Unscientific Thoughts on Mennonite Churches and the Legacy of Mennonite Residential Schools

Last June I traveled to western Ontario. I headed that way in an effort to better understand the origins of three Mennonite schools linked to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The first of these schools was started in the early 1960s, the second two followed in the next decade. If you know a bit about the broader history, you know that by this time what had been obvious to the First Nations for a long time, was finally becoming obvious to others: the Residential School System was a failure on just about every front. So the question I carried to western Ontario was why, particularly so late in the twentieth century, would Mennonites begin such schools? Read more

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The Limits of Water (162)

I want to focus on the story of Peter and the gentiles today. It’s from Acts 10. We’ll get there in a moment, but first I have a question for you about Mennonite moments.

Have you ever had a Mennonite moment? More specifically, have you had a Mennonite moment in the shower?

This sounds weird. You’re wondering: What is a Mennonite moment? Is it allowed, even in the shower? Is that the only place it can happen? What about Menno Simons? He didn’t even have a shower. Does a Mennonite moment involve peace? Does it have something to do with baptism? Is it a historic thing, like being burned by Catholics or drowned by the Swiss? Can you have a Mennonite moment . . . if you’re not a Mennonite? Read more

“Incels” and the Challenge of Unchosen Lives

According to various news outlets, the man responsible for attacking pedestrians in Toronto self-identified as an “incel,” someone who was “involuntarily-celibate.” These reports suggest he believed this justified his violence. Whether or not this bit of information will hold up to further scrutiny is yet to be seen. There will surely be other complicating factors. “Cause” and “motive” are tangled things.

As a pastor of a Mennonite church, I have some stake in the importance of things being voluntary. Mennonite churches and the larger Anabaptist tradition from which they stem began with the idea that joining a community of faith should be a voluntary act. The early Anabaptists were dissatisfied with the practice of baptizing infants. Infants can’t choose whether to identify with a community of faith or not. Their status as members of the church would have been involuntary. This would have obscured the identity of others who deliberately chose to follow in the way of Jesus. I mention this just to say that if any tribe within the Christian family values lives chosen voluntarily it is us. Read more

Too Brilliant a Darkness (159)

One way to understand a piece of literature is to look for patterns. There are several patterns in the gospel of John. One pattern relates to belief. Someone hears about Jesus, but the hearing is not enough. They need something more. They need some kind of validation. Fake news is not new. One instance like this is found in the very first chapter of John. It involves a man named Nathanael. Nathanael’s friend tells him that he has found the one whom Moses and the prophets were expecting. The expected-one’s name is Jesus. He the son of Joseph and a rabbi from Nazareth. Nathanael is not convinced: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” If you’ve ever spent time in Alberta, you may have heard similar misgivings about Ottawa.  Read more

Witnesses to these things (160)

Many people love car shows. I do not. I understand that there is a lot of cool engineering and design in cars. I get the fact that there is a lot of history in them as well. I know that Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, has said that when he lived in Washington D.C. he always had several old Volvos in his garage. On the weekends he liked to get his hands dirty bringing them back to life. After a cheap paint job, he would resell the cars. I think it gave him a sense of accomplishment that being Secretary of State did not. Still, I must confess that interest in cars is not something I have.

I share this bit about myself to set up a story I want to tell. The fact that it involves me going to a car show says more about the size of the town we lived in than it does about my personal interests. I’m trying to manage expectations. The story relates to a word our biblical readings (Acts 3:12-19; Luke 24:36b-48) had in common—the word ‘witness’. ‘Witness’ is an important biblical word, but it is one that can makes many of us uncomfortable. Read more

Mind Control and Other Things (148)

If you are an average teenager you are apparently on track to spend almost a decade of your life on your phone. The problem is that your phone wants to control you mind. A couple of weeks ago the CBC ran a piece by Virginia Smart that described the way app designers make use of the latest in neuroscience to grab our attention and keep us coming back to their products. I doubt this only applies to teenagers. Read more

Nationalism and the Gears of Affection

Several years ago I visited Charlottesville, VA to learn about some of the social initiatives run by churches in that town. Sadly, I remember very little beyond the fact that we had some fantastic barbeque. Reading about the horrific racism on display there last weekend has got me thinking a bit about nationalism and what it might mean to love one’s homeland well. I do not think it is incidental that many of the bigoted participants did not come from Charlottesville. Many came from other places but were united by an abstract idea–‘white nationalism’. Read more

Margaret Atwood Meets the Christian Environmentalist

A few hundred of us are sitting in what used to be a chapel. The Catholic symbolism is still there, covered by a layer of monochrome paint. There is a table and a lectern just in front of what would have been the apse. A young woman, she must be part of the event-planning crew, goes forward awkwardly at the last minute to turn one of the potted plants. Everyone wants to show their good side for a literary celebrity. Then three women appear from a side door. There is applause. The speakers are Margaret Atwood and Leah Kostamo. Atwood’s record was well known. She’s written more than fifty books and received about as many awards and honorary degrees. Her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is currently appearing as a series through the streaming service Hulu. Kostamo is the founder of a Christian environmental center in British Columbia, Canada. The center’s name is hard to pronounce: from the mouth of the event’s moderator it sounds like a bug infestation, from others, like a purveyor of expensive chocolate. An advertisement for the event said that Kostamo’s presence would “broaden the conversation” beyond literary speculations by “providing a unique example of how life can imitate art.” The moderator is a professor at the university where we are gathered. Read more

About these Weeds (139)

We are in Matthew 13 again. This time our reading comes from verses 24-30 and 36-43. We’re walking with Jesus, as we’ve been doing all summer, and we’re watching and listening. Last week we heard the story of a farmer who scatted seeds on varied ground—some rocky, some hard, some overrun with thistles, just some of it good. We noticed then that if God’s goal is a high yield rate then God is a failure. This week we are still by the lake shore when Jesus tells another story.

The story is about a farmer who plants a grain field only to find it infested with weeds. Later we listen in as Jesus explains the story to his closest followers. Like last Sunday, I want us to hear this passage in the context of a world where the innocent suffer.  Jesus used imagined stories to tell us something about God’s way with the world. Let me tell you a couple of real stories to remind us of how that world, in fact, works. Read more

With Water and Spirit – A Baptism Sermon (136)

On this particular Sunday, it is Pentecost Sunday, we are here once again to worship God. This is how we begin each week. But on this special Sunday we are also here to baptize and receive new members into our covenant community. This is quite something. It is an important day for those who will be baptized. It is also a sign of encouragement to the rest of us. God’s Spirit, that member of the Trinity who filled and emboldened the early church, is still at work. Read more