REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE
I do not know when it began. By now it is a frequent practice, though not so frequent that we have worn it out. As the children leave for school, I say to them, "Remember who you are!" I never say it without feeling a quiet joy, grateful for knowing something about who I am. And I say it thinking that perhaps our children will also be reminded that they are "somebody"-somebody with a special history, with confident convictions, with an identity worth celebrating.
I am intrigued that they have never asked me, "What do you mean, Mom? What am I supposed to remember about who I am?" An unspoken potency is bound up in the understanding that we share. "Remember who you are!" communicates that who we are is worth remembering and has everything to do with how we carry ourselves into the wider world.
When I began saying this to our children I did not know why I did it. Nor do I recall my parents saying it to us, though they may have. But recently at a breakfast gathering of Mennonite pastors and educators, one of the speakers mentioned that his father used to say it to him. And another Mennonite friend at the same gathering said that her parents had used it in their home.
"Remember who you are." I am reminding our children to remember what family they belong to-that they are Wenger Shenks and that we have a unique history and a core of commitments that shape who we are as family. I am also reminding them that we belong to a distinctive community of faith, sharing a special history of pain and hope and a core of commitments that define us as "in the world but not of the world."
The times in which we live are particularly suited to remembering who we are and drawing enormous strength and vitality from that memory. These are exciting times. Our own special history as Anabaptists uniquely prepares us to "seize the day." Postmodernity and its disenchantment with scientific "certainties" offers us a splendid opportunity to speak truth out of our own history as a minority people. "Communities of conviction," as educator Craig Dykstra calls us, bear within themselves a long historical tradition that is deep and rich. This potent legacy prepares us to be an oasis in the desert of this age.
But precisely when many people are looking with renewed yearning for communities of conviction we seem on the verge of losing our distinctive character. Caleb Miller, a professor of philosophy, recently wrote in the Gospel Herald, the (MC) Mennonite denominational weekly, that "acculturation-the conformity of a community to the larger culture-is both the most prominent feature of the late-20th century Mennonite Church and among the least discussed." He warns that "we must seriously consider the possibility that we have changed less out of a concern to be faithful to Christ than out of a concern to fit in with our society."
If this is indeed the case, the question arises with a new urgency: "What factors contribute to our particular community's ability to resist acculturation and nurture habits of faithfulness among our children?"
I would like to put forth a modest proposal, suggesting several commitments that I deem essential if our Anabaptist-Mennonite communities are to empower their children to resist and resource the dominant culture of our day. We must understand the times in which we live. We must become more intentional in identifying and orienting our lives around a specific set of "determinative stories." We must revive a home-based educational consciousness that models discipleship. And we must identify clear community expectations for practices that bond faith with culture in a deeply Christian but uniquely Anabaptist-Mennonite way.
Understanding the Times
In a fascinating discussion entitled "The Legitimacy of a Sectarian Hermeneutic: 2 Kings 18-19," Old Testament scholar Walter Bruegge-mann contrasts the "conversation at the wall of the city" between Judah and the Assyrian negotiators representing the empire with the "conversation behind the wall" where the Judeans speak only to one another. The context is "a gross mismatch between imperial power and a tiny kingdom without visible resources."
Brueggemann makes a number of fascinating observations about this conversation. With the 2 Kings text as his model he suggests that people of faith in public life must be bilingual, having a public language for negotiating at the wall and a more communal language for processing what to do and talking to God behind the wall, in the community.
While the conversation at the wall is crucial and must be taken seriously, Brueggemann argues that the conversation behind the wall is the decisive one because without its own conversation Judah would "simply submit to and echo imperial perceptions of reality." It is the conversation behind the wall, he says, that makes a difference in what one says at the wall. The conversation within the community has a prior claim and allows one to be suspicious of the conversation on the wall and to have some freedom in it.
