Readers Write: March 29, 2024

March 28, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 06
(Graphic by Betty Avery)

Solution must be negotiated, not dictated

I read with interest, and some disgust, Richard Penner’s letter (“Readers write”) in your January 26 issue and offer a few responses.


First, Penner suggests that, in this conflict, logic and politics are more important than moral and ethical considerations. A key factor in South Africa’s move away from apartheid was the push for change which came substantially from “moral and ethical” inclinations and voices. I would suggest that moral and ethical considerations are paramount; they nudge us to consider the humanity of every person.


Second, many would take issue with Penner’s contention that “the people populating the place called Israel have done a commendable job of creating a state which is more or less democratic, innovative, productive and generally a pleasant place to live.” It is simply not so for most Palestinians.


Third, Penner discounting a two-state solution is based on logic and political considerations alone. If you read Jonathan Kuttab’s 2021 book, Beyond the Two-State Solution, what is clear is that without the requisite will, it simply is not achievable. One might argue that the model Penner suggests could be imposed, but imposition rarely is a long-term solution.


But most upsetting in the letter is an apparent unwillingness to recognize the depth with which both Palestinians and Jewish folks see Palestine as their place. Given the hostility since 1948, it seems clear that a United Nations-brokered ceasefire, along with peacekeepers and a mandated peace process, will be essential for the creation of two states in which Palestinians and Jewish folks live alongside each other in peace. This will require muscle and courage, alongside patience and persistence on the part of the international community and the United Nations.


This is not a conundrum in which we “recognize the ability of Israeli leadership to run a reasonably successful country,” in which we change the name of the country to the “Democratic State of Israel” and “run it like a true democracy in action.” There is a long history of mistrust and bloodletting; to address it will require a negotiated process in which the identities of both peoples are respected, required and central.


In the end there must be a solution that is accepted by both Jewish and Palestinian folks. The time to dictate a solution is long past: it will need to be negotiated and it will take years to take root.


The sooner, the better!


– Bert C. Lobe, Kitchener, Ontario (Rockway Mennonite Church)



Force Israel to withdraw

The war in Gaza is in the news. What is happening?


Hamas invaded Israeli territory, treated the people cruelly and took hostages. They started the war. Israel rightfully defended itself and took revenge. They intended to kill all of Hamas before retreating, which is not possible because Hamas is a resistance movement—an ideology which cannot be eradicated with weapons.


Israel has overdone its revenge and is now killing many innocent Palestinian civilians and humanitarian facilities.


We should do everything possible to force the Israelis to withdraw their troops from Gaza and open the borders to deliver the much-needed aid for Palestinians.


– Helmut Lemke, Vancouver, B.C. (Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Fellowship)



Between stimulus and response

It was interesting to read the article by Cindy Wallace and the three responses (“Circling back to simplicity,” February 23).


It seems ironic to me that there is a moderate to significant amount of angst among people trying to achieve simplicity in life in the face of things like the onslaught of social media; big, bad corporations; omnipresent 9-to-5 job demands; sweatshop production of clothing; unethical production of food; and the list goes on.


Individually, we can do little to change these things.


What we can do is be willing to be a part of a solution: make reasonable personal attempts to reduce our consumption, be nice to others and volunteer for something if we can.


If you think the solution is to be vegan, avoid air travel, delete your social media and only shop second-hand, and you are fulfilled and happy with this, that is great. But it seems that many people attempting to achieve simplicity are not happy doing those things.


I have a large carbon footprint, but I don’t obsess about it. I approve of the carbon tax. I don’t fly a “F--- Trudeau” flag. I didn’t support the freedom convoy. I shop local, but if I’m hosting a party for 100 people, I go to Costco and load up on food (including many products produced in Canada).


If I’m hungry for a McDonald’s sandwich, I buy one and enjoy it. Make choices and be happy with them.


As Viktor Frankl discovered, in the space between stimulus and response lies our power to choose.


