Canadian Mennonite
Volume 14, No. 05
Mar. 8, 2010


Readers Write

We welcome your comments and publish most letters sent by subscribers intended for publication. Respecting our theology of the priesthood of all believers and of the importance of the faith community discernment process, this section is a largely open forum for the sharing of views. Letters are the opinion of the writer only—publication does not mean endorsement by the magazine or the church. Letters should be brief and address issues rather than individuals.

Please send letters to be considered for publication to or by postal mail or fax, marked “Attn: Readers Write” (our address is on page 3). Letters should include the author’s contact information and mailing address. Letters are edited for length, style and adherence to editorial guidelines.

Telling Jews to ‘get over’ the Holocaust an insensitive remark

Re: “To become a ‘true democracy’ Jews must ‘get over’ the Holocaust” letter, Jan. 25, page 12.

I support a philosophy of an open exchange of ideas to promote understanding, so I understand the justification for the inclusion of Peter Peters’ letter, where, in an otherwise reasonable expression of ideas, he completely out of context expressed the sentiment that the Jews must “get over” the Holocaust.

It was a bit of a jolt for me to see such appalling insensitivity from a reader of a periodical like Canadian Mennonite.

You would never tell Canada’s aboriginals that they should “get over” the residential schools, or blacks that they should “get over” slavery. Quite aside from the insensitivity of it all, as outsiders, we have no business telling another group, especially a group with a history like the Jews, what hurt they ought to get over and when.

So without condemning the writer, I have to say that the soulless subtext that such callous sentiments convey to the community involved—the Jews, in this case—will sound something like, “I’ve heard quite enough of your Holocaust and I’m no longer interested in your past.” At worst, such views have the potential to sow seeds with unsavoury implications that have the bleak familiarity of a not-so-distant past, and therefore deserve vigorous condemnation.

Gord Willms, Waterloo, Ont.

‘Profit’ shouldn’t be a dirty word for Mennonites

Thank you for your “A holy calling” article, Jan. 11, page 22. I’m glad to see Canadian Mennonite is highlighting Mennonite business people. While I agree that work can be a holy calling, I was disturbed to read that Clare Schlegel sees himself “meeting human needs, as opposed to being a businessman working only for profit.” It seems to me that we Mennonites are eager to point fingers at our business people. If you work in business, it seems you are somehow put lower on the “holiness scale” than, say, a person who works for a non-profit. It seems that profit, in Mennonite circles, is a four-letter word.

Yet who do we turn to when we need money to carry out our missions? Who do we turn to when a family unexpectedly shows up on our church doorstep and needs help, but there’s no money in the account? Those very same “profitable” business people.

We all have different callings, and we don’t know what motivates others in the vocations they have chosen. The fact that a person has a profitable business generally means that she is not only a good businessperson, but also that she is meeting human needs. She provides a product or service that the world needs, and she is likely providing a living for the many others in her employ, something that is not possible without profit.

I trust that we can all agree that work is important, and that, while growing food is a holy undertaking, so, too, is building homes, fixing pipes, making us laugh, informing us and making sure our vehicles get us to our destinations safely.

Ron Schellenberg, Saskatoon, Sask.

Ron Schellenberg is associate pastor of Mount Royal Mennonite Church, Saskatoon.

Lutheran doctrine the real dividing line for Mennonites

While I join those who both celebrate the fact that the Lutheran World Federation has made clear, sincerely apologetic statements concerning the persecution of Anabaptists by Lutherans in the early 1500s (“Lutherans called to recant,” Nov 16, 2009, page 12), and I also join those who caution Mennonites against gloating (Jeremy Bergen, Robert J. Suderman and Albert C. Lobe, Jan 11, pages 4 and 7, respectively), there are further, more fundamental issues that remain unresolved.

The historic Lutheran church already expressed regret and disavowed the persecution of Anabaptists in the “Formula of Concord” in 1577, so historic persecution is really not the “burning issue” today.

What remains in effect, regrettably, is the clear condemnation of some tenets of Anabaptist faith and practice in official Lutheran doctrine today, which has been the case since 1530. The Mennonite-Anabaptist view of the “sword” and baptism are still expressly condemned in the Lutheran Book of Concord.

These identifying practices cannot be so easily ignored as some other, more minor historical issues. Rather than simply request that the Lutherans drop their condemnations, would we likewise turn the question towards ourselves and ask, “Do we also not in certain ways likewise denounce those who baptize infants and who serve the state in various capacities, including positions that require them to take the life of another human?” Shall we continue with such denunciations or revise them?

If the Lutherans rescind (or recant) their statements against Anabaptism, will that satisfy us that we are acceptable to Lutheran doctrine? Do we not still want to convince other Christians that following Jesus is a personal choice and requires one to follow the way of nonviolence?

I believe we need to have more rigorous discussion concerning the Mennonite position on whether we will accept other Christians’ views on the “sword” and baptism, before we presume that we can move toward greater unity with other Christian communions.

Jonathan Seiling, Vineland, Ont.

