Robert S. Kreider, My Early Years: An Autobiography. Kitchener: Pandora Press, co-published with Herald Press, 2002. Pp. 600 ($44.00--paperback) ISBN 1-894710-23-1. Reviewed by Susan Fisher Miller.
John Howard Yoder, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, edited by Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003. Pp. 298. ($30.00-paperback) ISBN 0-8028-1362-3. Reviewed by Duane K. Friesen.
M. J. Heisey, Peace and Persistence: Tracing the Brethren in Christ Peace Witness through Three Generations. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2003. Pp. 280. ($45.00) ISBN 0-87338-756-2. Reviewed by Rachel Waltner Goossen.
A. James Reimer, The Dogmatic Imagination: The Dynamics of Christian Belief. Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 2003. Pp. 112. ($9.99-paperback) ISBN 0-8361-9246-X. Reviewed by Leland Harder.
Melanie Springer Mock, Writing Peace: The Unheard Voices of Great War Mennonite Objectors (Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, no. 40). Telford, Pa.: Pandora Press U.S., 2003. Pp. 346. ($23.95-paperback) ISBN 1-931038-09-0. Reviewed by Sara J. Keckeisen.
Robert S. Kreider, My Early Years: An Autobiography. Kitchener: Pandora Press, co-published with Herald Press, 2002. Pp. 600 ($44.00--paperback) ISBN 1-894710-23-1
Robert S. Kreider's richly informative autobiography, My Early Years, makes an important contribution to Mennonite history and literature. In a life spanning much of the twentieth century and beyond, Kreider has helped to shape significant Mennonite institutions and programs, particularly in the areas of higher education, relief work, and church history. Known professionally as a teacher, scholar, and administrator, Kreider should also be numbered among the Mennonite dreamers, people with imagination--"sparkle," to name a quality Kreider praises--whose creative thought constitutes a vocation in its own right.
This is a big book, though not the full life story. It could be said to constitute a pre-autobiography, since Kreider ends the story with a beginning: the outset, in 1952, of his professional teaching career. Readers may question the decision to focus so exclusively on beginnings, until they encounter the depth and breadth of experience concentrated in Kreider's various apprenticeships.
My Early Years is arranged in six illustrated sections of roughly one hundred pages each. Part I is given to Kreider's family past, including fiction-worthy cameos of Illinois forebears, and probing, sensitive portraits of his parents, Amos E. and Stella (Shoemaker) Kreider. The next section shows us Kreider's boyhood and adolescence, spent in Sterling, Illinois; Goshen, Indiana; and Bluffton, Ohio, locations of his father's farming, academic, and ministerial assignments.
Part III pictures the family relocating to Kansas, where Kreider's father accepted a position teaching Bible at Bethel College and Robert, only sixteen, entered college ("The men on the football team impressed me as fearsomely masculine. . . . I needed to shave, maybe, only once a week."). Here we also learn of summer exploits, including a cycling and work camp tour to pre-war Europe in 1938, the occasion for the book's jaunty cover photo. This section concludes with an account of post-Bethel study for a master's degree in Christian ethics at the University of Chicago, a period of broadening horizons whose completion in the spring of 1941 coincided with Kreider's receipt of his draft notice.
World War II determines the agenda for the three sections of the volume's second half. If I have any minor criticism of the book, it is the decision, midway, to present as the main narrative excerpted letters to family, friends, and colleagues. These letters have much to offer in documentary detail and day-to-day immediacy--filled with ellipses, they communicate the breathless nature of busy lives--and their presence reminds us of the lost art of paper and ink correspondence. For this reader, though, despite the insertion of brief explanatory and summarizing comments, the letter-based portion of the book sacrifices the author's fully integrated voice heard in earlier sections.
Be that as it may, this latter part of the autobiography provides a trove of absorbing material relevant to emerging developments in Mennonite institutional history, the stage for much of Kreider's ensuing adult maturation. From 1941 to 1946, Kreider was assigned to oversee educational programs in Civilian Public Service units, first in Colorado Springs and then at Mennonite Central Committee headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania (a genuine community and lively think tank, "an intimation of the Kingdom"). The latter post eventually involved assisting the director of the M.C.C.-C.P.S. hospital section, under whose auspices C.P.S. workers drew national attention to the need for reform in U.S. state mental institutions. Covered here too is the account of an American Friends Service Committee mission to China in 1943, for which Kreider had been selected among the first C.P.S. participants, but whose thrilling expedition came to a halt in South Africa due to the Starnes amendment's restrictions on C.P.S. service abroad. Kreider's account of the final year of C.P.S. includes his courtship of and marriage in 1945 to Lois Sommer, a recent graduate of Bluffton College and M.A. student at Columbia University, who had participated in the first women's summer service unit affiliated with a C.P.S. unit at Ypsilanti, Michigan, State Hospital.