– Charlie Smith, Allan, Saskatchewan (Pleasant Point Mennonite Church)



Gratitude generates generosity

My added comments to the informative article “Conscientious taxpayer” (February 23) may not be new to many.


Gratitude generates generosity. Our Canadian income tax policy allows for generous tax-receiptable support of many church and secular organizations. Living more simply certainly can reduce our taxable income. Generous donations also do.


Charitable donations reduce—and sometimes eliminate— federal tax payments which, in turn, lowers military support. That leaves more money under our stewardship and allows us to share more generously.


While I support many government programs, many of them do not support my Christian ideals.


– Ivan Unger, Cambridge, Ontario (Wanner Mennonite Church) 



Leftwing push

During the years Stephen Harper was prime minister, I recall articles in Canadian Mennonite about the high military spending by the Conservative government.


According to World Bank statistics, the period of Canada’s lowest military spending as a percentage of GDP since World War II was 2011-2013, while Harper was in power.


Military spending between 2016 and 2021, under the current Liberal government, has averaged 0.16 percent of GDP higher than during the Harper years and has increased even more in the last two years.


Do we wish to have truth in our articles or are we more interested in pushing the leftwing agenda?


– Jim Peters, Winnipeg


Editor’s note: CM critiqued military spending of the Liberal government in our June 8, 2022, issue and our January 30, 2023 issue. 



Mennonite addictions

When I first read Catholic theologian James Alison’s warnings about becoming addicted to our own goodness, I thought: This man knows my people. The danger of this addiction is that, if we identify as “good,” we need someone else to be “bad.”


I was glad that Mennonite Church Manitoba’s annual gathering considered and ratified a motion calling for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. But I was confused by the lack of resistance, because fossil fuels are one of our other big addictions.


Imagine an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where everyone votes for a ban on liquor stores, knowing they will all be hitting the bottle on the drive home! I read Will Braun’s editorial (“Longing for transformation,” March 8) as the kind of fearless inventory an AA member might make. He’s making us take a hard look at ourselves.


As “progressives” continue to gain power and “conservatives” continue to leave MC Manitoba, will we swap the old signals of virtue for new ones? Set new markers for goodies and baddies, but have the same old contest?


Was the lack of dissent at our annual gathering a sign of our united commitment to face our fossil fuel addiction? Or did no one want to be the first addict to stand up in the meeting and admit that they weren’t ready to quit yet?


Were we afraid of being shunned? That’s not how you beat an addiction. You have to stop pretending. You need a circle you can be honest in. You need people who love you and call you on your bullshit. I think that might be happening in Canadian Mennonite. That heartens me.


P.S. Sorry about the bad word. I’m trying to fight my goodness addiction.


– Marcus Rempel, South St. Ouen’s, Manitoba (St. Julian’s Table) 



Beg to differ

While Will Braun concludes from his assessment of the Mennonite Church Manitoba annual gathering that “the overall reality is dim” for the church, I beg to differ (“Longing for transformation,” March 8).


I am grateful for the leadership of MC Manitoba, who organized the day. And I am especially grateful for the work of the Climate Action Working Group (CAWG), the members of which took time in the weeks and months ahead of the gathering to engage with many congregations to talk about the resolution Braun mentions. The members of CAWG also led an online information session ahead of the gathering, and I understand the breakout session at the gathering was lively.


Is a resolution to sign a letter enough? No. Are we talking about the climate crisis in our congregations? Yes. We have to start somewhere.


Had I been quick on my feet at the gathering, I could have said that I, and the congregation I’m part of, support this resolution, in part, because it affirms our commitment to being an intercultural church. The footnotes of the resolution indicated that the Mennonite World Conference Peace Committee also supports the letter—a letter initiated by countries already being devastated by climate change.


If we are a church for all nations, our ears must be tuned to these voices. This may be how we begin to go beyond business as usual.


