When I found the chest stored in an old building on the premises of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community where I lived, it was a little beat up but still in good shape. I asked the previous owner, who lived next door to me, if I could fix it up and put it to good use. I painted the hinges and metal corners gold and touched up the black exterior. I made sure I did not paint over the name and address.
Paul Peachey. Japan.
Today, so soon after his death, when I looked at this well-traveled box, I was reminded again of my appreciation for the way Paul lived his life. The chest symbolizes for me Paul’s willingness to go where the Spirit led, to live a life like Abraham, driven by a faith connected to a rich history coupled with the promise of something new.
Before Japan, there was Germany. Paul was one of the many Mennonites who left their rural roots to help rebuild Europe after World War II. The quiet in the land quietly changed the world and they left a rich legacy for the rest of us.
It is a legacy that is in danger of being forgotten.
Paul was a founding member of the “Concern Group,” a gathering of Mennonite thinkers who were “concerned” that the Mennonite church might be subverted by the ways of the world. After WW II, as Mennonites began to engage more with society, these men wanted to lay a foundation for how that engagement should take place – so that the salt would not lose its saltiness as it were.
It is a word we would do well to heed today. Too often I fear Mennonite churches have accepted beliefs from the mainstream church which are not Anabaptist. That is indeed a concern.
The world is crying out for the voice of the Anabaptist. Our heritage of nonviolence, not-of-this-world-ness, simplicity, community, and love of enemy, alien and stranger, exemplified over the years by people such as Paul, are the ingredients that could change the world. They should not be lost in the soup of evangelical Christianity. Or cast aside for the temporary pleasures of this consumerist society.
This belief is what keeps my fingers tapping at the keyboard late into the night. It leaves me overflowing with gratefulness for the years I knew Paul and a deep appreciation to he and others like him who led by example. But belief and gratefulness alone do not have to be my only responses. Nor should they be.
And there should be a response. This is a legacy NOT an entitlement. So then what will that response be?
Today would have been Paul’s 94th birthday so it seems fitting to reflect upon his life and legacy. But how will I choose to live my life after today?
Do I have the guts to pack my Anabaptist beliefs up in that old chest and head out wherever God leads? Do I even know what those beliefs are? Do I believe them?
We run before a great cloud of witnesses. There is a new one up there now, cheering us on. I for one have decided to live my life in a way that would honor the life Paul Peachey lived.
That means choosing to take his concerns to heart.
I urge you to do the same.