Brueggemann suggests that in our postmodern world, which has lost any commonly accepted sense of what the ultimate good or goal of society is, a community that holds to a set of alternative values that it regards as the truth can play a powerfully positive role. Since it now seems clear that neither secular reason nor science can create a good society, as was supposed in the modern era, the question of what tradition or idea should be authoritative is wide open for many people. Ironically, now that final appeals to "objective" or "secular" reason are discredited, people of faith are freed to live unapologetically out of their own particular stories.
Brueggemann's assertion-that the "recovery of ethnic rootage" and of "special histories" of pain and hope may be not so much a defensive measure as an act of identity, energy and power-is a word that explodes with relevance for us. As descendants of the Anabaptists we have for generations cultivated a "tradition of suspicion" directed against the dominant rationality. Now that the dominant rationality has called itself into serious question, our alternative values and reading of reality can become a rich source of hope and renewal.
It seems miraculous when the imaginative and free "conversation behind the wall" manages to change and transform the "conversation at the wall," remarks Brueggemann; but it can and does occur.
Contemporary Anabaptists are heirs to a powerful resource. We have a history with tremendous dynamism and integrity. We have received that history as a gift borne through the generations by the faithful living and storytelling of our forebears. We are now the stewards of a legacy that contains within it the very elements that are most needed in our generation: conviction about what it means to follow Christ in life.
Yet at this opportune moment we lack clarity about who we are. We are unsure of ourselves for a variety of reasons, many of which have to do with self-doubts from having made some grave mistakes. Our strengths became our weakness. We withdrew into ethnic enclaves to preserve our purity. We became heavy-handed with authority and indoctrination, seeking to preserve the boundaries of our community. While hoping to embody the faith in cultural forms, we often fused faith and culture, becoming unable to separate the Gospel from our own ethnicity. We failed to be full partners in the public discourse, acting as if we had a private monopoly on the truth. And now, with a sense of inferiority and failure, many of us have acquired a distaste for the pungent flavor of our own history and our own people; we are looking for a generic menu served up to individual preference.
I hope that we will not become victims of our own conflicted sense of identity. Now is the opportune moment to reclaim and refigure our strengths. With a more sober realism about how those strengths can also become our undoing, it may be possible once again to anchor ourselves in their foundational and enduring truth. Through the experiential lens of our own particular history and community, we may be able to refocus on key strengths that can powerfully resource the formation of character in our children.
George Lindbeck, author of The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, argues that Christianity has something to say to the world only to the extent that it can produce communities which embody a distinctive way of life. He claims that a religion is likely to contribute more to the future of humanity if it preserves its own distinctiveness and integrity than if it yields to homogenizing tendencies. Rather than being overly concerned about asserting the reasonableness of the Christian faith in this age, Christianity will be most relevant today if it develops strong communities of Christian witness.
Duke University ethicist Stanley Hauerwas affirms the same conviction when he argues that the church's first task is not to go out and change the world, but first to become itself plainly enough for the world to see the possibility of a New Creation. He suggests that the service the church is called to provide is to demonstrate that Jesus made possible a new social order and a new world.
If we accept the assertions of these scholars of religion, culture and theology that it is particular communities of faith that can provide the most potent resource for withstanding the loss of Christian presence in postmodernity, how then shall we tell our children who they are?
Orienting Our Lives Around a Master Story
There is no way to convey who we are, or for our children to grasp who they are, without telling and living our story. Our self-identity, our character as a community "is rooted in story, unfolded through story, and changed through story," writes education theorist Susanne Johnson. When we remember, we do so in stories. When we imagine our future, we do so in stories. Story is the primordial way whereby we talk about and mediate our experience.
Whether or not the biblical story will impact our lives does not depend on loudly reasserting its authority or redoubling our efforts to teach and preach it. Rather, the decisive key is in how we regard the scriptures. Phyllis Bird suggests that the biblical story will have authority for us when "it is read and heard in such a way that it provides the determinative story . . . for Christian self-understanding, for worship, for theological discourse, and for engagement with the world."
