Ann E. Hostetler, ed., A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003. Pp. 222. ($19.95--paperback; $39.95--hardcover) ISBN 0-87745-849-6; 0-87745-874-x. Reviewed by Suzanne Miller.
David G. Rempel with Cornelia Rempel Carlson, A Mennonite Family in Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, 1789-1923. Toronto / Buffalo /London: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. 356. ($70.00) ISBN 0-8020-3639-2 Reviewed by Harry Loewen.
Helen Martens, Hutterite Songs. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2002. Pp. 328. ($28.00-paperback) ISBN 1-894710-24-X Reviewed by William H. Eash.
C. Arnold Snyder, ed., Commoners and Community. Essays in Honour of Werner O. Packull. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2002. Pp. 323. ($35.00) ISBN 1-894710-27-4 Reviewed by John J. Friesen.
Donald B. Kraybill. The Upside-Down Kingdom. 25th Anniversary Edition. Scottdale: Herald Press, 2003. Pp. 311. ($16.99- Paperback) ISBN 0-8361-9236-2 Reviewed by Patrick Preheim.
Ann E. Hostetler, ed., A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003. Pp. 222. ($19.95--paperback; $39.95--hardcover) ISBN 0-87745-849-6; 0-87745-874-x.
As a Mennonite who reads and writes poems, I should be the perfect reader and cheerleader for A Cappella, Ann Hostetler's new anthology of Mennonite poetry. I do, in fact, like the poems in the book. Furthermore, I personally know and like some of its featured poets. Why, then, does this book make me uncomfortable?
Maybe it's my suspicion toward anthologies in general. Anthologies aim to present the best work by the best of a certain group of artists. Compare them to those TV ads selling CDs with only the top songs of certain genres in certain bygone decades. Hit songs are great, but I remember listening to my favorite singers' albums and finding joy in the discovery of subtleties, variations, successes, and failures. When reading poetry for pleasure, I like to work through a whole book by a single author, to struggle through the mundane in anticipation of the exquisite. Too much perfection is oppressive. Too many perfect poems put me out of the picture. Old-fashioned quilters know this--put one piece in upside down to keep you humble, to reflect your reality.
Although my bias says anthologies narrow the range of the real, I know they can also create new versions of reality. The choices anthologists make about content and arrangement greatly influence the message, not only of the individual parts, but also of the whole. When I read A Cappella, I can't just read the poets; I have to read the editor. What is Hostetler saying with this collection?
In her substantial Acknowledgments, Introduction, and Afterword sections, nearly twenty pages of prose, Hostetler lays out her vision for the book. She begins by defining "anthology" as "a form of community in print" (xiii). I am tempted to emphasize the word "form" to reinforce my perception of editor as creator, but I think Hostetler is emphasizing the word "community" here. "Community" seems to be the model of reality she wants to present through the anthology she created.
Here's where I get most uncomfortable. It's not that I don't value community and acknowledge its interlocking layers undergirding my life. It's just that when that word is used in such close proximity to "Mennonite" and "poetry," my synapses start jamming--isn't it poetry that saves me when my traditions fail? Hostetler acknowledges the disturbance, but tries to make currents flow smoothly by evoking the Mennonite "artistic tradition" of congregational a cappella singing:
Voices, unaccompanied by other instruments, harmonize in a spiritual expression of community through music, a form of unadorned singing that has been one of the few consistent artistic traditions among Mennonites since the Reformation…. The voices of the poets in this anthology, unlike those that blend in the singing of hymns, are distinctive and individual. But their conjoined presence in this volume creates a concert that reflects a varied legacy from Mennonite faith and culture. (xiv)
I can't make that leap from congregational singing to poetry anthology without feeling like I've been bamboozled. Somewhere in the middle are those "distinctive and individual" voices that do not try to speak for the family or the congregation or the conference or the denomination or the religion. Rather, it is more likely that these Mennonite voices are speaking to the aforesaid groups. Okay, yes, maybe "concert" is the right word.
