In the belly of a paradox

Reflections on the Dubious Service of Reflecting on Service

The Conrad Grebel Review 19, no. 4 (Fall 2001). First published in the Journal of Peace and Justice Studies 10:2 (2000) 65-78.

Mennonites have had perhaps the most substantial experience of any Protestant tradition in the deployment of people for service – over against more conventional missionary work. Yet we have failed to produce one single monograph which could be called a theology of service. Some of us have speculated that this datum in itself says something important.

-Wilbert R. Shenk[1]

Once upon a time I was young – young, but perhaps not young enough. Twenty-six, a student of Mennonite history, a product of Goshen College,[2] a protégé of the Mennonite Central Committee’s executive secretary through two years of weekly meetings, a seer of the “Anabaptist Vision,”[3] and a wouldbe practitioner of the “Politics of Jesus,”[4] I thought I could speak for a tradition, even amid a revolution. I thought I could write the first Mennonite theology of service. I thought service could be written.

What follows is a confession of sorts. Like any confession, it is deeply rooted in one particular story. Yet I hope it is also a catholic story.

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