As parents and teachers of children we are in a tremendously powerful position. It is our privilege and responsibility to decide which stories will be determinative for our children. From the earliest awakenings of our children's imagination, it is up to us as influential adults to draw them into the drama that is life. The stories we choose to tell with affection, conviction and passion will help to determine for them what part they will play in that drama. Children will intuitively grasp from our shining eyes, warm embrace and tone of voice what we revere and where our loyalties lie. Most significantly, if our lives are in harmony with the spirit of the stories we share, our children will receive not only an enunciated story but a living illustration of the story's essential integrity.
For those of us from the Anabaptist tradition who esteem the courage of our forebears, who admire their insightful critique and prophetic daring, who are deeply moved by their martyrdom and who sense the enduring meaning of their suffering, there are many more potentially determinative stories which fully complement the central biblical story. It is within our power as parents and teachers, as grandparents, uncles and aunts, to provide our children with those determinative stories that will tell them who they are, where they belong and what meaning their lives can have. Our particular Anabaptist history of pain and hope provides us with rich resources to empower our children, to give them identity and, out of that identity, to offer them great freedom.
Walter Brueggemann speaks of how Israel included its children in its narrative imagination by telling them stories that were rooted in the memory and experience of their people. People told their children, "These are the stories that must be embraced to be who we are." The stories themselves were not negotiable. But they could be imaginatively carried in many different directions depending on need, possibility and circumstance. So Israel gave its children both identity and great freedom in interpretation.
So it is with our Anabaptist stories. The stories themselves are not negotiable but their interpretation and appropriation for our day must be sensitively discerned. While the stories themselves do not change, they often require a different narration and interpretation in relation to current realities and struggles.
For the Jewish people it was not enough only to know the stories; it was their covenantal agreement with God to obey what God asked of them so that through them and their descendants "all the families of the earth would be blessed." The story of Israel's covenant with God and how God chose them out of all the people of the earth was the bedrock story on which all the rest of their life was based. That story implied a special purpose in their life together and carried with it an enormous responsibility for obedience: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."
In order for the stories we tell to have real authority in our life together as a community, we must be willing to conform our lives in obedience to the spirit and requirements of those stories. The stories will function as mere fairy tales and fascinating folk tales unless we determine to pattern our lives after them. As Anabaptists we have always believed that we can not even begin to understand the central story of our faith, Jesus Christ, unless we follow him in life.
As children, my siblings and I were surrounded with stories. My father's many stories about "when I was a little boy" gave us a sense of history as we imagined what it was like to be a child in the 1920s and 1930s in a Mennonite colony near the Chesapeake Bay and in the educational environs of Eastern Mennonite School, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Other stories about being a young man in Civilian Public Service during World War II and then going with Mother as a missionary to Africa told us of lived-out convictions.
My father tells how the two most prominent books in his childhood home were The Martyrs' Mirror and the Bible. Both he and Mother told Bible stories to us with such detail and intrigue that now my attempts to read the stories to my children seem woefully inadequate. Today, whenever we are with Grandpa and Grandma we always try to find time, usually right before bed, for storytelling. Now it is our children who beg Grandpa to tell a story about when he was a "little boy" driving his father to preach at revival meetings in West Virginia. Or a story that he heard from "Uncle Pete Hartman" about life in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War and the men who refused to fight. Or Grandma to tell about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego or Elijah and the prophets of Baal. A big Martyrs' Mirror, purchased with money from grandparents last Christmas, sits on our coffee table. We heard some of those stories at church recently and the pictures give them a life they might otherwise not have.
In order for our children to remember who they are, it is our responsibility as parents and as a community of faith to exercise some authority in choosing which stories will be determinative for our life together as a community. Even for first-generation believers whose Christian life represents a radical break from their family tradition, stories of faith, whether biblical, traditional or current, offer an invaluable resource from which to draw countless illustrations of faithful living to delight our children.
