Book Notes: Recent publications
[Disclaimer: Not exhaustive]
Books are available from their respective publishers or through online book vendors.
Scruples on the Line trilogy by Evie Yoder Miller: #1, Shadows (Wipf & Stock, 2020); #2, Loyalties (2020); #3, Passages (2021)
Set during the Civil War (1862-65), these three books follow five narrators – from Amish, Mennonite and (Old) German Baptist communities in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Chicago and Iowa – and their struggles with the wrenching conflict between obedience to government and historic refusal to participate in war.
The books include the voices of those (especially women and children) often left out of conventional war narratives and reflect the ways in which a peace-church tradition shapes, guides and challenges its adherents.
Evie Yoder Miller is the author of two previous novels, Eyes at the Window and Everyday Mercies, and is retired from teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Fight Night by Miriam Toews (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021)
Swiv, age 9, writes a letter to her missing father about life with her mother, Mooshie, an actor who is heavily pregnant with a baby Swiv calls “Gord” (from the Spanish gordo, meaning large or fat) and her grandmother, Elvira, who is gradually succumbing to heart failure without losing a speck of her sense of humor in the process. Toews has said that she thinks of all her novels (this is the eighth) as “one big book” in which appear a version of herself, her sister who died of suicide, her mother and other people in her world. And in this one, the grandmother, Elvira, shares the name of Toews’ actual mother (who, while she also shares fictional Elvira’s heart issues, at this point remains in decent health). Like Toews’s previous novel, Women Talking (2018), this one explores intergenerational female relationships and the lives of strong women who persevere against obstacles and barriers and, like many of her novels, mines her experience growing up in a repressive, patriarchal Mennonite society in southern Manitoba.
A Dream of a Woman: Stories by Casey Plett (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021)
Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, this collection of short stories is Casey Plett’s first since 2014’s A Safe Girl to Love. This poignant suite of stories centers transgender women seeking stable, adult lives. A Dream of a Woman finds quiet truths in prairie high-rises and New York warehouses, in freezing Canadian winters and drizzly Oregon days.
Outlasting the Weather: Selected and New Poems, 1994-2020 by Patrick Friesen (Anvil Press, 2020)
From the publisher:
Spanning a quarter century of Friesen’s work, the poems in Outlasting the Weather speak to what is meant by “a life lived in poetry.” These poems are inseparable from the poet. To read them is to enter his thinking and ride his breath: to experience the art of making in as immediate a way as is humanly possible. … [They] are archaeological digs through layers of a life lived without the certainty of belief.
“The poems in this volume represent the second half of an already auspicious literary career that began in Manitoba and has continued unabated to this day in Victoria, B.C. Outlasting the Weather, a collection 26 years in the making, displays an astonishing range of achievement from a writer who has continued to change and evolve while pushing the limits in exploring the human journey. Friesen has found great depth and solace in collaboration in theatre, dance, translation and music. Whether touching upon the beauty in a still life or the thunder in the heavens; the memory of history or the ‘gossip of the dead,’ these are evocative poems from a poet to be reckoned with.” – Allan Safarik, advance praise
Heart & Soul: A Cardiologist’s Life in Verse by Joseph C. Gascho (Wipf & Stock, 2022)
Joseph Gascho, a retired cardiologist and emeritus professor of humanities and medicine at Penn State University College of Medicine, has written another autobiographical book of poetry (after Cornfields, Cottonwoods, Seagulls and Sermons, published by Cascadia in 2017). Gascho grew up in rural Nebraska and was drawn to medicine at a young age. In Heart & Soul, he “shares his deepest responses to his complex life, whose high stakes each of us shares, as he looks back at his life in this second collection of narrative poems that resonate with health-care workers and lay persons alike” (from the back cover).
The Best of the Bonnet by Andrew Unger (Turnstone Press, 2021)
Andrew Unger created and launched the satirical website The Daily Bonnet in 2016. This volume brings together some of the funniest and best-loved posts from The Daily Bonnet, which none other than Miriam Toews has called “fantastic” and “hilarious.” The collection also includes new and updated articles, scholarly commentary, a glossary of Low German words and Unger’s afterword, in which he reflects on the nature of satire and the importance of community.