The book's closing section describes Robert and Lois's three-year period of Mennonite Central Committee relief work, culminating in Robert's term of study in Basel in 1948 (attending lectures by Karl Barth, among others) and, in 1949, directorship of the European program of M.C.C. It is difficult to convey in brief the intense level of activity carried out by Robert, Lois, and fellow Mennonite players on the post-war European stage in the late 1940s, a moment when, as Kreider sums up, "M.C.C. work in Europe was cresting." These pages reveal a baptism of experiential learning: language immersion, scenes of malnutrition and devastation, mass food distribution, "shuttle diplomacy" on behalf of Russian Mennonite refugees among M.C.C. personnel, military officials, and shadowy local contacts (heady, taxing endeavors thrust upon a 25-year-old Robert), incessant conference attendance, short-notice hospitality, myriad congregational visits, mountains of paperwork, and the occasional bargain tickets to "Faust" and "Tannhäuser."
The book's final chapter treats the couple's return to the University of Chicago, where Robert undertook doctoral studies in church history. Here Robert and Lois began a family, participated in the life of Woodlawn Mennonite Church (including a year of pastoring for Robert), and anticipated a move to Bluffton College, where, after so much mobility, they would settle for twenty-two years.
This autobiography--readable, self-delighting, judicious--contains interest of many kinds. Simply as a record of Mennonite and American people, places, and events captured by a highly observant witness, My Early Years offers a compelling slice of history in the years between 1919 and 1952. Unlike institutional or scholarly history, the autobiographical mode allows Kreider the freedom to focus on homely, human stories, "material," as he writes, that "eludes conventional history: the everyday life of family, neighborhood, congregation and community." Our formal church history seldom makes room for, or gives credence to, this lore of the Freundschaft, parables repeated at holiday dinners and passed through the generations. But Kreider recognizes the truth in this kind of material, so much of it centered on human character, and comedic at its core: the curious fact that his grandfather J.S. Shoemaker, for example, was missing two fingers from one hand, "preserved in alcohol in a bottle in an upstairs closet at Uncle Arthur's," or that this same revered church leader "took over from his bride, Elizabeth, the writing of daily entries in her diary--beginning with their wedding night." Or this deft sketch of grandfather John H. Kreider, who loved to eat, suffered from gout, and, "a man of few words, . . . would wiggle his middle finger in the direction of a dish on the table that he wanted passed."
There is also in reading any autobiography the curious pleasure of the author's multiple, simultaneous perspectives: experiencing the immediate event; remembering it from a chronological distance and others' re-tellings; monitoring one's self in the act of documenting that event. Kreider avoids bogging down in theoretical questions, but he registers an awareness of the genre's peculiar straddling of history and fiction: "What is really the there in the story and what has been reshaped in the lens of self? . . . [W]ho is to say that a story told a thousand times is less true than an event that happened only once?" To my mind, the points in My Early Years where Kreider adds his perspective, analysis, and storyteller's phrasing to the "there" of an event are some of the most satisfying in the narrative, as in his frankly mythologizing treatment of his birthplace, Sterling, Illinois--"my Camelot." "I liked Sunday School that preceded worship. . . ," Kreider writes of boyhood visits to Sterling's Science Ridge Mennonite Church,
Although the church had no musical instruments, Sunday School opened and closed with the sound of stringed instruments: the pulling of the curtains hanging on metal rings along the taut wires. The Psalmist speaks of praising the Lord with stringed instruments. At Science Ridge I knew what that meant: the ceremony of pulling the curtains before and after Sunday School--harp music of the angels.
Here mythic vision captures the holiness of Sunday School, and the potency of childhood memory, in ways purely impassive documentary cannot.
Though the author announces no explicit thematic scheme, certain repeated motifs give coherence to My Early Years. Two thematic threads weave through this narrative, and ultimately intertwine. Kreider's coming-of-age account sheds light both on the individual leader who emerges in the 1940s and 50s, and on the matrix of family, church, and community against which he must both discover and distinguish himself. Indeed, a prime source of fascination in this memoir is the thematic interplay between community tradition and individual talent.
Halfway into My Early Years, Kreider quotes Meister Eckhart: "There is no stopping place in this life, nor was there ever one for any persons, no matter how far along the way they've gone." On one hand, an epigraph that pictures life as perpetual motion seems apt for this memoir, filled as it is with journeys--by wagon, Model T Ford, freighter, Jeep--and whose primal emblem, the author announces in its opening pages, is a road: U.S. Route 30, the Lincoln Highway. Even the closing words of this volume, in an Epilogue written from the vantage point of Robert Kreider's ninth decade, indicate that its author remains on the move: "To tell the truth, I will be interested in how that story eventually unfolds." To strike out for new territory, to be independent, to forge one's own history, are driving impulses in this story.
