old trolley car also came into Harleysville, within a half mile of my house. I can only imagine how wonderfully relevant it would be to have that trolley now.

Reactions of novelty, misfortune and hope arose from the many cultural changes that were evidenced in the afternoon’s conversations. It seems that the most significant thought for all of us was to know that there are still some of us who care enough about their struggles with the church, as one older woman put it, to “go on an adventure in faith…and risk something new.”

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photo by Richard Moyer, FMC staff