Hostetler certainly does not try to hide the difficulties Mennonite poets have in being heard by the church. Her scholarly Afterword documents "The Troubled Birth of the Artist in Mennonite Culture" with names, dates, places, anecdotes, references, and analysis. Yet, most of the poets in this anthology write poems that would not even be included in a "Mennonite" anthology published by a university press, let alone by a denominational publisher because not everything they write serves the interests of the denomination's institutions, ethics, spirituality, or culture (either experiential or mythological). She puts an optimistic spin on it, though, by claiming "The emergence of this poetry has begun to transform the ways in which contemporary Mennonites understand their own faith and culture" (xiv). Which poetry? Which contemporary Mennonites? In the last paragraph of the book, she clarifies her definition of "Mennonite" readers, those with "a new openness to poetic forms," as "literate Mennonites" (189). A revised and limited version of Hostetler's thesis would be something like "Mennonites who know how to read poetry will read poetry by Mennonites and begin to see themselves in various new lights." That may be vision enough. Poets are sensitive people. More responsibility than that may be more than they could bear.
The communal model Hostetler creates to justify this anthology seems to reflect her personal quest to find a community in which she, as a Mennonite poet, can feel at home. Her anecdote about listening to Galway Kinnell talk about his Mennonite student Julia Spicher (Kasdorf) is entertaining and thought provoking. Hostetler was at a luncheon in 1989 with other graduate students when Kinnell mentioned "Mennonites" and "poetry" in the same sentence; Hostetler's worlds collided:
My gut wrenched…. My palms began to sweat. I usually tried to pass as a "nondescript Protestant" in the outside world. Outsiders seemed only to remember extreme stories about Mennonites; coming out to outsiders about one's Mennonite origins required elaborate historical and theological explanations that seemed to confound instead of illuminate…. After the luncheon, I privately confessed my Mennonite identity…. (xvi)
What followed this turning point was her gradual discovery of other Mennonite poets publishing in the "outside" world, and her wish to create an anthology of Mennonite poets--both as a way to literally place herself in that community (she includes a selection of her own poems) and to provide a beacon for others who may feel unconnected. "How different my sense of myself as a writer and a Mennonite might have been," she writes, "if I had had access to such evidence of a vital literary tradition among the people of my faith and culture" (xviii).
While Hostetler claims to have "discovered" a thread of common themes in the poems she chose for this anthology (xviii), I wonder if she might have simply chosen good poems that resonated with her own concerns about the relationship between the artist and the Mennonite community. Every Mennonite poet may, indeed, have to explore this theme at some point. Some of these poems speak to each other. Some speak to their communities of origin. Some speak with humor or sarcasm. Some with curiosity and imagination. Some with nostalgia. Some with such unresolved pain that their words seem to puddle on the page. Faced with an obsessive theme, I'm glad for variety in style.
Hostetler's models are the people she has her eyes on, poets worthy of study and imitation. These poets have been published by literary and scholarly as well as by religious publishers. Most have won awards. All except the youngest (she arranges them by age) have been teachers; most are professors. Some have worked as editors or journalists. Many write prose, both fiction and nonfiction. Of the twenty-four poets, seventeen are women. All have some connection to Mennonites. This brief list of categories, of course, raises even more questions about who's in and who's out. Is getting "in" as much about credentials as quality? An editorial discussion on poetic quality may have been as helpful and interesting to some readers as the editorial overview and discussion of Mennonite identity. But maybe literary literacy is assumed--plenty of information is available via the broader culture--while minority cultural literacy is not. Neither discussion, of course, ever reaches resolution.
If this is your introduction to Mennonite poets and poetry, Hostetler presents a rich selection for your consideration. These are good poems (I say, as an English teacher). If you already have a favorite Mennonite poet, she or he is probably in the book. Many of these are well known to readers already interested in poetry by Mennonites. Beware of assuming you will know them all, however. Several newer voices speak with surprising power. In the spirit of community, I'll merely speak of them as a group. In the spirit of individualism, I hope you'll read them for yourself.