Parents and communities who truly love their children will tell the defining stories of faith as our story; and, ironically, when our children have a sense of where they belong, who they are and how they are to live, they will be better able to learn from other stories as well. The joy and orientation we derive from our own defining stories will equip our children to better understand and put into perspective all the other stories available to them in the pluralism that characterizes our world.
Family Dynamics That Model Discipleship
In pondering what it is about family dynamics that enhances a community's ability to maintain its identity, energy and power, I am drawn back to the life of the early Jewish community. I see many parallels between strengths evident within that community and strengths modeled by the Anabaptists.
According to education historian Kenneth Gangel, the Hebrews never abandoned the centrality of the home in the educational experience. It was the task of the parents, as part of their covenantal agreement with God, to train the next generation. The home never lost its central place in instruction, though it was supplemented by the teaching of the priests at the tabernacle.
The teaching role of the family emerges with great strength in the book of Deuteronomy, where the family is taught how to perpetuate the truth. Education historian Lewis Sherrill identifies one passage that was embedded in the Jewish consciousness more deeply than any constitution or similar document has ever been embedded in the minds of any Gentile people. That passage was the "Shema" in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, with its command to teach the law "diligently" to your children, by conversation in the household, on the way to and fro, by day and by night.
Sherrill observes that, for the Hebrews, the elemental facts of family life constituted the channel through which the will of God was to be first made known to a child. It was the responsibility of the parents to control the minutest deeds of the growing persons in their homes because they understood that the will of God impacted every kind of action. It was the supreme responsibility of the parents also to teach their children Torah, the law of God.
Many significant texts indicate how important the understanding of the children was considered to be: Exodus 12:26, 13:8, 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:20-21; Joshua 4:6, 21. All of these texts, says Brueggemann, anticipate a time to come when there will be learning readiness and the children will ask the questions of their parents and community: "What does it mean to be Israel? Why do we live the way we live and do what we do?" The answers will tell the children the story of their community, of its devotion to God and of God's law which gives it a distinct identity that is in tension with the values and presuppositions of the dominant culture.
Later in Jewish history, when misfortune and persecution destroyed schools that had grown up to supplement home education, both the history and the law of Israel survived, writes Sherrill, largely because of the family-based educational consciousness that the Jews had so intentionally cultivated from the beginning.
The early Anabaptists demonstrated a strong sense of parental responsibility in the training of their children. Charged with gross neglect of children's well-being, because of their refusal to baptize infants, the Anabaptists responded with increased diligence in their parental responsibilities. They took their responsibilities toward their children very seriously.
In answer to critics who claimed that the Anabaptists did not bring their children to Christ, Menno Simons wrote, "[They] are so very solicitously caring for the salvation of their children by teaching, admonishing, punishing them, having constant care for them, as God's Word and the love of their children command and teach all Christian parents."
Menno stressed to parents the significance of their own example, highlighting modeling as a key principle of parental responsibility:
Christian temperament teaches plainly that all Christian parents should be as sharp, pungent salt, a shining light and an unblamable faithful teacher, each in his own home.
Let us set them an example in all wisdom, righteousness and truth, with a pious and virtuous life, so that they may, through the careful admonition and unblamable example of their pious parents, be instructed in the Kingdom of God and furnished to all manner of good works.
Since children were not automatically incorporated into the church by way of infant baptism, it became doubly important that adequate socialization processes be set in motion; and the role of the family was central in that process. William Klassen in "The Role of the Child in Anabaptism" calls the years before a child makes a decision for Christ "missionary years, years when parents have the opportunity to show them by word and example the joy that is available in the service of the Lord."
The overall aim of parental involvement with their children was to teach the children personal discipleship, obedience and the fear of the Lord. Children were to be taught and led to the day when they could distinguish good and evil and understand their responsibility before God, be baptized and become voluntary members of the church. Maturity of personal faith and of understanding, and a willingness to be obedient to parents and the community, were the desired outcomes.
