children • education • parents
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Bedtime, Blumhardt, and the Lent Plastic Challenge

March 27, 2018 by

In case you are wondering, despite the urging of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the example of some tediously right-on MPs here in the UK, I didn’t take part in the Lent Plastic Challenge. Heavens to Betsy.

It was bedtime for our two-year-old and I had tucked him in. In fact I had already tucked him in several times and was now sitting on the floor outside his room aggressively playing lullabies on the mandolin. It had been a long day. Brexit coverage in the news was not positive. And my oldest son (thirteen) came up to me to ask what I felt was important about Christoph Blumhardt.

Author's son

People familiar with our community movement will have heard about Blumhardt, because we reference his writings all the time. He was a German Lutheran pastor at the end of the nineteenth century who became famous for his healing ministry and especially for his faith in God. He is one of the people that our kids study as part of a “Roots” Bruderhof history course, hence my son’s question; this was a homework assignment.

“Son,” I said, “I would love to talk to you about Blumhardt, he is one of my favourite people. But right now is one hundred percent the wrong time. I’m tired, I’m cross, and in case you have not noticed, things are not going too well around here.”

“But Dad, my assignment is to discuss this with one of my parents. It is due tomorrow!”

“Growl!” I said, “Have I not told you that line about lack of planning on your part not constituting an emergency on my part?”

“Dad! Please!”

Image of the author sitting on the floor playing an instrument

So like any good dog I rolled over. My son was already familiar with the basic history and I’m not going to go over it now, but in summary there were two Blumhardts, father and son: Johann Christoph and Christoph Friedrich, both men of God, hands down. They are known for their faith and for the way in which they experienced direct answer to prayer. As far as I can make out, they were also pretty regular Joes, not interested in either fame and popularity or in building some kind of intellectual legacy. What excited them both, but perhaps especially the younger Christoph was the kingdom of God, the belief that this was coming soon, and the faith that God was going to make everything new. They were very aware of the power of sin and darkness and were not afraid to confront this but they were firmly convinced in the redemption of all things: that Jesus can and will make everything new. Talking about this to my son, I found I got excited about it myself, all of a sudden my whole collapsing-family situation seemed a lot less dire.

Easter is not about being nice or signalling virtue; it’s about repentance, forgiveness, redemption, new life.

But thinking of the faith and conviction of Blumhardt made me think of the new big thing for woke Christians: giving up plastic for Lent. There is a school of thought prevalent in Christian circles that if we all work hard to be nicer, then everything will turn out OK. That the essence of Christian life is a sort of gentle kindness: being inclusive and non-confrontational, saying friendly things to people, reaching out to small animals, organizing recycling initiatives, participating in group hugs. You could call it a sort of flopsy bunny Christianity, and in my view the whole Lent Plastic Challenge fits right into this. Personally though, I don’t buy it. I’m suspicious of anything that reeks of zeitgeist as much as this does. I’m not a particularly nice person and actually don’t know many people who are, but almost all of us long for redemption. Easter is not about being nice or signalling virtue; it’s about repentance, forgiveness, redemption, new life. And boy is that something worth getting excited about.


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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