What do the Republican presidential candidates, the heavenly body Pluto, and you and I have in common? If you are reading this, you probably are a Mennonite and also living in the USA, where the presidential campaign has officially been inaugurated with the first caucus in Iowa. That begins the official process of selecting the person who will run against President Obama later this year. But what does Pluto have to do with all of this (and us)?
Each of the presidential candidates is attempting to define themselves as at the center of the Republican political party while differentiating themselves from their rivals. They are attempting to show the voters that they are a “true” Republican. What a “true” Republican looks like today may be very different from what a “true” Republican looked like 20 years ago, but it is important that they define themselves as being at the center.
Because Anabaptists do not have a Martin Luther or a John Calvin around which to gather to define what it means to be part of the Mennonite faith, we are also constantly seeking to define what a “true” Mennonite means. We may look to Menno Simons, Hans Denck, Conrad Grebel, Hans Hut, Felix Mantz, Pilgram Marpeck, Michael Sattler (or more recently) H.S. Bender, Guy F. Hershberger or John H. Yoder to find our definitions. Yet when we define Anabaptism, our definitions usually have us at the center. We understand ourselves to be (or at least want to be) at the center of the faith tradition.
As a pastor, when I led classes for new believers, I often said that becoming a Christian meant having a personal “Copernican revolution” in our thinking and acting. As you may remember from science class, Nicolaus Copernicus was the scientist who lived in the late 15th and early 16th century and hypothesized a heliocentric solar system (the planets revolved around the sun, not the sun revolving around earth). Galileo took up this theory later in the 16th century. This was a radical theory at the time, and it took considerable controversy and time for it to carry the day. Personally, I saw this as an excellent example of how we have to yield our ego-centric understanding that we are “in charge” and at the center of our lives, yielding that position to God when we become Christians. Our faith invites us to put God at the center. God is the gravitational force that keeps us within the Godly sphere; we are not at the center. It is that gravitational force (our relationship with God) that is most important, not where we may find ourselves in the “spiritual” universe. Another way to say this is to ask the question, “Who or what has influence over us?”
Which brings us to Pluto. You may remember that not long ago Pluto got “demoted” from being one of the nine planets of our solar system. This was done to Pluto without Pluto’s consent or consultation. But despite its new designation, Pluto continues to orbit the sun and be a part of the solar system, even if now in a different category of heavenly body. It still falls under the sway of the sun’s gravitational force, or influence.
How important is it for us to be “at the center”? Whether we are running for president, orbiting the sun, or describing ourselves as “Mennonite,” is it most important to find ourselves at the center, or is it most important to understand under whose “gravitational force,” or influence, we find ourselves? Could it be that our identity is more about relationship than position?