Tag Archives: MB Herald

Deciding about Billy Graham in 1962

I was recently alerted to a Newsweek article on family squabbles around the legacy of Billy Graham. I have no particular comment on that, but it did remind me of how my denomination got on board the Billy Graham train.

In 1962, in the MB Herald – the then-brand-new English language magazine of Canadian Mennonite Brethren – there were no less than three articles on the rising evangelical star and an appearance on the cover, as well as other “notes” throughout the year. I gather from this coverage that there must have been some questions about how MBs might respond to the Graham phenomenon; certainly public opinion about him varied.

The emphases of these articles can probably tell us something about MB concerns and values of the time. Three matters seemed especially important: his finances, his humility, and his relationship to theological liberals. Continue reading

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What I’m writing…

A lot of my writing energy these days is going into a new novel project. I’m too far in not to continue, if you know what I mean, though not nearly far enough in to announce what it’s about. First drafts are just first drafts. This means I’ve been less active here at my blog; the nice twice-weekly rhythm I’d worked myself into seems to have slowed to weekly. I remain committed to this form of writing and publishing, however, even as I continue to evaluate it, and appreciate so much my readers, whether regular or occasional.

Besides the novel work, I’ve recently done a couple of smaller assignments. And since a blog is, in its original meaning at least, a personal “log” on the web, here follows a report (and links) to those bits of writing. The MB Herald, where I held various editorial positions at both ends of my “working-out” career, such as it was, is celebrating its 50th year as a magazine by asking those who spent time in the editor’s seat to reflect on any aspect of their experience. There’s no chronological order to their appearance; John Longhurst, Harold Jantz, and Jim Coggins opened the year, and yours truly appears in the April issue. (Just to make me sad at how quickly the decades pass, I suppose, they also pictured me as I looked once upon a time: dark-haired and long-haired! Hmm, and hint: maybe it’s sadness taking me back to the 60s and 70s in the new novel project?)

The Manitoba Book Awards nominations have brought a couple of lovely extras my way, such as the chance to read with fellow Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction nominees David Bergen, David Arnason, and Patti Grayson (Joan Thomas was out of town) at Aqua Books this week. I also very much enjoyed talking with Keran Sanders of the CBC Weekend Morning Show for tomorrow’s broadcast (April 10). CBC has a great website called “Manitoba Scene,” including a blog on books for which they requested a few words, like maybe some reasons to write. Loneliness and love are two of mine!

Eight days from now the excitement will be over, and we’ll all get back to our quiet desks or reading chairs. Next post, a log of what I’ve been reading…

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The debate around “knowing”

So what do we think of TIME’s decision to name Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg their Man of the Year? We, the citizens of Facebook, I mean — citizens of the third largest nation in the world, if 500 million accounts counted as a nation. But also we as in all of us, whether we’re on Facebook or not, who know how profoundly media and technology have shifted, who have adapted our communication and connection habits, whether we wanted to or not. And we as in all of us who know that notions of private and public are being re-shaped, again.

There’s plenty of chatter about the angles of this – from sneers that TIME isn’t exactly the authority it used to be on what’s important (which is why I asked what “we” all think, if the we over at Facebook can just pause from collecting tractors for our farms for a moment, or taking a test to discover what dead celebrity we might have been in another life) to SNL’s comics setting up WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as bitter over Zuckerberg getting TIME’s honour (and this landing in newspapers and on computer screens everywhere as news!).

Of the list of TIME candidates (Julian Assange, the Tea Party, Afghan president Hami Karzai, and the Chilean miners), my pick would have been Julian Assange.  Not because I find him more likable (it’s not about liking — Hitler was once was Man of the Year, and Stalin was twice), but because I think the WikiLeak events and the impulses behind them will reverberate through global politics and life more significantly than Facebook has or will. Continue reading

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The top 10 Mennonite Brethren stories of the decade

The transition from old to new year is always a great time for picks and pans, for looking back and making lists. This year, of course, there was an entire decade to grab on to and re-consider. 

