Readers write

May 8, 2013 | Viewpoints

Where does the problem lie: With the people or the path?

Re: “Sex reserved for heterosexual marriage partners” letter, April 1, page 10.

I am responding to Ernie Reesor, who wrote that sex is reserved for heterosexual partners within a marriage relationship. And he says that when people fail, as they inevitably do, this is where confession and repentance come in.

My question is this: If people try to follow a certain path and inevitably fail, is it not appropriate to wonder whether the problem is with the people or the path? It isn’t obvious, is it, that it is definitely one or the other?

David Wiebe, Winnipeg
David Wiebe is a member of Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship, Winnipeg.

With God there is no ‘stupid time’

Re: “Love your office administrator,” April 1, page 22.

Having spent many years working within Mennonite organizations as a fellow office administrator, I felt called to share my opinion about the comment made by one of the administrators interviewed. When asked what she most dislikes about her job, she replied, “My dislike is going through the sanctuary and sharpening pencils, arranging hymnals, making sure every pew has the right number of hymnals. . . . It’s stupid time.”

I am the first to admit that the pleasure I find in handling these tasks of orderliness is greater than it is for most. It is a personality trait that not everyone possesses or appreciates. However, I am surprised when others do not work at finding joy and fulfilment in every assignment they are entrusted to carry out. That the sentence, “It’s stupid time,” was used saddens me, knowing that such a duty is viewed this way.

But I was also moved to an uncomfortable disappointment that the writer chose to include those three words in the article. Surely, the quote could have ended without them. I am most fearful that this otherwise worthy article has brought offence to all others who take on such jobs with attentiveness and a sense of pride. I would never have considered these little things to be deemed unworthy or mindless. It takes a keen eye of thoroughness and diligence. It also takes a humble servant to find meaning in all of his or her varied duties.

So, to everyone who arranges hymnals and sharpens pencils, or completes any other less noticed, underappreciated chore, I applaud you and thank you for all that you do with all your heart, soul and mind!

Laurie Yantzi , New Hamburg, Ont.

Church needs to ‘balance’ Palestinian, Israeli interests

Re: “No business trying to be ‘balanced’,” March 18, page 13.

This column has given me cause for concern. While I fully agree that the situation in Palestine is dire, and that deep and honest changes need to occur, it is my conviction that the Mennonite church is doing more harm than good.

There is sincere peace work happening on both sides of the wall. There are believers in Jesus the Messiah who are Jewish Israeli citizens, and they have done a great deal of work connecting with Palestinian Christians—and vice versa. But the article asked us to choose the side of our “Christian brothers and sisters.” Let me echo that plea and remind you all that those brothers and sisters aren’t only Arab.

There are believing Jews, too. If you don’t believe me, please consider initiatives like Musalaha, or even the book Meet Me at the Olive Tree by Julia Fisher. Messianic Jews are sharing with Arab Christians, and it is making a difference. It is sowing the seeds of real peace. Reconciliation is happening, but we aren’t a part of it.

It grieved me to be treated with suspicion by Messianic Jews during my time in Israel because I am a Mennonite from Canada. Canadian Mennonites have gone as far as refusing to pray with these brothers and sisters out of solidarity with Palestinian “friends.” We make the wedge deeper.

My friend Usama in Bethlehem calls the Israelis his “friends in waiting.” He has been abducted and beaten by them. He suffers with the checkpoints. He chooses love. He does not call the Israelis “uncaring of God and human rights,” as Ray Friesen suggests in his column. Tell me, which is the peace witness? Tell me, what is “on the side of God”?

Our intervention stands in the way of peace because, instead of breaking down barriers, we reinforce the barriers which already exist. Many Palestinians want to be Israeli citizens. Surprising?

We have to believe that peace and reconciliation are possible, even if we dislike one of the parties involved. So long as our witness is adversarial, we make the work of organizations like Wi’am more difficult by stirring tensions and creating further animosity.

So long as our witness is adversarial, we have no authority to declare “God’s side.” God is not on a side. In his eyes, every Hamas militant, every Israeli Defence Force soldier, every Palestinian mother and every Israeli son is absolutely and entirely precious.