Instructor, Bethel College
David G. Rempel with Cornelia Rempel Carlson, A Mennonite Family in Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, 1789-1923. Toronto / Buffalo /London: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. 356. ($70.00) ISBN 0-8020-3639-2
One of the most tragic periods in the life of Russian Mennonites were the years after the 1917 Revolution. Not only did the Mennonites of Russia lose their traditional social, cultural, and religious existence, but also their possessions and in many instances their freedom and life. In the 1920s some 21,000 Mennonite emigrants were able to escape the Soviet Union and find new homes in Canada and South America. Those who remained in the Soviet Union after 1930 experienced first the terror of Stalin's rule and, after 1941, the difficulties of the Second World War: flight to the West, separation from loved ones, exile and hard labor in the Gulag, and often death in the northern and eastern regions of the Soviet Union.
The new book by the late Professor David G. Rempel (1899-1992), edited by his daughter Cornelia Rempel Carlson, deals primarily with the first quarter of the twentieth century. David Rempel was not only an academically trained historian, one of the first among Russian Mennonites, but one who himself experienced as a student and young teacher in the Mennonite colonies the turbulent times after the First World War. The interesting autobiography begins with the history of the author's relatives who resided in the "Old Colony" villages of Nieder-Chortitza and Rosental. David's father was a store owner and grain merchant in Nieder-Chortitza and his mother, nee Pauls, came from well-to-do Mennonite landowners in Rosental. The author traces the tragic circumstances of the two families during the periods of Revolution, Civil War, the Makhno terror, typhus epidemic, famine, and, in the end, emigration for some and exile for other members of the extended families.
Russian Mennonite history has been largely written by lay historians, many of whom were preachers and other congregational servants. Their interpretation of Mennonite history was thus church-oriented and to a certain extent triumphalist, meaning that they not only wrote from within their religious tradition but also saw their history through rose-colored glasses. According to their interpretation, Mennonites, desirable farmers and craftspeople, were invited to Russia by the Tsars and granted many privileges; they lived peacefully for over a hundred years, contributing significantly to the Russian economy and welfare of the Russian state and society. In this view, the 1917 Revolution and the following Civil War were seen as the destruction of the "Mennonite Commonwealth," including their religious institutions. Especially the banditry, plunder, rape, and killing under Nestor Makhno, followed by the exile and execution of many Mennonite leaders were seen as the height of Mennonite tragedy in that country and they continued to haunt the memory of twentieth-century Russian Mennonites. This view of Mennonite history is generally correct, but the reality, "wie es eigentlich gewesen" (as it really was), includes many shades of grey and requires a more nuanced approach to and interpretation of Russian Mennonite history.
David G. Rempel, while he too laments the eventual destruction of the "Mennonite state" in Russia, portrays the historical events fairly objectively and does not shy back from critiquing the Mennonites and their failings where necessary. He shows, for example, that Mennonites, an ethno-religious people, did not always live up to their religious ideals and principles. They often failed to be social and economic models for their Slavic neighbors, something the Tsars expected of them; they often mistreated not only their Slavic employees but also took advantage of the less-well-to-do among their own landless brethren; and they fought each other over religious and ideological views and practices. Rempel describes the class struggles between the rich farmers and estate owners on the one hand and the workers and cottage dwellers on the other. Sometimes the Russian government had to intervene to establish peace and justice among the warring factions in Mennonite society.
For some readers it will come as a surprise that after 1917 there emerged among Mennonites rebels who not only renounced their Christian faith, but also joined either the Soviets, the Makhno bandits, the White Army that tried to bring back the Tsars, or the Selbstschutz (self-defense) which sought to protect the colonies from the bandits. For example, one Abram Loewen, who during the German occupation in the First World War had joined the Selbstschutz, caused much embarrassment and grief among Mennonites. He dealt most brutally with Ukrainian peasants who had stolen goods from Mennonites and even killed four among them with his own hands (p. 210). In the end Loewen too was badly mistreated by the Makhnovites and brutally murdered (p. 229). There were also Mennonites who joined the Makhno bandits. One Petia (Peter) Thiessen, as Rempel writes, "was a Makhnovite, and many residents of both the Khortitsa and Molotchna settlements recall other Mennonites participating in bandit raids" (p. 242). Examples like these one finds seldom in Mennonite history books.
