Readers Write

March 2, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 5

Celebrate the ‘kitchenhood of all believers’

Re: “East paska together and be glad,” Feb. 21, page 10.

The church that I attend invites all ethnicities. We share our stories. Even though the potluck tables are still heavily Russian-Ukraine-oriented, this is changing as our own cultural fabric evolves. This is how it should be.

My mother, now passed on, and her sisters have poignant stories of their life in Russia. Like Ramon Rempel, I feel a connection to those stories when I eat zwieback (rolls) and borscht. When I eat foods from other ethnic groups, I share in their cultural identity. This is part of the community that we are building today.

I will not shun my cultural heritage, as I do not expect others to shun theirs. We break bread together and live our Mennonite lives as a church community embracing all comers and their faith journeys in all their expressions. Apart from strict theology, this is also what I think it is to be Mennonite.

Is it possible to separate ethnicity from the word Mennonite? Google “Mennonite food” and view the many sites that not only delve into the cultural history of such foods, but direct readers to recipes and places where these foods can be found and purchased. Of special note is The Kitchenhood of all Believers by Matthew Bailey-Dick.

“Let us break bread together . . . let us drink wine together . . . let us praise God together on our knees,” says the words of Hymn No. 453 in Hymnal: A Worship Book. In so doing, let us share our stories, our food, our songs and our faith, celebrating and building our evolving Mennonite theological/cultural community richly, while passing it on to those who follow.

Ken Wiens, Kingsville, Ont. 

Keep the dialogue on finances going 

As someone who has been a pastor, conducted academic research on the practice and theology of Mennonite giving in Canada, and who continues to work as a fundraising consultant, you could say that the mix of fundraising and theology is a passion of mine.

From this experience and from articles in Canadian Mennonite, it’s clear that the future of many Mennonite institutions is in jeopardy. My own opinion is that Mennonite Church Canada and area churches are actually stoically dying a death by a thousand cuts.

One doesn’t need to have a fundraising background to understand that MC Canada needs money to carry out its mission. I am also certain that “the dollars are here,” as Dick Benner’s May 31, 2010, editorial was titled.

Where I have a different perspective is in the causes and cure for declining giving to MC Canada. Benner suggests that older donors are more tied to print media and thus less susceptible to the emotional appeals of organizations such as World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. I have sat around a table of older Mennonites who list Mennonite Central Committee as their favourite charity. But every single senior could explain in detail the offer of a well-known Christian charity that advertises on TV, and many of them support that charity on an ongoing basis.

Benner suggests that MC Canada needs to represent what it does in “compelling images that make people reach for their pocketbooks.” It’s difficult to compete with TV and I don’t think even a well-crafted video appeal or YouTube broadcast will turn the tide of declining giving.

In my view, the low-tech approach of personal contact and ongoing relationship is foundational. Someone from the area churches should show up often at churches on Sunday, since most Mennonites do not know what their area or national church does, although it is assumed that they do. While there are generational differences, the cultural divide that we need to worry about first is actually the divide between the area and national church and the average Menno warming a pew.

Mennonites also need to make a theological shift away from giving as a duty and in response to needs, and towards giving as a joyful response to God’s grace. To make that shift, we need to start discussing giving and what we do with our money, preferably not only when there is a budget shortfall! To that end, I am pleased to see columnists from the Mennonite Foundation of Canada writing regularly in Canadian Mennonite to keep the dialogue going.

Lori Guenther Reesor, Mississauga, Ont.

Former U.S. president Carter deserves Mennonite praise

Re: “Lamenting Richard Holbrooke,” Jan. 24, page 10.

Richard Penner makes a brief and accurate assessment of Richard Holbrooke’s career, but he goes on to make some criticisms of current Anabaptist stances and demeanour, to which I wish to raise a few objections:

  • Penner’s denigration of former president Jimmy Carter. Carter certainly had his faults, but he deserves the praise of every Mennonite for pointing out to the American electorate that America, as a nation, needed to live within its means (thereby insuring his electoral defeat), and for not losing a single American life through military action or causing massive dislocation through military action in other countries. Compare that to the insane actions of a more recent president.
  • Penner calls for “Anabaptists to stand up and be counted.” This statement cannot be argued with. But to what end and in what manner?

    Some wag offered the following distinction between Quakers and Mennonites: Quakers think you can change the world; Mennonites know that you can’t. I’m afraid that the Mennonites are correct. If there is anything that the Bible and Charles Darwin agree on, it is the immutable, irredeemable nature of humanity.

