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April 27, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 9

Call on whatever God you worship for comfort when grieving

I was interested in “A heart for grieving people,” March 7, page 22, which featured Hank Friesen in his role as an assistant funeral director in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley.

For 45 years I have had the privilege to be a licensed funeral director in Waterloo, Ont., employing many part-time funeral directors assistants who are often retired and bring an enormous amount of life experiences to assist in serving families.

My involvement in funeral service has taught me that death is the great equalizer; it has no boundaries on who we are or who we worship. Our ethnic traditions and personal lifestyle often determine how we grieve: some in solitude, others surrounded by countless family members and friends, and others steeped in ethnic tradition.

During those 45 years I have walked on holy and sacred ground with thousands of families from all faith traditions. Those walks have strengthened my Anabaptist beliefs; however, they have also helped me to recognize that regardless of the faith traditions of the families we serve, we are equal in the common pain of grief, equal in a need to grieve in meaningful ways, and equal in calling on the God we worship for comfort.  

For those of us involved in funeral service, we need to recognize that all families we serve—regardless of faith or ethnicity—grieve, find hope and live out their faith in traditions that deserve our respect and acknowledgment that we are all children of  God.

Jim Erb, Waterloo, Ont.

New West Coast group resonates with ‘upside-down wisdom’

Thank you to Troy Watson for his thought-provoking article, “Upside-down wisdom,” March 7, page 17.

It is easy to think that we are more capable of knowing what God is doing in the world than Jesus’ first disciples, and it is always a good reminder that so often “our assumptions and expectations hinder us,” as Watson says.

It is particularly exciting to learn of the author’s Mennonite community, “The Quest,” a community of faith that sounds similar to a new (ad)venture underway in the east side of Vancouver, British Columbia. Supported by Langley Mennonite Fellowship, the new  group is seeking to be faithful followers of an unpredictable and surprising God in this highly secular, urban context.

While we are firmly rooted in the Anabaptist tradition, we are also, in some ways, outside of the traditional Mennonite “box,” believing with Watson that “upside-down wisdom” is precisely the sort of wisdom the church needs to witness to God in an ever-increasingly diverse and postmodern Canada. 

At this point, we are still very small, with 10 to 20 on a given Sunday, but hope to grow as we find others in Vancouver who are looking for an adventure in faith and community such as ours.  To learn more, please feel free to contact us at either or, and come by for a potluck and worship some time.

Anita Fast, Vancouver. B.C.
Henry Krause, Langley, B.C.

Good surprises abound at Sam’s Place

During the past three years I have been involved as a volunteer at Sam’s Place in Winnipeg, Man., and at a local MCC thrift shop working in the book department.

Perhaps a more careful reading of the Feb. 7 “A new direction for Sam’s Place” article on page 19, would have helped to dispel the surprise experienced by letter writer Jim Suderman (“Visit to Sam’s Place leaves customer ‘surprised,’ ” March 21, page 12).

Especially the paragraph which reads: “ ‘It is our hope that Sam’s Place will generate enough funds to cover its costs and eventually have profits that will be donated to MCC, but it is not just about making money for MCC,’ Reimer stresses. ‘Sam’s Place is developing into a hybrid social enterprise that blends community benefits and income generation.’ ”

We are surprised at the unexpected. Hope speaks to expectations for the future. Sam’s Place is a work-in-progress. Should we be surprised that it is still “on the road,” not having reached its goal as of yet?

A hybrid incorporates into itself selected features and qualities of each of the “parent groups” brought together in this hybrid. Sam’s Place is not a thrift shop, some of which give away all Bibles free of charge. Neither is it a purely commercial venture where Bibles can sell for three or four time the price of an “experienced” Bible. Sam’s Place is not a Tim Horton’s drive-through where speed of service is combined with a hasty exit by the customer to make way for the next one. Hasty service, yes; but don’t rush! Should we be surprised?

The book store is run by volunteers. Of the thousands of books on the shelves, I personally would be extremely surprised if I did not find one which is dated and therefore irrelevant. If you expect perfection—surprise! We, as volunteers, are human and subject to making mistakes.

Are you interested in going to Sam’s Place? Then expect to find a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Expect to find some limitations in the things available. This is not simply another thrift shop, nor is it only a commercial enterprise. You might be surprised at the success with which Sam’s Place has accomplished its stated purpose.

Martin Penner, Winnipeg, Man.

