How the Community Changed Me, or Not
Date: September 09, 2007 08:43AM
During the years I participated, 1973-83, the Fellowship and Community changed enormously. A model was Abraham leaving the land of his birth for an unnamed place that God would show him. In the years since leaving, I have carried this legacy of the Community by continuing to change. Yet, sometimes when preachers call for decisions, I feel that God respects my objections to being troubled again. Andre Neher (The Exile of the Word: From the Silence of the Bible to the Silence of Auschwitz) suggests that this was how God related to Abraham after the trauma of the binding of Isaac.
I enjoyed mathematical and logical puzzles before the scandal, so it was quite natural to seek out skeptical appraisals of religion and pseudo-science afterwards. The scandal accentuated a pre-existing tendency. At times I accept the possibility of miracles yet stubbornly refuse to let them influence me, a trait sometimes identified with Jewish ‘hardening’. It is evident in Deuteronomy 13’s warning against following false prophets who perform miracles, and Daniel 3:18’s steadfastness even if God does not perform a miracle.
The Community was formed under an impression of living in the end times. This is a recurrent theme in religion, being true of the early church, of the Reformation, and of many evangelicals today. Eschatology and apocalyptic are impossible to reject entirely because of their historical credentials (to speak ironically), but they conflict with an interest in history. The collapse of the Community accentuated my pre-existing discomfort with eschatology and with mysticism.
Primo Levi said that if he had not been in Auschwitz he probably never would have written anything. I think I would have written something about anti-Judaism, genocide, and other heavy topics even if I had not experienced the Community and the collapse of the Community. If I had not had these sweet and sour moments, I would have found others. I would have been interested in the Jewishness of Jesus. I would have found my faith challenged by my scientific commitments. I might even have changed careers anyway. However, if I had never been in the Community it is likely I would have married sooner [I married in 2005], would not have had to be unemployed before I changed careers, would not have a flooding of memories years after an event.
I have heard of people from the Community who converted to Judaism (mainstream Orthodox, Hasidic, Conservative, Reform), who returned to the Lutheran church or other churches or Jewish-Christian groups, who remained loyal to the Community’s leadership, who remained religious but severed relations with organized religion, who became religiously mute and perhaps atheists, who explored New Age paths, or who did more than one of these. Some Jews who grew up in the church discovered their Jewishness through the Community, and moved on to various branches of Judaism. A comparable variety might be found in people who leave any community. I do not know of anyone except myself who was rebaptized [in 1990 when I joined a Mennonite congregation] and continues to associate with the Orthodox Jewish life, nor can I imagine many following my path. I have contact with almost no former Community members. Yet I feel an understanding and kinship with everyone who was once in the Community. Wiesel wrote in a novel that some Jews gained their faith during the Shoah while some lost it, and he understands both.
Among the best aspects of the Fellowship was the sense of community, which expressed itself in practical ways. I invited myself or was invited to Shabbat meals with strangers on many occasions. There was a high level of discipleship in the Fellowship and Community. In this respect the emphasis on discipleship among Mennonites is familiar to me. The teaching about struggle with God (for which Jacob’s wrestling is the model) that I learned in the Community, is with me. I have read much of the post-Holocaust theologians, and about arguing with God (for which Moses and Abraham are models).
Finally, however, one cannot make God an enemy. There is a story, also from the tradition of chutzpah k’lapei shamaya (audacity in the face of heaven), about reconciliation. One Yom Kippur, a Hasid said to God, “I’ve not had a good year, I’ve sinned in this and that. But you, Ribono shel Olam (Master of the Universe), you’ve also not had a good year. You let us fall prey to our enemies, you let infants die in their mother’s arms. Here’s what we should do. You forgive us, and we will forgive you.” Sometimes I feel that way, but other times I neither accuse nor feel the need to forgive God.
R’ Akiba said that Man is beloved, for he was created in the image of God, but it was by a special love that this was made known to him. On many days I thank the Lord that I know and again can know his love. This attitude is as genuine as resistance. Pinchas Lapide writes in The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, “A faith which is lived can be neither refuted nor confirmed; it can only be sensed with empathy because ‘Our God is a God of salvation; and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death’ (Ps. 68:20).”