Anabaptists were concerned to do away with the disparity between biblical principles for daily living and the actual practice of their daily life. As Stanley Hauerwas comments so poignantly about our current dilemma, there is no shortage of ideas about what faith means but a shortage of people willing to embody the habits of faith, willing to be obedient.
I propose that we learn to make our homes central once again to the educational experience of our children. I am not referring to the home schooling movement but rather to the need for all parents to regain a sense of their responsibility before God to train their children in respectful obedience and appropriate reverence for God. The community of faith will need to take parent education far more seriously.
The job that parents have to do today is arguably more difficult than it has been for many generations. With the mobility and anonymity that characterizes so much of our society, the support that parents received in times past from their extended family and neighboring community is now greatly diminished. Widespread breakdown is the result.
Not only must parents do their job with less support, but our basic commitments and values must now also compete with virulent and powerful messages in the mass media that constantly vie for our children's attention and loyalty. In many ways the culture in which we live now unabashedly wages war on what people of faith hold sacred. There is no more urgent task for the church today than to empower parents to teach their children what it means to follow Christ in life!
One of the outstanding features of both the Jewish and the Anabaptist approaches to family life is the strong sense of parental responsibility for teaching their children at home with both word and deed. The child, in order to become a knowledgeable, full-fledged member of the community, was encouraged to understand the reason for the community's central commitments. The intelligent, informed participation of children in their distinctive community was the desired outcome toward which the parents devoted themselves from the very beginning of the child's life. Not only was the child to be an informed participant, knowing the stories of the faith and able to make a personal decision about his/her relationship to it, but each child was also expected to learn obedience to God and to the community. Education at home was in large part in harmony with a larger communal socialization process that enculturated children into a distinct way of life. I will discuss that process in the next section.
Practices That Bond Faith with Culture
In his keynote address at the "Whither the Anabaptist Vision?" conference in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania in June 1994, Stanley Hauerwas remarked that Mennonites have somehow managed to keep some practices in place that provide resources of resistance against the loss of Christian presence in modernity. The question of polemics must be subordinated to the question of faithful and unfaithful practices, he argued. If we are to maintain a disciplined community that provides "the material specification to help us resist the modern trend to turn faith into just another idea," the heart of the matter, he said, must be practices that make the church the embodiment of Christ in the world.
Faith and culture meet precisely where the descendants of the early Anabaptists exhibited their greatest strength and their greatest weakness as a distinct community. Educating children for the transformation of the culture around them did not last beyond a generation or two of the early Anabaptists, notes David Tennant in an extensive analysis of Anabaptist theologies of childhood and education. Tennant argues that many of the Anabaptists separated and formed their own subculture and concentrated on educating their children in and for that subculture, which reduced their efforts to a process of indoctrination and socialization.
The raising of children within the Anabaptist context became a process of enculturation in which the faith not only functioned alongside the culture but was often fused with it. At its deepest level, the culture itself became a kind of religious faith. The ultimate goal of Anabaptist education, Tennant argues, was not an "educated person"; rather, it was perfect obedience to God and the community, with membership in the church following baptism. That goal was achieved in large part by a church discipline that maintained the boundaries of the community as firmly as possible, thereby enhancing the prospects of successful enculturation.
In an era when well-known educator John Westerhoff and many others laud enculturation as the proper direction for Christian education, the Anabaptists suddenly appear avant garde. For many generations we have understood that the only way to truly teach is to embody the truth. Consequently we have taught by how we lived, by nonconformity in lifestyle and ethical commitments, by literally being a peculiar people.
The decision of the descendants of the Anabaptists to create a subculture that took a stand against the dominant culture served to give their children a clear value structure and belief system. The Anabaptists apparently understood on a profound level the significance of wedding faith with culture and they used enculturation as an effective means of raising their children.
But the more the faith seemed fused with a particularly eccentric and quaint subculture, the more we resented its constrictions and wanted out, longing for room to breathe and to flex our minds and personal freedoms.
