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For discussion: "The desert of Advent: our passage to Christmas" and "A mother’s perspective on Advent"

1. Stuart Scadron-Wattles says that waiting in expectation is a difficult balancing act. What experiences have you had of waiting with expectation? What makes it difficult? Do we recognize and accept what we’re waiting for when it comes?

2. Scadron-Wattles contrasts “getting into the Christmas spirit” with journeying through the desert of Advent to get to Christmas. Do you find yourself trying to get into the spirit of Christmas? How is that different from approaching Advent as a desert to cross? Do you find the image of Advent as a desert helpful?

The desert of Advent: our passage to Christmas

Photo credit: Shayantani Sarkar/Commons.Wikipedia.org

Photo credit: Luca_Galuzzi/Commons.Wikipedia.org

Stuart Scadron-Wattles

“I can’t get into the Christmas spirit,” she said. My daughter Alyson hefted the load in front of her, and the load—my 10-week-old granddaughter—squeaked. “Maybe it’s the new baby. Everything else seems anticlimactic.”

We were walking in downtown Seattle, Wash.—Alyson’s hometown—and every store was bedecked and bejewelled. In Seattle, of course, one does not need shop windows to know that it’s Advent. The streets are filled with people carrying that red Starbucks cup. Here in Canada, the more prevalent blue Tim Horton’s snow scene tells the same story.

For discussion: 'Seeking the welfare of the city'

1. How long ago did Mennonites in your community begin holding public office? Was there a time when local/municipal offices were deemed appropriate for Mennonites, but not provincial or federal ones?  

2. Carl Zehr felt conflicted when he had to lay a wreath at the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. If Mennonites believe in peace and nonviolence, is it appropriate to support those who use violence to keep Canadians safe? Is it ever appropriate for Mennonites to be involved in the use of lethal force?

'Seeking the welfare of the city'

“In the New Testament,” said Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of mayor of the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., on Oct. 27, “the state is understood as part of God’s good ordering function in the world—but it is not the centre of God’s purposes in history; that distinction belongs to the church. The confession of Christ relativizes in important ways loyalty to any one configuration of state, to any leader or party.”

For discussion: "What is truth?"

1. Where would you place yourself and your congregation: believing in absolute truths, wondering if there really is any truth, or somewhere in between? Do you agree that many Christians are finding they need a new way to think about faith?

2. Can you live with the idea that, on many topics, truth might be hard or impossible to find? How do you feel thinking about this? If there is no universally recognized absolute truth, how does that change the church’s mission?

“What is truth?”

In this famous painting, Pilate presents a scourged Christ to crowds in Jerusalem. Eastern Canada correspondent Dave Rogalsky explores the meaning of Pilate’s famous question, ‘What is truth?’

A page from Galileo’s notebook depicting the movement of Jupiter’s moons.

“Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him’” (John 18:37-38, NRSV).

For discussion: Can we talk?

1. What have been your experiences in cross-cultural bridge-building with Canada’s indigenous people? What involvement does the church and organizations like Mennonite Central Committee have with indigenous people in your province?

2. Why has the number of Mennonites living and working with indigenous people declined over the years? Will Braun raises questions about the “theological and spiritual foundations of this work.” What do you think motivates the church to work with indigenous relations? What should be the goals? What role does guilt play in this relationship?

MCC B.C. ‘refocusses’ Aboriginal Neighbours program, releases staff

As part of a relationship-building event at Peace Mennonite Church, Richmond, B.C., Darryl Klassen, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) B.C.’s Aboriginal Neighbours program coordinator, presents local elder Ruth Adams with an MCC blanket. In Salish culture, this is an expression of adopting someone into the family. (Credit: MCC BC)

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) British Columbia has decided to dismiss long-time Aboriginal Neighbours program coordinator Darryl Klassen. The decision, which was made early this year, will take effect at the end of December. Klassen, 64, has worked with MCC B.C. for 25 years. 

At the same time, the organization is “reaffirming its commitment” to indigenous relations work, and preparing for a “refocussing” process, according to associate executive director Ron van Wyk. 

Can we talk?

Harley Eagle, right, Mennonite Central Committee Canada’s co-coordinator of Indigenous Work with his wife Sue, speaks with other MCC staff and partners at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. (Credit: courtesy of MCC UN office)

Vincent Solomon, the Aboriginal Neighbours coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba and a priest for the Anglican Church of Canada, says a blessing for the many MCC infant care and relief kits donated by Native Assembly 2014 participants this summer. (Credit: MC Canada/Dan Dyck)

Roland Ray, left, of the Mathias Colomb First Nation, Sandy Bay, Sask., shows Les Hurlburt how ancient rock paintings depict the land that once belonged to the band, at the fifth annual Spruce River Folk Festival this summer. (Credit: Donna Schulz)

Tension gripped my gut as I drove to a Mennonite church in Altona, Man., with an indigenous friend. We were doing a joint Sunday morning presentation about hydropower impacts. 

