Making God manageable
I really appreciate what Ryan Dueck is trying to get at, as well as the powerful responses (“To set a soul aflame,” Jan. 30). When Karl Barth visited European Mennonite Bible School near Basel in 1967, a student asked him if groups like the Mennonites have a reason to exist today. Barth responded that we have a reason to exist if the Spirit is in our midst.
Maybe we have left behind our souls’ deep longing for the sacred encounter with God for something a bit more manageable.
I wonder if a revived theology of the actual presence of Jesus at the table is one of the places that deep hunger can be fed—a table that is radically open and invites all to be transformed by Jesus.
Also, I know this is not what Dueck intended, but I have seen the critique that people with generous and affirming views (at times labelled progressive) of our queer siblings are somehow less filled with this holy fire. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
—Chad Miller, Harrisonburg, Virginia (Ridgeway Mennonite Church)
Robust ‘progressive’ faith
I appreciate and echo what I see as Ryan Dueck’s concern and hope for churches to be deeply rooted in the person and power of God and the life that extends from that reality, letting it set our souls “aflame” as he says (“To set a soul aflame,” Jan. 30).
I think it’s vital that churches gather and work from that centre, rather than just sprinkling in a bit of vague spirituality within a larger agenda of self/group “therapy” and social concern.
I also especially appreciate Cheryl Pauls’ response (“Response to Ryan Dueck,” Jan. 30), because the prevailing questions for me while reading this article were about categorization. What actually is a “progressive church”? Can they be conflated/equated with Brad East’s “therapeutic church” across the board or just within Dueck’s circles?
Are all progressive churches “therapeutic?” Is being therapeutic a hallmark of progressivism? Is being a progressive church primarily about language (“sin, salvation,” etc. vs. “wellness, affirmation,” etc.), as the examples in the beginning of the article largely focus on? What is progress?
I have no doubt things outlined by Dueck here do exist in some form in churches, but I think greater clarity in these areas of categorization may be helpful.
In some spaces I observe, study and participate in—spaces that would be labelled progressive due to some central commitments—a deep and robust faith in a God powerfully animates and roots much of the life together. And it was out of great “existential urgency” that many of these spaces were birthed in the first place and continue to find life. I hope Dueck has opportunity to engage and be surprised by some of these spaces in the future, first-hand or in study. Thanks Ryan for the thought-provoking words.
—Justin Sun, Richmond, B.C (Peace Mennonite Church)
In praise of critique
I read with interest the January 16 articles by Will Braun (“The holy paradox of modern Mennonite identity”), Joon Park (“One-anotherness in Christ”) and a letter to the editor from Peter Reimer who points out the objectification of women in the Bible.
To me, there was a common thread: Exclusiveness, patriarchy and misogyny within the traditional Euro-German Mennonite church. In the past decade or more, I have taken a much less active role in the church organization and am less invested from a theological standpoint. It has made it easier for me to identify the aforementioned behaviours.
I recently did a short stint with Mennonite Disaster Service and it was interesting to see some of these traits portrayed to various degrees. I am sure that to the project leadership, it would be entirely out of their scope of awareness.
It is encouraging to see writers and contributors to Canadian Mennonite identify where we fall short and not be muzzled by church leadership. To the contrary, they are encouraged to challenge our thoughts and behaviours which will hopefully bring about change.
—Charlie Smith, Allan, Sask. (Pleasant Point Mennonite Church)
Jesus’ vaccine command
In response to the letter, “Feeling like a pandemic leper” (Jan. 16, 2023): Too often, we do not focus on Jesus as Lord. We are servants with a master. Our opinions mean little; His opinions mean everything. We subjugate ourselves to Him.
During the pandemic, thousands died. And not just those suffering from COVID, but also those unable to access medical care because hospitals were clogged with COVID patients, many of whom were not vaccinated.
What is Jesus’ opinion about this? He has more than an opinion, He has a command—actually two commands, from Matthew 26: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and, Love your neighbour as yourself.
Simply put, thousands of Christians in Manitoba believed they had the right to refuse vaccination. Many of these were Mennonites. That is hardly loving our neighbours as ourselves. We don’t put people we love in harm’s way. Yes, there were uncertainties about the vaccine. Yes vaccination campaigns are a numbers game and some may die from the vaccinations. In this instance, few died, very few in fact. Still, the point is we bite the bullet and get vaccinated. After all, we’re saved so if we die, we go to be with Jesus.
Before you judge me, my wife, too, is immuno-suppressed. She stayed in our house from early 2020 until late in 2022, venturing out only to walk.
My entire family and I are fully vaccinated. I’ve had five shots, as has my wife. We did the loving thing, and there’s been an upside. No one in my immediate family has had COVID. I don’t like to speak about blessings—God is not our “blessing dispenser” —but perhaps God blessed us because we obeyed His son.
—Greg Falk, Winnipeg, Man.
Carrot soup for the soul
I love everything about the article “Soup to change the world” (Jan. 30) by Maria Klassen. The “everything” includes but is not limited to:
- providing meaningful work;
- using existing facilities;
- hiring folks who need ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program);
- using locally sourced products as available;
- having a variety of soups for a variety of tastes and cultures; and
- selling soups through MCC thrift shops.
My husband Laur and I have the privilege of volunteering for the MCC thrift store in St. Catharines. We love the people and the products and the mission. How lovely to add nourishing and tasty soup to the offerings. We have tried a few and they are great. And they are great gifts for such situations as illness, new baby, moving or just to show love.
Thank you to Maria, Canadian Mennonite, Raw Carrot and MCC thrift stores! Love always!
—Jan Steven, St. Catharines, Ont. (Grace Mennonite Church)
Compromise on force
Re: “Conscientious,” which included Mennonite responses to military spending (Jan. 30): Dreams of better solutions to danger and violence issues are great, but they need legs. Mennonite churches don’t provide them. Peaceful living and helping others are great, but we must add a balanced approach to safety and stability.
My interpretation of scripture is that Jesus compromised his own ideals by allowing his disciples to carry swords—only as a small show of deterrence, I think, but it demonstrated compromise. Society and the world would fall apart without many forms of security, unfortunately. I think Jesus fully understands this.
Inwardly, we can be pure. Outwardly, we just do what we can, living by many compromises. Far more money and effort could go toward alternative approaches to conflict, but without a credible, comprehensive position, advocates of this have little influence.
Mennonite Church Canada should promote thorough, thoughtful analysis and discussion of all this.
—Howard Bolt, Osler, Sask.