Readers write: February 9, 2024

February 8, 2024 | Opinion
(Graphic by Betty Avery)

History lesson
Will Braun’s editorial about Di Brandt (“The institution of messiness,” September 22, 2023) is a valuable piece that I hope many people will read.

In the past two centuries, the arts have gone through an unprecedented transition in Western societies, and our institutions—including churches—have often been resistant to that change.

In previous centuries, artists worked on behalf of patrons such as the church, merchants or the aristocracy. 

German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote about the shift to the independent artist and how it affected art. Artists were no longer beholden to their patrons for subject matter, styles or other expectations. Artists, according to Kant, became liberated and wrote about personal discovery and truth as well as private emotions. 

These might be, as another philosopher, G. F. Hegel, noted, a challenge to commonly held beliefs and practices because the best art, in Hegel’s view, did not perpetuate the status quo or express a common orthodoxy. 

Until recently, Mennonite churches and agencies assumed that they were the gatekeepers as to who is and who is not a Mennonite writer. The effect is often to exclude the dynamic writer who explores the fabric of life and the depth of their soul.   

I have followed Brandt’s work since I first met her at a workshop on dramatic writing when she was a student at Canadian Mennonite Bible College. Since then, valuable work has flowed from her keyboard. Time and again, she has expressed emotions and insights that ring true, even if, at times, they shake the reader.

The sad truth is that Brandt isn’t the only artist who has been misunderstood by the church. Agencies inside and outside the church are often quick to judge before they seek understanding. Yet, Brandt’s life has not been sad; it’s been a brilliantly successful and, from my perspective, fun journey.

Lauren Friesen, North Newton, Kansas


In praise of subversive voices
I really loved the testimony of Pastor Mezgebu Tucho (“One thing is necessary,” January 12). This kind of message is so important today for us North American Mennonites.

I thank God for my brothers and sisters in the Global South who are leading the way in the 21st century church and teaching us how to pray. Who could have imagined 50 years ago that the Ethiopian church would be sending missionaries to our churches in Canada to re-evangelize us and remind us of that “one thing is necessary.” God bless them.  

 Thank you, Will Braun, for your ministry among us and the way you amplify these subversive voices that shatter so many of our prejudices, biases and blind spots.
David Dyck, Leamington, Ontario (Leamington United Mennonite Church)

The church has not been silent
It is unfortunate that Geraldine Balzer repeats the refrain, “the church is silent” (“The church cannot be silent,” December 15, 2023). It’s unfortunate because it’s not true.

In various ways—from individual members to pastors to executive ministers; from church mission committees to regional and nationwide Palestine-Israel Networks; from Mennonite Church Canada folks in their roles within MC Canada to their roles in Mennonite Central Committee or elsewhere; in letters and at rallies and on social media and more—the church has been speaking out in solidarity with the suffering from October 7 on.

What Geraldine must mean, then, is that certain groups of church leaders have been silent. And this is true. Neither MC Canada’s Joint Council nor the regional executive ministers have, as a group, directly denounced either the horrific violence of Hamas or the horrific violence of Israel in Gaza. 

Neither Doug Klassen, the executive minister of MC Canada, nor Geraldine as moderator, have publicly, formally done so either. 

Geraldine and Will Braun are right to question this. We do need to do the work to allow our leaders greater freedom to speak—directly, formally and publicly—on matters of grave concern, especially as relates to our partners and friends around the world.

Nevertheless, may we remember our Anabaptist ecclesiology. The church is not its leaders. The church is the people of God together, the body of Christ with all its members. Yes, this includes its leaders. But as a priesthood of all believers, the church is not merely its leaders.

And the church has not been silent. Nor is it now, as together we pray and call and work for peace—in Gaza, for Israel and Palestine, in Ukraine, in Sudan, in Myanmar and around the world.

Michael Pahl
Executive minister, Mennonite Church Manitoba

I appreciate Michael’s comments on my reflections.
In re-reading my article, I noted an editorial change that was made. I had very deliberately capitalized the word Church to refer to the denominational entity. I know well that the church (a collective of believers) has not been silent.

Geraldine Balzer
Moderator, Mennonite Church Canada

Change is hard to make 
Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your story (“Landing out of hot water,” January 12).

Change is hard to make, and your willingness to take alternative paths inspires me to look more closely at my life. 

Am I willing to try new things and walk the extra mile (literally) to live more carefully? What can I forgo, and what is gained? 

Your willingness to be vulnerable about the process you are taking with your family opens up conversations for us all.

Carol Penner

(Graphic by Betty Avery)

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In your January 26 issue, two employees of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs talked about the conflict in Gaza and Israel. Richard Marceau spoke of the “ancestral lands of the Jewish people.” Gustavo Zentner described the “Jewish people’s indigenous connections to the land of Israel.” Canadians might well understand the terms “ancestral lands” and “indigenous connections” as they apply to Indigenous peoples here, and the CJIA messaging is likely crafted with that in mind. Indigenous peoples were here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. But in what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jewish people did not have the land to themselves.

In the book "Whose Land is Palestine?" a Mennonite theologian wrote that no one group can claim any part of that land based on unbroken habitation. He listed 30 “peoples or powers” who occupied and controlled Palestine between 3,000 BC and 1970. It is worth recalling, as the New York Times reports, that when the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948 more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee. That land had been “ancestral” for them as well. The inescapable conclusion is that, somehow, these lands and their administration must be shared, even if that now appears a distant prospect.
Dennis Gruending

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