It is especially from the Anglican tradition that the rest of us have learned something of the pervasive intellectual power of the idea of incarnation. It has been a most impressive vision, to say that all human concerns have been divinely sanctioned and hallowed by God’s coming among us, taking on our flesh. Gardening and the weather, our work and our family, the total fabric of our society – economics and warfare, have been bathed in the light of God’s presence. All of humanity is now seen to be good, wholesome, holy. This seems to a non-Episcopalian to be a deceptively incomplete way of saying something that is nonetheless deeply true. When God came into human society, God did not approve of and sanction everything, in “normal, healthy, human society”; God did not make of all human activity, not even of all well-intentioned human activity, a means of grace. There are some loyalties and practices in human community that God rejected when God came among us… The pattern of faithfulness is one of genuine obedience in human experience – which we may well call Incarnation; but it is always also a break with the continuities of human civilization and the loyalties of local human societies, which we call Election or Exodus. When we then speak of incarnation it must not mean God sanctifying our society and our vocations as they are, but rather God’s reaching into human reality to say what we must do and what we must leave behind.
They pretend there are so many thousands of us in the country, who want to take possession of countries and cities; whereas no such thoughts have entered into our hearts, for it is impossible to take possession of countries and cities without violence and bloodshed… We have not so easy a faith, that they flock to us in crowds; only here and there may be a household, which are very solitary.
The riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast.
They were holding on, it seems to me, to the intuition that they could see things that others were missing. The gospel talks about persecution, but never about imposing it; persecution, as numerous New Testament texts pointed out which the Anabaptists never tired of quoting, is the price of following Jesus seriously. Thus the Anabaptists could, perhaps with a wry smile, appropriate to themselves the Pauline self-designation – “the off-scouring of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:13). And we might, as we contemplate their day and ours, begin to ask, “In what social setting can one best read the Bible with understanding? Is there perhaps a hermeneutical privilege of the ‘off-scoured’?
I picked this book up in ‘Borders’ at Heathrow Airport this morning and read it on the flight back to Edmonton, finishing it about half an hour before we landed. It was a great read. Billy Bragg is a year older than me. He was born and brought up in Barking, which used to be an Essex town but now is part of the greater London area. I spent my teenage years in southeast Essex. I first caught a whiff of the magic of folk music when my friend Steve Palmer lent me his copy of ‘Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’, and the first songs I worked hard at learning to play were the songs on the album. Surprise, surprise, Billy Bragg also fell under the spell of ‘The Boxer’, ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘Kathy’s Song’ and all the rest. For Billy, the folk music trail took him through Bob Dylan and back to the deep wells of English traditional music as performed by masters like the Watersons and Martin Carthy. It’s taken me a bit longer, but I’ve finally followed the trail back there as well. For obvious music reasons, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. but nonetheless, it’s not primarily a book about music; it’s about being English without being bigoted and narrow and right-wing. Billy traces the progressive tradition in English political life back to Magna Carta, through the civil war and the Diggers and the Levellers, the glorious revolution with the Bill of Rights, the Chartists and the early days of the trade union movement. The genius of English politics, he says, is that we’ve never been comfortable giving our rulers absolute power over us. Dissent and resistance to oppression has been part of the English tradition for centuries! Billy’s political vision lays a lot of emphasis on human rights, and in the past I’ve been one who has been wary of this approach, as I think it too easily becomes individualistic. But Billy is not individualistic; he’s about fairness, and everyone getting a chance in life, and the fact that its better if we work together as a collective to make sure everyone gets cared for, rather than leaving it to the cut-throat world of the faceless markets (and the venture capitalists who benefit from them) (yes, if you hadn’t guessed it already, the man’s a committed socialist – and no fan of New Labour either). Billy celebrates the fact that, while the English class system has not disappeared, it has become irrelevant to the question of whether or not people get a chance to succeed in life. And his great passion is to look forward to the day when the same can be said in England about race (one of the most fascinating sections of the first half of the book is his historical survey of all the different strands which actually make up ‘Englishness’ – multiculturalism is by no means a new thing!). I loved this book. I’ve enjoyed Billy Bragg’s music for a long time, and I’ve always resonated with the message he tries to communicate through his songs, but now I’ve gained a fresh appreciation for the passion that drives him and the wells from which he has drunk for inspiration. And I hear he’s playing at Greenbelt this year! Too bad they don’t do a Canadian edition…
- That Christ had assumed his flesh and blood from the substance of the flesh and blood of Mary.
- That infants ought to be baptized.
- That a Christian might administer the office of a magistrate, and
- That a Christian might swear an oath.
- The incredible hospitality of the folks at the London Mennonite Centre, who welcomed me into their community and went out of their way to make my stay comfortable and my reading useful.
- The opportunity to spend extended periods of time with family and friends, especially with my Mum and Dad, my brother and his family, my aunts and uncles and my cousin Angela, Jan and Mark and Adam and Komi, Steve and Alicia and Matilda and Will, Ken and Kath and the old crowd down in Southminster. Especially, the privilege of participating in my Mum and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary on May 19th, and of having Marci and three of our four children here for it – the first time Marci had been in England with me since 1989.
- The hospitality of the folks from the Anabaptist Network, at conferences and seminars and study group meetings and individual conversations.
- The incredible experience of six days down in Southminster, my old home town, and still the spot I love more than any other in England.
- A chance to meet blogging friends like Sam, Paul, Peter, Graham, and Richard.
- Reading, reading, and more reading.
- John Howard Yoder; need I say more?
- Time to be a tourist in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Stamford, Peterborough, etc. etc.