I was invited to offer the Adult Education before the service at the Mennonite Fellowship of Montreal. I wanted to talk about the role and calling of the Church, having been invited to talk about ‘The Quiet in the Land’ – the concept of living as a separate community with distinct values and norms in nations like Canada. In the group discussion this was tellingly described as being ‘model non-citizens’.
This post includes a brief outline of the workshop as well as some writing I did in preparation, much of which I did not use directly. I’m therefore categorizing this as Notes/Outline.
I began with an introduction to Christian Peacemaker Teams as a response to the call to the Peace Churches to be as committed to peacemaking (preparation, training, funding) as an army is to war. I suggested that it was a way of offering specific Mennonite gifts and perspectives to the world. I talked as well about Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and their restorative justice programmes as another way of interpreting nonviolence to a violent system.
I shared about the CPT accompaniment at Dumpsite 41 as an example, and then talked about the White Poppy campaign as a way of representing a different perspective that helps others to consider what their own perspective is. It also tends to provoke and annoy, so it is not always the best way to do it, but, it can make remembrance more meaningful, and is a metaphor for how the church can share its gifts without necessarily requiring everyone to be the same.
At this point we opened up for a discussion, beginning with reactions to ‘The Quiet in the Land’.
The next piece is the invitation included in the email.
Peter Haresnape, from the TUMC church in Toronto, will be giving the sermon and also facilitating Sunday School. Peter is a CPTer having worked on the ground a fair bit in Canada with First Nations, the Homeless and more.
In Sunday School, he will share some of his experiences as a CPTer. The discussion that will ensue can go different directions. Part of the discussion will be around the notion of “the Quiet in the Land”. Does alternative lifestyle serve as an effective protest or statement in the world we live in? Has it ever served effectively?
The discussion may not be limited to that. I suppose that if the answer is “no” to the question above, then the question arises as to what is effective. Certainly CPT has a perspective and an experience and it will be interesting to explore why it is considered to be effective, what its limitations are, what needs to be understood about the approach.
Peter may have some stories about where things have gone wrong and thoughts on why. How do these experiences apply to our everyday lives?
My notes below are pieces I wrote to help me think through some of the elements. I referred to some of these ideas in the session but did not read directly and only drew upon those which were useful.
One of the biggest concerns amongst those concerned about the rise of White Supremacy is the rubric of effectiveness. For generations the aim has been to avoid and minimize violence to stop us getting to the very point that we are at today – powerful people openly calling for the death and discrimination of people based on ethnicity, religion, sexuality or national origin.
I used to lead workshops and discussions about the possibility and practice of nonviolent direct action to respond to violence. Violence might be direct physical violence, or violent cultures of bullying or harassment, or structures of violence like racial prejudice and police brutality. Regardless of the group, usually someone would make an objection to nonviolent methods in terms of effectiveness. And often they would talk about the places where they cannot imagine nonviolence working. Adolf Hitler was often mentioned.
And now today, people are looking for the most effective way to act, because empowered fascism is a terrifying evil and demands action.
This is a place where the Christian witness can falter or fail. Our belief is that God has taken from us both the right and the responsibility to use violence to defend ourselves. There is some rudimentary safety in being unarmed, not a threat. But there is also greater vulnerability when a violent power is looking for a target. In those circumstances, holding onto a posture of peacemaking and nonviolence is harder. It is hard to face the certainty of violence, pain and death.
CPT was founded on the call for the Peace Churches to share their particular piece of the Good News in an active way – not simply to refrain from warmaking but to be actively involved in peacemaking. We maintain a difference in methods – trying to use nonviolent methods and offer alternative solutions. But are we effective? Are we faithful?
Being the Quiet in the Land. Seeking to live worthy lives without being influenced by the cultures around. Living our values.
During his time on earth, Jesus did not do a great job at tackling systemic change. He healed lots of people, incurring anger as he broke taboos and violated purity codes. But he seldom spoke out against these codes openly. If we aim to do as Jesus did, there’s a good chance that we won’t do that either – focusing on individual acts of care and charity. That’s not a bad thing, but we also historically have thought and acted on a larger level – establishing healthcare, education, limiting warfare and promoting the common good.
CPT example of engagement – showing up when requested. We do not assimilate into another community or dissolve our difference. We are asked to come because of that difference – what a Catholic might call our charism, but which I will simply call our Good News (in the sermon).
But that means leaving behind the idea that we are a spotless purity with nothing to learn as well.
Love for the Land – Reconciliation
Taking seriously our connection to the land and our love of it, and working from a generous and vulnerable position to seek to address the wrongdoings of settler-colonialism. Dump Site 41. Participation in TRC – Mennonite Residential School
Poppy Fiasco – visible signs of different perspectives on peace and remembrance. But we need to have the conversation. There is a good realisation to be had here – my freedom to wear an alternative expands your freedom to make a meaningful choice.
The MCC ‘to remember is to work for peace’ button comes from the same place. Remembrance has never been for everyone. We remember also the consciencious objectors and I hope we take them seriously. We also must remember that we are not going to be called upon to serve in the same way in the wars of the future. Our taxes will be conscripted. Conscience Canada enables people to resist this. And the minds and talents of our young people will be recruited to design and build weapons. People need to be generalists, to have an idea about where their work goes, so that they can choose differently.
We might have access to some wisdom about the technological life but it’s not unique. General scepticism is a contemporary value, even if it is not a mainstream one. We might be well positioned to offer great perspectives on technology addiction and on the skills to survive and thrive without technology. But to do that we would need to be a valued partner in dialogue.
Showing up for Racial Justice – knowing and caring what other people experience.
Knowing what other Mennonites experience. Taking seriously our place in the global Mennonite family.