Watching bread rise

So I’m reading merrily along in an article about the “foodie” movement by Ian Brown, one of my favourite Globe and Mail writers, when I hit a Mennonite joke I haven’t heard before.

Describing activity in the pastry kitchen of a Canadian chef school, Brown writes,

[other students] were standing in front of the…bread oven, injecting puffs of steam and watching baguettes rise through its glass doors – ‘Mennonite TV,’ they called it.”

I’m not sure if that’s a dig at Mennonite connections to food (of the Mennonite Girls Can Cook or the More with Less variety) or – more likely – at the stereotype of Mennonites as “anti-modernist,” as technology-free. Well, either way, ha ha.

I can now confess that it’s been a long time since a TV program held my interest beyond a single episode. The miracle of yeast in bread, however, hasn’t lost its charm, and that’s going back to my first batch of buns at age 13. Just this morning, in fact, I got my hands into dough and made up this pile of them, because it’s nice to have home-made buns in the freezer.

Seriously though (we may laugh but not too long!), it reminds me of something else that Mennonites (a.k.a. Anabaptists) are alert to, ideally at least, and that’s the kingdom of God as something already begun, participatory, and as mysterious as the Spirit. And it reminds me of a small kitchen parable Jesus told.

What shall I compare the kingdom of God with? It is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through. Luke 13:20-21.

I mix and knead and cover the dough, and when I look again, it’s risen to a lovely mound. As if a fluke, I push the dough down, and pinch it into balls on pans, cover them and leave. And when I check, those irrepressible balls of dough have risen again. Stuck in the heat of the oven, they insist on swelling even more, until they turn brown and are deliciously done.

This Lenten season I’m trying to offer attentiveness to what God may be up to in my world. Watching bread rise, as it were. Last week that meant entering deeply into a number of stories of significant pain. But there was something moving and alive in them too, something good, something very vulnerable but real. Kingdom growth, like the yeast miracles of the kitchen.

Parable of the leaven, etching by Jan Luyken

Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Day Two

Day Two at the TRC event in Winnipeg (Thursday) was grey and rainy, a tempestuous contrast from the first day’s heat. It made no difference, it seemed, except that the women’s sharing circle was paused earlier than expected in the afternoon because of tornado warnings. (Fortunately, a tornado did not materialize.)

It was another full day. I began at the interfaith tent, which hosted a panel discussion on “Native traditional spiritualities in conversation with Christianity” and ended the day at “Writing Truth, Imagining Reconciliation” featuring a strong line-up of writers, including Basil Johnston, Beatrice Mosionier (In Search of April Raintree), and Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden, speaking or reading from their work.

But the heart of the event is the sharing/healing circle, so once again I sat witness as best I could, first in the tent where there was a men’s circle, and then in the tent where there was a women’s.

What I was witnessing, I realized, was not only the impact of Indian residential schools, via the sharing of survivors, but a constant ministry of community support. A painted stone (painted by children) waiting on the chair of each person in the sharing circle itself, to hold while speaking. Traditional spiritual supports like opening prayers, “blessed” water to drink for participants, the smudge, eagle feathers. And more contemporary supports, like kleenex and the blue-vested “counsellor” people constantly in attendance. (Tear-soaked tissues are not garbaged but gathered to be offered on the sacred fire later in the day.) When the telling gets especially difficult, a family member (though everyone is addressed as “relatives” in the circles) might be standing behind the speaker, hand on their shoulder. Continue reading

Bolivian Mennonite rape victims: update

A recent comment from “Margaret” to an earlier post about reports of sexual assaults of Bolivian Mennonite women reminded me that I promised to provide updates to this story if I received them. What one hears is often anecdotal, and perhaps it will continue to be largely told, or puzzled over, that way — by putting what “Margaret” was told, for example, beside what a source involved with the Casa del Mariposa, a woman’s shelter being built for Bolivian Mennonite women, was told.

The latter account, forwarded me via a letter, said they hear many conflicting stories and “were not sure anymore what is true and what is not.” But, they continued, they do often hear that it [assaults] is still happening. They then recounted that the daughter of one of the imprisoned men, allegedly the ringleader of the group, sought them out to speak with them about their sister who had been gang raped and drugged. The “boys” confessed, but she is now “not herself” and in need of professional help, which the Casa del Mariposa workers are seeking to arrange for her at a mental health facility in Paraguay.

But, I was also forwarded a report written by Jack Heppner of Steinbach, who recently spent 8 weeks in Bolivia. He worked in Bolivia with the EMMC (Evangelical Mennonite Missions Conference) for three years in the mid-1970s and one year in 1991-92. Heppner was a public school teacher, also taught at Steinbach Bible College for some 15 years, then was conference pastor for the EMMC and editor of their monthly magazine, The Recorder. Upon his return from the visit to Bolivia, he wrote the following report of his observations and conversations relevant to this subject. It includes an analysis within the historical context of Mennonite life, answers to questions many of us at a distance have, and some helpful suggestions for steps forward.

Heppner said he considers it “an open document which I have offered back to the Mennonite church and its various agencies as one voice among many related to the tragedies unfolding in South America.” He has given me permission to post it here. Your comments are welcome. If you wish to dialogue with him individually, you can contact me (see info at About) and I will forward the request.

It’s a fairly lengthy document, but credible and helpful, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in knowing more about this issue.
Continue reading