Our heavy reliance on the enculturation of children without adequate reflection on why we did what we did trapped us within a time warp. Because we felt trapped, many of us are now very suspicious of too much dogmatism about the precise specifications that are expected of members of the community.
Rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past and rejecting the possibility of having some communal agreement about what constitutes faithful practices, we might be able to refine our enculturation model to serve us better. Well-known education theorists Paulo Friere and Thomas Groome have demonstrated what it means to reflect on our current actions in such a way that an action/reflection dialectic is set up. By examining our current praxis in light of the traditions and stories we deem authoritative, we are more likely to stay current and relevant in our cultural embodiment of faithful practices. If as a community we commit ourselves to a particular corporate discipline and to continually reflecting on that discipline to discern its appropriateness, we may avoid locking ourselves into patterns that become oppressive.
Now that we are busy dismantling our subculture, how can we continue to value and use enculturation in the training of our children, while avoiding the temptation to fuse a particular cultural expression with the faith? Can we, as Hauerwas urges, keep some practices in place that will provide resources of resistance against the loss of Christian presence in our world? The vitality of our unique community of faith will depend on our being able to answer with a strong "Yes!" But how?
Here again the experience of the Jewish community can help us. Among the Jews family education depended heavily on religious rites with roots in the Hebrew period. All the rites became familiar in the homes of faithful Jews as a way of teaching the faith.
The ritual used embodied two principles, explains Sherrill. First, it stimulated children's learning by means of definite actions which provoked curiosity. Religious ideas were shown to a child in concrete, not abstract, forms. Ideas were presented through acts which could be participated in, acted out, inquired about. These actions stirred curiosity, wonder, reverence and joy in the children, provoking questions of "What?" and "Why?"
Second, the family ritual was used by the parent in a real-life setting where its enactment also stimulated the parents to have new, fresh insight as they became active participants in the ritual rather than merely conveying static information to their children. As the parents presented religious ideas in concrete forms within their own home, they were pressed to re-evaluate the meaning of those rites and then obliged to interpret them to the children. By teaching their children, the parents themselves relearned the meanings of their practices.
As a community of faith, it is high time we take seriously the value of ritual patterns within the home. In addition to our own Mennonite customs, there are many rituals from the Jewish and larger Christian traditions which we can employ on a regular basis to enculturate our children into a story and lifestyle that are Mennonite and deeply Christian. Parents need to be taught about the powerful resources available to them for teaching their children.
When our own children began distinguishing between mother's milk and birthday cake, I sensed what an enormous responsibility and opportunity we had as parents to establish a pattern of activities that teach and celebrate God with us every day. We were associating at the time with Reba Place Church in Evanston, Illinois, a community that for years had intentionally shaped a tradition of daily, weekly and yearly celebration to mark transitional events in a person's life, to establish a daily rhythm and to highlight the festivals of the church year. I deliberately asked many people of the church what they do for morning devotions, for bedtime, for birthdays, for Christmas or for baptisms and gathered much of what I discovered in a book on family spirituality, Why Not Celebrate!
Attention to shaping a family pattern of worship has greatly enriched our life together. We have a weekly Sabbath meal. Birthdays for us are not just one big party but also involve prayer, scripture chosen for the celebrant and reflection on what we as parents were experiencing at the age of our child. Mornings often include a short devotional: evenings include stories and bedtime prayers. Further reflection on the patterns of family spirituality led me to write Coming Home, which reflects my deepening conviction that with more intentionality we as a church can empower parents to shape a life at home which helps to give our children a sense of how faith can be integrated into all of life.
Rather than losing our ability to use enculturation as an effective way to raise children, we must reclaim its strengths and reshape it as a methodology. We should actively assert that inasmuch as we are cultural beings who one way or another will express ourselves culturally, we ought to discuss what a "Mennonite-family-ritual" repertoire might look like today and commit ourselves to implementing it as the core of a Mennonite family curriculum. We should also do some clearer thinking about the educational value of church-based public rituals.
