Friday, February 09, 2007

Our Position

“Merle Burkholder's response went beyond a challenge. [It] provoked me to look at my lifestyle for ways I need to change.”

“Jonathon Sauder gave an hour long response (sic) as well. Sauder spoke on a lot of different topics. Milo Zehr and John D Martin both were quoted as saying they could not keep up with all the things that he was trying to say.” –Seth

Conservative Mennonites are to a large extent non-literate. Not that they can’t read, but their faith and practice is not text-based as much as it is based on the spoken word (bear with me as I try to fit my world into Walter Ong's short little book Orality and Literacy). Our standards are not defined as much with writing as with words of time-honored wisdom from mom and dad, ministers and other members of our circle of the “we”; this, and our own reaction to the living Word. Our faith is not shaped to a large extent by a “self-guided tour of the graveyard of western philosophy . . . and the greenhouse of third quest historical Jesus studies,” rather it’s based on what we hear, see, feel, and otherwise sense. This is a limiting but, in the long view or at least the present one, an extremely good thing in a world over-populated with over-stimulation and under-engaged fat-headed people.

Maybe this is why Merle’s anecdote-laced, descriptive, experience-based 35 minutes went over better than Jonathan Sauder’s rapid-fire, satire-laced, text-based analysis of the 400 year old historical discourse of Anabaptist non-resistance/preacmaking. Merle quoted largely from his own experiences and the patterns of communication and action he has observed in his time; Jonathan cited libraries, museums, and archives whose collective (yet dead) knowledge he has fit together into a complex puzzle of human History in the web of footnotes in his mind (brought to life by speech!). Interestingly, though both presentations ended up at very similar positions: that war and violence can never be justified now that Jesus has died, that nationalist politics are a waste of time if not anti-Christ, and that we are to act locally to bring about shalom globally – the crowd was enamored by one and baffled by the other. One spoke into their lives and the other was too abstract, too deep, too broad, too fancy – Sauder was singing songs with fast notes. I love fast notes; Jonathan Sauder's presentation was the most compelling case for following Jesus I have ever heard!

I thought the combination of orality and literacy I heard and saw at Faith Builders was intriguing if not sensational. It seems to me that if we can mix both traditions, orality and literacy – telling the living epic of peacemaking Mennonites following Jesus with a radical reading of the often power-distorted history and theology of Mennonites in the world – we have a very good chance of pulling off what all of us really want: to truly follow Jesus. I said earlier that our lack of literacy is limiting, because
reading the literature is essential to the exploration and retention of intellectual and theological history: the deeply abstract matters of faith and philosophy can not be retained exactly by sounds that vanish before they are understood and cease to make the same sense outside of the time-space in which they are enacted. Placing texts from different times and spaces side-by-side allows us to systematically map out the ways in which the vagaries of power-fear and sloth among other things have caused us to drift from our First Things. By aligning our presents with our pasts we can imagine ourselves in our futures.

As Merle told us, far too often we define ourselves by what we don’t do rather then what we do; or, we define ourselves in opposition to Others outside the circle of the “we.” It’s time I think “we” step out of our comfortable churches, out of the narcissism of small differences, and into the real world where all of us are human, consciously aware, subjects made in the image of God. This is the sort of religious faith I can get excited about: a dynamic, living, yet wise and profoundly sure, world-transforming faith.

NOTE: Merle is not his real name. Neither is Ezra.


Blogger Marilyn said...

Ezra original. Never heard of such a name before.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Meredith said...

Shhhhh...not so loud...somebody might hear you...It is supposed to be a secret.

5:06 AM  

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