The chaotic times, as described by Professor Rempel, also brought out the good among men and women. Young people like David Rempel and members of his family helped the oppressed, suffering, and sick villagers wherever they could, disregarding the imminent danger in which they found themselves. When the entire Rempel family lay sick with the dreaded typhus disease, it was Mother Rempel who sacrificially and at great risk to herself took care of her own family and others who needed assistance. Moreover, there is a human touch in how Rempel describes how some Makhnovite "guests" in Rempel's house asked Mrs. Rempel to pray and sing for one of their sick women. Since Mrs. Rempel was unable to pray in Russian, she prayed in German and sang the well known German folksong, "Have oft in the circle of loved ones / rested in the fragrant grass, / and sang me a songlet / and worries would quickly pass." ("Hab' oft im Kreise der Lieben …) (p. 231). "These [spiritual] sessions," according to Rempel, "not only quieted the woman, but also revived Mother's spirituality and quiet confidence" (p. 232).
One reviewer of Rempel's book feels that the author does not stress sufficiently the spiritual aspect of Russian Mennonite life (Harold Jantz, MB Herald, September 19, 2003). The criticism is reminiscent of earlier Mennonite writings by religious leaders who generally emphasized faith issues and congregational matters rather than the mundane aspects of Mennonite life. Rempel's book is not a history of Russian-Mennonite religious life, to be sure, yet he appreciates the religious aspect of his people and gives credit to the strength that faith gave them in time of need. For example, when Rempel's mother, after her husband and a son had died, in the end also succumbed to typhus and soon thereafter lay dying herself, she found comfort in the hope that many Christians have. As Rempel writes, "In her feverish condition she tried to hum snatches of favorite songs, sometimes the opening lines of 'There above the sea of stars, there is a lovely land' (Dort über jenem Sternenmeer…)." At other times she managed a few lines from the hymn: "Take, Jesus, my hands and lead me on / to my blessed end. / I cannot walk alone, / not one step…. (Nimm Jesu meine Hände und führe mich) (p. 246).
It was Rempel's mother who urged her children to leave the Soviet Union for the West as soon as possible. Her last words in Low German were: "Boys, if you can emigrate, then go, even if you have to leave everything behind" (p. 247). In 1923 David Rempel was among the first emigrants to leave the Soviet Union for Canada, later making his home in the United States where he pursued his historical studies and teaching.
Rempel was not a prolific writer of books and articles, but what he published in journals and magazines such as the Mennonite Quarterly Review, Journal of Mennonite Studies, Mennonite Mirror, Der Bote, among others, is solid historical work. As a historian and mentor of history students he remains an inspiration and model of the historical craft. James Urry, an expert in Russian Mennonite history, acknowledges the profound influence of Rempel upon his own interpretation of Mennonite history: "[Rempel] humoured me, chided me for youthful impetuousness, forgave my impertinence, and gently guided me towards a richer and fuller understanding of Russian history and Mennonite life" (Journal of Mennonite Studies 11 (1993).
Professor Emeritus of History and Mennonite Studies
Kelowna, B. C., Canada
Helen Martens, Hutterite Songs. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2002. Pp. 328. ($28.00-paperback) ISBN 1-894710-24-X
The Anabaptist singing tradition has been marked with the production of various hymnals and print materials. These publications have become a source of reflection and scholarship. Thus, it seems reasonable that a thorough evaluation and analysis of Die Liede der Hutterischen Brüder (Songs of the Hutterite Brothers) be created, developed and published.
Hutterite Songs by Helen Martens, is a result of her doctoral work at Columbia University under the direction of Paul Henry Lang, renowned music scholar and historian. The influence of Lang, coupled with Marten's skills as a scholar and writer, has created a body of scholarship that is intriguing and thought provoking. Martens is diligent in her discussion of Hutterite music and its sources and is thorough and clear in her scholarship and writing.
Laid out in 10 chapters, Hutterite Songs includes a discussion of the substantial influence of 16th century society on Hutterite music. In addition, Martens discusses the impact of court melodies, Minnesinger and Meistersinger songs, Roman Catholic chants, Lutheran hymns, melodies borrowed from the Reformed Church, folk songs, and songs by Anabaptists and other religious minorities. This far-ranging analysis solidifies the thesis that Hutterite literature borrowed freely from the secular and sacred elements of the Renaissance.