Chad Doell, Rabbit Lake, Sask.
Chad Doell is pastor of the Hoffnungsfelder Mennonite Churches.

Homosexuality . . . ‘a reflection of the natural world’

Re: "Let’s talk about it,” Feb. 4 page 34.

Black and white, that seems to be the theme in this article. Thank God, our world continues to evolve. I believe it pleases God when two women or two men show their love and affection for one another, and choose to commit themselves to one another in the same as any heterosexual union.

Hopefully, our relationship with God is as intimate and committed as many homosexual relationships. I believe homosexuality is not a choice, but is definitely a reflection of the natural world. I’m sure we’ll all agree our natural world is quite complex and there are many unanswered questions.

John Gascho, Warman, Sask.

Christians need both Scripture and the Spirit

Re: “The ‘Age of Spirit,’ ” April 1, page 17.

I appreciated Troy Watson’s encouragement to grow as people attuned to and led by the Holy Spirit. If we Christians neglect its crucial role in our lives, we cut ourselves off from Christ’s gift to the church. We absolutely must be people of the Spirit!

However, by implicitly separating Scripture from the Holy Spirit, what Watson has given us is a dangerously false choice.

There are a number of things that I found ironic about his argument:

  • First, he uses Bible passages to support his admonition to de-emphasize the Bible. It strikes me that he would not know about God’s plan in sending the Spirit—or the salvation of Jesus, or a great number of other things—if it were not for the very Scriptures he downplays.
  • Second, in a time when the Mennonite church is ailing and widespread biblical illiteracy is often noted, we have leaders encouraging us to turn away from the Bible in a search for renewal. In my view, this takes us further down the path of decline, not health.
  • Third, Watson’s language about the “Age of Belief” and the “Age of Spirit” is the language of Dispensationalism, which is a view that has led to some quite erratic and dangerous out-workings. Not that he wants to take us there, but movements that have emphasized the Spirit and disregarded biblical discernment have been attempted before, and they did not fare well.

We need not separate Scripture and Spirit, and emphasizing one in isolation from the other will do us no good. After all, if we believe the Bible is inspired, then the Spirit is behind the text, and it could not transform us without the Spirit’s work.

So let us be people of the Spirit, inflamed by God’s empowering presence within us, and let us also be people of the Bible, shaped and formed by God’s salvation narrative, and submitted to its teaching! We desperately need to be both!

Craig Thiessen, Vancouver

Hard to separate the Spirit from Scripture

Re: “The ‘Age of ‘Spirit,’ ” April 1, page 17.

I thank Troy Watson for sharing his quest and perspectives. He has offered our Sunday School class thoughts for discussion and, yes, debate.

I suspect that Harvey Cox’s church history (The Future of Faith) is misleading. During Cox’s “Age of Faith,” the “focus on following the way of Jesus” was, in fact, the result of “believing certain things,” namely, that Jesus had been raised from death and ascended to heaven. Their experience of Pentecost helped them to act out their new convictions.

Despite Watson’s care of word choice, I cannot separate as distinctly the role of Scripture from the role of the Holy Spirit, nor God’s self-giving to humanity during Jesus’ death on the cross, his resurrection and the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for all of these crucial events. The apostles highlighted them all. Can we give priority to any one of them?

At one point, Jesus scolded the religious teachers, telling them that the Scriptures spoke of him, but they didn’t recognize it. Later, he taught his disciples that the Holy Spirit will honour him and help them to remember and do what he taught them.

Historically, Christians have believed that the only reliable documentations of the triune God’s interaction with humanity are recorded in Scripture. This becomes the “gold standard” against which all other utterances, actions or documentations, past and present, are to be tested. It is in Scripture that the character and role of the Holy Spirit are defined, and it is there that we receive criteria by which to identify the Spirit’s presence (I John 3:24f; Matthew 5:17-20 and 7:15-16; John 16:13-14; and Galatians 5:16,22).

