CGR Vol. 39 No 3 (Fall 2021)

Title of Contents


Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews


The contents of this omnibus issue of The ConradGrebel Review fall into an unusually wide array of categories. We are pleased to offer two Articles, a Response, a Reflection, and a Literary Refraction.

The five pieces are based on public lectures given in 2021-2022, three of which were presented at Conrad Grebel University College and one at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre that occasioned the Response. We are delighted to reactivate CGR’s Literary Refraction category, which has lain dormant for quite some time, for one of the submissions.

The book review section of this issue comprises a review essay on two recent volumes plus reviews of five other current titles.


In addition to offering its explicit contents, this issue marks a significant transition for TheConradGrebelReview. My own stint as Editor is coming to a close, and this is the last issue for which Stephen Jones is Managing Editor. He has maintained a steady hand at the plow of CGR for more than two decades, copy-editing the journal since 1998 and serving as its Managing Editor since 2002. The series of Editors with whom he has worked are profoundly grateful for his skills and dedication.

Both of us want to heartily thank our colleagues at Grebel and beyond who have helped us maintain and develop CGR over the last several years. We also wish CGR’s future editors the very best in publishing an academic journal devoted to advancing thoughtful, sustained discussions of theology, peace, society, and culture from broadly-based Anabaptist/Mennonite perspectives.

W. Derek Suderman, Editor

Stephen A. Jones, ManagingEditor

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Absent Fathers, Invisible Mothers, and the Theological Dance of Knowledge and Love

Chris K. Huebner
ABSTRACT: This article explores the relationship between knowledge and love through an encounter with the mode of drama. The allegorical martyrdom drama Sapientiawritten by Hrotsvit of Gandersheim in the tenth century, which suggests that the theological virtues inform a particular vision of knowledge, is brought into conversation with Stanley Cavells reading of Shakespeares KingLear. Where Sapientiaelaborates a theological vision of knowledge as a work of love, Leardramatizes the tragic consequences that can arise when love is viciously distorted. After examining Cavells account of the relationship of knowledge and love, as well as his claim that modern epistemology is often beset by a form of mother-denial, the article concludes with suggestions for how the theological dance of knowledge and love might be conceived in a Mennonite context.


How might we understand the relationship between knowledge and love? What role might the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity) play in the range of activities we associate with knowing and thinking? These questions are likely to sound somewhat strange to our contemporary ears, but discussions of knowledge by early Christian and medieval writers routinely included the theological virtues in their attempts to make sense of matters we now call “epistemological.” While some contemporary philosophers have championed the movement known as “virtue epistemology,” attention to the theological virtues in that body of literature remains relatively scant by comparison. Focusing specifically on the theological virtue of charity or love,[1] I will explore the relationship between knowledge and love by way of an encounter with the mode of drama.

I take my cue from American philosopher Stanley Cavell (1926-2018). I will develop and extend Cavell’s reflections on the difficulty of knowledge by weaving  together  three  intergenerational  dramas  in  which  a  parent is notably missing. I will attend to some of the themes he explored in his reading of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, KingLear. But I will give it a different twist, by situating Cavell’s reading of Learbetween two other dramas that he did not discuss. By reading these stories of absent fathers and invisible mothers alongside one another, my primary goal is to examine how they might help to make a case for a conception of knowledge informed by the theological virtue of charity or love. While this is not how Cavell described his own work, I hope to show that he is a valuable resource for entering more deeply into what I call “the theological dance of knowledge and love.”[2]

To begin, I will bring Cavell’s reading of King Lear into conversation with another play that was written some 600 years earlier—the allegorical martyrdom drama Sapientia, penned by the medieval German canoness Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. Where Sapientiaelaborates a theological vision of knowledge as a work of love, KingLeardramatizes the tragic consequences that can arise when love is viciously distorted. Following Cavell’s account of the relationship of knowledge and love—especially his claim that modern epistemological approaches are often beset by a form of what he calls mother-denial—I will conclude by turning to a third story that features one of the many mothers included in early Anabaptist martyrdom literature. This suggests that we might discern traces of the theological dance of knowledge and love in a specifically Mennonite context.

Knowledge Then and Now

Let me offer some comments on epistemology, the study of knowledge, to help set the stage. In a recently published set of lectures, historian of philosophy Robert Pasnau describes a kind of historical alienation that lies at the heart of contemporary discussions of knowledge. “Of all the main branches of philosophy,” he writes, “epistemology is the most alienated from its history.”[3] One reason for this is that epistemology doesn’t have the lengthy history that other branches of philosophy have. Pasnau notes that the term ‘epistemology’ is relatively recent, emerging only in the middle of the 19th century to name a particular approach to the study of the nature and possibility of knowledge in general. The term stuck, and epistemology quickly became one of philosophy’s foundational subjects. Pasnau is not suggesting that there aren’t very many discussions of knowledge scattered throughout the history of philosophy. His concern, rather, is to show that these historical discussions are framed in ways that differ significantly from those gathered under the heading of epistemology today.