It is intriguing to learn that much of the music sung by contemporary Hutterites is based on tunes dating to the 16th century. The author states "Many (of the melodies) have not been sung by people other than the Hutterites and the Amish since the 16th century." Two melodies date to the 1500s, the period of the Meistersingers and Minnesingers, while others rooted in the Catholic tradition date to the 10th century. Cited in the author's conclusion is her discovery that the Hutterites "are the only people in the world who sing the melody (Es warb ein Knab nach ritterlichen Dingen) that the best German scholars had declared lost." In addition, she cites a tune that was composed by Hans Sachs, renowned composer and singer within the Meistersinger tradition.
As a musician, I was intrigued with the comparison of tunes found within the context of this book. Martens carefully gathered melodies from various Hutterite communities and then compared them with the original melodic line and text. It is clear from her scholarship that melismas were generally avoided or eliminated, but that the shape and direction of the original musical lines have been kept intact. The challenge of this research is compounded by the difficulty of defining the precise origin and tune of a song over 400 years old. During the 1600s, texts and tunes were borrowed and adjusted to fit place and purpose, and melodies were often altered before they were notated. Thus, "many versions of one melody may have existed and several versions may have differed radically." The comparative discussion of musical elements in Hutterite literature is extensive and thorough. This analytical work clearly supports Martens' thesis that these melodies were directly influenced by outside sources.
Martens discovered a variety of literature when she evaluated the song texts. Within the Hutterite collection, she learned that there are no Christmas or Easter songs. There are no songs expressing desire for revenge; however, there are songs that express love and/or prayers for enemies. The author finds more consistency with the texts than with the melodies. Apparently during the early years, texts were not transmitted orally in the way that melodies were often transmitted. Once the printed collection was published, the form and structure of hymn texts changed very little from community to community or from century to century.
Hutterite Songs suggests that by studying our Anabaptist brothers and sisters, we may rediscover the importance and purpose of song in a vital worshipping community. Today's congregations would be wise to consider the role of singing that Hutterites model. As many Mennonite congregations evaluate and incorporate music from outside the Mennonite Church, the values of "singing a faith" as illustrated by the Hutterites can become a springboard for conversation. Does our "new music" provide: "an aid to worship, a way to inculcate in children the Anabaptist articles of faith - baptism, the oath and the refusal to bear arms, to keep their history alive and a way of recreation?" Other themes include a philosophy of life, walking the "narrow" way, obedience to God and biblical principles.
One additional word of encouragement to readers of this work: take time to read the endnotes. These notes contain a wealth of information that is both fascinating and interesting. I often found myself captivated by this material and its support of the author's thesis.
I highly recommend this book; it broadens our understanding of music within the Anabaptist tradition. Hutterite Songs is well researched, well written, and carefully edited. Congratulations to Helen Martens and Pandora Press who have succeeded in producing a publication that should become required reading for anyone interested in studying the history and tradition of Hutterite singing and the value of singing one's faith in a community of believers
William H. Eash
Professor of Music
C. Arnold Snyder, ed., Commoners and Community. Essays in Honour of Werner O. Packull. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2002. Pp. 323. ($35.00) ISBN 1-894710-27-4
This collection of fourteen articles, edited by C. Arnold Snyder a colleague of Werner Packull's, recognizes Packull's more than thirty years of university teaching, nineteen at Conrad Grebel University College. The first two articles, written by Edmund Pries and Gary K. Waite, former students whose doctoral theses he supervised, provide personal reflections on Packull's life. The remaining twelve consist of new studies of various themes and persons in sixteenth and seventeenth century Anabaptism. The book concludes with a list of Packull's publications.
Edmund Pries, in "Life as a Journey of Redemption," provides reflections on Packull's family history, as well as his educational pilgrimage. Packull was born in East Prussia in 1941, experienced the horror of World War II including the loss of father and uncles in the war, fled westward from the advancing Soviet army, escaped miraculously to Denmark, relocated to West Germany, and eventually settled in Canada. According to Pries, Packull's loss of his father and uncles during the war created in him a deep love and appreciation for family. His immediate and extended family meets frequently, and the meetings " always include the singing of many hymns, and retelling the family refugee story" (21) .
