Readers write

July 4, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 14

MCC must now compete for CIDA grant money

Re: “Mennonites can serve Jesus Christ . . . or Stephen Harper” letter, May 28, page 8.

I must admit that I was a bit disturbed by the tone of Walter Quiring’s letter regarding the actions of our Canadian government. It sounded more like American evangelists Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.

I was always under the impression that it was a strong Mennonite tradition to separate church and state. We are fortunate enough to live in a free democracy, where each of us has a regular chance to confidentially exercise our national voting right. Leveraging our equally important right to freely practise our religion for some political agenda is definitely a slippery slope that should be avoided.

Regarding the Canadian government support of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) programs, I checked with some MCC people I know, and they indicated some programs, like in Haiti, continue to be well supported by our national government. There are others where government support has been withdrawn because a number of changes have been made in the way it operates and approves grants. These grants are now approved through a competitive process, meaning not all applications submitted to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) are approved. MCC indicated its plan to meet with CIDA in order to make future applications for this kind of aid more in line with new guidelines, thus making them more competitive.

I know from personal experience that Mennonites have an excellent reputation worldwide for quiet but strong meaningful action, and I’m sure that will continue. Like many wise people have said before, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Richard Penner, Calgary

No place for religious systems of exclusion and division

“The entire history of man is war,” the speaker told us, “conflict driven by racial, religious and territorial ambition.” He sounded regretful, as if he wished it could be otherwise, but knew it was foolish and negligent to trust any force other than violence for the common good. As he went on, outlining the dangers of Islamic immigration to western countries, he branded those who disagreed with his analysis as “naïve,” even “traitors.” I saw that most of the crowd agreed.

Waging Peace, the MennoMedia DVD, is one example of telling a different story. This film, which I watched at another event exploring the Muslim presence in North America, shows diverse communities in North America reaching outside their comfort zones with joint programs of learning, peacebuilding and fun. The film examines projects as varied as quilting, summer camps and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) as places to confront the idea that Christianity and Islam are bitter, implacable enemies, and crafts an alternative.

The Waging Peace screening featured speakers from both Muslim and Christian communities, promoting respect, instead of hostility, as a starting point. Participants came prepared to listen and learn without any one voice needing to be in control of the dialogue, while at the first event there was no room for opinions beyond the speaker’s message. That message was exclusion, and anticipation of a bleak future of violence and suspicion towards anything defined as “different.” By contrast, the vision that rose out of Waging Peace and the discussion around it opened up possibilities of peaceful coexistence and celebration of difference.

Following the film and discussion, I found my conviction to build peace through partnerships strengthened. It was not a “light” feeling, like optimism, but a realization that this work was hard, necessary and part of God’s plan for creation. In response to those who put their faith in systems of exclusion and division, I remember CPT’s vision statement—“Building partnerships to transform violence and oppression”—and commit to this process.

Peter Haresnape, Toronto

Teaching—not DNA—the reason for Mennonite worship practices

Re: “Intimate worship part of Mennonite DNA” letter, June 11, page 8.

Metaphors have the habit, if repeated often enough, of being confused with reality. The “it’s part of our DNA” metaphor has been introduced to explain the intimate form of worship associated with most Mennonite congregations. I have no problem with this as long everyone understands that it is only a metaphor. But Richard Penner takes it a step further and states it as a truth.

This cannot be so. Let me explain:

  1. DNA, in solid form, is a crystal molecule containing the elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus, and is of interest to no one except perhaps a first-year physical chemistry student.
  2. Put DNA in the aquatic environment of a cell with its assorted organelles and enzymes, and it becomes the most interesting molecule because its sequence of nitrogen bases provides coded information. This coded information is used to manufacture RNA, which, in turn, is used to manufacture proteins that are essential for the structure and functioning of the cell and the organism.
  3. Note that the flow of information is always from DNA to RNA to protein. The reverse flow of information has been rarely documented, and only in micro-organisms. Trying to introduce the flow of cultural information to DNA presents even greater problems, especially in a timeframe of less than 500 years.
  4. Surely, the norms announced by Moses and Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, are the products of reason. Once adopted and interpreted, these norms become part of a cultural tradition—such as the Anabaptist—that can only be transmitted from one generation to the next by teaching.

To conclude: If one wants an account of how Anabaptist/Mennonite beliefs and practices are passed on, and become part of tradition, disciplines such as education, psychology, sociology and cultural anthropology will provide better and more fruitful explanations. Reference to DNA need not be part of the explanation.

Edward Bergen, Toronto

Becoming the men ‘we might become’

When Doug Klassen, author of “Shifting male roles,” May 28, page 4, was pastor-in-residence at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), Winnipeg, I was teaching a unit on “Men and masculinities” in a course called “Gender and politics.” From the conversations that Klassen was leading, students brought questions into dialogue with the materials we were considering in class.

Reflecting on such challenges is precisely what takes place at universities such as CMU, where we are learning together—men and women, youths, adults and elders—not only what we might do, but also who we might become.

I found that students in my course were challenged by more and more complex images of contemporary masculinity. The types of men most in our view were neither the overweight bumbling buffoon nor the over-muscled fighter/warrior that Klassen identified from popular culture.

Instead, we considered Ryan Bingham in the 2009 film Up in the Air, among others. Played by George Clooney, Bingham is a handsome, highly successful professional. He flies a half-million kilometres a year, trades on his elite status, lives out of a suitcase, and fires people on behalf of their employers. This image of success values egocentrism, conditional loyalties and a diminished sense of responsibility to others, as well as hedonism, individualism and competition.

Bingham is successful in terms of financial wealth, status and career competence, and yet is isolated, almost completely cut off from human connection. This is the crux of 21st-century gender roles for men and for women. How might financial security and meaningful relationships be integrated? Our thinking and conversation need to include images of the work-lives that can embrace and integrate material wealth and relationships.

I want to affirm the importance of the challenging issues that Klassen raises in his article for the men we are, the men we love, and the men-yet-to-be whom we wish to encourage. Many images and role models in popular culture remain so dominant as to be almost invisible, making them hard to scrutinize and question. It is harder still to present alternatives.

Doug helpfully points to multiple models for the many ways in which it is possible to “be a man.” However, without models of work and livelihoods linked to gender roles and relationships, biblical examples will not be as helpful as they might be. To see Paul or David or Elijah as alternatives to “successes” such as Bingham, we need to see how they model material success and sustainable work, as well as living in connection with others. We need to see how Jesus exemplifies work that provides sustenance as well as builds meaningful relationships.

Jon Sears, Winnipeg
Jon Sears teaches at Menno Simons College and Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg.

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