In addition to rituals, what can we decide about habits of faithfulness? Craig Dykstra spoke of gestures and habits of action that regulate and shape our lives. He called them "habits of devotion"-Bible study, prayer, fasting, service to the sick and needy, tithing, sabbath-keeping, opening the door to the stranger. He suggests that cultivation of these habits of devotion in the little town of Le Chambon, France uniquely prepared them to become a haven of resistance against the Nazi-Vichy government.
Le Chambon is a story of youth groups and school children, of classroom teachers and adult Bible Study groups, of kitchen conversations-a story of how worship, preaching, studying and hospitality all came together to make a community into a people of God whose life was full of hearing, reading and interpreting the Bible in light of what the church was experiencing in its town. The key to Le Chambon's courage to open their doors to strangers and refugees was that they regularly and frequently interacted with the story of the Good Samaritan and the Sermon on the Mount in such a way that their life was formed primarily by that Word rather than by the spirit of the age.
It would serve us well as a community of faith to clearly identify what "habits of faithfulness" we expect of each other and how we can go about holding each other accountable to those patterns of faithfulness. We are loath to speak of church discipline which was exercised with such diligence in earlier generations of Mennonites for the purpose of enculturation and boundary maintenance. Yet as John Coleman, Jesuit scholar of religion and society, argues in "The Two Pedagogies: Discipleship and Citizenship," Christians will not successfully educate their members/children for citizenship-that is, so they can contribute to a better and more just world-unless they first induct them into a vigorous community of memory "whose special and particular memory is that of disciples who follow the practices of Jesus." Without some internal church discipline as a "counter-pedagogy to the societal project the danger remains acute that the church's voice will be neither distinctive nor Christian," he asserts. It will only echo the culturally prevalent voice.
Church discipline is a highly unsavory word among us, although we love to talk about "spiritual" disciplines. We know theoretically that to follow Christ in life requires discipline, self-sacrifice and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but we prefer that the disciplines we choose remain private and relate only to our personal life. But without a corporate discipline to which we are willing to give ourselves, we will cease to exist as a community of identity, energy and power. Somehow we need to be willing to talk (at least) about a corporate discipline again and envision the way a common understanding of what we expect of each other in self-discipline may serve to empower and resource us. We need greater clarity about what we stand for as an entire community-a clarity which will strengthen our children in their own resolve to stand.
A community discipline that is life-giving, however, must be inextricably linked to a profound understanding of grace and personal transformation. Cultural expressions of faithfulness become a dead legalism and worse, as we have seen in the communist era and in our own authoritarian past. They lack the grace, the joy, the personal transformation that finds expression in a wholesome communal discipline and celebration.
Self-discipline, enhanced by clearly understood communal expectations, can powerfully contribute to forming a community of character that will be salt and light within its larger cultural context. Such a community, while appearing to stand against culture, can demonstrate a life together that may also contribute to the transformation of culture, to use Richard Niebuhr's categories. Somehow by living in that tension, by being a community that is distinct and against culture to the extent that we offer it a viable alternative, we may in turn assist in transforming culture simply by being who we are called to be as a community of disciples.
While we can talk endlessly about ways to revive the Anabaptist Vision, it will have little impact on our life together unless we manage to engage our children's imagination, passion and ethical commitments. Now, more than at any other time in recent history, we can without embarrassment nurture our children in a particularity that draws on the memory of a distinct community-a community that humbly and gratefully celebrates our own special history of pain and hope as a story of God's faithfulness. Because we are now confident that our distinctiveness does not need to take us out of the world but, rather, that it prepares us to engage more meaningfully with the world, we can celebrate our history, ethical commitments and life together as a gift that we bring to the nations. Rather than feeling inferior and on the margins of life, we can stand humbly but confidently in the center of the action-in Washington, D.C., in Bosnia, in our neighborhood pregnancy center, in the local school-anywhere.
