Although our world is facing the challenge of COVID-19, I am so glad for the parts of life that remain unchanged. Every day brings press conferences with appalling numbers of the losses we endure, talk of restrictions and life that seems like it’s in a state of flux. Yet, peanut butter, Netflix, and, of course, the Revised Common Lectionary remain.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank had its beginnings in 1975 as the Mennonite Central Committee Food Bank. In November 1982, representatives of 10 Christian denominations met to discuss plans for an inter-church foodgrains bank. Among those at the meeting, pictured left to right facing the camera, were Frank H. Epp, J.M. Klassen and C. Wilbert Loewen.
In late January, Eric Harder died at age 74. He was my friend.
I became acquainted with Eric 25 years ago, when I moved to Prince Albert to begin my ministry work. Both he and Velma were strong presences in the church. They offered leadership and encouragement in all the ways that a new pastor desperately needs.
We were in the midst of the Christian season of Lent as I wrote this. Shortly after Lent ended and Easter came, Muslims began the season of Ramadan. The month-long period of daily fasting launched on April 23. The couple of years I have observed the season of Ramadan have been of stunning benefit for my Christian faith.
I’m really not sure what to pray or how to feel these days. I’ve become a strange blend of anxious and relaxed, concerned and content, grateful and restless, ambitious and listless.
There is a post-resurrection story that I find helpful this Easter as I contemplate the changing world around me.
Conscientious objectors (COs) played an important role on the Canadian volunteer scene during the Second World War. Among the assignments was work in the forests around Banff, Alta., clearing trees. Surprisingly, much of the parks system in Canada was established by these people, some of whom were less than willing to be there or do the work.
As our life has quite abruptly and drastically shifted, along with everyone’s around the globe, I have been reflecting on our daily rhythm and working at reorganizing our schedule into a work-play-rest rhythm.
These weeks of physical distancing, including Easter, have forced us to think more about what it means to be the church. We appreciate the phrase “the church has left the building!” We identify with Jesus’s disciples on Easter, huddled behind locked doors, filled with fear and despair. I have begun thinking about the church in these days using two more images from Jesus.
Christianity is rooted in paradox. A paradox is when two or more incompatible truths are held together to reveal a deeper hidden truth. An example of a paradox in Christianity is that the Kingdom of God is both already here and still coming in the future. Other examples include:
As with everybody else, my life and work these past few weeks have been a scramble to adjust and respond to the ever-evolving pandemic that has now hit us here in Canada as well.
Tourists attempt to photograph boys outside of the Elmira Old Order Mennonite Meetinghouse, circa 1970. The boys are using a hand mirror to thwart their efforts. The photo appeared in the local newspaper with the caption “Mennonite Resistance.” After the Second World War, urban Canadians embraced rural tourism.
Someone told me recently that they had been asked to share their faith journey in a Sunday morning church service. The invitation, however, came with an addendum: “Don’t talk about universalism.”
At the end of that conversation, I reached for my phone dictionary for a definition. “Universalism” is “a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved.”
The COVID-19 pandemic feels surreal. Streets of our cities are nearly empty, even at rush hour. Kids are home, schools have gone online, and some workers log in from home after many years of regular commutes to an office. And huge numbers of workers have been laid off.
It often feels like the God I encounter in Scripture is a completely different God than the one I profess to follow and worship.
Doug Klassen, who now serves as Mennonite Church Canada’s executive minister, confessed to a fellow pastor that he couldn’t pray for more than 10 minutes. “I came to a place where I kept running into myself when I was praying,” Klassen recalls of his early days as a youth pastor.
“Know we are connected in ways that are terrible and beautiful.”
Photography in generations past was a very deliberate, expensive and intense hobby. Special equipment, such as chemicals, film, lighting and the camera itself, was needed. Photographers often had to develop their own photos, which meant they had to have a dark room.
I was walking to church for an event a few weeks back and stopped by our local Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) thrift store for my usual weekly peek and to say hello to the dear ladies who faithfully volunteer their time.
As relatively privileged people living in Canada, there aren’t too many times that we think about whether this action or that action might result in our death. Living in these pandemic times, though, reminds me of our years living in southern Africa near the end of official apartheid. We thought often then of whether doing this or that might result in death.
I watched in disbelief as people feverishly filled their carts with toilet paper and bolted before someone could steal their treasure. In less than a minute, the toilet paper was gone and the mob dispersed. Except for one lady standing in front of a stack of six packages of toilet paper, protecting it from the envious eyes of those around her.
“Greater love has no one than to lay their life down for their friends,” said Jesus.
That’s an amazing thing for anyone to do. But what about a whole village laying down its life for people it doesn’t even know?