Monday, November 30, 2009

Saskatchewan Book Awards

I went to the Saskatchewan Book Awards in Regina Saturday with few expectations, except that I knew Rudy Wiebe would be the guest speaker, the food at the Conexus Art Centre would be great and maybe, just maybe, Off Road would win the "best first book" prize for which I'd been short listed. Well it did, and I won enough cash to buy another batch of books for retailing. Actually, sales have been going fairly well and I had another first a few days ago . . . my first royalty check!

For any of you who haven't seen Off Road, it's available at, McNally Robinsons, etc. Check out my website at and order it from there directly if you've a mind. Or email me at and I'll mail it to you.

Thanks to all my friends who have read the book and provided me with comments.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Churches, tables and craft sales

Decoupage table

Tile tabletop

Decoupage tabletop

Some time ago, I posted a photo of a tile tabletop my wife and I had made. Since then, I've determined to participate in a craft sale members of my church are staging on November 21st as a fundraiser for church construction. I rescued two rickety tables from the local thrift store. I removed the embedded photograph from the smaller one, fixed the legs and tiled an impressionist flower-design top for it.

The second project needed to do with church, I thought. and I hit upon the idea of using a decoupage process I’d read about to transfer photos to a hard surface. I sketched the original Eigenheim Mennonite Church—constructed of logs in 1896—and used photographs of the subsequent generations of the EMC structures. The decoupage process didn’t go smoothly and the pictures ended up with some stretching and bulging. I took the amateur’s way out; using decoupage glue, I put wrinkles in the rest of the table top as well, did a great deal of repainting and varnishing and called it done. I didn’t feel too bad about it because the flaws may remind us that all three churches pictured on the tabletop were built by amateur carpenters and were replete with instances where one would want to say—in retrospect—“Boy! We could have done that better!”

In any case, labouring over the decoupage project gave me plenty of thinking time about the meaning of church buildings, particularly since we claim that the church is the people and not the stones and timbers that house their communal activities. We’re building a new one, and in our group there is considerable doubt that the expense is justified in a needy world. And yet, buildings are more than buildings, as evidenced by the nostalgia that is evoked by the thought that a building we have come to think of as HOME will have to be moved away or demolished.

The verse on the table is, of course, the ubiquitous cornerstone verse of Mennonite Church Canada. “No one can lay any other foundation than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 3:11).” Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church as a reminder not to stray from the fundamentals (foundation) he had laid down and on which they were “building” a still-fledgling church. The use of the metaphor of constructing a building as a model for constructing a faith community is apt. In Eigenheim, each successive community worked at the building of a foundation, walls and a roof to house their communal activity and to form a centre for their faith. The temple is not the church, but we are human, made of clay, delicate vessels, and the lack of a temple might well mean the dissolution of a community that was meant to be.

Monday, November 02, 2009

On Poppies, flags and such.

Hallowe’en is gone and the trick-or-treaters learned again that nature doth not love beggars; it snowed pretty much all day on the 31st October and by evening, the streets of Rosthern were skating canals.

Remembrance Day—November 11—is almost upon us. It was my duty to deliver the sermon in church on the peace topic on Sunday morning, so I did. In summary, what I said was that soldiers go abroad into extremely risky situations in the interest of military victory, so why is it so hard for us to get up the conviction and the courage to fight for peace? Maybe if there were a “peace army” uniform, marching, some catchy phrase to simplify it (like the army’s “defending freedom”) young people would line up to join. Christian Peacemaker Teams has a model that could define what peace armies would do. They stand in solidarity with those threatened by violence and share their risks. Unarmed, they demonstrate that there are alternatives to the use of force, threats, and physical violence. 100,000 unarmed peace soldiers with hammers and saws, spades and axes could possibly do more to bring stability to Afghanistan than NATO forces can.

Oh, I know that the very idea would be ridiculed by those who have decided that peaceniks are na├»ve and that human reconciliation and cooperation across ideologies, ethnic differences and political systems is a pipe dream. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. In any case, it’s not been given a fair trial recently, except possibly in cases like the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, where dialogue, reconciliation and the granting of amnesties replaced the pattern of retribution so ubiquitous historically.

I watched the World Series game between the Phillies and the Yankees last night and was again amazed how patriotism rides on the coattails of faith (or is it the other way ‘round??) The National Anthem preceded the game; in the 7th inning stretch, a navy man in uniform sang “God Bless America, land of the free” while the baseball fans and players all stood with their hands over their hearts.

I imagined a host of peace army recruits watching a ball game and singing: “We are people of God’s peace as a new creation. Love unites and strengthens us at this celebration. Sons and daughters of the Lord, serving one another, a new covenant of peace binds us all together.” Now there’s an anthem for which I would gladly hold my hand over my heart!

Brethren and Sistren; we have a lot to do. Let’s roll up our sleeves.