Packull's educational experiences began in West Germany where he was routed into a vocational school against his wishes, to high school in Prairie Bible Institute, Alberta, to a university education in Ontario, and a doctoral degree at Queens University in 1974 under the direction of James Stayer(20). Along the way he also completed a B.Th. at Emmanuel College.
Both Pries and Gary Waite comment about Packull's significant and extensive scholarly contribution to the study of sixteenth century Anabaptism, and the related fields of "the social history of the Reformation, the image of the 'common man,' and interpretations of the Peasants' War"(24). Packull was (and still continues to be) a historian of great integrity and humility. Both are effusive in their praise of the quality, depth, and influence of his scholarship. Packull, they observe, combines excellent scholarship with a deep commitment to the Lutheran Church, and is interested in the attempts to integrate faith and life.
The remainder of the book consists of two groups of articles. The first group of five articles is entitled "Perspectives on Reformation and Tradition." It begins with Hans-Jürgen Goertz's article on understanding the beginning of the modern era from the perspective of apocalypse. The sixteenth century Reformation was caught between two eras, sharing characteristics with the Middle Ages and anticipating the modern age. Goertz discusses the various ways in which the events of the sixteenth century can be seen as apocalyptic portents of the coming age, even though never fully participating in them.
This section continues with an article by James Stayer in which he attempts to identify the number of Anabaptists in the various regions of Europe, and points out some of the problems in this endavour. Douglas H. Shantz studies two Pietist historical writers, Gottfried Arnold and Johann Henrich Reitz, and notes that Pietist historical writings shaped Mennonite self-understanding much more significantly than has so far been acknowledged. Michael Driedger proposes that an article on the Enlightenment in the Netherlands should have been included in the Mennonite Encyclopedia since the connection between Mennonites in Europe and the Enlightenment is much greater than Mennonite scholarship has so far recognized. The section concludes with A. James Reimer's discussion of contemporary understanding of law, conscience, and civil responsibility based on Pilgram Marpeck's writings. He feels that Marpeck had a more positive view of institutional life than did many other Anabaptist leaders, and his views can become a helpful starting point for Mennonites today as they discuss these issues.
The second section of seven articles is entitled "Perspectives on Anabaptist History." Walter Klaassen has a fascinating discussion of seven Anabaptist laymen whom he calls "Kleine Hansen." All were called "Hans," and together they express the lay character of much of the Anabaptist movement. Gary Waite discusses David Joris the artisan, and C. Arnold Snyder looks at recent studies whose redefinition of mysticism hold promise for reinterpreting Anabaptism as one phase in a much longer development of mysticism.
Three very helpful articles are written by somewhat lesser known scholars in Mennonite circles: Geoffrey Dipple on Pilgram Marpeck, Martin Rothkegel on Peter Riedemann, and Astrid von Schlachta on community of goods. The latter two studies on communitarian Anabaptism in Moravia directly address themes which have preoccupied Packull in his recent works. The last article in this section is by John D. Roth on the limits of confessionalization in Zurich, 1580-1620. Roth studies the execution of Hans Landis, and argues that his beheading does not represent the Zurich church's success in forcing Anabaptists back into the state church, but rather "illustrates the profound limits of the state and church officials to control the religious life of the people"(282).
The book concludes with an exhaustive listing of writings by Werner Packull, including books, chapters in books, articles in referred journals, articles in encyclopedias, translations, reviews, and special lectureships.
This book is a very fine tribute to Werner Packull's long teaching and research career. The tributes are warm and generous. The twelve scholarly articles (not thirteen as the back cover indicates) contribute creatively to the on-going study of sixteenth century Anabaptists and their descendants.
