Adjusting to ‘no longer being dominant’
In his “Is the ban back?” editorial in the March 13 issue, Will Braun encourages readers to “ask Mennonite professors, pastors, students and magazine editors if progressive backlash keeps them from voicing questions they consider important.”
I thought I would go on the record stating that I have only ever received backlash for attempting to talk about issues regarded as “too progressive.”
Even in addressing relatively diverse groups, I still have to think very carefully, and cautiously, about articulating what I consider a biblical understanding of wealth, class and suffering.
I accept that cultural swings bring new or unanticipated challenges, and that harmful aspects of human nature are depressingly durable. There are real questions and ambiguities in the current landscape of “dialogue” and, of course, mistakes will be made. However, the idea that we should consider these new challenges as a greater, or even equal, harm than what are increasingly rose-coloured images of the past seems absurd.
With precious few exceptions the western church and world has effectively “cancelled” entire nations, religions and genders from official or institutional discourse. My own sense is that a great deal of the frustration over “cancel culture” is that previously dominant views are needing to adjust to no longer being dominant.
—David Driedger (online comment)
The writer is leading pastor of First Mennonite Church, Winnipeg.
CM playing to the right-wing
It’s difficult to read through this article (“Is the ban back?” March 13) and not encounter any acknowledgment that opposition to cancel culture very often comes from reactive right-wing voices who weaponize the term against whatever they do not like.
The analogy between the ban and cancel culture seems pretty spurious in face of the use of the term “cancel culture” to deflect legitimate criticism and alleviate feelings of guilt and moral blame. Why not mention that for many political pundits being against “cancel culture” is a way of avoiding criticism?
It’s pretty concerning to see this kind of argument in Canadian Mennonite because it plays straight into the hands of right-wing resentment and stalls critical thinking about how the term “cancel culture” is often used to dismiss critical interventions that actually reflect the virtues you affirm (engagement, justice, etc.).
—Max Kennel, Thunder Bay, Ont. (online comment)
Speak up you moderates
Let’s try to synthesize some of the claims made by Max (above) and Will (“Is the ban back?” March 13), as follows:
It is important for a reaction to not become an overreaction. This means one should not use the label “cancel culture” to dismiss a person for a complaint they are making or to avoid engaging with the complaint.
For example, if I get my back up about the wave of accusations of transphobia levelled against J. K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter), and then I am confronted with an actual complaint, I should resist the effort to dismiss or demonize the complainer as a product of cancel culture, and grant them the dignity of hearing them out.
Of course, this cuts both ways. In other words, if someone complains about being cancelled, be attentive to that, and consider that the complaint may have merit.
The irony is that the people who are most likely to be intimidated and silenced by cancel culture or the reaction to it are the moderate middle—the non-extreme types who are actually most likely to listen to both sides of an argument and less inclined to see the world as a battle between black and white.
These are the people who will be nervous about being criticized by their more doctrinaire friends for not aligning with a particular view and simply bite their tongue. However, I don’t think that unfortunate reality will change. So what we really need is for those moderates to be brave and speak out, while insisting on the inherent dignity of their opponents.
—Russ Snyder-Penner, Waterloo, Ont. (Waterloo North Mennonite Church)
Progressivism or secularism, that is the question
Re: “To set a soul aflame,” Jan. 30.
I share Ryan Dueck’s lament for the lack of fire in church life.
However, I think he has misdiagnosed the problem. The Spirit-smothering problem is secularism, not progressivism. They often cohabit, but they aren’t the same.
Secularism is the editing out of God from our experience and interactions with the world. Progressivism refers to perspectives on LGBTQ+ identities, race, politics, etc. Secularism is not inherently progressive.
In my neck of the woods, there is a conservative secularism in which God has become irrelevant, and yet conservatism remains. As Christians, we must resist secular ways of thinking —not by crusading against the world, but by forming a God-infused view of the cosmos.
Secular assumptions, such as the notion that religious convictions are a private matter and nobody else’s business, have subtly influenced us, and make it difficult to believe in a God who sets things on fire.
Sometimes progressive causes fill the void created by secularism, but this does not mean that progressivism is the problem. If a church becomes less progressive, would that in itself make the church more vibrant? If a conservative church became more progressive, would it lose its awareness of the Holy Spirit because of this?
—Mark Tiessen-Dyck (online comment)
The writer is lead pastor of Altona (Man.) Bergthaler Mennonite Church.
Music provides comfort for a tragic memory
Re: “Practising for tragedy,” March 13.
Thanks for this tender, well-written column.
The line “And when your hope is gone and you can’t hold on, then we will hold on to you” evoked powerful personal memories of when, as a 12-year-old, I attended the funeral of my infant sister, Esther Ann, who died from congenital heart disease at 10 days of age.
I have tears in my eyes as I recall the cold day in spring when we buried her in Vauxhall, Alta., and I remember my deep sadness as the congregation sang the hymn “Does Jesus care.”
Music has such profound power to stoke memory, but gratefully it also has the power to provide the comfort to cope with those memories.
—Paul Thiessen, Vancouver, B.C. (Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Church)
Pianos are made for playing
I read with mixed emotions Carol Ann Weaver’s article, “The Piano Ban” (March 13). I was encouraged that the Brunk family apologized and reconciled with Carol’s family and fellow Mennonites today, but I was pained that many people suffered by losing their pianos. The painful effects were far reaching and long lasting.
Pianos, like all musical instruments, are made for playing, for enjoyment, reflection and praise.
My great-grandparents were staunch Presbyterians in Prince Edward Island. It was the mid-1800s, and organs and pianos were frowned upon. Nonetheless, my grandmother, Olive (1888 to 1970) became an accomplished chorister and pianist. She brought these beautiful skills, as well as her Mendelssohn upright piano, to Edmonton when she came west in 1911 to teach elementary school.
My grandparents took their piano along when they went homesteading in northwestern Alberta’s Peace River District. My grandmother was very generous with her piano. It was played every Sunday at Wanham Presbyterian Church, but was also loaned out for various dances, weddings and community events throughout the region. Pianos were a rare commodity among poor farmers, so my grandmother’s piano was transported by horse and wagon in summer, or sleigh in winter. It was well used, well loved!
After my mother acquired Grandma’s piano, I learned how to play that same instrument, starting at age six.
I now own my grandmother’s piano, which has brought music alive for 125 years.
And thank you to Carol Ann Weaver for sharing her story of the piano ban.
—Robert Proudfoot, Edmonton (First Mennonite Church)
Thoughts from Easter week
I sit here in comfort, with my tea,
or maybe in a church worship service
How can I even begin to understand,
how can I try to imagine
this day, this coming week?
what was it like?
what might have been in the mind of Jesus?
yes, he was God, but also
the Word became flesh—
a person like you and me.
Now we come to the city,
it will finish here.
some excited, some afraid,
they talk of Son of David, in the Name of the Highest.
Do they know what they are saying?
Can you feel it—
something in the air.
Tourists, pilgrims, excitement seekers;
also those who are watching—
Some of what I have said and done
has broken some of their rules about holiness,
has disturbed their ideas about the Father in heaven.
The die has been cast,
the contest, the tension, will continue here.
Those with influence, power and comfort, have been aroused;
they will come for me.
I will go forward.
I hope it will be quick.
I have not bothered the Romans,
but there are other powerful people who are not happy.
so much to say and do.
Hardly any room or energy for fear or anxiety.
The tragedy and the sadness of what the temple has become.
O Jerusalem, if only you had known the things that would make for peace.
(Jerusalem today, if only you could see some of the steps that would build peace)
—Ray Hamm, Neubergthal, Man. (Altona Mennonite Church)