On the other hand, as we have seen, Kreider's autobiography honors origins. A counterpart to Meister Eckhart's vision of the pilgrim wanderer may be found in an epigraph Kreider draws from Psalm 16: "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, yea I have a goodly heritage." Boundedness, belonging, peoplehood: these motifs sound throughout the story as well, in counterpoint to the quest for individual identity. The degree to which Kreider in his life story emphasizes ancestral inheritance, highlights his parents' powerful influence, and vows a common faith history possessed by all Mennonites--Swiss, Russian, or Ethiopian, as he puts it--reveals a maturing awareness that the complete individual locates himself among a people.
This revelation, the merger of calling and community, flashes across the page as the story proceeds. For example, a picture of Kreider at the start of his second year of master's study at Chicago, twenty-one years old, studying Christian ethics, reading Reinhold Niebuhr and labor history, and engaged, extra-curricularly, in the Kimbark Co-op, Socialist Club, Mennonite Fellowship: "I was beginning to sense that I could make it successfully in a world beyond a safe Mennonite fold. However, I was feeling a tug back to my roots." Meanwhile he was typing up lecture notes borrowed from fellow student Winfield Fretz, who was attending Wilhelm Pauck's seminar on Anabaptist history. "For me that was an invitation to the Anabaptist vision three years before Harold Bender's celebrated 'Anabaptist Vision.' Step by step I was curving back into a focus on my Mennonite heritage."
Finally, in taking up Kreider's memoir, readers put themselves in the hands of an author who admits in the Introduction that he likes to write, and whose unlabored, incisive prose bears witness to the fact. Kreider's descriptive and allusive powers, evident in reveries on childhood haunts and in letters dashed off between precarious Jeep runs, suggest that one of Kreider's untried callings might have been to write novels. (He did sketch notes in 1946 for a "Tolstoyan epic novel on the fall of Berlin"; we might still hope.)
More than prompting that intriguing conjecture, however, My Early Years makes the reader appreciate the providential concurrence of a young man of Kreider's prodigious talents, the heritage that nurtured them, and a church that welcomed them--and that we have the story in this teeming, fascinating book.
Susan Fisher Miller
John Howard Yoder, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, edited by Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003. Pp. 298. ($30.00-paperback) ISBN 0-8028-1362-3
The back cover summarizes well the central thesis of this book. "Between 1971 and 1996 the late John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) wrote a series of ten essays 'revisiting' the Jewish-Christian schism in which he argued that, properly understood, Jesus did not reject Judaism, Judaism did not reject Jesus, and the Apostle Paul's universal mandate for the salvation of the nations is best understood not as a product of Hellenization, but rather in the context of his Jewish heritage." Several of the chapters were first given at Bethel College in the Menno Simons Lecture Series in 1982. (Audio files of these lectures can be found at this link. Appendix A also includes his sermon, "Salvation is of the Jews," given at the Bethel College Mennonite Church (mistakenly named as "college church, Bethel College, Newton, Kansas"). The essays were originally available in a "Shalom Desktop Packet," (with a preface by Yoder) that Yoder made available in 1996, just before his untimely death.
The book is part of the Radical Traditions Series edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Peter Ochs, which invites "Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers to retrieve their scriptural resources and give voice to their theological claims without having to submit or reduce them to strictly modern standards of meaning and truth." Books in the series employ new paradigms of reason through post-liberal and post-critical methodologies that are unfettered by the foundationalist assumptions of modernity. We are indebted to Michael Cartwright, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Dean for Ecumenical and Interfaith Programs at the University of Indianapolis for redacting, correcting, and annotating Yoder's essays and to Peter Ochs, Bronfman Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Virginia, for his explanatory and interpretive comments (as a Jewish interlocutor) at the end of each essay. Cartwright also writes two substantive essays: a critical assessment of Yoder's argument in which he raises the question whether Yoder has fully overcome Christian supersessionism, and a second essay in which he places Yoder's theological dialogue with Judaism in the historical context (1949-2002) of Mennonite Central Committee's work in Palestine and Mennonite missions in Israel. Another fascinating feature is the editor's documentation of decades-long conversations and correspondence, beginning in the late 1960s, between Yoder and Rabbi Steven S. Schwarzchild. Yoder's dedication of the essays "to Rabbi Steven S. Schwarzchild of blessed memory" gives evidence to Yoder's affection and respect. Yoder's essays show his deep engagement with the Jewish tradition, evidenced by his correspondence, conversation, and reading. The last Yoder essay, "See How they Go With Their Face to the Sun," (previously published in For the Nations) draws on Stephan Zweig's poem-drama "Jeremiah" written during World War I, during Zweig's military service as a journalist and archivist in Vienna.
