“Bind them as a sign on your hand …” MennoMedia Board chair goes literal

In early September, I preached a sermon in my congregation on Deuteronomy 6:4-9. That scripture was chosen to kick-off a series on core Anabaptist scriptures.

A parallel Sunday School class is using MennoMedia’s Bible study guide, Dig In: 13 Scriptures to Help Us Know the Way. The Deuteronomy scripture includes commands from God to keep God’s words constantly before us, even tied onto our bodies and written on our houses. In the spirit of those instructions, I tied a ribbon around my wrist during the sermon. I told the congregation I was going to wear this verse, and add the remaining scriptures as I preached on them this fall. And I have done so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInitially, I liked the tangible connection between me and God’s word. I liked seeing the ribbons as I went about my daily routines, recalling the scripture and meditating upon it. Such a visible prompt calls me back to my Christian faith, to my baptismal vows, and to my intentions to follow Jesus. This is especially helpful when I’ve strayed off the path, and I’m thinking or acting in unchristian ways.

As the ribbons multiplied, however, I got a little bothered by them. They get in the way! They slow me down. They don’t always match my clothes. They’re a bit fussy. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 slipped off my wrist into the washing machine, emerging wrinkled and dripping but intact at the end of the cycle. Romans 12:9-21 disappeared completely and had to be replaced.) To simplify, I capped the bracelets at four, with multiple texts on each one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo what’s the point of “digging in” to core Anabaptist scriptures? First off, it provides a base from which to explain biblical interpretation from an Anabaptist perspective. Each family of Christianity has a unique understanding of Jesus, a particular shade of meaning about his gifts to the world. Focusing on these scriptures helps to ground ourselves in an Anabaptist understanding of Jesus.

Secondly, God’s word does get in the way, or it should! There is wisdom in the Deuteronomy counsel to have an intimate and embodied relationship with God’s word. God’s word, for all its complexities and puzzles, does help us to find our way, in a confusing, over-stimulated and unholy world. Like traffic lights or GPS voice commands, God’s word warns us of dangers and orients our spiritual direction. The Bible offers true signposts, guiding us we walk in the way of Jesus.

MennoMedia’s mission is to provide resources for living Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective. Dig In is one small but significant way we are acting on that mission.

mmiller

Melissa Miller, MennoMedia Board chair

***

How do you stay connected to God’s word as you go about your daily routine? Any practices, such as Melissa’s, that you’ve tried in order to “write them on your doorpost”? P1030367Jewelry? Special T-shirts? Other? We’d love to hear your experiences or see your photos. Send to melodied@mennomedia.org

***

MennoMedia has just announced Dig In in Spanish, as ¡A Escarbar!. See more here.Or to purchase, go here.

Dig In includes video interviews with persons across the U.S. and Canada telling about their experiences/thoughts around the various scriptures. See more about Dig In and find a link to one video, here.

When Bible texts are like mountaintops

By Melissa Miller

Any spectacular mountains in your travels this summer? Many of us feel awe and wonder when we survey such “lofty mountain grandeur.”

TanyaMountain

How about a closer look at the “mountains” in scripture? Do they inspire us in a similar way? Let me explain.

Bible professors have been known to assign students the task of identifying key passages. It’s a different task than identifying one’s favorite scriptures. It’s a way to sort and sift through the whole Bible to determine the passages that speak to the heart of the biblical witness to God and God’s relationship with people and with the earth.

“Think of these texts as like mountaintops,” the professor will explain. “They rise to the top in our vision and in our understanding of scripture. We look at other sections of the Bible within the peaks of these mountains.”

ZionPark

As a child of the mountains, I resonate with the teaching metaphor. It’s a visual way to help us understand that some scriptures dominate our interpretation, in the same way that mountains dominate the environment. The mountaintop reminds us that we don’t hold all the words of scripture with exactly the same weight. Even if we agree with the apostle Paul that all scripture is “God-breathed and useful one way or another” (2 Timothy 3:16 The Message).

What scriptures are our mountaintop scriptures? Is it the story of the exodus? Do we include Isaiah’s eloquent description of the suffering servant? Is the Golden Rule shining on the mountain? How about Paul’s joyful word to the Philippians of Jesus’ self-giving love? Is there a chance that Mennonites could agree about the key scriptures, even while recognizing favorites for some individuals or subgroups?

