Featured image: I can’t figure out what I was trying to photograph. I’ll just call it the Thursday Mystery Picture.
Close-Up #8 Saturday 23 September 2017 We’ve had doom mongers predicting the end of the world throughout history. The latest one claims that today, Saturday, 23 September 2017, marks the start of a 7-year period of cataclysmic tribulation.
Enough. You can get your fill of this Christian numerologist’s predictions online.
I leave that stuff behind and Instead quote from an engaging book I read this week. In it Noel Moules in one of the essays wrote: “‘Last things first! ‘–but properly understood.” The book is Coming Home: Stories of Anabaptists in Britain and Ireland (Pandora Press, Kitchener, Ontario, 2000, edited by Alan Kreider and Stuart Murray).
In his essay, “Anabaptism Tomorrow,” Moules said “It is the present and the future that are the supreme challenge and opportunity. While we build upon the incredible heritage of the past, now is always the time to discover God in fresh ways and to make a major impact.” Noel Moules is programme coordinator and primary teacher for Workshop, a Christian discipleship and leadership training course.
So what did Moules say that applies to the recent hullabaloo that the world is set to end today? He said, “Hope is at the very heart of faith and yet many Christians have little sense of destiny. It is time that we grasped a biblical eschatology [branch of theology concerned with final events in the history of the world or of humankind] which clearly states there is no place for the absurd schemes and pseudo-schedules to predict ‘the end’ which have plagued the Church over centuries.”
Right on! He continues, “The New Testament is clear that every Christian is to be embraced by a living, life-changing hope based upon the risen Jesus. We are never to focus on particular events but only upon the person in whom everything will ultimately find its perfect consummation.”
Jesus’ teaching, Moules wrote, calls us to hold two themes in tension: “We are to rediscover the natural rhythms of the days, the seasons and the years, finding and exploring God and life within them in a natural and relaxed way, while at the same time we look for ‘that day’ when in Jesus everything is put right and the new heaven and new earth are established. To hold these two essential elements of Christian hope together with both quietness and excitement calls for maturity, alertness and wisdom.”
One final quote from Moules, concerning the out-sized influence of a person or small group: “We must never underestimate the influence of a person whose demeanor, responses and attitudes are provocative by their unique truthfulness.. . . We should be working to change the current environment and culture of our churches and society; stimulating creative thinking, encouraging debate, provoking discussion. At every step we need to be learning from each other, sharing experiences, being humble enough to admit mistakes and childlike enough to rejoice over even small successes.”
People who created the world we live in
Still here? I’ve got a quote from another book I read this week, Margaret MacMillan’s History’s People: Personalities and the Past (House of Anansi Press, 2015, from the CBC Massey Lectures). For me, with an interest in history, the book was a page turner. I’d love to do an extended synopsis of this wide-ranging volume about some of the personalities, men and women, who created the world we live in, though I’ll forego that punishment with the hope not to lose you.
Where else would you find this commentary on three political leaders who, MacMillan wrote, “were able to manoeuvre between long-term goals and short-term tactics; they too had an ability to sense the moods and currents of their times; and they could, when necessary, learn from failure and change their tactics, if not their minds. Equally important, the course of history gave them their opportunity, and they took it.”
The three leaders, dealt with at length in the first chapter, “Persuasion and the Art of Leadership,” are Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950), German state-maker Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) and US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945). MacMillan looks at what each of these leaders accomplished: Bismarck the unification of Germany, King the preservation of the Canadian Federation and FDR the bringing of a unified United States into the Second World War.
I’ll focus only on King, whose boyhood home in Kitchener, Ontario, I must revisit. “In Canadian history . . . William Lyon Mackenzie King is as important as Bismarck is for Germany. Where the latter built a country, the former preserved it–through part of the turbulent 1920s, the aftermath of the Great Depression, the Second World War, and on into the first years of peace. He managed to hold the centre against challenges from the right and the left and crucially kept the deep mutual suspicions and divisions between English- and French-speakers, and among the provinces, from breaking the country apart.”
King served in office for 24 years, the longest of any Canadian prime minister, laying the foundation, MacMillan notes, for Canada’s comprehensive social benefits system.
With her acute historical eye, MacMillan recounts King’s downsides, too. “Yet King does not fascinate or enthrall us as other political leaders do. If anything–and this is particularly true if you are Canadian–he rather appalls us. We remember him as the great equivocator and obfuscator. Issues did not so much get settled as buried in verbiage and imprecision. ‘Parliament will decide’ was a favourite King formula, . . .”
Again, enough of personalities and politics, though as I said, I found the rest of the five chapters equally, and maybe more, fascinating about other world figures. The chapter titles are Hubris, Daring, Curiosity, and Observers. This is a book “about the important and complex relationship between biography and history, individuals and their times.”
MacMillan concludes, “I hope that the individuals I have selected from the past will help to illuminate for us here in the present the complicated nature of humanity, its many contradictions, inconsistencies, its wickedness and follies but its virtues too. Above all, history’s people can make us aware of the possibilities for good and evil we all possess.”