John J. Friesen
Professor of History and Theology
Canadian Mennonite University
Donald B. Kraybill. The Upside-Down Kingdom. 25th Anniversary Edition. Scottdale: Herald Press, 2003. Pp. 311. ($16.99- Paperback) ISBN 0-8361-9236-2
The 1978 edition of The Upside-Down Kingdom corresponded to the maturation of a generation of Mennonites away from their home communities. These Mennonites were becoming keenly aware of social ailments. They were asking questions of meaning, identity, and faithfulness in the midst of a secular and pluralistic culture. These Mennonites soon learned that they were not the only Christians asking such questions. Half of my urban congregation grew up in a non-Mennonite home. Many of them read Donald Kraybill, and Kraybill's mentor John Howard Yoder (9), and they started attending Mennonite fellowships. They liked what they read. The Upside-Down Kingdom tapped into attitudes appealing to many urbanites which have some connection to Anabaptist values still present in many Mennonite congregations. Twenty-five years ago Donald Kraybill set out to assist those seeking a Christian identity, and he used a very Anabaptist / Mennonite framework in this task. The updated and revised twenty-fifth anniversary edition pursues this same intent with the same methodology as the original edition.
The Upside-Down Kingdom seeks to integrate belief and action. Since Jesus devoted much of his time to the marginalized of society, so too must disciples of Jesus labor with and on behalf of the marginalized in our society. While enumerating the many rationales that detour us from the path of Jesus, Kraybill argues that "the inner life yields social fruit-of one kind or another" (31). Social ethics rooted in spirituality attracts people. Sadly, much religious material reinforces the segmentation of our culture. Particular theories of atonement, dispensationalism, and a fragmented life have all contributed to a belief / action split. In this way The Upside-Down Kingdom indicts the faith which divorces confession of Christ from discipleship of Christ while affirming those pursuing discipleship in a messy world. This approach may open Kraybill to charges of misrepresenting salvation. I suspect Kraybill might respond, "so be it." The impact of faith on life is more his concern. Integrating belief and action brings healing for the actor and testifies to the way of God in Christ. Kraybill, however, does leave underdeveloped the spiritual disciplines that enable a disciple to follow after Jesus as well as questions pertaining to heaven and eternity.
In classic Anabaptist / Mennonite form Kraybill keys the reintegration of life in the person of Jesus (19), and more specifically the Jesus which appears in the synoptic gospels (10). The Bible is interpreted through the life of Christ; commentaries on the life of Christ (tradition) must conform to the Christ of the gospels. The "Index of Scripture Cited" corroborates this preferential choice for Matthew, Mark, and Luke of the New Testament (200ff). Kraybill masterfully exposits the Jesus story. By page 108 I needed to stop reading and jot a note to myself, "I love the Bible stories! Reading them makes me want to be more generous." Engaging the Jesus of the gospels can lead to conversion and regeneration. The attitude a reader brings to the book will partially dictate the response to the stories of Jesus. Will we be a rich young ruler or Zacchaeus (112-113)? If one approaches Jesus unable or unwilling to relinquish a spiritual block (like a rich young ruler) it may happen that the book will leave a person puzzled or even sad. If one comes looking for salvation of self and world with willingness to eliminate all blocks to following Jesus (like Zacchaeus) it may happen that Kraybill's exposition will give hope and direction. And then again it may leave the reader somewhat bewildered.
The challenges of Biblical interpretation and application are not new to Kraybill, and he looks to the trusted Anabaptist hermeneutical key of community discernment. The study questions near the back of the book (257-262) are designed for a group study, and they provide an opportunity for conversation on the provocative call of Jesus. This format makes The Upside-Down Kingdom an excellent resource for Christian Education Sunday morning or a mid-week group. The accountability and support of a group study increases the germination rate of the many seeds which the book plants. I would consider coupling The Upside-Down Kingdom with a book centered on spirituality (books authored by Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, or Wendy Wright are all good choices).
The Upside-Down Kingdom is still bringing people to my church. Earlier this year I greeted a visitor and learned that he was checking us out because "Mennonites have a good reputation". He had worked with a mission agency in Ethiopia and met some Mennonite workers at the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, Kenya. They got to talking about their faith traditions and the Mennonite recommended this book to give some insights to Mennonite thinking. Over twenty years later this person sought a Mennonite congregation. I don't know how long he will stay or how well my congregation reflects the high standard of discipleship which Kraybill describes. I hope there still is an upside-down atmosphere among the congregation which has made this pilgrim willing to journey with us. I hope this also for the denomination and for all of Christianity.
Pastor, Faith Mennonite Church