Any claims of “being led by the Spirit” must be held suspect unless they demonstrate honour to God; conform to the character, actions and teachings of Jesus; and receive the confirmed support of other godly people. “Spiritual gifts” or insights are never used for the recipient’s glory.

Ivan Unger, Cambridge, Ont.

Don’t reduce Canadian Mennonite to sermons, success stories

Re: April 1 issue.

With some concern I read the last Canadian Mennonite. If I understood correctly from the editorial (“Whose voice are we?” page 2), there is a tendency of certain groups of individuals to assert pressure or try indirectly to control the publication of certain contributions to the paper. I will hold you up in my prayers.

I think our periodical would lose much of its purpose if the content would be reduced to only sermons, success stories about conference and missionary work, admonitions and model life stories. As important as they may be for the growth of our faith, they would be more effective if presented from the pulpit.

I value the thought-provoking introductory editorials and the variety of topics in each issue. I am interested to find out what Mennonites in the world are experiencing, like the information about the church in Ethiopia.

I find the series about positive biblical critique very helpful, especially the well-researched and honest articles by Troy Watson about how to read, interpret and apply the Scripture meaningfully to our life in the postmodern shift.

Among others, I find the refreshing articles by Will Braun about present-day issues in politics and the environment, modest living and sharing, very challenging.

I sometimes contemplate on contributions from readers. I respect them, but enjoy the freedom to disagree with their opinions, and otherwise feel confirmed and strengthened in my faith if others have come to the same conclusions as I have.

Helmut Lemke, Burnaby, B.C.

Reader ‘grateful’ for current direction of magazine

I want to express my appreciation for Canadian Mennonite.

Over a period of several years I have found it to be a magazine that is informative, challenging and spiritually enriching. There are a variety of topics in each issue that I find interesting and stimulating.

Do I always agree with the writer? Of course not! How boring that would be if everyone thought as I do! None of us would have anything to talk about. However, the fact that I disagree means that I must think about my faith, my beliefs and those of the writer.

The questions at the end of each lead article are thought-provoking and worthy of discussion. I also value the Young Voices opinions. What a breath of fresh air to read ideas from committed young people! It gives me hope for the future of the church.

Dick Benner has played a significant role in steering the magazine in a direction that is of value and importance to us all, and for that I am truly grateful.

Barbara Cook, Waterloo, Ont.

We need to live ‘from the inside out’

It was a March blizzard in Nebraska when I looked for a motel to ride out the storm. On the motel registration, I indicated that I was “representing the Mennonite church.” The clerk looked at the form, looked at my face and said, “Where is your beard if you are Mennonite?”

Travelling in parts of Canada and the U.S. one gets the impression from the tourist brochures and billboards that all Mennonite transportation is by horse and buggy, and that this defines “Mennonite.”

The dean of a Baptist seminary in South Dakota was preaching in a Mennonite church that was conducting a pastoral search. According to the dean, the question he faced most often from his friends was, “Where are your bib overalls?”

All three items deal with external images that focus on a small part of life and thus miss the meaning of what makes a real Mennonite/Anabaptist. In The Naked Anabaptist, author Stuart Murray, who is not a Mennonite, tries to get beyond the superficial images to discover the heart and core of the Anabaptist.

Images are often helpful to assist us in understanding an otherwise difficult subject. But images are not without risk. They may limit us to one or two basics while excluding one or more others which are equally or more important.

Images invariably focus on one dimension of a subject; thus, the image of a beard overlooks the real person. The popular tourist image of the Amish demonstrates this reality, especially in the case of the West Nickel Mines, Pa., disaster; news media, with their focus on beards and buggies, were totally confused by the reality of the Amish power to forgive.

Whenever we settle for images, we are at risk of putting individuals in a box or of putting the focus on externals. Both are less than helpful when it comes to understanding, because images have the power to control our minds, our thinking and our relationships.

The challenge is to live beyond images, labels and stereotypes, to get to the heart attitude and commitment. The Amish are about more than beards and buggies, conservative Mennonites are about more than bib overalls, and, hopefully, evangelicals are about more than cheap grace.