The international and national scenes have already been covered by the media pundits, but I put my hand to a list of my own on a rather smaller scale: the top 10 stories of the decade for Mennonite Brethren.

Although I worked with the denomination for five years of the decade, please be assured there’s nothing official or sanctioned about this list, and please realize too the opinions and impressions are entirely my own.

In no particular order then, and for tried-and-true MB conference junkies only (I’m warning), here are my picks for the top MB stories of the decade:
Continue reading

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Crossing the Disraeli

It wasn’t exactly the Rubicon, but crossing the Disraeli Bridge last winter on my first day back to work after a year and a half away seemed momentous. It was a very cold morning and everything was slow, the car crawling through exhaust and spumes of smoke spilling out of chimneys like foam, and there ahead of me, our small city’s small cluster of high-rise towers. One of those dark, tense mornings, the roads clogged and everyone cautious, and enough time to “feel” the progress of dawn, from deep blue to milky blue sky, trees thick with their bare branches against it.

I was exhilarated that morning in spite of the traffic — about being alive, and warm in the car, and thinking how much I love this city and listening to songs nominated for a playlist of 49 best Canadian songs to present to incoming president Barack Obama (K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Alleluia,” for example, and Ian and Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds,” and a song by Blue Rodeo). And yes, going back to work after retiring once, now that I’d decided I’d do it. “It’s only a year,” a friend reminded me. 

Winnipeg sits on land as flat as a chopping block, but the Disraeli rises to cross the Red River, and marks the “hilly” spot for me where I can see downtown and remember my city-love. This year, it was also a kind of halfway marker from our house in North Kildonan to the offices of the MB Herald. 

Driving back at day’s end the bridge was a marker homeward, and had I been in some horse-drawn conveyance, I suppose that’s where the reins would drop and Black Beauty would know the way alone, and probably pick up the pace to boot. 

Now, re-retired, it’s a true crossing back. Then: editor; now: writer. And no matter what Madam Editor said in her last post about writers still being needed, on this side of the Disraeli, wariness over editors returns. Will they want it? Like it? Change it? 

We definitely need each other, editors and writers do, but the priorities are different and there may be a power struggle, or nervousness at least, until you know one another well. I’ve had mostly good experiences, but there was that story that came to me in its published form with its verb tenses changed, and that experience of re-reading something of mine in print and thinking, my lands, I must have been asleep, that doesn’t sound like me, only to discover it wasn’t me but the editor. On the basis of such few and flimsy episodes I’ve become one of those writers who drives editors crazy, insisting she has to see the revisions (please). Most good editors, if they do anything substantive, show them anyway. Then again, what’s the definition of substantive? (Naturally, you do want the errors and foolishness caught.)

But before I engage in too much writerly insecurity, I’m taking a rest — to read and catch up on housework (and blog of course). I was already complaining to some writer friends that the inspiration to work at my (interrupted) short stories appears to be absent. The same friend whose advice helped me above, had some for this side of the Disraeli. “Of course the inspiration isn’t there yet,” she said. “That comes AFTER the rest.” 


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Writers wanted

Back in May, I heard Trevor Herriot read from his latest book, Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds, and he also talked about writing. There’s more writers today, he said, less readers: “maybe we’re all becoming writers.” This didn’t seem to discourage him, though. In fact, he had just given us a number of good reasons to be writing non-fiction. Books can be a stand-in for elders, he said, revealing truth inside our lives and others. And we write because it helps us grow up, he said, and mature, and understand more deeply — it’s “a gestational process.” In doing so we try to “delve deeper.” It “guards against cynicism.”

Each of these ideas would be worth exploring further, but I’m not thinking so much from the writer’s perspective today, as from the editor’s. It’s true, there are writers everywhere … 256,875 bloggers using this platform alone, I was just told when I opened WordPress. And yet, thinking over the past year at the MB Herald, I’d also have to say that the need for writers isn’t letting up, and maybe it’s even increasing. We didn’t have trouble filling our pages, so that may sound like a contradiction, but at any point in the year I’d look at the issues coming down the calendar and could feel a bit of a panic unless we had a solid piece in hand as an anchor or something assigned to someone we were sure would come through for us. But it wasn’t always easy to find those pieces, or secure a writer.  