In his first essay, "It Did Not Have To Be," Yoder raises the issue of historical methodology. Historians tend to look at the outcome of history, in this case two separate religions named "Christianity" and "Judaism," and then identify the causes for this outcome as if it were inevitable. Yoder argues that in fact there was not one normative Judaism in the 1st century. Judaism was fluid and diverse, and Jesus and all the earlier followers of Jesus (including the Apostle Paul), affirmed their Jewish identity and viewed themselves as continuing in the Jewish tradition. One of the foundational texts for Yoder is Ephesians 2 with its vision of a broken wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, a vision in which Gentiles are included within the Abrahamic covenant to form one new humanity.
Yoder argues for a fundamental continuity in the central story of the Bible beginning with God's call to Abraham to leave country and kindred to be a "blessing to the nations" and the call of God's anointed, Jesus, to be a light to the world. It is not a "mythic" story of about cosmic origins, but a real historical story with names, places, and events that define a people's identity.
Abrahamic communities who are called to be a "light to the nations," are to be distinguished from the temptation to empire (as under Solomon, the Maccabees, and Constantine).
The most important of Yoder's foundational texts is Jeremiah's letter to the exiles to "seek the peace of the city where they dwell." This text establishes a fundamental turn in religious history, a minority group of believers loyal to God who, though while not in charge of running the empire, are called by God to live faithfully as a minority "to seek the peace of the city where they dwell." This is the framework for Yoder's identification of a number of common features of the Jewish diaspora and the believer's church: a view of history, a peace narrative, a non-Constantinian way of thinking ethically, a logic of mission to the larger culture, and a de-centralized view of authority of a community gathered around scripture. Diaspora Judaism and believer's churches share a view of history. Israel and the church are called by God to be a people among the nations. The center of history is not empire (Babylon, Rome, Germany, the United States), but a people God has chosen from among the nations to be a light to all the peoples of the world.
Sociologically this history has been lived by a people who are on the margins, people for whom it is not an option to "be in charge." For Jews in the diaspora it meant to live as a minority within the Babylonian, Persian, and Roman Empires, and later within Christendom and Islam. Until Constantine, Christians lived with a similar marginal status, and later within Christendom various renewal movements experienced a similar status: minorities who were not only not in charge, but had little or no influence on kings and princes, and what they commanded their armies to do.
Yoder was particularly interested in the common roots of nonviolence, the central theme in his dialogue with Schwarzchild. Though the Jewish rabbis do not identify themselves as pacifists and were not doctrinaire advocates of nonviolence, in practice they live out an ethic of nonviolence in the diaspora. Yoder even titled one of his Menno Simons Lectures at Bethel College, "Judaism as a Historic Peace Church." The basis of rabbis' position, he says, was the call by God, since Abraham, to be different amidst the world's exercise of power and violent force. "They were committed to reasoning from within a world view where the inscrutable omnipotence and sovereignty of ADONAI makes it inappropriate, if not blasphemous, to claim to save God's cause for Him." (1) Jews, in fact, practiced more faithfully Jesus' ethic of nonviolence than most Christians within Christendom who after Constantine adopted just war theory as a framework for the shape and control of the political order. (2) The basis for both the Jewish tradition of nonviolence and the believer's church commitment to nonviolence is an alternative peace narrative of God's call to Abraham and to the church to be a light to the nations. This volume is especially engaging for the way it raises issues in the continuing dialogue between Jews and Christians. After each chapter Peter Ochs identifies positively the "wonder" and "burden" of Yoder's ideas. For Ochs, the issue raised by both Yoder and Zweig is that there is no middle ground between Zionist nationalist sovereignty and exile. Ochs argues that Jeremiah did not assume permanent exile, but also a return to Jerusalem. For Jews identity is linked not only to the dyad of the people Israel and Torah, but the triad of Torah, people, and land. For Jews, the question is how to live faithfully on the land without succumbing to the temptations of empire and the violence entailed in running an empire. As Ochs puts it: "For Zweig and Yoder, there is no middle between Israel's exilic separation from the land and the Maccabean strategy for remaining in it: that is, between an ancient foreshadowing of modern nationalist sovereignty in that land and Israel's forced separation from it in this world.... For post-liberal Jews, the emerging religion of Israel will draw both exilic and landed life into a relationship that we cannot yet define." (3) Ochs criticizes Yoder for his binary logic, an excluded middle, which assumes so often that there are two possibilities, one faithful and one not. This carries over, Ochs argues, to Yoder's reading of scripture-the tendency to see only faithful or unfaithful readings, rather than multiple possible readings of the text, a diversity of readings by the rabbis reflected in the Talmud, for example.
