These reflections come from Todd Wynward, an author, educator and wilderness guide who lives and works in Taos, NM. He is the author of the novel The Secrets of Leaven. You can read more of Todd’s reflections on discipleship, ecology, Mennonite identity and more on his blog, Undomesticated: wild thoughts from the edge of empire. This post originally appeared there and is used with permission.
There’s a profound environmental movement beginning to bubble up in an unlikely place: the Mennonite church.
I don’t have an easy relationship with institutional Christianity. All too often, organized religion ends up supporting the warlike tendencies, ravenous greed and socioeconomic inequities that Jesus wanted to liberate us from.
Knowing this, I became a Mennonite fifteen years ago. Why? Well, frankly, if you’re interested in participating with God’s dream to make earth as heaven, Mennos are one of the best outifits going. Despite a lot of human inconsistency and moral weakness, for five hundred years the Mennonite tradition has taken seriously the idea of following a radical Jesus. This has led to all types of embarrassing, Empire-defying stances: civil disobedience, refusing to bear arms, intentional simplicity, forgiving murderers, befriending the poor, practicing mutual aid, and engaging deeply in global peacemaking. Now, not all Mennonites are guided by such values, to be sure. But many are. Radical discipleship is in the tradition’s roots; it’s in the blood. Fifteen years ago, when I encountered a pocket of inspiring Mennonites doing their broken best to practice the Jesus Way in the neighborhoods of Albuquerque, I was hooked. I wanted to be one of them.
An undomesticated Anabaptist.
I like Mennonites most because they have a long history of developing parallel societies in the shadow of Empire. My wife and I try to do that too: we live in a yurt in the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Taos, New Mexico. My friends and I milk goats, shear sheep, plant trees, and try to grow a lot of our food in the high desert. My wife and I each have more than two decades of experience as wilderness educators, river guides and camp directors. Both of us have spent more than a thousand days—three years of our lives—in open country and in wilderness, sleeping under the stars. More than once we have been called feral. Last week, a citified visitor from Philadelphia giggled in awe when she entered our small dwelling, and immediately started snapping photos. She simply couldn’t believe we use a composting toilet and carry water to our house by hand in buckets, like millions of people across the world.
Before you get too impressed, let’s be clear: we’re nothing but pretenders. My family still has laptops and a cappuccino maker, cell phones and Netflix. We daily take our son to soccer practice in a Prius and monthly drive a hundred miles to shop at the nearest Trader Joe’s. Even though we homestead in the high country, we’re still entangled in Empire, as much a part of the system as anyone. Which is why my encounter last month with other Mennonites hungry for transformation was so life-giving.
Did not our hearts burn within us?
Picture this: July 2013, downtown Phoenix, AZ, me at my first national Mennonite Convention. During the last hours of the week-long event, about a dozen of us gathered from across the nation, hastily organizing our own meeting on white plastic chairs in a faceless food court. We came together as Mennonites to see we could do regarding climate change. We came together as North Americans hoping to transform our policies, our perspectives and our lifestyles. We came together wanting Mennonites to repent from our culture’s eco-cidal madness; we came together wanting ourselves and our churches to practice watershed discipleship, as followers of a God who loves all of creation.
What began as a hasty assembly evolved into a sacred circle. Spirit moved strongly amongst and through us. Together we listened attentively and spoke prophetically. Here we were, at an institutional gathering for an institutional church, and transformation was filling the air. No lie—I was caught up. Potential for a new reality blossomed in my cynical heart.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
At the end of our meeting, the dozen of us departed to our own scattered parts of the continent, yet we did not feel alone. We now held a common vision: a not-so-distant future filled with congregations across North America embodying watershed discipleship, changing our society from the inside out.
Now I want to ask you, dear reader: Will you be part of this vision? You can be if you help your community live out four key traits:
◦ Practice bioregional adaptation, seeking to craft sustainable lifestyles that fit within the gifts and limits of our watersheds;
◦ Enact structural mitigation, resisting eco-cidal institutions and policies that threaten the health of our vital life systems;
◦ Actively explore and implement alternative institutions and appropriate new technologies that foster healthy regional economies;
◦ Embody a spiritual resiliency, sharing and living a scripturally-grounded, Jesus-following, earth-honoring, despair-erasing Christianity.
How to get there from here?
How do we become the church we want to be–the watershed disciples that our God is yearning for us to become? Our group is not sure, but we have some places to start. However, dear reader, that is a topic for another day. Tune in next time as I share my exciting conversations with Ched Myers and Luke Gascho, and also share the inspirational actions and ideas of Sheri Hostetler from the Bay Area, Anita Amstutz, Donna Detweiler, Ken Gingerich and Andy Gingerich from Albuquerque, Joel Miller from Columbus, and Steve Heinrichs from all the way up in Vancouver!