Not just any kind of writer. We usually got enough of what I call the “happy thoughts” — an anecdote with a bit of a life lesson attached, a devotional, a piece “giving testimony” to some personal or congregational transformation  or touch of God. I hope I’m not sounding derisive, because it’s not what I mean, but these pieces are filler, they’re like sugar — wonderful, but you can’t make a meal of them. 

What we need more of are those writers who are grounded in their faith (and because we’re a Mennonite Brethren church paper, connected to this community, or the wider Anabaptist family) who also know something about some aspect of living, a.k.a professionals in the broadest, “competence” sense of the word — be it in parenting, or pastoring, or teaching, or peacemaking, or working with seniors, or seeing movies, or reading books, or doing theology — and who are willing to work hard (for very little money, let’s say 5 to 10 cents a word) to articulate that in a clear and interesting way. It could be a knowledge-based article or theological investigation with experiences to illustrate. It could be experience-based but with a sensitivity that places it in a larger framework. Such writers have to have some nerve, to let their study/reflections be multiplied 16,000 times and sent around the country. So it’s still about growing up and understanding, but also about a willingness to assist in the growth and understanding of others, and with a broad but essentially lay audience in mind.

(It seems to me — and this is an impression, I hasten to add — that our MB leaders in the past did more writing. I’ve heard people in such roles say they’re not writers — so they don’t. It may also be that we haven’t worked hard enough to find and encourage their voices. And there are exceptions, of course  — MB executive director David Wiebe often writes an “Outfront” column, and there are professors at our schools willing to turn their considerable academic skills into lay-accessible prose for the wider service of the church. I’m thinking, for example, of Tim Geddert’s helpful piece on atonement in the June MBH, here.) 

 Bottom line, magazines aren’t dead, and the one I know best — the MB Herald  — still needs writers.

Trevor Herriot also said that nonfiction writers write about the things they worry about. So if the MBH runs out of writers for their features, maybe it’s because nobody’s that worried.

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Another issue put to bed

It’s interesting how the vocabulary of living with children is borrowed for writing and publishing. A book or essay is said to be birthed. A magazine issue is said to be put to bed.

Which is what we did today — we tucked in our 36 pages for December — meaning it’s all set (electronically) and off to the printers, and except for the press proofs which we’ll give a final look-through tomorrow, it’s what it’s going to be.

One of the things I’ve liked best about this job is the rhythm of it, the ebb and flow of brainstorming ideas, finding and assigning authors, gathering stuff, making decisions about what’s in or out, the editing itself, layout, and proofreading that brings us round to this moment every month, another one done. I like the days of the cycle when the designer begins to set down the material we’ve worked on. But the last days of it are full and sometimes intense. There’s still decisions to make as we see the copy landing on the page,and we’ve got a deadline. I proofread with a ruler under every line and my lips move — I simply can’t trust my eye to read the word accurately unless I see it isolated on the line and say it.

We’ve made no pretense of being up-to-the moment in the small Mennonite world we inhabit — it’s impossible as a monthly — but at least until press time we try our best. We carried two news pieces in this issue referring to talks our MB seminary in Fresno, Cal. has been having with Fuller Theological Seminary, about being a distance education site. It provoked discussion at the conference’s recent annual general meeting. The executive board gave it “considerable deliberation” at their meetings following, according to their release. Then yesterday, in a news release from the seminary about the installation of their president, assistant editor K. spotted, in what was little more than a throwaway line, that the talks are off. Rats! I mean about the currency of the news pieces. We inserted a short note after one of them saying that Fuller had withdrawn, and that will have to do until we can get the longer (I was going to say “fuller”) story.

Typical putting to bed. I remember the evening-long procedures of baths and pyjamas, the string of last minute trips to the bathroom, the thirst requiring another drink, the begging for just one more chapter of the book, the sudden fears or recollections of what was supposed to be brought to school the next day. Busy, and often intense. Then, asleep — my goodness, in terms of children they were about as good as it gets.

