OUT OF WINKLER:
TRAVELS OF A
DENNIS VOTH, AN URBAN MONK
A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. John Steinbeck
“Winkler”, the town where I began this life. We lived on a farm about ten miles north of Winkler. My beginnings were very rural-oriented.
“Travels”, because, as journeys tend to go, there have been many ups and downs, many comings and goings, many unexpected corners. My life has been a journey: an exciting journey, many times rocky, always drawn toward truth. Truth has been the constant. What is really true? How do I determine what is true?
“Mennonite”, because that is my heritage. I was born into the Mennonite community of southern Manitoba, with family roots in the Mountain Lake, Minnesota area. This heritage provided a strong foundation for life. I value my background, history and connections. But it was also a rigid religious system, not given to exploration and experimentation.
“Heretic”, because I have always been one to question, not accepting at face value, things I was taught. Periodically in my life I have found myself at odds, out of step with orthodoxy. While I still participate in the organized religion of my heritage, I would likely be branded a heretic if people knew the truth of what I currently believe!
Perhaps a brief definition of the word “heretic” might be in order! Basically put, heresy is anything outside my own belief system. In fundamental, black-and-white terms, if there is a truth out there, I believe it. If it is something I do not believe is true, that becomes for me “heresy”. I know that is simplistic, and perhaps a lighter meaning of the word than the way it is often used. A seminary professor once stated that people were always free to disagree with him by believing heresy! He was speaking somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but only somewhat.
Another thought about heresy, before we move on. Heresy is only a human concern. God made us the way we are, and a huge part of that is our human curiosity. We want to know. We are made to seek truth. And the process of seeking implies that we will not always have it right. I look back on my own life and my spiritual journey, and realize I would have considered some of my current beliefs heresy not that many years ago. And some of the things I believed, or the way I believed about God and truth, in the past, I have moved away from.
I don’t generally consider my past beliefs as wrong, just incomplete. Moving from immaturity to maturity is not the same as moving from wrong to right. So, it can be “right“ to believe in heresy as we move through various stages of thought and faith. The important thing is that we are moving, we are growing in our understanding. So, in relation to God, I do not think it is crucial what we believe at any one stage of life. What is important to God is that we grow and change. In other words, heresy is a human concern. I doubt there is such a thing as “heresy” in God’s eyes.
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Aging provides valuable perspective on life. As I look back at my life, I can identify many periods of time which were crucial to my developing into who I am today. Life also begins to appear simpler than it was in the midst of these periods. Times of change and upheaval are never easy or simple while we go through them. Hindsight often clears things up. The chapters of this account will open up various stages or periods of my life, shedding insight into what makes me tick today.
What hindsight reveals is that the longer I live, the more I tend toward the simplest roots of my religious tradition. For example, I like to go right to the heart of the biblical account of Jesus, his life and his teaching. While my current beliefs may be at odds with Church orthodoxy, I try to understand as clearly as possible what the Creator revealed to the world in the life of Jesus.
The first few chapters will highlight briefly early events on my spiritual journey. Chapter four and beyond will begin to get into the heavier stuff. There I will deal with areas more pertinent to who I am today. But I do have a history. And so I will present, albeit briefly, some of the early events in my life.
This tale is my spiritual journey. There are many areas of my life I do not go into; I have a great many interests which do not enter much into this story. This does not mean they are not important to me. Family, marriage, choral singing, motorcycling, building and flying a small airplane, have all been important areas of my life. But this account stays with the spiritual aspects of my life, my growth through theology, study, experience, and spiritual practice.
While I view my spiritual journey as a constant one, it has involved many twists and turns. Each chapter considers one particular thread on the path. While the chapters are laid out roughly chronologically, there is much overlap. One chapter may deal with a particular thread which has woven its way into and through my life over a long period of time. Then I may go back in time in the next chapter to pick up yet another thread which has contributed to who I am today.
The John Steinbeck quote with which I opened this journey-log is telling. To be on a journey is to be not-in-control, to a great extent. There is a huge element of trust when following the leading and direction of Spirit. God does not often give us the larger view. Most of the time we are only conscious of the step we are now taking, future steps glimpsed only vaguely, if at all.