Michael Cartwright raises similar questions, but from a Christian point of view. Cartwright affirms Yoder's significant contribution in overcoming the worst forms of Christian supersessionism (e.g. the church's replacement of Israel, evolutionary liberal notions of "higher" Christian truth, dispensationalism). He asks whether Yoder's theology of history (a view of Judaism from the point of view of Yoder's textual interpretation of the meaning of Abraham and Jeremiah) reduces Judaism to a believer's church paradigm. Does Yoder allow for genuinely pluralistic understandings of what it means to be faithful to God? Is his theology of history a residual form of "modernism," a monolithic reading of history in the light of the Jeremiah paradigm? Like Ochs, Cartwright identifies Yoder's failure to include "land" (also noting Yoder's minimal treatment of post-exilic texts like Ezra and Nehemiah) in his understanding of the three culturally unique traits of Judaism-synagogue, Torah, and a rabbinate form of servant leadership that is non-sacerdotal, non-hierarchical, and non-violent. It is remarkable how these traits are similar to Yoder's vision of leadership in a believer's church tradition. In short, the issue is whether Jews are absorbed into Yoder's Christian definitions, whether they cease to be a genuine "other."
These questions are linked to how we interpret Romans 9-11a text Cartwright observes plays a strikingly little role in Yoder's argument. In his chapter on "Paul the Judaizer" Yoder comes close to saying there is a single covenant shared by Jews and Christians. The issue is whether Jews, on their own terms, are included within the covenant or, as Cartwright puts it whether "the way that Yoder goes about affirming the 'Abrahamic model'... involves narrating the history of Jewish peace witness in a way that is determined by the Anabaptist tradition. As a result the very coherence of the vocation of the Jewish people turns out to be reliant upon the 'free church vision'." (4)
This book takes us far beyond polite and tolerant conversation between Jews and Christians. It engages deeply, directly, and with integrity the fundamental theological issues in the relationship of Jews and Christians. There is "meat" here to be digested for a long time. The book also raises indirectly the question of how Christians within the Anabaptist tradition should interpret Jeremiah's text to "seek the peace of the city where we dwell." Like Jews living in the land of Israel who must learn to live peaceably and justly with Palestinians, we in North America must find a way to be faithful to God in our lands as settled and "bodied" people, responsible for the well-being of real cities and institutions. What third way between "exile" and "empire" will we learn as disciples of the Jewish Jesus?
Duane K. Friesen
1. Yoder, "Jesus the Jewish Pacifist," p. 85.
2. "For two millennia Judaism has lived its ages of toleration and its ages of renewed exile or even martyrdom, sometimes within and sometimes outside the 'Christian' empires of East and West, but never have they reached for the sword. Their literature never justified violence, and in fact created a special genre of literature, the rabbinic rhapsodic 'praise of Peace.' Occasionally privileged after the model of Joseph, more often emigrating, frequently suffering martyrdom nonviolently, they were able to maintain identity without turf or sword, community without sovereignty. They thereby demonstrated pragmatically the viability of the ethic of Jeremiah and Jesus. In sum: for over a millennium the Jews of the Diaspora were the closest thing to the ethic of Jesus existing on any significant scale anywhere in Christendom." Yoder, p. 81-82.
3. Peter Ochs, "Commentary," p. 203-204.
4. Michael Cartwright, p. 229.
M. J. Heisey, Peace and Persistence: Tracing the Brethren in Christ Peace Witness through Three Generations. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2003. Pp. 280. ($45.00) ISBN 0-87338-756-2
One of the smaller Anabaptist groups in North America, the Brethren in Christ developed in late eighteenth-century Pennsylvania as "River Brethren," people with Mennonite roots who were attracted to Protestant pietism and revivalistic emphases in church life. In this volume, historian M. J. Heisey draws on her own Brethren in Christ heritage and broader Anabaptist-related peace scholarship to explore the mid-twentieth century legacies of non-resistance and peace activism of this small denomination. Grounding her study primarily in the stories of World War I and World War II-era conscientious objectors, Heisey interprets both the persistence and sometimes tenuous relationship of Brethren in Christ people to their church's legacy of nonresistance.
Heisey's archival spadework is evident from the first pages of her book to the impressive appendices, which list by name Brethren in Christ members drafted during the First World War as well as participants in World War II-era Civilian Public Service, Canadian alternative service, Mennonite Central Committee postwar relief work, and U.S. I-W service. The author's focus on individual stories -- drawn from publications such as the denomination's periodical Evangelical Visitor, personal papers, diaries, and letters, are supplemented with more than 150 questionnaire responses and several dozen oral interviews. Throughout her study, Heisey balances her broader interpretive focus on the Brethren in Christ as part of the larger historic peace church milieu with narratives drawn from the lives of a variety of Brethren in Christ folk -- men, women, children, and teenagers -- including many who stayed in the denomination and some who ultimately left.
