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Over the generations, those of us in the Brethren movement have claimed “simple living” as a core value. Of course, as with any socio-spiritual conviction we’ve found vastly different ways of living in ways we might consider simple. It used to be plain clothes and abstaining from anything that might be considered “fancy.” More recently we’ve taken to focusing on living within our means, not falling prey to the prevalent consumer culture that surrounds us, or not relying on consumer credit to buy luxuries we can’t really afford.

Another way that many folks I know have taken to living simply involves trying to opt-out of complex corporate/industrial systems that are seen as working against the common good of all humanity. Yet it seems that such efforts often lead to a lifestyle that is far from simple, at least when judged by our traditional ideas of simplicity. Read the rest of this entry »

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This past fall I co-taught a course on Protestantism. Of course in the midst of preparations I had to re-study the sacramental debates of the early reformers. At the risk of oversimplification the positions ranged from an elaborate theosophical argument for real presence to an equally intricate spirit guided memorial understanding.

We as Brethren have tended toward, if not staked our claim with, the memorial camp. This can be confirmed in the 20th century work of Vernard Eller, titled In Place of Sacraments. Though a bit polemical at times, the sum of Eller’s critique follows the Reformation critiques of the economics of salvation (Luther and the Indulgences) and crude physicalism (Zwingli and memorialism).

To be sure, I do have some sympathy with these critiques. Yet, in an equal measure, I balk at the wholesale rejection of the idea of sacraments because of a nearly 400 year old controversy.

Let me explain. At the heart of sacramental thinking is the conviction that God is active in the material world. The prime expression of that action is in the Incarnation, in Jesus the Christ. When we dismiss the sacramentality of the Eucharist, along with the other sacraments, we effectively limit God’s actions to the past. We have no means to remind ourselves that God is indeed working here and now. In effect we are forced to expect extraordinary miracles rather than a seemingly mundane moment of worship.

Its even more important given our HIGHLY incarnational view of our work as the Church. When we see our times of worship as so one dimensional (earth centered, aimed at God) rather than just as incarnational as our service (where the Divine and the human co-operate within a hurting world), what foundation do we have? Put another way, we lack the spiritual grounding for ethical activities.

How do you understand the relationship of Incarnation and Service?

The last several posts on here have touched on the issue of belief, particular beliefs and practices we understand to be “Brethren” in nature. Rather than talking about particular beliefs, I’d like to take a step back and foster some discussion on belief in general.

Recently I stumbled across this excerpt from a recent Rolling Stone interview of comedian and satirist Steven Colbert:

Rolling Stone: A lot of people view what you do as liberal vs. conservative. But what you’re saying is that the show is really about people who are flexible in their beliefs vs. people who are fixed in their beliefs?

Colbert: If there’s a target in our present society, it’s people not willing to change their minds. If you’re not willing to change your mind about anything, given how much is changing and how the sands are shifting underneath our feet, then that dishonesty is certainly worth a joke or too.

It got me thinking about how having flexible beliefs in the midst of our quickly changing, shifting world relates to being people of faith. Read the rest of this entry »

Dana’s great observation about the “tag line” prompted me to think about the three elements depicted within it; Peacefully, Simply, Together.

One of the things that arises in the 300th Anniversary Study is the low numbers of respondents who identify with the Peace witness of the Church.  Many lament this development, others see it as affirmation of an already perceived reality.  I am not sure its so much a development given the numbers of Brethren men who went to into Civilian Public Service on one hand, and those who served in various positions in the American military in World War II.  Yet, it is clear regardless that around 20% of the Church of the Brethren members self identify the Peace Witness as part of their personal system of belief.

There are a number of ways to approach this question, such as how we measure a belief, how we understand the Peace Witness etc.  But I think a helpful phrasing of the question at the heart of this reality is as follows:  How are we to understand these numbers and the strength of the Peace witness within the Brethren today?

As I begin my new position as Director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship another question comes to mind:

If you could identify two practices or beliefs that are central to Brethren Spirituality, what would they be?”

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