Jonathan Seiling is coordinator of the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre and a member of The First Mennonite Church, Vineland, Ont.

Faith, not DNA, at the heart of being Mennonite

Paul told Timothy in I Timothy 1:4 to instruct the people not to “occupy themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith.

In light of this verse, I fail to understand the larger purpose of the ”Piecing the Mennonite puzzle together one DNA at a time” article,” Jan. 25, page 21. Even suggesting that the “Mennonite being” has a paternal DNA descriptor is quite disturbing.

In the article Glenn Penner stressed the significance of family trees, noting Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus: “Who we are and where we came from are very important.” But my understanding of the purpose of the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew was to prove that the prophecies about the Messiah were, in fact, realized through the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some 15 years ago I led my family out of a more traditional church denomination, embracing the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. I have pored over the confession and its earlier supporting documents from the early Anabaptist tradition at its inception until now. In my heart I have come to believe that the confession best represents an expression of faith that reflects an alignment of our will and that of the will of the Holy Spirit’s desire for us as a people of God.

I believe that my Mennonite, or Christian, identity can only be found to exist within a faith—and not a biological—context. If a true Mennonite has a paternal heritage that can be found in DNA, well I guess that I can never be a true Mennonite then.

While serving overseas as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, I invested, along with my wife, in the communities in which we served as ambassadors of peace, witnesses to the gospel in a culture that is imbued with violence and superstition. Our Mennonite perspective offered a chance to share the gospel in a context of peace. Isn’t this the real purpose of our lives, of our being Mennonite?

Dave Metcalfe, Drayton, Ont.

DNA does not a Mennonite make

Re: “Piecing the Mennonite puzzle together one DNA at a time,” Jan. 25, page 21.

The Mennonite DNA Project makes me rather uncomfortable. Glenn Penner rationalizes the genealogy project by saying that “who we are and where we came from are very important.” However, while I agree that “who we are” is important, I don’t think that “where we came from” matters one bit.

I don’t descend from Low German Anabaptist ancestors, but does that make me less Mennonite than, say, an Albrecht, a Loewen or a Toews?

The project seems especially ironic, given that an article on the opposing page noted that, since 2003, Africa claims more Mennonites than any other continent.

Moreover, Penner stresses the significance that Matthew places on the genealogy of Jesus, but he might also recall that Jesus himself says, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).

Penner’s project may have intrinsic value for historians, but dubbing it “the Mennonite DNA Project” is somewhat presumptuous. My “Morton” DNA is as Mennonite as his “Penner” DNA.

Mark Morton, Kitchener, Ont.

From Our Leaders

Gladly wear the name of Jesus

Elsie Rempel

As one who is preparing for the upcoming Mennonite Church Canada assembly in Calgary, I have had the theme, “Reclaiming Jesus™: Gladly wear the name,” on my mind for months.

As well as organizing and collaborating with a wonderful team of volunteers in Calgary, my colleagues and I have been on a spiritual journey with Colossians 3: 15-17. As we’ve listened to those ancient words from our current context, a context that can be described as an “age of persuasion,” marketing and branding, we’ve been particularly drawn to verse 17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

What does it mean for us to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus? Set, as this verse is, in a paragraph about clothing ourselves with Christ’s values of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and love, we couldn’t help but think about wearing the name of our Lord Jesus. After all, the name of Jesus represents all those values, and more.

Are we growing into Jesus’ clothes? Is wearing Jesus what “doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” means in an age of marketing and branding? Is the name of Jesus something we can gladly wear on our sleeves? Can it help us “engage the world with the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ,” as MC Canada’s purpose statement proclaims? We know the world does not always associate the church with these attributes, but this is the identity the church is called to reclaim and grow into.

Is wearing Jesus what ‘doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus’ means in an age of marketing and branding?

We look forward to growing into these clothes as a church. Helping us will be a textile art exhibit called “Acts of peace, art for peace.” Planners hope that all ages will participate.

In the children’s assembly, great group leaders with a passion for camping and a core of enthusiastic children will renew old friendships and make new ones. Each year, these children eagerly anticipate the assembly as a family experience.

We are also planning two entirely new components for this year: junior youths will get to participate in intergenerational worship, leadership training and recreational activities; and we are inviting congregations to shoulder tap, encourage, and mentor senior youths from their congregations to attend as youth ambassadors. Youth ambassadors will have mentors and floor privileges during the discernment sessions, as well as getting to participate in some of the recreational and creative activities of the junior youths and young adults.

All ages will have the opportunity to participate in an extensive array of workshops; worship; and discern what it means to be a faithful church in the world today, what it means for seniors and youths to be part of the same church, and what it means to reclaim and gladly wear the name of Jesus as our brand.

Elsie Rempel is MC Canada’s director of Christian education and nurture.

Family Ties

Handling each other’s pain

Melissa Miller

A month ago, I took an astoundingly fast fall on the ice. Instinctively, I did the wrong thing, putting down my wrist to break the fall, and cracking my right forearm (just below the elbow) as a result.

