Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Brethren heritage: Not a bloodline, but a message.

When I was asked to write about the Church of the Brethren ancestors and their life struggles 300 years ago in Germany, panic set in--for my folks were slaves back then, and Alexander and Anna Mack were not among my family's ancestral lineage. What could I contribute to this German story line?

Then I read "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust" (Hay House Inc., 2006), the story of Immaculee Ilibagiza's survival and forgiveness of the killers who hunted her down and hacked her family to death during the upheaval between the Tutsi and Hutu in 1994.

A great wave of shame washed over me. My thinking about the 300-year commemoration was so small minded. The Brethren are my ancestors not because of a bloodline, but because of the message of love and peace in the bloodline of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

On Sundays, I sit in church and look around at the various families from so many different ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds, and my heart swells with such joy that I belong to this church. Is this mix of languages and differences what those early Brethren wanted, or could have dreamed of?

The early Brethren had the scriptures, so they knew that the plank over Jesus' head as he hung on the cross was written in Greek, Latin, and other languages of the day. They knew from the Apostle Paul's letters that the early church was made up of a mixture of people.

Besides, of what value would the Good News have been to the Brethren, if they had remained a small German sect? That would have made them as small-thinking as I had been only days before. To seek peace among German speakers only, and to ignore the world around, does not sound very Brethren to me.

In "Left to Tell," Immaculee speaks of her beloved father's belief that passions of hate for the Tutsi were not shared by their Hutu neighbors, and thus would not harm them. But hate is an awful virus that only love can cure--everyday, all day love. Her father was most likely correct in his belief that their Hutu neighbors did not hate them, but their neighbors participated in the slaughter anyway.

The hate virus is a trap. In Rwanda the violence was over in months, but it left a million people dead. In Bosnia it lasted more than 10 years, and still today it is contained only by the continuous presence of UN peacekeepers. Violence goes on and on in Israel and Palestine and the occupied territories of that ancient land. Violence has unleashed itself once again in the 1,400-year-old dispute between Shiite and Sunni in Iraq. Violence spreads across the Darfur region of the Sudan into all of Africa at this moment.

It is a struggle to remain Brethren and carry the message of peace and love in the face of so many temptations to bend just a little. It is not enough to say, I love my neighbor, and then laugh at jokes that stereotype someone's culture or heritage. It is not enough to say, I give money to immigrants, and then request my Congressional representative to stop the flow of immigrants into this country. It is not enough to say, I believe that all people are created equal, and then ignore laws that bend justice to imprison people of color. It is not enough to believe in equalities of education, housing, and so forth, and then create means of testing that fix results in a predetermined manner to display the dominant group as wiser, smarter, or better suited to continue to rule over all.

This anniversary of the Church of the Brethren is a great opportunity to commemorate 300 years of spreading the message of peace and love. We can celebrate the wonderful culture of peace our Brethren ancestors have given us--a culture of peace that enriches the glory of the Son!

--Doris Abdullah is a member of First Church of the Brethren in Brooklyn, N.Y. In retirement she serves on the board of On Earth Peace and represents the Church of the Brethren at the United Nations as a member of the NGO Subcommittee for the Elimination of Racism. This reflection was first published as a devotional in "Seed Packet," a newsletter for Christian educators in the Church of the Brethren.

Source: 8/26/2008 Newsline

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