25

Zu de Gmeysleid1

Zwansig Joa zrick hen mei Schweschda un ich viel gschwetzt von die Sacha. `S hot vleicht net viel gebatt weil ma woara all zwey jung, neibekäat, un mit wenig Äafoaring. Juscht mia hen vielmols, meiats im Winta wans kald un schneeig woa draus, im Schtall bei de Millichhaus däa gschtanna un gschwetzt. Mia hen wichtige Dinga gfrohgt un gwunnet was in de Zukunft woa fa uns.

Uf ä Seid hemma Bang kat. Mia hen Bang kat von de Welt un von de weltlicha Mennischda um uns rum. Mia hen uns nix von sellem gleichstella wella. Unsen äfacha Lewaswandel, unse Muttasproch un alles was ma glennt hen von unse Fäafedda woa uns unaussprechlich viel wäat. Unsen ehnschichsda Ziel woa mehna davon zu wissa un bessa nochzukomma was sie uns glennt hen.

Uf de anna Seid hemma aa Bang kat. Mia hen net zu a Gmey käada wella, wo de Leid net bekäat woara un wo ma so viel von de Zeit Unruh kadda hen iwwa Gleynichkeida. Mia hen nix zu du hawwa wella mit schendliche Sacha unnich de Junga un mit a leichtsinnig, unbekimmad Lewa. Mia hen oft gwunned eb eiats a Gmey is was de alda Gebraucha halt, was geischtlich und evangelisch is, un was a Licht is fa de Welt.

Jetzt is `s zwansig Joa nochhäa. `S hot schon viel gewwa in de Zwischichzeit. De Häa hot uns darrich viel fremme Bletz gfiad awwa `s is ma jetzt noch deitlicha wie `s ehmol woa es de Fäafedda uns ebbas wichtigs zu sahwa hen. Ich freh mich es mia ihre Stimm widda häara kenna in dem Buch, un ich hoff was sie zu sahwa hen kann eich -- mei mennischda, huttrische und amische Gmeysleid -- so viel helfa wie `s mich kulfa hot.

This book, many parts of it quoted from people in danger of their lives, in prison, and on death row, was not written for anyone's enjoyment. It was written to trouble and perturb, perhaps even to vex those who read it, because it is in trouble and vexation of spirit that one may stumble onto the narrow, problematical, almost unknown way that leads to eternal life.

The way to eternal life is so different from what we expect that many of us do not recognize it when we first see it. It is unreasonably rough and narrow. The cross is unreasonably heavy and much more unhandy to carry than what we could possibly have imagined. Nearly all the people we know (even "respectable" and "balanced" people) are opposed to it. But in the depths of all the trouble it brings us, we come to "know Christ and the community of his sufferings," and in knowing him we discover eternal life.

Nearly five centuries have passed since our Anabaptist forefathers left the state churches. We have survived! We still try to dress, talk, and live like Anabaptists, but what has come down to us from our ancestors' time is not a great amount.

Like our refugee ancestors arriving at the docks of Philadelphia or Buenos Aires, we stand among the treasured baggage of our past while peering anxiously at the new land that lies before us. Some of us rejoice. Others weep. We face an uncertain future. Do we have what we need?

Many of us who carry our Anabaptist names with pride -- Brubacher, Troyer, Amstutz, Graber, Kleinsasser, Klaasen, and Schroeder -- have returned in thought and practice to the world. Those of us who haven't done that, clinging to the traditions and the language of our forefathers, have split into almost innumerable little groups. Some of us speak to all the world about our glorious heritage. Others are ashamed of our reputation. Some of us glory in what we have accomplished while others despair at how we have failed. But like the newly-arrived immigrants, we have little time to stand and ponder.

Some of us think we should go back to "recover the Anabaptist vision." But we cannot go back. We must go on to perfection. And even if we could go back, their vision would not be ours. Vision is a personal matter. God must open our eyes!

Some of us glorify the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptists themselves did not. They saw themselves as nothing before a glorious God.

Some of us treat our historic faith and the traditions that come with it like sacred heirlooms. ("Watch out you don't break them!") They did not. Their faith was original and they tested it in practice. Innovations that brought them closer to Christ were in demand.

We claim to be the custodians of the Anabaptist movement today. But our apostasy and divisions have devastated our credibility. Are we "real" Anabaptists, or do we only pretend to be Anabaptists like actors in a play? From the world's point of view our claim is weak -- like the Catholics' claim to be the original Christians or the Jews' claim to be the children of Abraham.

We enjoy thinking of ourselves as a "special" and "peculiar" people. But what if we aren't as special as we think we are? What if the Lord should open our eyes and we would see that we are not so different from the rest and really no better? Could we live with that?

The time has come to stop depending on our "glorious heritage," which threatens to become the brazen serpent before which we fall instead of falling on our faces before God. If our heritage gives us a sense of dignity (we are the descendants of the Anabaptist martyrs), we would be better off without it.

The time has come to stop staggering along wall-eyed, with one eye on Christ and one on the church structures we have built, trying to promote one while preserving the other at all costs. God will not accept such a stubborn doublemindedness.

The time has come for a return to the original pattern -- that of Christ and the apostles, rather than the patterns handed down by our ancestors. When they put us to cutting rafters at a barn raising, what does the Schreiner2 say? Doesn't he tell us to use the first rafter we cut as a pattern for all the rest? What happens if we don't?

The time has come to stop handling our worn-out traditions with German frugality, fixing and patching and mending and insisting on handing them down. But the time has also come to rediscover and put to creative use the good traditions we have lost.

Then, while sorting out what we need for today and looking forward to a frohe Ewigkeit (glad eternity)3, we do well to remember that preserving our way of life will not keep us safe. Neither will changing our way of life. More divisions are not the answer. Neither is an ungodly ecumenicism.

In 1907 the Mennonites of France began to publish a paper which they called Christ Seul (Only Christ).

That is the answer.

If we turn to Christ he will build his kingdom with us again.


1 For a short time I will switch to my native tongue, the archaic dialect (schwäbisch-pfälzisch) spoken by the Anabaptists of southern Germany, and still in use among many of their descendants today. The material in these paragraphs is, for those who are unable to read it, not crucial to understanding the chapter.
2 head carpenter
3 From a headstone in the first Mennonite cemetery of the Americas in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

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