Seeds to Carry with Us: Anabaptist Values in the New Normal

by Jonas Sauder


Image by Eric Michelat from Pixabay

We know that our spiritual heritage and teachings and life come first. (Seek ye first…) My purpose in writing is not to address our spiritual/church/congregational walk directly—I leave that to our church leaders. My thoughts are directed to us educators: What/how must we teachers be thinking about our responsibilities in these precedented times? What are the heritage seeds we must preserve? What fruit did they bear for our fathers and us? How might we go about preserving them? Such considerations are foundational to any educational methodology that fit the times. This requires hard work. A few thoughts to help us consider…

In the midst of the sudden TMI nuclear accident in 1979, I (along with many others in our area) evacuated my young family to the shelter of church friends 80 miles west. In just a few hours, we decided what to take and what to leave. Because we might never return. What could not be replaced? We quickly chose a few essentials and some heirlooms (some storied dishes, photographs, wedding clock, a small piece of furniture). The other material goods could be replaced over time since the accident did not portend the introduction of a new economy or way of life. The items we chose, by their nature, were irreplaceable by either purchase or handicraft. Today, different elements of our heritage are at stake.

When Russian Mennonite immigrants moved from Ukraine to Kansas in the 1870’s, they brought precious seed grain with them. Their children (according to the stories) helped pick out the best grains from their home supply to be carefully carried on the long trip and used to grow a new crop in the new land—a land in which they would need to grow their own food. Turkey Red wheat as a staple food thrived and became a legend in Kansas.

Heirloom furniture; heirloom seed; heirloom traditions; heirloom knowledge; heirloom skills; heirloom _____________… What heirlooms shall we carefully bring out, keep—and cultivate—as we anticipate life in a new normal whose parameters are still unknown? What practical precedents can we carry forward that are biblical, viable, universal, timeless—and achievable?

The new normal on today’s horizon hints at the opposite of refugee flight or refugee camps. Rather, it introduces “sheltering” at home, limited travel, limited close personal interaction, limited opportunity for business as we’ve known it for the last generations, limited options/choices, limited anything. Life with limits.

We must ask ourselves, “What is that in your hand?” What have we had in our possession for generations that may now need to be brought out and used again within the new limits? Or re-purposed? I’ll suggest a few to help us start thinking…

1. Heirloom of Contentment

A primary heirloom treasure to bring out, dust off, and revive is the ability to be content with food, raiment, and shelter. Contentment frees us from “extra weights.” The Apostle Paul learned to be content in whatever state he was—with abundance or privation. (See Phil. 4:11-12.) We’ve known abundance. We face a steep learning curve.

Paul admonishes us to be truly content with the basics.

For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. -I Tim. 6:7-9

Contentment truly frees us to live on the manna of the day, free to adorn the world as do the birds and the lilies (which do, along with us, suffer from the ravages of this world, but live as fully as they can while they live).

2. Heirloom of Brotherhood

The heirloom of working together. Body life. The whole tenor of Scripture and especially the implications of the Gospel as applied to the life of the church call us to “bear one another’s burdens—and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Body life is the antithesis of atomistic individualism. We are not “in this together” as discrete elements in a herd, but as participating, interactive, interdependent members of a body. In addition to the spiritual applications of this teaching, many opportunities for daily, practical, real-life practices of interaction with others abound. We need to discover how the principle that was put into practical application through the once-upon-a-time sharing of farm machinery and labor (think threshing crews), or the frolic (work-socials) can be re-purposed. What can we do together? Group gardening? Learning how to butcher? Food preservation? Teaching one another? Storytelling? Learning from/with one another?

3. Heirloom of Neighborhood

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I’m old enough to recall the term neighbor used as a verb. Our people once knew how to neighbor. My father’s generation enjoyed a personal acquaintance with scores of people living within a five mile radius, had a working relationship with dozens, and frequent interaction with adjacent neighbors.

Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off.” -Pro. 27:1

In everyday life, interaction with literal neighbors, whoever they are, is more fundamental for everyday living in ways that more distant brothers cannot provide. Experiencing genuine interactive “neighboring” relationships can expose the limitations of the merely virtual relationships available through social media, with its insulating buffering and distancing.

4. Heirloom of Resourcefulness

Paul, although quite learned in the tradition of the Pharisees, pursued a marketable skill to support himself (tent making). What skills are basic for survival?

  • Food: seeds, gardening, food harvesting and preservation, food preparation, animal husbandry, meat dressing and preservation…
  • Shelter: All types of property and building maintenance and construction
  • Entrepreneurship: Recognizing marketable services, skills, and products. Working to that end.

5. Heirloom of Home Economics

See Proverbs 31:13-27. Although this passage describes the role of a housewife in the endeavor, study it as an example of what activities characterize a thriving household. (It goes without saying that husband and children would be involved.) Note its balance of practical skills (weaving both practical and beautiful items) and non-tangible elements (strength, honor, wisdom, kindness, ways).

We scarcely have even a cultural memory of what home economics is. We’ve been trained to think of “the economy” as an idol that can somehow provide for us if we carefully offer it our purchases and hold one of its jobs. While a few schools still have a semblance of a “home ec” class, often we think of little more than some cooking and sewing, which are “skills” that one can “take or leave” as extras, since in our days it’s been easier to buy processed foods and ready-made clothing. Can we have a renaissance of genuine home economics? The world desperately needs the light—and salt—of Godly households of families that thrive interactively in simple ways that can involve neighbors and be spread among neighbors.

6. Heirloom of Service

“By love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). While embedded in the above heirlooms, service deserves its own mention. Two major forms of service are:

  1. Mutual aid. The able, supplied, talented, healthy, etc., helping “their own (people)” who are less able, in want, incapable, or ill. This can be done on multiple levels.
  2. Caring for “others” however we can, near and far. Relief work. Disaster aid and development work wherever possible.

7. Heirloom of Resident Alien

Over the years, our people have often exhorted each other to remember Paul’s and Peter’s admonition to live as pilgrims, strangers, and ambassadors who shine as lights in an alien world (see 1 Cor. 5:20; Phil. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:11). Those living words bear fresh meaning today. Unfolding events remind us that to identify with our brethren in Hebrews 11 is to anticipate a share in similar experiences. We need to consider anew the implications of being fully present and engaged in kingdom work in the temporal activities of the time and place in which we live while holding citizenship/allegiance elsewhere. Let your light so shine…

8. Heirloom of Humility

Just as Jesus humbled Himself to live as a man in a broken world, so His followers, His children, are called to accommodate themselves to the realities of their circumstances. If the new normal requires citizens to become subjects and serfs, history is simply repeating itself.

Servants, in everything obey those who are your masters on earth, not only with external service, as those who merely please people, but with sincerity of heart because of your fear of the Lord. Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men, knowing [with all certainty] that it is from the Lord [not from men] that you will receive the inheritance which is your [greatest] reward. It is the Lord Christ whom you [actually] serve. For he who does wrong will be punished for his wrongdoing, and [with God] there is no partiality [no special treatment based on a person’s position in life]. -Col. 3:22-25, Amplified Version

Christians around the world have been and are living (and dying) in all types of circumstances.

Denigrating heirlooms, disregarding precedents both good and bad, and willful amnesia have plagued our day. The burden of teaching “what mean these stones?” and “How shall we live?” is upon the teachers, not the learners. Many things are known only in the doing. It’s often in the “breaking of the bread,” not in the mere “opening of conversations” that life is known. As we ponder how to educate our children faithfully in the new normal, let us carefully consider the precedents. Precedents of all types: those that warn; those that enlighten; those that encourage; those that serve as models. May a plethora of precedents inform our methods.

Note: This post follows an earlier article in which Jonas reflects on the precedents that should guide us through times like these:

Unprecedented Times? Learning from Precedents

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CONTRIBUTOR: Jonas Sauder

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