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June 8, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 12

In search of a ‘relational’ theologian



Thank you very much for your editorial, “Habits of Repair,” May 2, page 2.



Your report of the three-day conference on attachment theory, relationality and the integration of love and spirituality was insightful and provocative. Sue Johnson, whom you refer to as the keynote speaker at the conference, is a Ph.D. graduate of our program in counselling  psychology at the University of B.C. She is doing some interesting work as she continues to elaborate and expand  the theory of relationality and interpersonal interaction.



You refer to these developments as a paradigm shift from an emphasis on the individual to community. In a sense this is correct. Western philosophical thought has developed around the significance of the individual, the self, personal autonomy and self-realization. Theologically, we have followed a similar paradigm. I am delighted that you are recognizing the importance of the development of a relational and interactive paradigm in theology. I have, for years, been in search of a reputable theologian who was willing to commit to a relational theology. I have not been able to find such a theologian.



Perhaps the best work in this area with an emphasis on community has been undertaken by John MacMurray, entitled Persons in Relation, Humanities Press International, 1961, and republished in 1991. Another book of similar perspective is called Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Bantam Books, 2006; it is an important update on a relational psychology, making the case that human beings are “wired to connect.”



My own work, The Alcohol Recovery Project, uses a relational theoretical perspective on the treatment of alcoholics and their families. This 15-year experimental investigation provides significant empirical validation of the effectiveness of a relational theoretical paradigm in the treatment of alcoholism.



John Friesen, Vancouver, B.C.

Hold off on MCC change ‘until we get it right’



My thanks to both Will Braun and Robert J. Suderman for their contribution to the Wineskins process. If nothing else, their sincere but differing perspectives are indicative of the complexity of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the difficult task of reorganization and change.



I have little doubt that there has been considerable consultation over an extended period of time, but I also have no doubt that the consultation was not deliberate enough and had significant omissions. And it is unfortunate that Suderman does not respond adequately to Benner’s editorial, “Congregations too want  ‘new wineskins,’ ” and Braun’s article, “MCC revisioning loses connection with people in the pew.”



More specifically, Vancouver has thousands of Mennonites and yet no church consultation took place here. Why? Similarly, former MCC staff in leadership positions were not consulted. Why? Was consultation a facade or was it real ?



MCC is one of God’s wonderful gifts to the world. Let’s not change it unless—and until—we get it right, even if it means more consultation.



Peter A. Dueck, Vancouver, B.C.

Tour advertisement gives unbalanced view of the Holy Land



Having just returned from Israel/Palestine on a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) learning tour, the Sunworld Tours ad for trips to the Holy Land on page 19 of the April 18 edition caught our eye.



However, by researching the itinerary and company, a person can see this is a very different tour from what we had just experienced. We visited the same moving historical sites that this tour would offer, but in addition visited with Palestinian groups and individuals, even staying in their homes for two nights. We also met with a number of Jewish and Muslim groups and visited the Jewish Holocaust Museum.



Our brothers and sisters in Christ who have lived there for 2,000 years desperately want people to hear their stories and struggles, and many of our organizations and individuals are working to help them. So somehow seeing an advertisement for tours that completely ignore them in a Mennonite publication feels wrong.



We would encourage people to travel to the Holy Land and experience the historical sites for themselves, but to not ignore our fellow Christians there. Perhaps travellers could contact MCC or individuals who have participated in tours that include that perspective.



A tour that includes hearing a variety of perspectives is never easy, but we think that is what Jesus would ask us to do. I don’t think any of us would have traded our experience, painful as it was at times, for a slick tour that ignored the very people Jesus came to serve.



Leon Kehl, Kendra Whitfield Ellis, Mahlon Martin, Floradale, Ont.

The letter writers all attend Floradale Mennonite Church.

Children need to be highly valued by our church



Re: “With sadness and lament,” May 2, page 15.



In the words of Willard Metzger, it is truly with “sadness and lament” that I was notified that Elsie Rempel’s position as director of Christian nurture with Mennonite Church Canada was terminated due to a reduction of expenditures at the national level.



