Life, art, complicity

Issue 2021, vol. 75

Even before a pandemic shut down the so-called civilized world, Rachel Epp Buller, Bethel College professor of visual arts and design, who has been associated for the past number of years with Mennonite Life, had begun to examine “slow practice” in life and art. Tangible results of this attention have been hand-written letters, some of which make their way into needlework; several stints as an artist-in-residence who sits in the display space sewing words onto fabric and inviting viewers and passers-by to engage directly with her; and a spring 2021 class at Bethel called Slow Art for Fast Times.

Bethel senior Bethany Powls was fascinated by the class and the idea, especially in the middle of COVID (although the class was envisioned, structured and approved before anyone had an inkling of pandemic). Doing an independent study for her English major by working with Mennonite Life, Bethany decided to ask several recent graduates to reflect and write on what it has meant to them to be forced to slow down – and did so herself.

Mennonite congregations in the United States and Canada are slowly starting to return to “normal” worship practices, which includes figuring out how to sing together safely, as well as learning to know a new hymnal, Voices Together. At the midpoint of the liturgical year, Darrin Snyder-Belousek takes a look at some of his favorite Christmas hymns and carols, encouraging us to look beyond our deep familiarity with the words to what they really say.

Finally, the “Essays” section includes two submissions that bring up a subject on which Mennonites have not traditionally spent much effort until recent years. Mark Jantzen’s examination of how Bethel’s first president, C.H. Wedel, critiqued a novel that includes Mennonite interaction with Native people in Oklahoma Territory can’t help but remind us that Mennonites had “Indian schools,” too. With the grim and heartbreaking discoveries in recent months of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the grounds of schools in Canada, we would do well to examine our own history and complicity with the genocidal policies of white governments in North America toward native peoples. Raylene Hinz-Penner looks more directly there, writing of her work in getting Mennonite congregations to consider land acknowledgments, and in her examination of a new resource, Elaine Enns and Ched Myers’ workbook Healing Haunted Histories.

The book reviews section of this issue includes poetry, short fiction, a novel, and nonfiction covering Holdemans, Pentecostals, 100 years of what it has meant for Mennonite Central Committee to “do mission,” Mennonites in post-colonial African studies, and Mennonites and art. “Book Notes” is a new (or possibly resurrected) section that lists a number of other recent publications with brief descriptions.

There is also information about four upcoming conferences in 2021 and 2022, including calls for papers for two of them.

Thank you for reading and supporting Mennonite Life!  mz