In the intervening weeks, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on injuries, and pain and healing. I’ve learned lots of things about elbows, and the three bones and sets of nerves, muscles and ligaments that operate this complex and wonderful part of the body. The bone injury was relatively straightforward, a crack with no displacement of the bone. The nerve pain was intense; I still wince when I move my arm the wrong way. I’ve been told that full healing could take upwards of a year, even as I regain ease of movement and abilities.

When an injury or illness slows us down or changes our routine, there are a set of beliefs we examine, or adjustments we make with varying degrees of ease or protest. I had never hurt myself in a fall before, although I am regularly upended in the course of a winter. I had never broken a bone before. These were parts of my identity in which I took pride. While I wouldn’t have admitted it beforehand, there was a kind of smugness in my attitude towards good health. As if my strength and wellness were the result of my efforts, and not gifts from God.

In truth, bad things—falls on the ice, injuries, broken bones—can happen just in the course of living . . . .

In addition to my internal conversation about my cracked arm, I have been interested in other people’s responses. I was deeply appreciative of the kindness of the medical people who offered tender care, and coached me through the excruciating X-rays, as my arm resisted “assuming the position” required for a good photo. I found strangers in Winnipeg to be engaging and sympathetic, mutual sufferers in winter’s cruelties; often they shared a similar tale of woe and sent me on my way with a blessing.

I was also heartened by the humour that was extended. The emergency room doctor advised me to “milk it for all it was worth.” He continued wryly, with an eye to my spouse, “She can’t do dishes for at least two years.” And then there was the flight attendant who spied my cast as I boarded a plane, and asked what had happened. Before I could reply, she quipped, “Bar fight?” (A concept so far removed from my actual life, I’m still chuckling.)

I’m also curious and a little defensive about the cautionary comments some people made, like, “You should have been more careful.” I want to protest, “I was careful! Very careful!” Like Job’s friends, sometimes our friends, or even we ourselves, look for an explanation or cause, or someone to blame when bad things happen. If we can just figure out what went wrong, the reasoning goes, we can prevent any bad thing from ever happening. In truth, bad things—falls on the ice, injuries, broken bones—can happen just in the course of living, with no one or no thing to blame.

Like God’s answers to Job and Job’s friends, there is mystery in sudden misfortunes, in the rhymes and reasons of life, in who falls on the ice unscathed, and who picks herself up with a broken bone. What seems to be God-given is how the kindness and good humour of strangers becomes a spiritual balm, and how the body knits itself marvellously back together after an injury.

How do we handle each other’s pains?

Melissa Miller ( lives in Winnipeg, where she ponders family relationships as a pastor, counsellor and author.

God, Money and Me

Abundance in times of need

Dori Zerbe Cornelsen

Sometimes preaching and hearing about God’s abundance is harder than one might expect. Take, for example, Jan. 17, the Sunday after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. On that Sunday, pastors and congregations who use the Revised Common Lectionary will have read John 2:1-11, the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, who blogs on the Sojourners weekly e-mail-zine wrote, “When I realized [the suggested text] was the wedding at Cana I thought, great. Jesus at a big party making sure the wine flows freely. No one wants to hear that today. . . . Nobody wants to hear a quaint little miracle story about how generous God is, when the poorest country in this hemisphere lies in even greater waste than before. Nobody wants to hear of an abundance of wine when people on the streets of Haiti are thirsty.”

It is not always easy to reconcile an affirmation of God’s abundance and generosity with an experience of scarcity.

‘Nobody wants to hear of an abundance of wine when people on the streets of Haiti are thirsty.’

But then scarcity was the context of the wedding in Cana, where the wine was exhausted. This event happened in the “backwater of Galilee,” as Marcus Borg puts it, in a peasant village. This community likely knew what it was just to get by and sometimes to do without. Some inhabitants might have been teetering on the edge of having nothing at all. Perhaps in Cana it wasn’t a surprise that the wine, one of the staples of a wedding banquet, had run out.

In the context where there was no reason to believe that there would ever be enough, Jesus provides a sign of profound abundance. A sign points out that something important is coming, so pay attention! This sign revealed a generous, compassionate Jesus that caused his disciples to believe in him. They would continue to learn from Jesus, as John records in his gospel, that this extravagant generosity was to be shared liberally. Have we seen this sign as believers?

As time goes by, the urgency to respond to crises like the earthquake in Haiti fade. Our perspectives become a bit narrower again as we focus on our worlds of work, home, school, sports and credit card bills, among others. One of the biggest challenges we face is to cultivate a perspective of enough, of generosity and abundance over scarcity, every day. It is a perspective that looks beyond our own needs to those of others. If we’ve seen the sign, we have the potential, as the body of Christ, to become the outpouring of God’s lavish generosity in the world.

The story of the wedding in Cana reminds us that God is present where the wine has run out, waiting to be revealed in profligate abundance. Today in Haiti; tomorrow, who knows? Maybe next door. There will always be opportunities to be God’s abundance as the body of Christ. Hopefully, we see the signs.

Dori Zerbe Cornelsen is a stewardship consultant at the Winnipeg office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC). For stewardship education and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit

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