As I mused on this collection of remarkable personal stories, I was struck by how these sixteen individuals found themselves within such a group of memoirists. Such a collection is, of course, not accidental. Each person’s story is connected to Eastern Mennonite University. Indeed five of the writers graduated together in 1954. In a more profound manner this group of people, in Pauline language, demonstrate what it means to be “of one another.”
As I felt while reading Making Sense of the Journey: the Geography of Our Faith, ACRS Memoirs 1, I sensed here again a deep relational quality in each memoir. None of these individuals lived alone, developed alone, worked alone, believed alone, worshipped alone, retired alone. In these active members of Mennonite congregations, the sense of belonging flourished in each of their well-lived lives. Such “body life” was not narrowly conceived nor introverted but spilled over to families, congregations, students, and colleagues, as well as denominational, professional and ecumenical contacts, and communities both near and far. In Pauline language these individuals should be understood as “servants of one another” (Gal. 5:13) surely locally but globally as well.
Being “of one another” raises recurring questions emerging from the intersection of personality and peoplehood. Each of these memoir writers is a professional. By training and lifework they lived by the rules, expectations, and obligations of teachers in higher education. Nevertheless, readers will quickly discover that for all of these storytellers, family and church defined their professional life more than did their career or specialization. One finds hardly any reference to the passion for status or recognition so common among academic and professional colleagues. By no means does this mean the absence of research or retreat from publication. Yet there are frequent references to participation in the peoplehood or a response to the call to serve. None of these writers appears to be driven by compelling ambition or an animating cause other than putting the kingdom of God first. The practice of teaching and the communion found on a communally oriented campus seem to have provided ample motivation and reward for these professionals.
One does wish that these modest personalities might have explored more freely and openly the frustrations they surely felt along the way. There is little if any anger expressed here. Whatever disappointments they must have felt have long been forgotten or are no longer deemed significant. The usual tensions of a campus with colleagues and administrators or between gown and town are not found in these stories. Frustrations with a sometimes repressive church authority or possibly influential anti-intellectual patrons are largely overlooked. There are references to significant growth of understanding and insight but few admissions of failure.
The well-known mid-twentieth century writer Walker Percy once opined, “We hand one another along” and “help others a little bit to find their way.” The sixteen writers in this volume surely passed on the craft and character of their disciplines. They made their mark as biologists, writers, theologians, counselors, language artists, sociologists, historians, librarians, home economists, administrators, and missionaries. Each of these individuals touched numerous others with their encouraging critiques and their imaginative leadership. They passed on a set of convictions and modeled a way of being. It would be a treat to hear students and colleagues report how these teachers handed “one another along” or helped them to find their way.
This collection of memoirs represents an enormous gift to the families, colleagues, students, friends, posterity in general. In an age that too often refuses to reflect, it is the distinct contribution of these memoirs to help us understand individual journeys and each writer’s sense of achievement. In an age when individuals easily get lost in the maze of institutions, promotional briefings and electronic mechanisms, it is a significant gift to help people remember the defining role of personality. In an age when institutional memory grows shorter and shorter, the Anabaptist Center for Religion and Society has provided an enormous service in offering a platform and publication for helping a community near and far recall those who helped to form the ethos that over several generations impacted a college, a church, a student body, a neighboring community. These gifts are possible because of the mutuality and community these writers found in the practices of their church tradition at Eastern Mennonite University.
John A. Lapp
Copyright © 2009 by Cascadia Publishing House LLC