Beyond popular images and labels, the Jesus of the gospels calls all of us to a life of discipleship, a life that is lived from the inside out.

Bernie Loeppky, Winkler, Man.

Canadian Council of Churches welcomes Office of Religious Freedom

(The following letter was originally sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.)

Congratulations on the establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom and the appointment of Andrew Bennett as ambassador.

The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) welcomes and looks forward to cooperating with the Office of Religious Freedom in its stated mandate to protect and advocate on behalf of religious minorities under threat, opposing religious hatred and intolerance, and promoting pluralism abroad.

We represent 25 member churches from Anglican, Eastern and Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Free Church, Historic Protestant, and Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christian traditions. Together, these churches work for greater unity and a more faithful and just Canada. (Mennonite Church Canada is a CCC member.)

The CCC has been promoting and exercising freedom of religion and conscience for nearly 70 years now. The CCC works closely with representative bodies of other faith communities in Canada. This includes cooperation through the Canadian Interfaith Conversation, whose charter vision is to be an advocate for religion in a pluralistic society and in Canadian public life, promoting harmony and spiritual insight among religions and religious communities in Canada, strengthening our society’s moral foundations, and working for greater realization of the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion for the sake of the common good and an engaged citizenship.

We believe that our depth, breadth and expertise make us a very important component of future consultations and announcements regarding the Office of Religious Freedom.

Please be assured of our continued prayers as you work for the common good and justice for all in Canada.

The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, Toronto
Karen Hamilton is general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches.

St. Francis of Assisi was a Mennonite

Re: “Mennonites respond to election of Pope Francis,” April 15, page 17.

I want to tell you about our amazing encounter with St. Francis of Assisi in our home just a few days ago.

Our theatrically creative son, who happens to have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and is intellectually challenged, has absorbed as much as possible about the new Pope Francis. He now understands a lot about the life of Priest Jorge and other Jesuits, with their devotion to Jesus through a life of poverty, chastity and service. We were not too surprised when Pope Francis, Priest Jorge and St. Francis all became part of our son’s growing cast of characters for the many plays presented in our family room. We have discouraged the role of Jesus, though.

The other night we were blessed by an amazing production about the life of Priest Jorge before he became Pope Francis. Priest Jorge was the pastor of an imaginary Catholic/Mennonite Church. I almost fell off my chair.

The play was truly inspirational and was more about St. Francis than the other two characters. It recognized that St. Francis, many years ago, exemplified Christian/Mennonite ideals: “For it is in giving that we receive.” And I thought Menno Simons wrote, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me show love,” but this was also written by St. Francis.

My prayer for our church, and all churches, is that the teachings and life of St. Francis become more relevant in our lives. After all, as the saint has said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”

Peter A. Dueck, Vancouver

Service and evangelism go hand-in-hand

I was a guest at the annual general meeting of Mennonite Church Alberta held earlier this year in Calgary.

I’m trying to familiarize myself with what is going on in the Mennonite church after 45 years of absence. Many things have changed during this time, mostly for the better, in my opinion.

I noticed one issue that still seems to get people going: whether service or evangelism is the best way to witness to our surrounding world. This has been a divisive issue among Mennonites for a long time. I never could understand why. Aren’t they closely intertwined?

A great example of this, inadvertently, unfolded before our eyes at the meeting. A person from MC Canada gave a report of the past year, finishing with what sounded like a kind of criticism that Mennonites are becoming known for good service and weak evangelism.

About an hour later, a person from an Edmonton church gave his report. He said a high point in the year was establishing a relationship with a group of immigrants from South Sudan who were searching for some kind of fellowship with others in Edmonton. They were going to approach either the United Church or the Mennonites. They decided to approach the Mennonites first because some of them had had positive experiences at the Mennonite Centre for Refugees in Edmonton, a community-service agency focusing on helping newcomers acclimate to Canadian life. The result of this engagement was that there is now a thriving Sudanese Mennonite church in Edmonton.

It seems a fine example of how intimately service and evangelism are tied together.

Richard Penner, Calgary

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