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Honouring a cross-country request

Alain Spitzer

Feature | By By Tim Wiebe-Neufeld | Apr 23, 2014

The first Skype conversation I ever had was with someone in Germany about a guy from Montréal who wanted to be baptized in Edmonton. This extraordinary testament to a globalized world was also my introduction to Alain Spitzer.

‘Peace be with you’

The two followers, still in the dark about who this stranger is, ask him to stay with them in the village of Emmaus. There, at table, he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. Suddenly their ‘eyes were opened’ (Luke 24:31) and they recognize him, but he immediately vanishes.

Feature | By By Alicia J. Batten | Apr 09, 2014

As in many environments today, “peace” was a conventional salutation in the ancient world. In the Gospel of Luke, when the risen Jesus appears among the disciples in Jerusalem, he extends to them a greeting of peace.

For discussion: 'Peace be with you'

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Apr 09, 2014

1. When you meet friends or family, what form of greeting do you use? Have you ever met anyone who used “peace” as a greeting? Does your congregation use “passing the peace” or some type of peace greeting in worship? What is the meaning of this greeting of peace?

I was in prison

Photo ©

Feature | By By John Penner* | Mar 26, 2014

Just before Jack McKay* was let out of prison, a local paper ran an article that portrayed him as an unhinged, unreformed sexual predator. The message was blunt: Beware, be afraid.

I wasn’t afraid. But I was somewhat apprehensive as I pulled up to the prison at 8:30 a.m. to pick Jack up on the day he was released. As a retired Mennonite farmer, the thought of assisting a convicted sex offender navigate his first day of freedom in a city and society that was not exactly going to roll out the red carpet was intimidating.

For discussion: I was in prison

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Mar 26, 2014

1. What experiences have you had with prison visitation or helping someone with a painful past become settled in Canadian society? What level of acceptance would someone like Jack McKay, the pseudonymous former inmate in this story, find in your community? What social services would there be to help him? What would happen in your congregation if a former sexual offender began attending?

The 100 percent clean comedian

Born and raised in Niverville, Man., Matt Falk began performing stand-up at the age of 17, after seeing comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Robin Williams on TV. “I just wanted to be like them so badly,” recalls. “I think that's what motivated me.” (Photo courtesy of Matt Falk)

Feature | By By Aaron Epp | Mar 12, 2014

Matt Falk recalls one of his worst gigs from the beginning of his career as a comedian. He was hired to perform at a corporate event, and during his 30-minute set the audience barely chuckled.

The people in the club mostly just stared at Falk and talked among themselves. At the end, he wished the crowd a good night and began making his way to the exit. The emcee grabbed the microphone and made Falk the butt of his next few jokes, saying, “Well, you can’t win ’em all.” The audience erupted with laughter.

Laughter is sacred space

Ted Swartz in a scene from Laughter is a Sacred Space (Ted & Company Theatreworks photo)

Feature | By Ted Swartz | Mar 12, 2014

Laughter has always been a huge part of my working career, working as a writer and actor in comedic theater.

Most etymologists, those who study where words come from, believe that the word “humour” is derived from the same root as the words “human,” “humility” and—my favourite—“humus,” meaning “of the earth, connected to the dirt, soil”—that which makes things grow, where things are real, gritty and full of nutrients. To laugh is to be grounded in the best possible way. A sense of humour is a proclamation that I am fully human.

It is a sacred space.

For discussion: The 100 percent clean comedian and Laughter is sacred space

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Mar 12, 2014

1. What kind of jokes make you laugh? Why do we value a sense of humour? When can laughter be disrespectful or inappropriate? What is the tipping point where there is too much laughter? How do you interpret Ecclesiastes 7:3: “Sorrow is better than laughter because a sad face is good for the heart”?

2. Matt Falk says, “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.” Why do so many comics use vulgar language? Do you agree that a clean joke is a better joke? Is it inappropriate to laugh at a dirty joke?

Other faiths speak out on end-of-life issues

Feature | By Compiled by John Longhurst | Feb 26, 2014

Physician-assisted suicide has been in the news a lot recently.

Last spring, Canadians watched as Winnipegger Susan Griffiths took her final journey to Switzerland to end her life, rather than face a slow, painful death from multiple system atrophy.

Last fall, Dr. Donald Low, a high-ranking medical official in Ontario, grabbed the attention of people across the country when he released a dramatic and heart-rending video urging the Canadian government to legalize an ill person’s right to die.

Only God can determine the time and place of death

Sikander Hashmi

Feature | By Sikander Hashmi | Feb 26, 2014

“Do not kill yourselves: for verily God is to you most merciful” (Qur’an 4:29).

It is commonly understood that when we were born, we had no choice but to become a citizen of this world. We didn’t get a chance to choose our parents or birthplace either. But if entering this world was not of our choosing, do we have the choice to decide when we leave it?

God gives life, nobody should try to take it away

Atish Maniar

Feature | By Atish Maniar | Feb 26, 2014

Hinduism is based on nonviolence. Suicide—killing oneself—is an act of violence. Killing another person is also wrong. In Hindu scriptures, nowhere is it mentioned that one can assist someone who wishes to commit suicide. To do so would be to commit a violent act, which is against Hinduism. Life is created or given by God. We humans have no right to take it away, even by assisting someone who wishes to commit suicide.

Obligated to ‘choose life’

Alan Green

Feature | By Alan Green | Feb 26, 2014

To begin with, Judaism teaches that our lives belong to God. We are mere stewards of the body which the Creator has given us. As Jews, we also believe that we are commanded to preserve our lives. Deuteronomy 4:9 teaches that Jews should “carefully preserve yourselves.”