“From Aristotle to the Middle Ages and well beyond,” Pasnau observes, “philosophers took an interest in carefully circumscribing one or another particular kind of cognitive grasp of reality—perception, imagination, assent, deduction, and so on—but showed little interest in defining the broad category of knowledge.”[4] By drawing attention to these differences, it does not follow that contemporary epistemology is somehow irredeemably misguided. On the contrary, he hopes that it might be enriched by attending more closely to the way knowledge was historically conceived.

One characteristic of the earlier discussions of knowledge is that they found ample room to incorporate appeals to ethical categories such as the virtues. This is no doubt because questions of knowledge were understood to belong to a broader discourse, that of human perfection. A second characteristic is that theological considerations were not automatically put on the defensive, as they are in much contemporary epistemology. To illustrate and provide a sense of the stakes involved, consider the distinction of faith and reason. From the perspective of epistemology today, faith and reason are commonly taken to represent different epistemological capacities. Whether or not they are thought to be compatible, it is assumed that each belongs to and operates within a particular domain: faith is construed as a way of acquiring knowledge about things not accessible by means of reason alone. Because of this, it is typically taken to be secondary to the work of reason. If there is any room left for faith, it is to complement the knowledge we acquire by reason. In earlier discussions of faith and reason, by contrast, we are more likely to find depictions of faith as a virtue that disciplines and gives shape to a range of human capacities, including that of reason. That is, faith does not work so much to complement our knowledge of, say, the natural world but rather to help us distinguish between reasoning well and reasoning poorly.

A third characteristic of the discussion of knowledge before the rise of epistemology is that it was frequently taken up in dramatic works, theatrical performances, and other forms of literature. These artistic approaches were especially relevant for exploring the sorts of ethical and theological themes mentioned above. These matters are often better presented by showing than simply by saying. Nobody has been more attentive to the many intersections of philosophy with literature and drama than Stanley Cavell, whose work is a refreshing counter-example to Pasnau’s claims about contemporary philosophy’s alienation from its history.

Cavell was especially concerned to highlight and study the ethical character of knowledge. He was also an astute reader of theology. If there is a common thread running throughout his interest in all three of these characteristics, it is his understanding of the expressive character of language and thought, his sense that knowledge flourishes just to the extent that it is given voice and is compromised when voices are silenced or lost. Cavell found that intergenerational dramas revolving around relationships between parents and children provide especially rich material for exploring these connections. In particular, he was drawn to “tales in which one parent is notably and suspiciously absent.” [5] Tales like these draw attention to the difficulties of knowledge and the challenges involved in finding (or failing to find) a voice. By attending to these difficulties and challenges we can better understand the wide range of factors that our pursuits of knowledge involve.


Let me start with the oldest of the three stories—a play called Sapientia, written by the medieval German canoness, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (c. 935 – c.1000). Hrotsvit’s drama was written toward the end of the 10th century, approximately 600 years before Shakespeare wrote KingLear. The story it recounts is much older still. In the year 137 AD, a widowed mother and her three young daughters arrived in the city of Rome from another large Italian city (some accounts suggest it was Milan).[6] The mother was a devout Christian woman of noble descent, and she raised her three daughters in the fear of God. There is no mention of the father of the three girls. The mother’s name was Sapientia (Wisdom), and she had given her daughters the names Fides, Spes, and Caritas. I will refer to them by their English names: Faith, Hope, and Love. Although they were quite young—their ages were 12, 10, and 8—they were also said to be wise beyond their years. Together with her daughters, Wisdom began visiting the churches of Rome, and they quickly gained a reputation for winning many of the women of Rome over to the truth of Christ.

This caught the attention of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who summoned Wisdom and her daughters to appear before him in his court. He was concerned that their stirring up of religious dissent posed a grave danger to the harmony of civic peace he was charged with preserving. He was particularly anxious that the women who had come under the influence of Wisdom were starting to despise their husbands. “They refuse to eat with us,” his assistant Antiochus reported, “or even more to sleep with us” (126). Understanding the close relationship between power and population, the Emperor conceded that this was a significant threat to his reign. But Hadrian was also known for his considerable intellectual capacity; he thought of himself as a champion of the Greek philosophical tradition and was proud of his reputation as a patron of the arts. In keeping with this sense of himself as a person of knowledge, he attempted to win the favor of the girls by appealing to their shared desire for knowledge and truth. He offered to take them in as his own children and pledged to help them realize their extraordinary intellectual potential—on the condition that they renounce their belief in Christ and direct their worship instead to the Roman goddess Diana. Not only did they refuse his offer, the young trio mocked his claim to possess knowledge. They teased him about his foolishness and called him stupid for venerating base metal instead of the Creator, before serenading him with hymns of praise to their lord Jesus Christ (135).