Canner Boy: An Impossible Journey of Faith and Service with the World’s Only Mobile Cannery by John Hillegass (self-published, email@example.com, 2021)
Mennonite Central Committee has operated a mobile meat canner for 75 years, and John Hillegass was on the canner for 13 of those – as a second-generation canner boy, since his father served in the 1960s. Hillegass tells stories about navigating the often-confusing world of Anabaptist groups – the meat canner is a rare enterprise that connects diverse Anabaptists who otherwise do not work together well – with humor and respect.
Mennonite Valley Girl: A Wayward Coming of Age by Carla Funk (Greystone, 2021)
Carla Funk was born and raised in Vanderhoof, one of the oldest Mennonite settlements in British Columbia. In this memoir, the poet (author of five books of poetry and former poet laureate of the city of Victoria, B.C.) and essayist mines her 1980s rural upbringing for “delightfully frank” essays that cover everything from believing dancing is a sin (unless you are a Holy Roller, filled with the Holy Ghost) to questionable fashion choices to the growing pains of puberty to the shame of having an alcoholic parent. The book is full of ’80s nostalgia (skyscraper bangs, acid-washed jeans, teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron), humor and “luminous prose.”
Resurrection Peacemaking: Plowsharing the Tools of War, Thirty Years with Christian Peacemaker Teams by Clifford Kindy (Resource Publications, 2020)
Indiana farmer Cliff Kindy, a member of the Church of the Brethren, is by now a revered elder peacemaker. In this book, he chronicles 30 years as part of Christian Peacemaker Teams (which recently changed its name to Community Peacemaker Teams), as a Steering Committee member and especially as one who has infiltrated war zones from Gaza to Iraq, Nigeria to Colombia, back to the United States, to de-escalate violence, accompany peacemakers, and serve the victims of war, all in the name of Jesus.
Stories: Beyond Ourselves by Edgar Stoesz (Masthof, 2021)
Now in his 90s, Edgar Stoesz is a veteran worker with Mennonite Central Committee, a bridge to MCC luminaries of the past such as Orie O. Miller and Peter and Elfrieda Dyck, whom Stoesz knew. In this book, he shares 43 stories that illuminate, often humorously, MCC’s history and legacy in countries such as Paraguay, Germany and Haiti, where Stoesz served. Stoesz’s experiences with the Mennonite colonies in Paraguay, which he visited scores of times over 50 years, are especially noteworthy.
Seven Radical Elders: How Refugees from a Civil Rights-Era Storefront Church Energized the Christian Community Movement, an oral history edited by David Janzen (Wipf & Stock, 2020)
From the publisher:
Many young idealists, after a few failures, burn out and return to status quo lives. Not so with the seven radicals in this book, who met in an interracial house church and intentional community on Chicago’s West Side during the civil rights era: a Church of the Brethren pastoral couple who tried to bring communal life to the Black “ghetto”; a fashionable socialite who trashed her curlers and joined the simple life; an elite Stanford graduate who cast his lot with a bus full of Black teens on an epic ride to Washington, D.C., to hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech; two ethnic Mennonite women who became community leaders and elders during a male-dominated era; and a painfully shy “geek” awakened to the traumas of racism by five days in the Albany, Ga., jail. Now, in their 70s, 80s and 90s, these veterans of community bear witness to the possibilities of radical life conversions and engagement with the hard, slow work of racial reconciliation that learns from mistakes and does not quit.
A Cloud of Witnesses: Celebrating Indonesian Mennonites by John D. Roth (Herald Press, 2021)
As Mennonites from around the globe prepare to gather for Mennonite World Conference in Indonesia, John Roth, recently retired professor of history and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen (Ind.) College, has produced a valuable resource. Indonesia is home to the oldest Mennonite community outside Europe and North America. Roth traces the 170-year history of Mennonites in Indonesia alongside the larger cultural and religious history of the country. Placing the legacy of 16th-century European colonization to national independence in 1945 alongside the history of the 19th-century Dutch Mennonite mission to Indonesia, Roth creates a rich narrative tapestry.
A Cloud of Witnesses traces the emergence of the three Mennonite-related groups found today in Indonesia. These three groups will collaboratively host the 17th global assembly of Mennonite World Conference in Semarang, Java, in July 2022. A Cloud of Witnesses helps orient other members of the global Anabaptist-Mennonite church to the history and identity of this unique group of churches while also providing practical travel tips, recipes, reference notes on culture and language, and tourist sites.