    My point here is that there is a limit to what we might do in the larger political arena, and that we continue with the successes we have at lower levels. The widely recognized competence of Mennonite Central Committee and our success at establishing bridges with Islamic Iran come to mind.

  • If forceful and abrasive stances are required, as Penner suggests, I would suggest emulating the careers of the Berrigan brothers, something I myself was totally incapable of doing.

Edward Bergen, Toronto, Ont.

Let the intergenerational instrumental music begin!

In her Jan. 10. article, “New realities for Mennonite schools,” on page 28, Gail Schellenberg states that private schools need to explore the possibility of providing educational, dramatic and musical contributions to the life of the church. One way this could happen is in the area of instrumental music.

Our Mennonite schools have produced fine bands and the occasional orchestra. There is now a pool of players for churches to draw upon to enhance worship. Can we imagine following the biblical example in Psalm 150, so that our sanctuaries ring with the sounds of cymbals, yea even loud crashing cymbals! This involvement could also be an occasion for the kind of intergenerational church experience Kathy Giesbrecht lifts out in her Dec. 20 article, “From edge to centre,” on page 9, as the basis for meaningful youth ministry.

But a shortage of suitable music poses a simple but significant obstacle to this instrumental involvement. This could be overcome if teams of private school music teachers, or retired teachers suitably encouraged by area church offices, were encouraged to search the highways and byways of the Internet, Mennonite-friendly music stores, and schools and churches with established bands and orchestras, to come up with a graded and thematically organized list of instrumental music. Other enhancements could include an annual reading session of such music, the creation of an Internet venue to share the results of their search, and a compendium of biblical and theological references to support and encourage instruments of all kinds in worship.

Bob Wiebe, Winnipeg, Man.

‘A lasting foundation for a vibrant organization’

Re: “MCC revisioning loses connection with people in the pew,” Feb. 21, page 23.

Given the 90-year history of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and people’s staunch ownership of the organization, we realized the path to a renewed MCC would unlikely be straightforward or cheap. Over the years MCC has become exceptionally diverse and complex, and we understood the importance of consulting broadly before implementing change.

Did the revisioning process lose its connection with people in the pew? We don’t think so, but it is a question probably best answered by those in the pew. MCC sought input from a broad sweep of people through public consultations both here and overseas. Comments were welcomed at newwineskins.mcc.org, and still are.

Out of this process came an identity, vision, priorities and values that will inform MCC’s work for years to come. We believe it is a lasting foundation for a vibrant organization that will enable people to do what God calls them to do and be. With the revisioning complete, MCC is now in the process of restructuring to do this ministry better.

Through it all we have sought to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to MCC. Was it money well spent? Yes, we believe it was, but time will tell. Could we have done better? With the clarity of hindsight, we probably could have. But we committed to a complicated journey on a path that wasn’t always clear and that sometimes shifted.

MCC is a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist
churches, a place where those in the pews are connected by God to others around the world. We are deeply grateful for people’s prayers and support as MCC continues to share God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ.

Don Peters, Winnipeg, Man.
Don Peters is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Canada.

Obeying Scripture can add to mental health

Re: “Building up God’s kingdom together,” Jan. 24, page 4.

I would like to add a personal dimension to this integration of science and faith in the healing process, and that is taking seriously how the Scriptures can add to better health.

I may be a bit of a fundamentalist, but it has worked for me. The special pill I found is Psalm 119:93: “I will never forget your commandments, for you have used them to restore my health and joy.”

In the second half of my life’s journey I experienced times of depression and often lacked the joy of living. It seems to have been in the family DNA. Before travelling to Africa in 2007, I had been diagnosed as being bipolar. Upon my return from Africa I was no longer lying under the covers until 11 a.m., but now I am an early riser. Since then I picked up my hard cycling again six days a week and combined it with three segments of 30 push-ups. Lithium had been prescribed to slow me down, which I took reluctantly, but eventually told both of my doctors  of my “joy and health” pill.

I have found it to be most salutary to continue with the “Bible therapy” in keeping with Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Having a good memory, but dreadfully short, the upside of my “Bible therapy” habit is that it helps to keep my thoughts away from greed, envy, lust, worry and despair, and these negatives have been greatly reduced.

Most helpful in my aging has been the assurance from II Corinthians 5:1,2: “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down, we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not with human hands.”

And then the warranty comes from Philippians 3:21: “He will take these weak mortal bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same mighty power that he will use to conquer everything, everywhere.” When aches periodically show up, I thank God for the new non-aching body to come. By faith I can appropriate that prescription, which is not just a lot of hocus pocus.

George H. Epp, Chilliwack, B.C.

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