Link notes: Bolivia, bread, a beach story, and more

BOLIVIA  Those of you following the Bolivia Mennonites rape scandal and subsequent trial and judgment will want to read Mennonite Weekly Review associate editor Tim Huber’s editorial about it. At Sightings, Adam Darlage reflects on the “shocking” story in terms of how the “pacifist Anabaptist tradition” has shifted in the American imagination, from “deeply distrusting Old Order Anabaptism to romanticizing it.” He argues that a “doomsday narrative” that posits Old Order Anabaptist groups as symbols of virtue where vice should not reach is “a poor approach to these tragedies [the Nickel Mines tragedy and the sex scandal in Bolivia]” and concludes:

The Old Orders within the historic Peace Church tradition deserve more than facile narratives of nostalgia and woe when terrible events like these happen…. Instead, these groups merit deeply contextual understandings of their particular problems and concerns by people who would approach them for what they are: lived religious communities of human beings with their own sets of rituals, values, symbols and, to be sure, their own very human problems as well. Continue reading

What she left

“What will I leave of myself?” asked nurse and poet Christine Wiebe (1954-2000) in her journal. The question found its way into a limited edition book, “How to Stay Alive,” produced for family and friends, and now into excerpts carried in the latest issue of the online CMW Journal. I hear it, honest and poignant, as it weaves through the 79 online pages of the piece, and through her poems, and as I read her mother Katie Funk Wiebe’s short biography of her daughter, then a short analysis of Christine’s work by Ellen Kroeker (and the poem, “Her Spirit, a Small Bird with Color”), and the reflections of her sister Joanna and Jeff Gundy Christine, and… well the whole issue, in fact.

Christine faced many health challenges, including lupus and heart attacks and eventually the complete collapse of her body and death. She was interested in healing — of others, of herself. She was both Catholic and Mennonite. And most of all she wanted to be a writer. And she struggled — in the way one’s thoughts turn round and round in journal writing — with those dreams (and others) and what might not be accomplished.

On the evidence of these articles, she left more than she knew perhaps, for her mother, sisters, friends, colleagues, clients, especially in terms of personal interaction. But in addition, and here I speak as one of those now reading these gathered words by and about her, these frank and lovely, almost heartbreaking words, I want to answer her, you left us all this: a gift of what you saw and strove for and accepted.

I close with one whimsical foretaste of Christine’s art and poetry from her journal (used with permission):

Everyone has an angel.
Angels have friends.
Imagine all the angels around
your bed
before you sleep.

Claiming a blessing

Katie Funk Wiebe longed for a blessing from her church — the Mennonite Brethren — and she’s getting it tomorrow evening (April 24) at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, with the presentation of a festschrift in her honour: The Voice of a Writer: Honoring the Life of Katie Funk Wiebe, edited by Valerie Rempel and Doug Heidebrecht.

I’ll be reviewing the book for the MB Herald, but I haven’t read it yet. Instead, after finishing the biography of Gloria Steinem mentioned in an earlier post, I re-read Funk Wiebe’s own telling of her story, in You Never Gave Me a Name (Cascadia, 2009). I’d read it in manuscript form in order to contribute a blurb for the cover, but wanted to come back to it in book form.

Which I’ve done….

The title strikes me as unusual, even a little odd. But it’s provocative, and in that provocation leads directly into the arc and accomplishment of Katie Funk Wiebe’s  life.

The plain name she was given by her immigrant parents didn’t seem nearly sophisticated enough for the dreams of the talented young woman; she preferred Kay. When she married, she became Mrs. Walter Wiebe, and when he was ordained, she was Mrs. Rev. Walter Wiebe, both names marking a certain (increasing) status but hiding her own. As a professor at Tabor College she was Mrs. Wiebe at first, and then as formalities disappeared for a new generation, simply Katie.  To her children she was Mom. Then, as a writer and speaker she used Katie Funk Wiebe, and gained name recognition.

Other things were given her: a particular heritage; a church unsure of its identity (evangelical, Anabaptist, fundamentalist?) and limiting of women; and the challenges of widowhood, single parenting, and college teaching. Inside what she was given is implied all that she wasn’t given as well — which she had to discover,  wrestle with, accept, or create.

In the “namelessness” of being a widow, a woman in the Mennonite Brethren church, and an older person, Katie Funk Wiebe named herself. She knew the loneliness of being set aside, hidden, unblessed, but she persevered to assert herself, to speak up for herself and others, and to claim blessing for herself even when it wasn’t granted by people or institutions. Continue reading