I wondered if an indigenous person had ever been in that church. I debated making excuses for whatever suspicion, or worse, my people might direct toward him. I tried to muster grace. 

It went fairly well, although in such settings one mostly encounters a silence that leaves much to interpretation.  

For discussion: Bearing the burden of memory pain

1. Henry Neufeld writes that, “[o]ur memories are prone to distortion.” Do you agree? Have you ever been faced with evidence that you remembered something inaccurately? Do your memories of a situation or an event sometimes differ from the memories of others?

2. What happens when we repeatedly recall unpleasant memories? How can we reduce the amount of time we spend mulling over hurtful events in the past? What advice does Miroslav Volf give regarding negative memories? Do you think this advice is realistic?

Bearing the burden of memory pain

Henry Neufeld

We all have some painful memories of things that happened to us. They are stored, encoded, and sometimes retrieved and reworked. There are strained relationships with our parents and siblings; and the hurt or wrong caused us by a teacher, classmate, colleague, boss, lover, spouse, pastor or fellow church member. Recalling and remembering bring back the pain and all the emotions that go with it. And that means the wrong continues to hurt us, even years later.

Can there be an end of memory?

For discussion: Are we one?

1. What is the relationship of the various Christian denominations in your community? Are there formal contacts between congregations? In what settings do the denominations work together?

2. What does it mean to be “one in Christ”? Do you agree with Ryan Dueck that this was easier in the past when Mennonites lived in tight, close-knit communities? Why can it be disconcerting to associate with people who don’t think like we do? Do we tend to aim for uniformity, rather than unity, in the church?

Are we one?

A portrait of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples by Duccio di Buoninsegna, circa early 14th century. During his talk, Jesus prays that his disciples—and their disciples after them— would be one.

Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, as recorded in John 14 to 17, is full of images of who Jesus is. These four chapters present Jesus as a shepherd; a gate; and the way, the truth and the life.

But this passage is about more than who Jesus is. It is also profoundly about what Jesus wants. We see this uniquely in Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17, as he prays for his present and future followers.

Differently gifted

"I don't want to remember it,” Hugo Unruh says of the grim spring day in 1972. He and his wife at the time, pulled into the 40-hectare complex an hour west of Winnipeg that then housed 1,000 people with intellectual disabilities with Nick, their 13-year-old son.

Good Work

Beige cement walls intersect with light green shag carpet. The smell of sugar and over-brewed yet weak coffee mingles with bits of conversation and the clink of spoons on ceramic church mugs.

It’s the social hour after the Sunday morning service at a mainstream Protestant church in Richmond Hill, Ont. I am here in the basement with Dan, a person with an intellectual disability. Dan and I live at L’Arche Daybreak, a home where people like Dan—known as core members—and assistants such as myself share life.

Stories and images of Assembly 2014

From July 3 to 6, 2014, Mennonite Church Canada held its biennial assembly, in Winnipeg, Man. Focusing on the theme, “Wild Hope: faith for an unknown season,” the church delegates and their families, church-wide staff and volunteers, along with international guests, worshipped together, discussed issues, participated in seminars, and connected with friends and acquaintances.

Coverage of the event includes:

‘Finding faith for an unknown season’

A tornado warning was issued for southern Winnipeg just as Willard Metzger, Mennonite Church Canada’s executive director, was giving the final announcements at Assembly 2014 on July 5. Should delegates proceed to their seminars or should they stay in the Loewen Athletic Centre on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), where the assembly was held? After a few minutes the warning was dropped.

Sexuality has ‘the potential of taking us into fragmentation’

With the future of the church and issues of sexuality being prominent issues up for discussion at Assembly 2014, Karl Koop, a Canadian Mennonite University professor, asked César García, Mennonite World Conference’s general secretary who spoke about the global Anabaptist mosaic, how these topics could affect the global church. While García said he recognizes that theological interpretations of sexuality are contentious subjects in many countries, “we want to open spaces in MWC to speak about [these issues] without going into fragmentation.

For discussion:‘Finding faith for an unknown season’

1. As Mennonite Church Canada ponders the future, it recognizes that the church is changing. What changes have been happening in your congregation? What fears do you have about the future of your congregation and the denomination? Is maintaining the status quo an option?

2. David Driedger says that claiming to have the final revelation of God’s truth is something “like idolatry.” Do you agree? Does showing respect for an opposing point of view diminish our integrity? Is unity in Christ possible if we disagree on some very deeply held convictions?

Biblical visions of ‘wild hope’

Where in the Bible can Christians turn to for “wild hope” if they are to have faith in an unknown season?

That was the question Dan Epp-Tiessen, associate professor of Bible at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, addressed during the seminar he led at Assembly 2014 on July 4. In the seminar, entitled “Wild hope: Living in light of God’s good future,” he highlighted biblical visions of God’s good future.

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