The Brethren in Christ grouping is small: 4,000 members in North America in 1914, doubling to approximately 8,000 by 1958. The largest concentrations of BIC populations in these years were in Pennsylvania, home to the BIC-founded Messiah Bible College and Missionary Training School (now Messiah College), Ontario, central Kansas, and southern California.
Heisey's thesis is that the Brethren in Christ made a transition through the two world wars, initially drawing from an identity as a "plain people" but moving into a wider historic peace church subculture in North American society. Through these years, the denomination struggled to maintain a consistent nonresistant peace witness and to pass on this legacy to successive generations. Throughout her study, Heisey is careful to draw on evidence from the daily lives of Brethren in Christ folk (including economic and social relationships within local communities) as well as official church positions and disciplines. She also pays attention to gendered constructions of peace theology, noting, for example, the implications of dress proscriptions and service opportunities for BIC women in mid-century, when most people within the denomination "continued to think of nonresistance as a male issue" (p. 165).
Heisey argues that through the two world wars, BIC members developed patterns similar to Mennonites and other Anabaptist-related groups for encouraging conscientious objection (including refusal to wear the military uniform in World War I training camps and engaging in alternative service in World War II and postwar relief work). She notes, however, that in the Second World War, approximately half of BIC drafted men engaged in military service, and that by the late 1950s, nonparticipation in the military was no longer required for BIC membership. Heisey laments a move away from a "corporate" witness toward a more individualized expression of peace concerns by the late 1950s and beyond, and suggests that in coming years, the persistence of BIC peace commitments is an open question.
An interpretive weakness of the work is Heisey's emphasis on the Brethren in Christ denomination's weakening corporate peace witness, and further, to a preponderance of conflicts within the BIC community. She asserts that, particularly in the latter half of the twentieth century, BIC members too often forgot, or failed to value, their legacy as a people of peace. And she points to conflicts embedded in congregations as evidence that the Brethren in Christ failed to find applications for their peace theology close to home. These suggestions, while provocative, are not substantiated with clear evidence.
Nevertheless, the book's strengths outweigh its shortcomings. For readers of Mennonite Life, Heisey's contextualization of the BIC denomination within the wider Mennonite fold will be especially appreciated. Further, two emphases of this study -- the inclusion of women's history (exemplified by an extended discussion of relief worker Elsie C. Bechtel in France for post-World War II work), and discussion of BIC people as constructing multiple identities in everyday life, with "entanglements of mainstream values" are especially valuable. For its contributions to peace history literature and to American religious life, this book is a welcome addition.
Rachel Waltner Goossen
Associate Professor of History
A. James Reimer, The Dogmatic Imagination: The Dynamics of Christian Belief. Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 2003. Pp. 112. ($9.99-paperback) ISBN 0-8361-9246-X
This is a study book for small group discussion and dialogue. It has twenty-four chapters covering the standard doctrines of the Christian faith, including faith, the Bible, experience, the Spirit, God the Father, Jesus Christ, prayer, love, sexuality, judgment, and life everlasting. The sequence of chapters is not especially orderly. For instance, why should "experience" come before the Godhead, or why should "the Spirit" come before "God the Father" and "Jesus-Christ"? There is a reason, however, why Jesus-Christ is hyphenated. "Christ is not a surname but an honorary title."
The book has 105 pages, with less than five pages per chapter. Each chapter has a sub-title, designed to stimulate the imagination. The chapter on faith, for instance, is sub-titled, "a jigsaw puzzle or a scrabble game?"
Reimer cites the jigsaw puzzle form as the way not to pursue the dogmatic imagination of faith. That game is predetermined, with a specific number of pieces. Each piece fits only one spot. Jigsaw puzzles are usually done alone. Scrabble, in contrast, is a group game. It does have its rules and limits--a limited number of squares and an unalterable alphabet with predetermined values for each letter. Much depends upon the factor of fate in picking letters and getting good opportunities for words. Much rests on the skill and vocabulary of the player, with high value placed on reason and intelligence.
But the jigsaw/scrabble analogy does not really clarify the central question. What is this game called "dogmatics"?
One way to respond to this question is to examine the evolution of Reimer's ideas on a particular subject in a number of his writings. The ethical issue of sexuality is a good case. Chapter 19 in The Dogmatic Imagination gives a short answer. Reimer has longer answers in his book Mennonites and Classical Theology: Dogmatic Foundations for Christian Ethics (Pandora Press, 2001), and in his chapter in To Continue the Dialogue (Pandora Press, 2001), edited by C. Norman Kraus.
