You may be familiar with this story: Dirk Willems, imprisoned on account of his Anabaptist faith, was on the run and being chased by a guard. He crossed an ice-covered pond. His pursuer tried to do the same but fell through the ice. Willems turned back, stretched himself across the ice and saved the guard. The grateful man wanted to let Willems go, but a town official reminded the guard of his duty. This was the sixteenth century. Dirk Willems was jailed again, tried and then burned (MM, 741). Dirk Willems is an Anabaptist hero. He lived Jesus’ call to love his enemies.
On my drive in to the church today I was reflecting on how to respond to the events that have made news headlines over these past days. There has been yet another deliberate shooting of the innocent, an attempt to take as many lives as possible. We extend our prayers and sympathies to the victims in Quebec City as well as to our Muslim neighbors here in Ottawa. That much is obvious. As the news is recounted on the radio connections are made to the way our southern neighbour is closing its doors to those who wish to flee violence in some of the most unstable parts of the world.
It occurs to me that just as violence can creep through communities of faith and co-opt their commitment and devotion, so too it can poison the love of nation or culture. In a better world a person’s willingness to kill for an ideology, a faith, a culture or a nation would trigger some kind of automatic shutdown. It would tell us that we have gone too far and it would force us into some critical self-reflection. It would tell us that when our love for something we believe is ‘ours’ demands the death of others we have stooped too low. In a better world we would always recognize the inherent, divinely-ordained dignity of the lives of others. Continue reading “Breaking Bread in Response to the News”
I was driving home from work when I hit a guy. The light turned green, there were no cars coming, so I turned left. My victim was smoking a cigarette and had made it part way across the strip of pavement marked out by parallel white bars. At the last second I saw him and slowed, but I hit him anyway. Bumper to thigh. I stopped the car. Then put it in gear again and pulled through the intersection. He returned to the curb from which he had come and sat down on the embankment. A few people got out of their cars. Some made their world right by giving me the finger. A man in a ritzy SUV gave me a sympathetic look, as though he too had once smacked a pedestrian or maybe more than one. Continue reading “Saints and Victims – a short story*”
Last month an essay of mine was published in the Journal of Brethren Life and Thought. Since that journal is probably not one that will be showing up in your mailbox anytime soon, I thought I’d included a bit of it here. The piece is based on a presentation I gave some years back; I’m happy to see it in print.
Simplicity strikes many of us as a good, if occasionally naïve, thing. In his “A Salutation of the Virtues” the thirteenth century saint, Francis of Assisi, cast Simplicity as a courtly sister to Queen Wisdom, outranking Lady Poverty and Lady Charity. In the twenty-first century we may well be intrigued by Simplicity but we probably lack the saint’s solemn devotion. Consider the TV reality show “The Simple Life,” which cast socialite Paris Hilton in the role of a farm worker. The foibles of the out-of-place heiress generated spinoff shows around the world. The irony of simplicity’s attraction in a complex and fragmented time is captured in Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s marvellously titled book Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels. There Weaver-Zercher explores the growing American fascination with “bonnet rippers.” She relates that in 2002 only two such books were published. In 2012 there were 85. This growth betrays, she thinks, a desire on the part of readers to be transported from a hypermodern and hypersexualized present to a simpler way of life. Weaver-Zercher is not alone in her analysis. Sociologists Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman offer a corroborating conclusion about our cultural fascination with plain living. In a book about Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren they write,
Despite all our comfort and convenience, the possibility that [members of these plain communities] are happier haunts, indeed, torments the postmodern soul. Continue reading “Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue”
I looked across the group who had gathered at the front of the sanctuary. I had just marked them with the sign of the cross in ash. It was the ash of palm branches and the ash of our prayers. I had said to them, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These words are biblical words; they come directly from the third chapter of Genesis. These words are the words of God to creatures who thought themselves to be gods. And yet I looked at those marks, on the heads of my friends, and thought them undeserving of such heaviness. I felt as though we had done something unspeakable. In a way we had. We had spoken aloud our mortality. We had marked our bodies with it. We bore on our foreheads the prospect of our funerals. Continue reading “On Being Dust”