A pre-Germany trip reflection.
for a photo from the trip.
Peter Jennings recently produced a television special about Jesus and Paul. In one part of the program he was visiting the Vatican, asking tourists one simple question: “What can you tell me about Saint Paul?” There was not one person on the program who could reply with anything more than a blank, dumbfounded stare (huh?). I was astonished. I wanted to shake them and yell: “Come on! Don’t be like the 41% of Americans who rarely or never read the Bible!” This ignorance of the Bible has led some to argue that the Christian faith is in jeopardy of becoming nothing but an empty vessel in which to carry our own ideas. Although so few actually read the Bible, we all surely have one or two favorite passages carefully holstered, ready to go. My criticism is not to say that the Bible is all we need to know. The Bible is still only the finger pointing to God, not intended as an object of worship. But when we don’t know what’s in the Bible, and its context, we miss a crucial part of our own story. The same holds true with our other histories of faith. How many of us in the Church of the Brethren, or other traditions for that matter, would claim the authority of our founders to put forward our own ideas? There is nothing wrong with living our faith by the example of our foremothers and fathers, but how much do we really know about them? Do we know their stories well enough to view the church of today in the proper light? I myself probably have more questions than answers about what led Anna and Alexander Mack to step faithfully into the Eder River to be rebaptised into a new community of discipleship. This summer, when I travel through Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands on a Brethren Heritage tour with nine others, I hope to begin to get a glimpse of what was really happening on that day in 1708. I feel a little like Peter Jennings, going abroad with little more than questions to ask along the way: What do I know about Alexander Mack, or Martin Luther? What more is there to learn? Is this really our history?? And our history will stand before me on this trip, saying “Yes, it is I,” like the man healed by Jesus proclaiming, “I am the man,” and yet, I, like this man’s neighbors, will still have doubts and questions. What is our history? Will I be able to see it clearly, without the baggage of 300 years? Probably not. I don’t expect to. What I do expect is that I will look to our history through the lenses of our progressions and declines. I can’t really help but look at it that way. I will go to the baptismal waters of the Eder, and the sight of these waters just might, like the pool of Siloam, open my eyes to see more clearly. Or, like the rivers of Babylon, the Eder might just make me weep. Some of my questions might be answered, but I will likely return with only more, hopefully better questions, and that would not be so bad. – It was questions, not answers, that led me away from the church seven years ago, and questions that led me back into the church almost four years ago. Questions led our founders into new ways of walking with Christ, and it will be questions, – not just answers, that will lead our beloved church toward newness and resurrection. God does not give us all the answers. Neither does the Bible, nor our church. I don’t expect, or hope to come back from twelve days in Europe with all of the answers. The only way that I could see answers emerging is in community, maybe even in this community right here – where two or more are gathered. It will be the presence of Christ that provides us with the ability to see responses, and hopefully, more questions.