|Networking courtesy neilpeterson.com|
In an era of Internet searches, digital genealogies, on-line networks, Facebook and other social media, inter-personal networks and constructed identities are the name of the day.
For some reason, we do not seem to like to name this process or reality as such. Despite not wanting to admit that we still label, we make constant grouping and identity decisions ranging from who is friend, acquaintance or family, to who has immediate access to one’s daily experiences and thoughts, to who might interact with us at work, who is church and who is blocked.
Amongst Anabaptists, one of the more compelling problems is that of definitions and groupings. The two sides in the former Evangelical versus non-Evangelical divide have diverged greatly since the 1950s and even more so since the 1980s, but technology is bringing us together once more
Oddly, a certain cultural affinity, and thankfully, toleration, continue to exist between the various identities within the greater Mennonite diaspora. “Der Unza” remains a principle of assistance, mutual affection and inter-personal kindness. Not insignificantly, those who still abide by “der Unza” seemingly tend to apply the same principles of kindness and care to most persons, regardless of ethnic status or church affiliation. This is a strong commendation for this traditional Mennonite principle of networking.
But our once common language has diverged to the point that communication is really not that simple.
A recent conversation considered the relationship between the Mennonite Brethren (MB) and the Mennonites Church (MC-USA). While individual members still inter-relate and associate with each other as fellow Mennonites, it is difficult to determine the actual extent of institutional interaction and dialogue on the cultural, church or academic levels.
One might clearly discern a common and living ethnic identity in which both communities participate, but as for common ideals and theology, one is a bit more perplexed.
As for the Evangelicals, well, it often seems that they might as well be Amish for their ability to participate in conversations with either side on anything more complicated than the basic exchange of verenika recipes.
The greatest issue is that of dialogue. In order to understand who we are, we also have to understand who and what we are not. This involves discovering definitions and developing identity models that often include some while excluding others. This is appropriately somewhat controversial.
|Networking Amish courtesy Intomobile.com|
But such things still comprise the building blocks and detritus of identity, both of the group and the individual. What we once thought could be merely overlooked or ignored, has failed to fully disappear or go away.
As we struggle to understand ourselves and to communicate our own identities to others, we must of necessity access these older dialogues and resurrect former ideologies and even conflicts.
But with the bad comes so much more good that extends well beyond successful and healthy identity formation and maintenance.
We celebrate a common heritage in the 100 year anniversary of AIMM in the Congo, the continued success and impact of the MCC and MDS. The majority of our schools are still in operation, though a few are no longer as identifiably “Mennonite.” Our folk tongues are distressed but not yet extinct. We still remember from whence we have come and the faith that enabled our ancestors to face all things with courage and unity. There is so much to share, so much that continues to unite us.
So as we dig into the past of our Anabaptist identity, we need not push for a new unity or re-establishment, but we must recognize that former dialogues have not truly ended. But this challenge is for the better as we continue to impact each other and to celebrate the great diversity of these expressions of faith and culture.
In an era of networking, we have the model of Mennonite Your Way (though greatly changed), of the old conferences, of der unza, the Name Game and so many ties that we ought to have a strategic advantage in today’s networking culture. How we approach this opportunity is up to us. Learning to relate and dialogue cautiously, but with open minds would be the most traditionally authentic. But before we get there, we still have to deal with definitions, labels and groups. But that is who we are. It is a challenge, but it did not defeat our ancestors, it need not discourage us.
The technology of networking and grouping has changed greatly in the last fifty years, as has our uses of and attitudes towards networks, groups and communal links. However, technology is perhaps handing us a second chance to resurrect ties once abandoned by the proceeding generation to once again link and network with each other.
The results of this second chance and of these new networking opportunities have yet to be known. These results will most likely be varied and unique to each individual relationship. To make the most of this second chance, we will, however, have to confront the pain and tedium of defining and labeling and of discovering both former ties and former breaks. But hopefully we are more mature and wizened as a culture and are now able to disagree while accepting diversity and able to build a community within which each individual remains free to define ties and identities positively for her or himself.
What a wonderful heritage of ties, networks and community to pass on to the next generation.
But it will take a bit of tolerance and a lot of work. Thankfully, increasingly, more and more of us are seemingly willing to take on the challenge. Are you?