The ethics of same sex partnership is a hot current issue. The game of dogmatic imagination involves a progression down the traditional categories of Christian dogmatics, beginning with the doctrine of creation. Traditionally, as documented in the book of Genesis, we were created male and female for the purposes of procreation and companionship. This principle is hardly contestable: the penis and the vagina were made for each other, and the gay argument that they were made another way lacks the dogmatic cogency of the doctrine of creation. But the plot thickens in Paul's epistle to the Romans with the doctrines of sin and redemption: "God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." "[But], there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set [us] free from the law of sin and death." The dogma of redemption implies that the sexual orientation of gay people can be changed from homosexual to heterosexual. And so on with the doctrines of the Holy Spirit, the church, and the eschatological fulfillment.
But neither for Reimer nor for the gay community do we win at this game of dogmatics. The dogmatic imagination won't let us. Discerning God's ways with us is just too mysterious to imagine and fathom. On the empirical level of analysis, the gay community is slowly but surely winning in the Episcopal Church, and perhaps even in the Mennonite Church USA.
Reimer's chapter in To Continue the Dialogue ends with a section entitled "Practical Implications: Three Options." These are: (1) We can continue to maintain what the church has traditionally held, namely, that homosexual activity is intrinsically evil and must therefore be rejected. (2) Homosexual acts are intrinsically imperfect and a departure from the dogmatic view; but there are exceptions under certain extreme conditions. (3) Homosexual activity is morally neutral, to be evaluated only in terms of its relational integrity. The third position holds that God's intent is determined not primarily in terms of some arbitrary command in the Bible but on the basis of a relational Christology.
Where Reimer comes out at the end of chapter nineteen of The Dogmatic Imagination is less clear than in the other two of his cited writings. In To Continue the Dialogue he wrote, "I find myself, at this point at least, leaning toward the second option." This is certainly not what we would have expected when playing the dogmatic game.
Reimer's movement on this issue seems to imply what Peter Berger calls the "principle of alternation" in his book, The Precarious Vision (1961). "What is involved here is not just uncertainty and doubt about the legitimacy of one's views, but the curious ability to look around the corners of one's own Weltanschauung, the ability to imagine oneself holding quite a different position." (p. 17) Perhaps the best thing to be said about Reimer's Dogmatic Imagination is his implicit commitment to Berger's principle of alternation--the assumption that the alternative to what one believes to be true may in fact be true, an essential condition of any authentic discernment and conversion.
North Newton, Kansas
Melanie Springer Mock, Writing Peace: The Unheard Voices of Great War Mennonite Objectors (Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, no. 40). Telford, Pa.: Pandora Press U.S., 2003. Pp. 346. ($23.95-paperback) ISBN 1-931038-09-0
A fever of patriotism and paranoia was sweeping across America. If you did not enthusiastically wave the flag and wholeheartedly back the government's military actions across the ocean, you were suspected of being in league with the enemy--"if you are not for us, you are against us." Your troubles were compounded if you were a member of an ethnic group whose habits, accents, and surnames were different than your "American" neighbors and, worse, were the same accents and surnames as those people with whom the nation was at war. Your young men were removed from your communities against their will and taken to military camps, where they were interned until the end of the war and beyond. They suffered mental and sometimes physical abuse at the hands of their captors, and were reviled and cursed for their religious beliefs. This sounds like the atmosphere that has existed recently in the United States and the situation that exists currently in Abu Ghraib prison and other places where Iraqi men and women are being detained, but it's not. This is the situation that existed in America in 1917 and 1918, after President Wilson declared war on Germany. One of the ethnic groups under suspicion was the pacifistic Mennonites, most of whose members shared the Germanic surnames and sometimes the Germanic accents of their countries of origin. The young men forcibly removed from their homes and communities included the sons of these Mennonite families, drafted to fight in a war that their religion and upbringing taught them was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. When they arrived at the military training camps and stated their religious objections to aiding the military machine, they were cursed, had their religion impugned, and were sometimes physically assaulted and even threatened with death if they didn't agree to assume the uniform and take up arms.
It is true that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. That is why books like Melanie Spring Mock's Writing Peace are so important, especially for a new generation of Mennonites, most of whom have not had to face these types of extreme reactions when living their faith and tradition in a hostile world. In this work, Mock introduces us to the world as it existed during the Great War and allows four ordinary young Mennonite men to tell us, through their diaries, what their faith meant to them and how they lived out that faith in the face of great opposition.
