Countering intuition

June 1, 2023 | Editorial | Volume 27 Issue 11
Will Braun | Editor

I’m not certain this is a good idea, but I’m going to tell you about four things in this issue of the magazine that don’t sit well with me. If that seems counterintuitive to you, it does to me too. Some intuitions are worth countering.

I’ll circle round at the end to dial back the tension.

First, I feel uneasy about articles written in a way that might sideline readers who do not share the “progressive” assumptions of the writer. Josiah Neufeld’s feature feels too much like this to me, though he does mention the Wet’suwet’en leaders who want activists to butt out. Writing that overlooks non-“progressive” readers is not uncommon in these pages. It feels like a missed opportunity.

Second, in the Readers Write section, Harold Jantz, a Mennonite Brethren elder, questions the value of focusing on the Doctrine of Discovery as a road to improved Indigenous futures. He says immigration to this continent would have happened even without any doctrine per se, and technological advantage rather than a sense of superiority allowed settlers to “flourish.” I don’t argue these points but I feel his argument avoids the ways in which the doctrine impedes change.

Thirdly, in the From Our Leaders column, William Loewen writes about how he moved from thinking that neutrality was godly to believing that “God hates neutrality.” He says, “Jesus chooses sides.”

Though I’ve spent much of my life taking sides, I resist the urge to be that categorical. I worry about the ways I see Mennonites drifting in that direction. Many of the best change makers did something more nuanced than declaring a side. Jesus chooses sides but he also sides with a tax collector and a Roman centurion.

Finally, Mennonite Church Canada’s announcement of funding for energy efficiency improvements to church buildings leaves me wondering if we should celebrate this initiative or lament that it has taken us 15 to 20 years to catch up with government and utility actions. And I must acknowledge those among us who do not believe climate should be a church priority, like the respected church member who recently sent me an article critiquing Al Gore’s climate work.

Parenthetically, I also struggle with the notion of buying french fries and tea balls to address global hunger (see the relief sale news item on page 23), but I surely would have purchased a tea ball or two if I had been at the sale so I’ll let that one rest.

Ironically—here’s the turn—the items that do not sit well with me also contain some of the nuggets I value most. Neufeld’s finely crafted piece provides an intimate glimpse of his quest for meaning in a world that seems headed off the rails.

“I want to know how to pray,” he writes. The images he then weaves—from a front-yard family ritual to a pipeline hymn based on the Song of Mary—paint a picture of spirit.

Jantz’s letter raises important, though rarely mentioned, questions about the role of European/Western technology in cross-cultural interactions. Western tech has both overpowered and seduced people around the world, past and present, Mennonites included. He also implicitly challenges us to not wallow abstractly in our shortcomings when we might do as well to support on-the-ground Indigenous initiatives.

As for Loewen’s piece about the idol of neutrality, it forces me to think further about how to stand with the oppressed while still loving enemies, seeking the light of Christ in all and maintaining relationships with a broad range of people. I appreciate Loewen writing about his own journey with vulnerability and specificity.

Finally, in the article about the MC Canada energy efficiency grants, MC Canada’s Doug Klassen says that the climate crisis is at its heart a matter of spirit. I’m glad when the church can bring perspectives distinct from secular thinkers. Then Klassen challenges churches to take seriously the views of youth when making decisions about climate response. My kids would agree.

My intuition is to turn away from people who say things that bug me. My intuition is to lump people into simple categories of good and bad, but rose bushes have thorns, the rainbow follows the storm and the body has many parts.

So grab a tea ball and read on.

Is it counter-Mennonite to mention awards we have won? What if we just mention them near the back of the magazine? 

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An insightful editorial. I think the Canadian Mennonite is spot on when it makes everyone uncomfortable in some way because it is reflecting the diversity that exists in our congregations across the country. Discomfort is part of the process of really listening. Thanks to the team who puts Canadian Mennonite together, I really appreciate your ministry/vocation/job, however you want to define it.

Seems odd to make the opening editorial in an issue a manual for ways to read the contents.

That aside, there is much in recent issues that "doesn't sit well with me," the most glaring being the spread on the "Women Talking" movie which made much of the Mennonite connections and nothing of cultural appropriation, then followed up later with a tenuously-connected-to-Mennonites string quartet's contribution to one song on a rock band's album. On the positive side, the one article had a really nice picture of a barn and I love string quartets. To me, the articles projected low self-esteem along with a "look what we Mennonites can do" compensation, like David Toews shaking King George V's hand.

I'm also a bit bothered that the references to "progressives" and "non-progressives" is creeping into our dialogue. That we should borrow political jargon (largely phony and generally used pejoratively in that sphere) to characterize brothers and sisters in our churches seems inappropriate to me, and conducive for arguing character instead of negotiating issues.

Anyway, I know the production of a periodical is very challenging, and I thank you for the work you do. Please take the above as a reaction to content, not a reflection on your staff. My opinions may well represent a minority.

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