MennoMedia paired with two denominations, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA, to create a list of key scriptures. First we had to agree on the terms; the leaders wanted to include passages from different parts of the Bible and to give due attention to the treasured scriptures that have guided Anabaptists for centuries. At the end, thirteen core scriptures were selected.

A resource was then created, including a video with scholars and lovers of the Bible reflecting on the meaning and message of the passage. Called Dig In: 13 Scriptures to Help us Know the Way, it draws us back to our Reformation roots of digging into life-giving biblical passages while helping us navigate the turbulent waters of today. Reading through these scriptures, as I’ve done several times, I am deeply moved by the power of scripture to comfort, guide and challenge us.

As a pastor, I am excited about bringing this resource to my congregation in Manitoba. I am planning to use it in an integrated worship-Sunday School series this fall. Even the awesomely flat landscape of the prairies can be the setting for mountaintop experiences in scripture.

Do you have ideas or creative ways of Bible study as a congregation? Here’s what some are doing. We’d love to hear what you’ve done or are planning.

mmiller

Melissa Miller, MennoMedia Board President

(Photos courtesy of Tanya Sparks, first, and Melodie Davis second.)

Can one man serve two countries?

When telling people about my job working in development, they often ask, “Is the whole country your territory?” to which I reply “No. I have two countries.”

Let me back up. I had been searching for a position at a national agency of the Mennonite Church for about a year before accepting my current role as MennoMedia’s Director of Development.

I was not raised Mennonite but embraced the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective in 1997 about the same time I was retiring from a 20 year career in the United States Coast Guard (CG). Immediately after leaving the CG, I took a job on staff at Washington Community Fellowship (WCF) as church administrator. WCF calls itself an evangelical, multi-denominational congregation affiliated with the Mennonite Church. I served that local body for more than five years.

Late in 2002 I moved from D.C. to Harrisonburg, VA to become Virginia Mennonite Conference’s (VMC) Coordinator. VMC is one of 21 regional bodies within Mennonite Church USA. While working in that 2/3 time role I attended Eastern Mennonite Seminary and, in 2011 , earned a Master of Arts in Religion in part by writing a thesis on Mennonites and Media. In March 2011, anticipating graduation and having served on both local and regional branches of the Mennonite Church, I decided to resign from VMC and seek a national church position.

MennoMedia formed in July 2011 from the merger of the Mennonite Publishing Network and Third Way Media and set up its headquarters in Harrisonburg, VA where I live. After an extensive job search, in March, 2012, I embraced an opportunity to become MennoMedia’s Director of Development.

So when people ask what territory I cover, I explain it covers both Canada and the U.S.
Our agency, MennoMedia, is not a national, but a bi-national ministry of both Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. That fact has pleased me very much.

My job is on the road, not in the office. I travel about every third week. My last two trips have been to Canada. I attended the Mennonite Church Eastern Canada Annual Gathering and 25th Anniversary Celebration in Kitchener, Ontario in late April.

MCEC’s 25th Anniversary Cake, Scattered and Sown; In Every Seed a Promise

While there I was delighted to hear César García, President of Mennonite World Conference, speak.

Cesar Garcia, MWC

Cesar Garcia

In mid-May, I traveled to Winnipeg to visit churches and donors in Manitoba. While there I met with Melissa Miller, pastor of Springstein Mennonite Church near Winnipeg and chair of MennoMedia’s board since January, 2012.

mmiller

Melissa Miller, chair of MennoMedia Board

MennoMedia’s eight person board is comprised of three Canadians and five U.S. citizens. This bi-national focus serves our churches and their members well by keeping MennoMedia’s focus above national distinctives and on eternal truths.

So, over the past 16 years I have moved from becoming a Mennonite and serving a local Mennonite church, to a leadership role in a regional body of Mennonite Church USA, to interacting with Mennonite pastors and church leaders all across the U.S. and Canada. I have been richly blessed by these experiences and am enthusiastic about our mission to “engage and shape church and society with resources for living Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective,” and about inviting others to share that mission too.

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development

Steve Carpenter, MennoMedia’s Director of Development