 Dori Zerbe Cornelsen, Winnipeg (Hope Mennonite Church)



Doing the work

For those who may want to form their own opinion of Mennonite Church Manitoba’s gathering, I encourage you to check out our Gathering 2024 page for reports and videos:


While we as MC Manitoba are well aware of our challenges, which exist across our regional churches and indeed across many denominations, neither the present nor the future of the church is nearly as bleak as Will Braun paints it (“Longing for transformation,” March 8).


In fact, all of his practical suggestions for getting down to the nitty-gritty—“I could imagine people huddled in one corner over lunch refining a resolution, Bibles open. Others using precious time to compare notes on newcomer integration. A group of youth pushing decision-makers for more youth nominees.”—are happening all the time, throughout the year, facilitated by our regional church staff.


Again, see MC Manitoba’s Gathering 2024 page, and then check out the other ways we as a regional church are in fact doing the work of the church—well beyond the important reporting, listening, learning and final decisions that happen at an annual delegate session.


– Michael Pahl, Executive Minister, Mennonite Church Manitoba 



In praise of boring AGMs

Someone was commenting to me about an editorial in Canadian Mennonite critiquing “boring AGMs” (“Longing for transformation,” March 8).


I believe, generally speaking, that a “boring” annual general meeting (AGM) is a really good thing. It means the people in positions we’ve affirmed them in are doing their relational work.


That is not to say we are in agreement on every little thing, but that we have been doing the work together consistently to flow with the mission of God and have demonstrated enough competency in ministry to move into a new year together.


On the flipside, “boring” can be bad if the AGM is only catering to a small demographic or people don’t care at all.


“Exciting” AGMs are usually a function of a failure of leadership and constituents to listen, to engage, pray, etc. before getting to a vote. God spare us from exciting AGMs.


The budget, the ballots, any bylaws, etc. can be handled just like when you candidate a lead pastor. You don’t wait until the vote to work through questions, and a search team does a ton of work before you even get to the pre-vote info and relationship meetings. That’s how every AGM should be approached.


In a church that values believers’ priesthood, we should take the time before AGMs to work through what needs to be done.


– Shelby Boese, MC B.C. Executive Minister (Excerpted from the March 13 issue of MCBC Connect



Hardly one-sided

I fully support Lisa Schirch’s assertion that we must recognize how “antisemitism has tainted Mennonite peace witness” in Israel-Palestine for seven decades (“Readers write,” February 23).


However, I suggest Lisa ought to have mentioned the significant work that has been done on this in the past number of years, including numerous papers and articles along with a major 2018 conference on Mennonites and Nazism.


I would also like to share my experience on one of the Mennonite delegations to Israel-Palestine that Lisa calls “one-sided” and that “erase Jewish voices.”


I participated in a 2011 Mennonite Central Committee Ontario learning tour. In addition to meeting with Christian Palestinians, Muslim Palestinians and Jewish groups working non-violently for peace, we met with the Israeli military architect of the “separation wall” (also called apartheid wall) on site who explained why the wall was necessary.


We also spent an hour in the living room of a West Bank settler who defended Jewish Zionists taking over Palestinian land and who advocated for pre-emptive violence against Palestinians. And we experienced a gut-wrenching visit to Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial.


In all, it was hardly one-sided.


Apart from her lack of nuance here, I want to thank Lisa for her relentless efforts for many years in the struggle for a just peace for both Jews and Palestinians, and for insisting that when Mennonites ignore Jewish trauma and need for safety, we perpetuate the violence.


– Tim Schmucker 



Grateful to Arli

Thank you, Arli Klassen, for your contributions to Canadian Mennonite over the years (“One more on unity and diversity,” March 8).


I have appreciated your perspective and it has helped shape some of how I do life—including reaching out to those I may not have in the past and having a more inclusive circle of friends. Blessings.


– LaVerna Elliott



Inspirational article

I loved the article “Consider the roots,” (November 17, 2023). I think there are more people like me who want to eat more local and nutritious food in the winter but don’t know how. It gets me thinking about how to grow and store more root vegetables.


Laurie Vandenhurk

(Graphic by Betty Avery)

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