Just like the issue we put to bed. It’s always my favourite. Not that it’s ever quite what we’d imagined, but it’s good enough. As I did at the bedsides of our sweet sleepers, I speak a prayer of release and blessing when I sign off on it. Tomorrow K. and I will meet to talk about the next — which I’m always sure will be the best one yet.

[some of my earlier favourites when put to bed]

        

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What surprises me

sc00a574d3Since my work as interim editor is drawing to a close next week, I thought I might offer a few further blog-ruminations about it as I wind down. 

It’s been a surprise, sometimes, what people react to. (I mean the reactions, of course, that reach our office.) There was one article, for example, we carried this year that felt good but also a little risky to me — in its potential to be misunderstood — but nary a discouraging word. In fact, the author told me that it had provoked some excellent further conversation that was all very interesting and positive. 

But our last issue — November’s — which focussed especially on the practice of peacemaking this time (as the well-“practiced” boots of a World War II conscientious objector suggest on the cover, above), and whose articles and stories seemed straightforwardly good in their implications, not provocative… I guess there must be something about peace that loosens them fightin’ words even among nonresistant Anabaptists. We’ve had some affirming responses, yes, but a couple of letters I hadn’t expected too — with reactions such as “profoundly saddened” and finding the issue “extremely one-sided,” and then further to this bit or that, “frustrating — and faintly insulting” and “particularly troubling.” These were private letters, so won’t be published, and the details don’t matter; plus I’ve had a good exchange with both letter writers already. We love to get letters, both personal and for our Letters to the Editor column, but like I said, reactions can be a surprise.

One realizes again that the article one thinks one’s written, or the magazine one thinks one has put out, is never quite the same as the article or the magazine read by this reader, or that one. — This reality certainly keeps things interesting though.

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Writing editorials

It’s Saturday and I’ve finally got a reasonable draft of my last editorial hanging on the line.  

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’ve been working this past year as interim editor of the MB Herald, a 36-page monthly magazine, print run 16,000, which goes into the homes of  members of Canadian Mennonite Brethren churches. For some years I worked as associate editor, and then I “retired,” to do my own writing projects, but in January 2009 I returned to fill in while editor Laura Kalmar was on maternity leave. I’m wrapping up my term with the December issue, which is underway; Laura returns for the January issue.

I’ve enjoyed being back for the year, except, I’d have to say, for the editorials. Many kinds of writing, there’s a structure or strategy about them, and once you figure it out, it’s not so hard. But I’ve never quite figured out the formula that would get me easily through an editorial. In our particular magazine it sits near the front, so it often acts as an introduction to the issue’s theme, but it’s also expected (I assume) that one might have an opinion/position of some sort on some aspect of the topic, and now and then about other things as well. The bits of advice I’ve picked up from other editors is that it should express a view but also be open-ended. Or something like that. 

Good editorial writing may be a gift, or a temperament. Fellow editor Doug Koop (ChristianWeek) doesn’t seem to find it hard and does a great job, and I always admired the rolling through still firm style of former MBH editor Harold Jantz.

In the editorial on the line, I’m weighing in on the recent MB study conference held in Saskatoon. I opined (a word I’m using in honour of another editor friend who was fond of it) that it was a good event but we need to address how our having too little time talking together in a large group setting relates to the value we say we put on “community hermeneutic.”  

The trouble with editorial writing is I have to figure out what I think, and it has to be “true,” not just there for effect. It has to be what I’m willing to commit to saying. What I think about a matter is the hard part and I can only write my way to it — but it involves too many starts and stops and procrastinations and re-writes and then revisions. This quote from one of writer Flannery O’Conner’s letters says it best: “Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.”

Eventually I’ve been happy enough with most of them. But now the last one’s on the line, almost ready, and I’m glad. 

(Re. hanging on the line: this is one of those little writing tips I’ve learned along the way. Once you have a draft of something you have to find a way to see it freshly when you come back to it. It helps to spread it out on the floor or table, or hang it up, and maybe read it backwards — last page first, I mean, and so on. It also helps to switch the column widths from draft to draft, or change the font.)

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