Because we have stories with such potency and integrity to tell our children who they are, they will remember who they are. Because we are committed to patterning our lives after those stories, they will remember who they are. Because we are committed to the central role of the home in education and to empowering parents to fulfill their responsibilities before God, our children will remember who they are. Because we expect our children to be intelligent, informed participants in our life together and to decide themselves to follow Christ in life, they will remember who they are. And because we are prepared to take the cultural dimensions of our faith seriously, teaching with rituals, with faithful living and with appropriate community discipline, our children will remember who they are. May that memory, rooted ultimately in the love of God, carry them safely to the end of their days.
[*] Sara Wenger Shenk is Assistant Dean and Instructor of Christian Education at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and a pastor at Immanuel Mennonite Church (Harrisonburg, Va.). Return to Text
 . Craig Dykstra, "Communities of Conviction and the Liberal Arts," The Council of Societies for the Study of Religion Bulletin (Sept. 1990), 62. Return to Text
 . Caleb D. Miller, "If Mennonites Really Got Serious About Church Discipline," Gospel Herald (Oct. 11, 1994), 2. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 3. Return to Text
 . Walter Brueggemann, "The Legitimacy of a Sectarian Hermeneutic: 2 Kings 18-19," in Mary C. Boys, ed., Education for Citizenship and Discipleship (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1989), 3. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 8. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 9. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 27. Return to Text
 . In Gregory C. Higgins, "The Significance of Postliberalism for Religious Education," Religious Education (Winter 1989), 83-84. Return to Text
 . Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 49. Return to Text
 . Susanne Johnson, Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 88. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 92. Return to Text
 . Walter Brueggemann "Passion and Perspective: Two Dimensions of Education in the Bible," Theology Today (July 1985), 173. Return to Text
 . Hayim Halevy Donin, To Be A Jew (New York: Basic Books, 1972), 21. Return to Text
 . Kenneth O. Gangel and Warren S. Benson, Christian Education: Its History and Philosophy (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 21. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 24. Return to Text
 . Lewis Joseph Sherrill, The Rise of Christian Education (New York: Macmillan, 1944), 21. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 17, 20. Return to Text
 . Walter Brueggemann, "Passion and Perspective," 173. Return to Text
 . Sherrill, The Rise of Christian Education, 22. Return to Text
 . David Tennant, "Anabaptist Theologies of Childhood and Education-Child Rear-ing (continued)," Baptist Quarterly (Oct. 1984), 360. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 361. Return to Text
 . William Klassen, "The Role of the Child in Anabaptism," in Harry Loewen, ed., Mennonite Images (Winnipeg: Hyperion Press, 1980), 31. Return to Text
 . David Tennant, "Anabaptist Theologies of Childhood and Education-The Repudi-ation of Infant Baptism," Baptist Quarterly (July 1982), 301, 303. Return to Text
 . Stanley Hauerwas, "Whose Church? Which Future?" keynote address at "Whither the Anabaptist Vision?" conference, Elizabethtown, Pa., June 1994. Return to Text
 . Ibid. Return to Text
 . Tennant, "Anabaptist Theologies of Childhood and Education-Child Rearing (continued)," 364. Return to Text
 . David Tennant, "Anabaptist Theologies of Childhood and Education-Anabaptist Schooling: Education or Socialization?" Baptist Quarterly (July 1985), 127. Return to Text
 . Sherrill, The Rise of Christian Education, 22. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 23-24. Return to Text
 . Sara Wenger Shenk, Why Not Celebrate! (Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 1987). Return to Text
 . Sara Wenger Shenk, Coming Home: A Thoughtful Resource for Fathers, Mothers and the Rebirth of the Family (Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 1992). Return to Text
 . Craig Dykstra, "Christian Education as Means of Grace," Princeton Seminary Bulletin, no. 2 (1992), 167-73. Return to Text
 . John A. Coleman, "The Two Pedagogies: Discipleship and Citizenship," in Mary C. Boys, ed., Education for Citizenship and Discipleship (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1989), 54-55. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 40. The Mennonite Quarterly Review Remember Who You Are