Melanie Mock, an Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature at George Fox University, brings us an account of this period in American history from a readable, literary point of view. She has arranged her study in three basic sections. The first is an excellent, concise background on America's entry into "the Great War" and how the pandemic of paranoid patriotism put the Mennonite church (and other pacifist denominations) on a direct collision course with mainstream America. Relying on the research done by James Juhnke, Gerlof Homan, Sarah Shields, and others, Mock reminds us that to meet the great manpower demands of the war in Europe, the United States instituted a universal draft of men between the ages of 21 and 30. She recounts the struggles faced by the leaders of the various branches of the Mennonite church between obeying the laws of the land (allowing their young men to register for the draft) and holding true to the basic tenets of their religious beliefs that had as their core Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, that one should turn the other cheek and not return evil for evil, that one should seek peace and understanding with one's enemy and not offer them violence. As the church leaders tried to intercede with governmental leaders to achieve some recognition of and allowance for conscientious objection and alternative service, their young men--for the most part farm boys who may have had not much more than an eighth grade education--were left on their own to justify their beliefs to unsympathetic military camp supervisors and to decide for themselves how far they would accommodate their religious convictions to the situation in which they found themselves. It is a testament that nearly all of these young people from humble roots held fast to their pacifist convictions.
The second section, covering two chapters, concerns itself with an overview of Great War literature (mostly British), and makes a case for including Mennonite CO diaries, like those she has chosen to present in this book, in that body of literature. She spends time familiarizing us with the works of such Great War writers as Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, and Vera Brittain and makes the interesting observation that these authors, writing as actual witnesses to the horror and carnage of that conflict, produced essentially "anti-war" literature. Indeed, Mock quotes Wilfred Owen as saying that his war experiences had, he felt, made him more a Christian; in an almost Mennonite frame of mind, Owen wrote to his mother: "I am more and more Christian as I walk the unchristian ways of Christiandom [sic]. Already I have comprehended a light which never will filter into a dogma of any national church: namely that one of Christ's essential commands was: Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonor and disgrace; but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed; but do not kill … The practice of selective ignorance is one cause of the war. Christians have deliberately cut some of the main teachings of their code." (p. 96) The "combat writers" of such literature wrote the truth as they observed it, and left it to the reader to receive (or not) its anti-war message. Mock makes the case that the conscientious objector diarists included in this book, and their camp brothers who did not leave a written legacy, used the examples of their lives in hope of spreading the anti-war message to those with whom they interacted in the camps. These men made sense of the impossible situation in which they found themselves by looking on their internment as a mission field--if they stayed true to their beliefs and lived those beliefs, they could be "peaceful witnesses," as diarist Ura Hostetler said, amid men who "practiced killing devices." (p. 185) It is very interesting to see the comparison of combat writers and pacifist diarists and how they come at the same conclusion from opposite directions.
The final section of the book is a transcription of the four diaries themselves. Mock includes a good cross section of Mennonite young men: Gustav Gaeddert was a country school teacher and a General Conference Mennonite; Ura Hostetler was a newly married farmer with an eighth grade education and a member of the (Old) Mennonite church; John Neufeld came from a long line of General Conference ministers and already had been gone from home doing mission work when he was drafted; and Jacob Meyer was a Harvard graduate, a Phi Beta Kappa, and a member of the Amish Mennonite church. (The selection of these particular men is especially interesting and important for us Kansans as Gaeddert, Hostetler, and Neufeld were all Kansans and all from the Inman area). Mock prefaces each diary entry with a brief biographical sketch of the diarist, sets in context the diary entries, and tells us what happened to the diarist after the war. She then presents the script of each diary, complete with misspellings and grammatical idiosyncrasies, so in reading them one gets the feeling that one is in conversation with these voices from the past. The diaries are footnoted to explain more fully the significant individuals and incidents mentioned.
I found the overview of Great War literature, and the attempt to justify the inclusion of CO diaries as part of that literature, a bit awkward in the context of this book. However, it was fascinating and insightful and, given that Writing Peace is an outgrowth of Mock's research for her PhD in English, one can understand why this information is included here rather than in a separately published monograph.
The only other real criticism of the book is an editorial one: the endnotes are essential to the reading of the book but are very hard to use. The notes are arranged by "Chapter 1," "Chapter 2," etc., but that is not how the chapters themselves are named. Trying to find a footnote reference from the chapter entitled "Behind Prison Walls: The Diary of John Neufeld" necessitated way too much flipping of pages and counting of chapters for ease in reading. It would have been much more convenient to have the "notes" as footnotes rather than endnotes.
Writing Peace presents an extremely readable and digestible account of this slice of American history, as seen through the eyes and words of four young Mennonite men. This is my kind of history--"the facts" presented in a vibrant, accessible style that can appeal to anyone. Its relevance, especially to us modern day Mennonites, is brought home to me in the fact that, even though I am neither a native Kansan nor an ethnic Mennonite, I have connections with two of these diarists: Gustav Gaeddert was a newspaper curator at the Kansas State Historical Society in the early 1940s and John Neufeld is the great uncle of one of the ministers of my church. It is important to read the accounts of those who faced these difficult choices before us, whether we are reminiscing about the bravery of our grandfathers or searching for a guide as we face the very real possibility that we will be called to declare where our faith teaches us to stand.
Sara J. Keckeisen
Kansas State Historical Society
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