In a recent presentation to the Bridgewater (Va.) College Forum for Brethren Studies, Scott Holland suggested that publishing might well be regarded as poetry. Church publishers often say that we are both business and ministry, but I like the idea that publishing is also poetry.
For a people who believe that in the beginning was the Word, surely this is true. The Brethren are a practical people, but why not be practical poets?
We can be poetic when we grow faith: Could it be that following Jesus is more poetic than linear, more parable than final exam? Immersed in the imagination of Jesus’ countercultural stories, we can grow faith that is durable enough to serve us in a world that will be different tomorrow than it is today. That is a worthy aim for our weekly worship services and Sunday schools.
We can be poetic about food: Brethren of different theological stripes have an easier time eating together than voting together. That means there’s something profound about the Inglenook cookbook treasure in our Brethren attic. Meal time is part of our New Testament faith and practice; the potluck is both love feast and messianic feast. Let’s claim that mystery and metaphor as part of our Brethren identity. Let’s sit together at the table that sustains us.
We can be poetic when we face the future: Holland asked us to ponder the idea of the “coming church.” What does that mean? Who are the Brethren in this uncertain time? Without answering, he finished his remarks with a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson—words that came from this fuller quote: “Whilst we converse with what is above us, we do not grow old, but young. . . . Old age ought not creep on a human mind. In nature every moment is new; the past is always swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sacred. . . ” Emerson continues: “People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.”
There’s no question that the church is unsettled, so that must mean there’s hope for us. In this restlessness, we can be inspired by God’s poetic Word: “What has come into being was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:3-4).
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.