Thursday, May 4, 2017

What Next?

I cannot believe that I am over a third of the way through my Sabbatical. So many more books to read!

The next two on my list are The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The story of the village of Le Chambon and how goodness happened there.

Both, I think, will help me to continue to ask the question of what is required of the Church to be the Church in this time and place, and my role in that work as Canon to the Ordinary in the Episcopal Church in Central and Western Massachusetts. I'm planning on writing a lengthier post (or two!) on each book in the coming days. But for today I just want to say a brief word about each and perhaps others will consider these books for your summer reading as well.

The Patient Ferment is written by a Mennonite named Alan Kreider. I am convinced that the Anabaptist tradition (Mennonites, Amish, Baptists) has much to teach mainline denominations like the one I'm a part of. Episcopalians have spent a long time serving as "chaplains" to the Empire. For centuries we occupied a place of cultural privilege. And so we are a bit out of practice when it comes to the kind of counter-cultural work Mennonites have been working at for a very long time. As simply one example: Episcopalians (and other Mainline denominations) worry about Just War Theory - and too often we end up trying to justify unjust wars. The Mennonites, however, just focus on peacemaking, which is much closer, I think, to the vision of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.

In any case, the context in North America has shifted, and our situation is increasingly more like that of the early pre-Constantinian Church that Kreider writes about. So I am finding this book helpful as a way to pick up from my study of Revelation. I'm also taken with those first two words in the title and what that might look like in my own context: patience, and fermentation.

For many years I've been interested in the community in Le Chambon, France. I wrote a bit about them a while back, in this post. (I invite you to follow that link rather than repeating myself here.)

After that post, a friend of mine asked me if I'd ever read Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed and I said that I had not, so she graciously loaned me her signed copy of the book for my Sabbatical time. As I said in that earlier post, that Christian community not only participated in a conspiracy of goodness, but they did so as a congregation, not just as a few "good" individuals. It seems to me from everything I know and have read about them that they didn't think of this as a very big deal - even though it clearly was. It wasn't a charismatic leader that got them to do it, although their pastor was clearly a faithful person and effective leader. Rather, the community had been engaged in faithful practices so that when the time came to act they did what Christians are supposed to do. They loved their neighbor. Simple, right? They discerned what the situation required of them, and then they practiced resistance against Nazi Germany.

I am far enough into both books to recommend them. And I'll have more to say about each of them in the coming days. Stay tuned.

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