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Discovering Global Anglicanism (Part 1): The Martyrs of Melanesia

Given in Translation: A Review of Richard Carter’s ‘In Search of the Lost’
Part 1 of [unknown]
Monday, May 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm
In 2003, as the Anglican Communion was preparing the put itself on the brink of near-total madness over the issues of homosexuality and ecclesiology, civil war due to ethnic strife was ravaging Solomon Islands, a small archipelago in the South Pacific just east of Indonesia. Richard Anthony Carter's beautiful book In Search of the Lost: The death and life of seven peacemakers of the Melanesian Brotherhood, tells the story of how the efforts of the Melanesian Brotherhood – the largest monastic order in the Anglican Communion – to foster peace between the warring groups there tragically involved the martyrdom of seven of its brothers. Carter, a brother in the order, describes his own spiritual journey during this time along with that of the rest of the order by incorporating history, hagiography, theology, spiritual direction, poetry, liturgy, and a large number of his own journal entries into the narrative of the book. The end result is one that is as informative as it is moving. Readers will learn much about the history of Anglicanism in Melanesia and the South Pacific; they will also laugh, sigh, and weep.
Tags: book reviews, saints, global anglicanism, anglican, global south, hagiography, anglican monastic orders, martyrs, monasticism, melanesia

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It is increasingly said today that the Anglican Communion is a global Christian church whose identity can no longer be restricted to a broadly Western, or more narrowly English, patrimony. Despite this claim, there is little if any attempt to gather together in a central location the narratives of Anglicans living in diverse locales, past or present. This series aims to change that by reviewing global, provincial, and regional histories, biographies of major global figures, and locally-situated theological and devotional writings. As a series dedicated to Anglicanism’s global character, it should be noted from the outset that the narratives of Western Anglicans are prized neither more nor less than the narratives of non-Western or Southern Anglicans. Many of the writings reviewed here will be recent, although some will be much older (indeed, out of print). It is trusted that Anglicanism will emerge, over the course of these reviews, neither as a Communion animated by incompatible theological and devotional trends, nor as a Communion that is the mere product of the now-defunct British Empire, but as a coherent tradition, locally rooted and expressed, and united by the deep bonds of Common Prayer, shared witness, and liturgically articulated memory.


In_Search_of_the_Lost.jpg width=155 height=249 style=border:5px solid white title=In Search of the Lost, by Richard Carter, MBH align=left

In Search of the Lost: The death and life of seven peacemakers of the Melanesian Brotherhood
Richard Anthony Carter, MBH
Canterbury Press (2006)
xiv + 242pp.
b/w illustrations & photographs
isbn: 1853117803

In 2003, as the Anglican Communion was preparing the put itself on the brink of near-total madness over the issues of homosexuality and ecclesiology, civil war due to ethnic strife was ravaging Solomon Islands, a small archipelago in the South Pacific just east of Indonesia. Richard Anthony Carter's beautiful book In Search of the Lost: The death and life of seven peacemakers of the Melanesian Brotherhood, tells the story of how the efforts of the Melanesian Brotherhood – the largest monastic order in the Anglican Communion – to foster peace between the warring groups there tragically involved the martyrdom of seven of its brothers. Carter, a brother in the order, describes his own spiritual journey during this time along with that of the rest of the order by incorporating history, hagiography, theology, spiritual direction, poetry, liturgy, and a large number of his own journal entries into the narrative of the book. The end result is one that is as informative as it is moving. Readers will learn much about the history of Anglicanism in Melanesia and the South Pacific; they will also laugh, sigh, and weep.

The book broadly consists of two halves. The first half recounts history – both Carter's and the Brotherhood's – leading up to the first report of martyrdom. On Easter Sunday, 2003, news reached the Melanesian Brotherhood that their brother, Nathaniel Sado, had been killed by the leader of one of the militias present on their island. Carter spares his readers few details about the martyrdom; he notes that brother Sado had been so badly beaten that he had actually asked to be killed, but that while he was being beaten to death he also sang hymns (126). The second half of the book discusses Carter's ensuing crisis of faith, the struggles of other members in the Brotherhood, and the attempt of the wider society to come to terms with the painful and terrifying news. The turning point in Carter's own life came about “at the point when I really did not know how we could go on”; this is, he writes, when “God took over” (165).

Carter does not romance martyrdom. This may be surprising to some; martyrdom is central to the Christian imagination and has, from time to time, bordered on a morbid fascination with suffering and death. Add to this the wider American (and, perhaps, Western) cultural tendency towards violent, voyeuristic spectacles in movies and video games, and one might think that the best way to reveal the blood of the martyrs as evangelistic seed is to engage in a bit of rhetorical excess by embellishing upon their own sufferings. Yet, far from presenting a hagiographical spectacle, Carter instead bears his own wounds and those of his larger community. He notes with great spiritual and psychological discernment how civil war can shatter a person emotionally and physically, and how it can have an even more damaging effect when this sort of experience is compounded on a societal level. Especially interesting for this particular Western reader is the fact that his own work shows a sensitivity to larger concerns about the presentation and glorification of violence; Carter seems to be entirely opposed to celebrating any type of theodicy that glorifies pain, even in the name of redemption or a greater good. In this way, evil acts – such as murder – remain evil. They simply don’t have the last word.

In this way, In Search of the Lost is a book about theodicy. A significant theme in these pages is the argument that it is not power but powerlessness that is most effective and redemptive. Carter is tremendously concerned about the superstitions on the island – in particular, the belief that holy men such as those in the Brotherhood cannot be harmed by others – and that holiness is akin to some sort of death-defying power. Behind these sorts of beliefs, Carter sees a lust for power that not only entraps people in superstitious fear, but drives them to commit brutal acts. Carter's refusal of power, which comes by way of his own confessional recognition that power is tempting, lays the groundwork for his own take on theodicy. Here there is no redemptive suffering as such but, instead, the promise of redemption beyond suffering.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is certainly an important book in that it translates between two very different cultures: Melanesian and English. Perhaps we may write that, by extension, In Search of the Lost also witnesses to an Anglican heritage that knows no difference between “South” and “West”. The 2008 Lambeth Conference added the names of the martyrs of Melanesia to the Martyrs of Our Own Time memorial in Canterbury Cathedral; this is surely an outward and visible sign that the inward and invisible bonds of memory may be witnessed to in a shared and unifying litany of hope. At the very least, it is a reminder that “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

[Click here to read Part Two of this series, which looks at the anti-apartheid activist, monk, and bishop, Trevor Huddleston, CR]
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