Although I was saddened by the news, I wasn’t completely surprised. Children don’t tend to be highly valued in the church and, especially within Mennonite communities, views of children are ambiguous. We love to see their smiling faces, but we struggle to fund and staff programs and ministries for them.



Yet God has not given up on our children—and neither have Mennonites in Canada. We want the children in our midst to know and love God and follow in the way of Jesus now and for a lifetime.



In Children’s Voices: Children’s Perspectives of Ethics, Theology and Religious Education, esteemed theologian Marcia Bunge notes that there are at least five ways that churches undermine support for parents, children and families. Each of these struggles poses serious challenges to churches, families and children. Yet each one can be remedied—even without a formal Christian nurture director at the helm.



1. Many congregational religious education initiatives offer under-funded and weak programs. Nurturing the faith of children and advocating for children’s ministry must become top priorities so that young people don’t become neglected and lost among other ministries and initiatives.



2. Several churches do not adequately emphasize the role of parents in children’s spiritual formation. Congregations can encourage parents and grandparents to take more active roles in spiritually nurturing their children by providing resources, offering tools and not letting the over-involvement in church programs add to the busyness of family life.



3. Parents tend not to engage their children in discussions about morality, faith and spirituality. Parents need to know that it’s okay not to have all the answers, and to express and share their doubts with children.



4. Young people typically don’t know very much about their faith traditions and struggle to articulate how faith relates to their daily lives. Parents and other caring adults can talk with children about events in the world and in their lives—bullying, competitive sports and violence—bringing insight about faith and the Mennonite way of life to bear on how our faith affects how we live in the church and in the world.



5. Denominations tend not to offer critical theological reflection on issues of children, families and parenting. There needs to be serious theological reflection about what it means to be a child in today’s world. Perhaps parents and ministry leaders can begin small groups focused on discussing issues of childhood, parenting and family from Mennonite perspectives.



With cutbacks at the national level, we must all take on the role of director of Christian nurture wherever we may be, so that children are not left behind. And as we all become directors of Christian nurture in the lives of young people in our families and communities, we will discover that they, in turn, become directors of Christian nurture in our lives.



David M. Csinos, Toronto, Ont.

Mennonites should lament recent federal election results



Re: “A political lament,” May 16, page 2.



Thanks for the excellent and insightful editorial. Yes, our peace witness has gone silent when the Mennonite support for Conservatives—especially in ridings in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario—contradicts any commitment to our confession of Christian faith.



How can we vote for a party on a Monday (election day) that promises stealth aircraft and expansion of punitive and retributive justice, and rewards cabinet ministers who lie, when on Sunday we give our offerings to promote peace, support restorative justice and emphasize truth-telling.



In no Canadian federal election has there been such a disjunction between a political party and its policies, and our commitment to the example and life of Jesus.



Vern Ratzlaff, Saskatoon, Sask.

Mennonites still confused about ‘priesthood of all believers’



Re: “What about the young people?”, May 2, page 13.



As a young person in the church, the question of how to be involved in the church is important to me. I agree with Melanie Kampen that young people shouldn’t be treated separately from the rest of the church. We, the young, are constantly delegated to be the “church of the future,” but we would much rather be acknowledged as part of the church of today. If we aren’t being called today, then why should we stick around till tomorrow?



As a fellow member of today’s church, I want to question her assumption that “Mennonites practise a priesthood of all believers.” She assumes that we do practise some priesthood of all believers, and also that we have a common understanding of what this priesthood means for us and our practices. We have no such thing!



As letter writer Bruce Hiebert pointed out, the priesthood of all believers was originally a Lutheran theology, not a particularly Mennonite one (April 18, page 12). Menno Simons briefly referred to it to encourage a holy, set-apart lifestyle for believers, not to say that all Christians should share the responsibilities of ordained leaders. What meaning does “priesthood” hold today for Anabaptists that we should be using this phrase to describe our practices together?



I’m excited by theology that empowers all believers—especially young believers—to share in the ministry of the church. But please do not use the phrase “priesthood of all believers” to argue that any and all believers should be doing the jobs that our leaders have been intentionally trained and ordained to do. If we can’t explain what priesthood means to us, don’t even use it at all.



Michael Turman, Waterloo, Ont.

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