I found the book at a Forum Workshop, “The Poverty Cycle,” we attended September 9 at the Studio Theater in Stratford, Ontario. A panel addressed the topic of wealth and poverty. “How do we create the circumstances where poverty might be put behind us, and what does our attitude towards poverty and social mobility tell us about who we are?” This and similar forums over the summer were recorded for broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I’ll have to see if I can re-listen to the panel. It was that good and thought-provoking.
A Mennonite Relief Sale recap
Got time for one more glimpse into the past? This weekend the Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale is celebrating its 50th annual MCC benefit auction.
WITH YOUR INDULGENCE, I’ll pull excerpts from the article, “Down-home hospitality pervades Mennonite Relief Sale,” I wrote in 1979.
“WHERE CAN YOU GO for a touch of down-home hospitality and be glad to pay for it?
“The Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale, coming to the Elkhart County Fairgrounds at Goshen on Saturday, offers visitors a modern day happening which takes the sponsoring Amish Mennonites and Mennonites back to their roots in the early 16th century. . . .”
“The quilts and countless other items come from the members of the 160 sponsoring Amish and Mennonite congregations in Indiana and southern Michigan. Some of the needlework and craft items come from self-help projects in the Middle East, India, Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, Haiti and Appalachia.”
“The Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale has been described as combining a county fair–minus the midway–with an outsized country auction and ethnic celebration–in which every visitor is a participant.”
“MORE THAN 700 MCC volunteers serve in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America. Service ranges from agricultural and economic development to education, medicine, self-help, and peace witness in 35 countries.”
“Part of the biblical text on which Mennonites base their readiness to help others is 1 John 3:17: “If anyone sees his brother in need, and fails to help . . . what evidence is there of God’s love?”
“The impulse underlying relief sales spans the centuries since Mennonite beginnings in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525. Hans Leopold, a Swiss martyr of 1528, said of his people, ‘If they know of anyone who is in need, whether or not he is a member of their church, they believe it their duty, out of love to God, to render help and aid.'”
“While Mennonites have no corner on serving fellow humans, through this group of ‘just folks’ runs a deep current of conviction that charity not only begins in the heart but is expressed with the hands–the Good Samaritan faith in action.”
“The Dutch leader Menno Simons, after whom Mennonites are named, said the qualities of church members are mercy and love. “They entertain those in distress. They take the stranger into their houses. They comfort the afflicted, clothe the naked, feed the hungry.”
“IF MENNONITES are known for their relief and development efforts, their work today in missions and evangelism goes hand in hand with service. Missions reappeared on the Mennonite scene in the past part of the 19th century, while the relief and service motif found direct expression throughout the years of persecution and the subsequent centuries of being the quiet in the land.”
“The connection between a sizzling sausage and a stack of pancakes and famine relief may not be immediately apparent. Indeed, some people believe the two to be mutually exclusive, a paradox at best. Besides the concern about overeating so that others may be fed, some persons raise questions about the money-raising emphasis of the relief sales. Giving, these persons counter, should be free and voluntary, growing out of gratitude for God’s grace–not based on the sale of goods and services.”
“As in other church issues and concerns, broaching the subject may be as important as the conclusion. Mennonites have a particular fondness for the word, ‘process.’ Discussion in process produces some healthy dividends.”
“THE MENNONITE HERITAGE of bountiful tables, well stocked fruit cellars, cinnamon-scented pantries, and smokehouse hams and sausages fills many a nostalgic memory. Less well known, perhaps, is the discussion going on among Mennonites about wise use of resources, respect for the land, and wellness, these interests expressed currently in the concern for eating less and sharing more.”
“As for the commercial character of the sales, a visitor will readily feel, if not completely understand, that what makes a relief sale tick is not money but people willingly giving themselves and their time. Shoulder to shoulder persons join to do a common task. They come from the range of Amish and Mennonite religious practice. Nowhere else in recent Mennonite history has such grass roots cooperation and goodwill emerged as in pulling together for the relief sales and the involvement in Mennonite Disaster Service. The benefits extend through the rest of the year.”
“The motivation underlying relief sales is best capsulized in a statement in the MCC ‘Handbook’: ‘Relief and service have validity for us only as the motivation, spirit, and methods of work are in keeping with the Bible.’ Galatians 6:2 is quoted: ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens; and so fulfill the law of Christ.’
“The Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale is a credit not to the people who sponsor and support it but to those who benefit from its purpose.”
The color photos for the article were taken by Dale A. Murphy, Tribune staff photographer, at the 1978 sale. What a pleasure it is to recall the days of newspaper magazines such as michiana, the Sunday magazine of the South Bend Tribune, Bill Sonneborn, magazine editor.
One more thought
If you’ve made it thus far, be consoled that here’s a bonus thought from a book, Small Graces, by Kent Nerburn (New World Library, 1998). in the Introduction, Nerburn wrote: “We want to live spiritual lives. We know, at heart, that we are spiritual beings. But our lives are small, our concerns immediate. The days we live seem to conspire against our spiritual selves. . . .
“We must learn to see with other eyes. The world contains many paths, some exalted, some mundane. it is not our task to judge the worthiness of our path; it is our task to walk our path with worthiness. We have been blinded by the bright light of heroes and saints. We must learn to trust the small light we are given, and to value the light that we can shed into the lives of those around us.”
And so be it, Amen.