Applying ancient wisdom to the here and now

Fredrich Ulrich

Feature | By Fredrich Ulrich | Feb 26, 2014

Buddhism as an organized religion began some 2,600 years ago. The advanced technology we have today was unimaginable in those distant eras. We are thus faced with the problem of applying ancient wisdom to our actual lives as they are lived here and now.

For discussion: Other faiths speak out on end-of-life issues

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Feb 26, 2014

1. John Longhurst refers to a recent poll indicating that 70 percent of Canadians support physician-assisted suicide and 68 percent believe that those who help a seriously ill person commit suicide should not face legal charges. How would you respond to these questions? Why do you think these numbers are so high? What concerns do you have about assisted suicide?

‘Right to life does not include the right to be killed’

Feature | By Evangelical Christian Fellowship | Feb 26, 2014

Lawyers with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), of which Mennonite Church Canada is a member, have joined lawyers from across the country in signing a declaration that condemns the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

A book of answers . . . or a book of God-with-us stories?

Feature | By Aaron Epp | Feb 12, 2014 | 1 comment

A mayor in Texas made headlines this past December when he proclaimed 2014 as “the Year of the Bible.”

“Throughout the history of the United States, one of the most important influences that has shaped our country into a distinctive nation, none may have been more profound or enduring than the Bible,” Mayor Tom Hayden of Flower Mound, Tex., said in his proclamation. He invited as many as wanted to participate to read through the whole Bible in a year by spending roughly 15 to 20 minutes a day on daily reading.

For discussion: A book of answers . . . or a book of God-with-us stories?

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Feb 12, 2014

1. What biblical movies have you seen? Will you watch the upcoming releases mentioned by Aaron Epp? Do you think Hollywood movies are an effective way to learn stories from the Bible? How do these movies influence our understanding of the Bible?

2. Do you agree with Carol Penner that there has been a general decline in biblical knowledge in our lifetime? How do you explain this decline among people who were raised in the church? How much of it is due to changes in our Sunday school curriculum? Why are we not as enthusiastic to know the Bible as our grandparents were?

Listen to the unjust judge

Feature | By By Anita Fast | Jan 29, 2014

When I first read this passage in Luke’s gospel, in preparation for preaching on it, I thought, “Oh, this is just too easy.” Unlike some stories which leave you scratching your head, this one seems all too straightforward. If even an unjust judge listens to a persistent widow, how much more will God—a just judge—listen to our cries?

For discussion: Listen to the unjust judge

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Jan 29, 2014

1. In what situations have you prayed for justice or deliverance? Have you ever begun to doubt that you were praying hard enough, or even to doubt the existence of God? How do you keep your faith when there is so much injustice and suffering in the world? Do you find the story of the persistent widow encouraging? Do you find Anita Fast’s interpretation of Luke 18:1-8 convincing?

Bread, acceptance and covenant

Feature | By By John D. Rempel | Jan 15, 2014 | 1 comment

Abundance or scarcity

Table fellowship is seen by some as a primal expression of hospitality, with the offer of food an opening of hand and heart to another. Table fellowship is seen by others as a primal expression of covenant, with the offer of food sealing an alliance of common purpose.

A multi-atonement communion service

Feature | By By Palmer Becker | Jan 15, 2014

The good news is that God came to us in Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself and to invite us into his kingdom. The news of what God has done—and is doing—for us in Christ is so great that no single way, of explaining it is adequate. Today in this communion service we will reflect on God’s great love, his sacrificial death, his example on how to live and his victory over sin and the grave.

After solemnly observing Christ’s death with the symbol of the broken bread, we will joyfully observe his victory and continuing life among us with the symbol of the juice.

For discussion: Bread, acceptance and covenant

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Jan 14, 2014

1. Does your congregation view the Lord’s Supper as an open table for all, or as a more restricted covenantal meal? Has this view changed over time? Do you feel comfortable participating in communion at a church of another denomination?

2. John Rempel says that when we resist welcoming “intruders” to our breaking of bread, it is because “we are in the grip of fear that there will not be enough love to go around.” Do you agree? What is the paradox he sees in Jesus’ table fellowship?

For discussion: 'Sounding the Scriptures'

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Dec 31, 2013

1. In what setting have you heard someone “sound the Scripture,” telling a Bible story without reading it? How is re-telling a story different from reading it or repeating it from memory? What makes an effective biblical children’s story?

2. John Epp says his early attempts to read the Bible on his own were “far from joyful.” Do you find the words more powerful if they are spoken or if you read them quietly? What role does eye contact play in storytelling? How is a story told in community different from one read in solitude?

‘Sounding the Scriptures’

Biblical storyteller John Epp


Feature | Dec 31, 2013

Managing editor Ross W. Muir was introduced to biblical storytelling when John Epp, a member of the Network of Biblical Storytellers Canada and Toronto United Mennonite Church, visited First Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., last spring. Following that encounter, the two chatted in person and online over the summer and into the fall.

Ross W. Muir: What is biblical storytelling?

For discussion: Discipleship as Citizenship

Feature | By By Barb Draper | Dec 11, 2013

1. Do your Christian values make you feel like a resident alien in Canada? How strong are your ties of loyalty to Canada? How strong is your allegiance to your local community or municipality? How do these ties of loyalty compare with your allegiance to your church community? 2. Do you find it helpful to think of your allegiance to Christ as heavenly citizenship? What are the implications for earthly citizenship? If we are dual citizens, where does our primary allegiance lie? Do you agree with Gordon Zerbe that “heavenly citizenship” is a richer image than “discipleship”? 3.