Book provides insight in resisting conscription

Re: “New book examines pacifism and nationalism in Prussia,” March 21, page 31. A few of us here in Winnipeg have been wondering how to anticipate a possible return of conscription. Mark Jantzen’s study, Mennonite German Soldiers, may help us.

Whether Mennonites in any country of the world can sustain a credible stance of Christian peace over the long haul remains to be seen. A basic Mennonite commitment to contribute towards wholesome community building easily conflicts with participating in defence of the nation. Thus, military exemption could be implemented as the result of special immigration privileges made with recipient governments whose habitats were sought, including in Poland, Russia, the U.S., Canada and several Latin American nations. Then, as the social pressures around us mounted, those privileges often fizzled. It was then that Mennonites frequently emigrated; thereby, an enduring peace stance was exempted from long-range testing.

“When it comes to join the army,” my non-Mennonite classmate in a B.C. public school once told me, “you Mennonites run for cover. Why don’t you pull your share? Why not join up and fight like the rest of us do?” he asked.

Jantzen’s findings in Poland have a way of mirroring back the possibility of a new wave of conscription, even in Canada. If conscription returns, we will again face pressures from the encompassing society to join up. Perhaps now, before the momentum carries us away, we should assess where the increasingly patriotic peace church, now increasingly lured by patriot disposition, is at.

Menno Wiebe, Winnipeg, Man.

R2P panellist clarifies statement

The “Dreaming of a world without war” article, April 4, page 26, helpfully points to the difficulties in determining how vulnerable citizens in affected countries may interpret an international intervention under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine. Some of those directly affected may be desperately calling for this protection, while others may see it as an imposition by outsiders under false pretences.

The article is drawn from a panel discussion at the “Partnering for Change” forum in Winnipeg, Man., March 17-19. While the article captures the flavour of the panel discussion, there is a quotation attributed to me that I do not recall making in this way: “When UN countries send military armies to intervene, ‘we’re killers,’ Siebert said. ‘We’re killers rather than fighters.’ ”

I may not have been as clear on this point as I should have been. What I wanted to convey about killers versus fighters has to do with the circumstances being considered when R2P was formulated. The doctrine was proposed in response to situations such as Rwanda, where “killers” from the community were committing atrocities, rather than organized “fighters” from a government military or a rebel force. Where the government is unwilling or unable to protect, it was foreseen that an intervening military force sanctioned by the UN under R2P principles would interpose itself between the killers and those being killed, much like a police force would intervene to stop any crime in a community.

The intervening UN-sanctioned military force is faced with a much more difficult situation on the ground when organized military or opposition “fighters” are engaged in committing the atrocities. How does the intervening military force, adhering to R2P principles, primarily protect civilians in the face of an organized fighting force while not supporting one side or the other in an armed conflict?

This is the dilemma of the international Libya mission that literally started while our panel was sitting in Winnipeg in mid-March.

John Siebert, Waterloo, Ont.
John Siebert is executive director of Project Ploughshares.

MCC calls for sustainable peace in North Africa, Middle East

The following is an open letter to Mennonite and Brethren in Christ church members in Canada and the U.S. from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada and MCC U.S.

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11).

At this time of great change in North Africa and the Middle East, MCC applauds the courage of those who are speaking out for basic rights and working for more just societies in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.

We lament the suffering of all people and are dismayed by the actions of governments that disregard the rights of their own people. We share the concern, stated by numerous governments, the Arab League and the United Nations, of protecting civilians at risk of harm.

However, the history of military interventions, even those carried out for “humanitarian purposes,” or because of a “Responsibility to Protect,” has shown that there are very often unintended consequences. Thus, we have serious concerns about the current UN mission in Libya, and we cannot support the use of our countries’ militaries to purportedly bring peace.

In our experience as Christian peacebuilders, it is only nonviolent actions that provide the critical impetus for long-term, sustainable peace. Peace that endures also requires a just society in which basic rights are respected and human needs are met.

Jesus said that those who work for peace will be blessed and will be considered children of God (Matthew 5:9). The Scriptures are clear about God’s displeasure with those who claim to have achieved “peace” in the midst of unjust circumstances (Jeremiah 6:13-15).

Therefore, we call on all church members to pray for peace, and encourage them to engage and discuss these important issues in their congregations and communities, and with their government. Our hope is that these conversations will promote peace and understanding with one another, as well as around the world.

Don Peters, Winnipeg, Man.
J. Ron Byler, Akron, Pa.
Don Peters is executive director of MCC Canada and
J. Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S.

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