Rolando Santiago, director

This past March 22, the local LNP newspaper ran David Brooks’ New York Times article: “Americans Have Lost Their Sense of Shared Purpose.”  His commentary was based on ideas that Philip Gorski, sociologist at Yale University, advanced in his new book “American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present.”

Brooks underlines a key theme in Gorski’s book: Americans have lost a unifying narrative that gives a sense of purpose and meaning to their history. Across many generations, the Exodus story guided the Puritans, the American revolutionaries, the champions of antislavery, and more recently Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and fellow civil rights advocates.    

The Exodus story has six acts: experience of slavery and oppression, revolt from tyranny, hardships during flight into the wilderness, infighting and misbehavior, handing down of a new covenant, arriving at the promised land to build a new Jerusalem.  The storyline of successive immigrant groups is a similar one.     

In her popular 2009 TEDGlobal talk on “the danger of a single story,” Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie emphasized that the experience of each person throughout life is made up of overlapping stories, not a single one.

Like a personal story with multiple subplots or a country’s story experienced by different groups across generations, the beauty of a quilt resides in stitching together many different colored or shaped pieces into a unified whole. 

So, I am wondering whether you who read this column can help define the story that gives meaning and purpose to Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.  Is the Exodus story the one that the Society should appropriate?  Is there a more adequate one? 

I am attracted to the Exodus story; however, its six subplots seem to be fraught with inevitable violence.  So, from the perspective of Jesus, the early church, and the Anabaptists to this day, is there a more appropriate story that best describes a nonviolent journey through life fulfilled in the “peaceable kingdom” of the prophets?  I welcome your thoughts and ideas at rsantiago@lmhs.org.