Hardship, Resistance, Collaboration: Essays on Dutch Mennonites During World War II and Its Aftermath by Alle G. Hoekema and Gabe Hoekema (Occasional Papers #28, Institute for Mennonite Studies, 2021)
An engaging and critical study of Dutch Mennonites during the 1940s, this book investigates the diverse Mennonite reactions to German occupation during and after World War II, making important recent scholarship available in English for the first time. Dramatic Mennonite attempts to help Jews, including scores of children, escape deportation and death are well documented, as is the painful failure of leadership and moral clarity that valued toleration of wildly divergent individual views within the church above a united voice against racially motivated exclusion and murder. A unique final chapter describes mixed attempts to revive a Mennonite peace witness by conscientious objectors to the Dutch war on Indonesia, 1945-49, when the tables were turned and it was the Dutch government wielding power in oppressive ways. Beyond telling the story of Dutch Mennonites in their most tumultuous decade of the 20th century, this volume provides a useful model for reclaiming both the good and the bad in a church’s history as part of developing a path forward in reconciliation and in truth. – Mark Jantzen, written for the publisher
What the Amish Teach Us: Plain Living in a Busy World by Donald B. Kraybill (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021)
Donald Kraybill, professor emeritus at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College and a senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, has authored dozens of books on Amish life and culture. This, his newest book, is a collection of 22 short essays that infuse storytelling with informative reflections. Each is a lesson the author has learned from the Amish on subjects such as community, faith, technology, apprenticeship, entrepreneurship and aging in place.
Decades of Feminist Writing by Dorothy Yoder Nyce (self-published, firstname.lastname@example.org, 2020)
Dorothy Yoder Nyce, Goshen, Ind., a retired college and seminary professor, has been thinking and writing about feminism, the Bible and the church (Mennonite and other) since the mid-1960s. This volume brings together a collection of papers, articles, presentations and sermons she has written – and sometimes presented – from that time until the present.
A Field Guide to Christian Nonviolence: Key Thinkers, Activists and Movements for the Gospel of Peace by David C. Cramer and Myles Werntz (Baker Academic, 2022)
From the publisher:
Christian nonviolence is not a settled position but a vibrant and living tradition that includes mystics, feminists, liberation theologians, civil rights activists, Niebuhrian realists and more. This book offers a concise introduction to the variety of recent movements within the broad stream of Christian nonviolence.
Since the 1980s, there has been an explosion of writings on Christian nonviolence, yet no work exists to make sense of this plurality or to orient newcomers to the resources available to think faithfully and critically through what it means to be a proponent of Christian nonviolence. This book provides such an introduction for professors, students, scholars and lay readers. The authors explore the myriad biblical, theological and practical dimensions of Christian nonviolence as represented by a variety of 20th- and 21st-century thinkers and movements, including previously underrepresented voices. They invite readers to explore the tradition and to discover how they might live out the gospel in our modern world.
David C. Cramer is managing editor of the Institute of Mennonite Studies, the research and publishing wing of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind.
How to Have An Enemy: Righteous Anger and the Work of Peace by Melissa Florer-Bixler (Herald Press, 2021)
Jesus called Christians to love their enemies. But befriending an enemy means first having to acknowledge their existence, understand who they are and recognize how they are acting in opposition to God’s good news. Melissa Florer-Bixler looks closely at what the Bible says about enemies – who they are, what they do and how Jesus and his followers responded to them. The result is a theology that allows naming enemies to be a form of truth-telling about ourselves, our communities and the histories in which our lives are embedded. Only then can we grapple with the power of the acts of destruction carried out by our enemies, and invite them to lay down their enmity, opening a path for healing, reconciliation and unity.
Melissa Florer-Bixler is the pastor of Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church.
Reawakened: Activate Your Congregation to Spark Lasting Change by Glen Guyton (Herald Press, 2021)
More and more people are moving away from the church – not because they lack faith in God but because the church is no longer relevant to their lives. The church, not God, is the problem. In Reawakened, Glen Guyton explores eight keys to developing the abilities of congregations to bring healing and hope to their communities. These eight keys give voice to the most urgent needs of a community and offer practical suggestions for how churches can spark holistic and lasting differences in their communities.
Glen Guyton is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.