Not surprisingly, this shameless act of provocation by three precocious girls did not go over well with the proud and powerful Emperor. He responded by separating the sisters from each other and also from their mother, interrogating each of them in turn. When this proved ineffective, he subjected them to a series of brutal tortures in a last desperate attempt to elicit from them a renunciation of the lordship of Christ. However, the violence he directed towards them was equally unproductive. Far from winning their allegiance, it served as the springboard for a surprising series of miraculous occurrences. As difficult as it is for contemporary ears to hear depictions of violence against young women—not to mention the litany of miracles that test the limits of modern believability—the details of these torments are important because they are an integral part of the story’s allegorical logic.

Consider the torture of Love, the youngest of the three sisters. Hadrian ordered his men to have a furnace “heated for three continuous days and nights” and to throw her into the fire when it glowed “red-hot with its heat” (144, 145). The furnace grew so hot that it exploded—and burned 5,000 members of the emperor’s army! Yet the raging flames seemingly had no ill- effect on Love. She was seen dancing playfully in the fire, singing hymns of praise to her God in the company of three men dressed in white. Frustrated by the futility of his efforts to subdue the three girls, Hadrian finally ordered each of them to be put to death by beheading. They responded by declaring that they welcomed the sword and rejoiced in anticipation of their impending betrothal to Christ the divine bridegroom. After they succumbed to death by the sword, the story concludes with their mother Wisdom tending to their bodies and preparing them for burial at the “third milestone outside of town” (147). She spent the next three days at their graveside in continuous prayer, giving praise both for the “heavenly reception of [her] daughters” and “for all that is knowable through science” (149, 148). When she completed her prayer, she “expired in Christ” and was buried alongside her daughters by the matrons who had accompanied her.

This story may have first appeared in hagiographical literature around the sixth century. It is also included in TheGoldenLegend, an immensely popular medieval book of saints’ lives that was first published in 1260. Today, responses to the story tend to be concerned with the question of whether these events actually happened as described and with the horrific forms of violence to which the three girls were subjected. However, these reactions tend to miss its allegorical meaning. Indeed, Hrotsvit’s dramatic rendition of the story reads like a checklist of well-known allegorical tropes prominent in medieval martyrological discourse. She alludes to the three holy youths from book of Daniel, with whom the three daughters of Wisdom were connected by a sort of typological relationship. Her account of the tortures suffered by the girls suggests that, like the unburnt bush from which God spoke to Moses, what is holy cannot be destroyed by fire. And her portrayal of Love dancing and singing in the furnace makes it clear that she embodied the virtue whose name she bore. I refer to this powerful scene staged toward the end of the play as a depiction of “the theological dance of knowledge and love.”

If there is a distinctive contribution that Hrotsvit gave to the story, it is how she emphasizes the stakes concerning the question of knowledge that are involved between the Emperor Hadrian and the four Christian characters. In addition to Wisdom’s praising of science in her final prayer, she inserted a humorous episode in which the girls explain their ages to the Emperor by means of a riddle based on Boethian mathematical theory that he fails to comprehend. Such references, however, are perhaps best described as ornamental. If there is a claim about knowledge made by this play, it is embedded in the very structure of the story. Trading upon the literary device of personification in ways not exactly subtle, Hrotsvit makes it clear that the figures of Hadrian and Wisdom represent the traditional contrast between mere knowledge and the fullness of wisdom. What is perhaps less obvious is how her account of the relationship between Wisdom and her daughters fleshes out this general contrast. Faith,Hope,andLovearethemeansby whichknowledgeis transformed into wisdom. This means that it is not so much that Wisdom and her daughters know something that Hadrian does not know. His problem is not that he lacks informationso much as formation. His relationship to knowledge differs from that of Wisdom, in other words, because it is not shaped by the theological virtues.

I am not suggesting that this connection between knowledge and the theological virtues originated with Hrotsvit’s Sapientia. On the contrary, it can be found scattered throughout Christian scripture and tradition, and it is already suggested by the original legend of Wisdom and her daughters. It is also at the heart of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Hrotsvit’s contribution was to provide a dramatic rendition of this connection and in so doing to present a compelling and powerful vision for her fellow Christians to strive for.

Parenthetically, this means that tales of martyrdom are not always or only about the torture and slaughter of innocent victims. Sometimes there is more to a martyr than being an instance of  exemplary  piety. Vasiliki Limberis notes, for example, that “the Cappadocians framed all Christian life within the cult of the martyrs.”[7] Today, stories of martyrdom are typically understood to represent one discourse among many and so in a sense their scope is narrowed. But where “martyr piety served as the customary way people showed Christian devotion,” the stories of martyrs were often deployed for other purposes.[8] One of these purposes was the work of interpretation or conceptual clarification. Stories of this variety perform what Cavell has described as a way of seeing things together.[9] While contemporary readers find it hard not to fixate on the graphic depictions of torture and death, Hrotsvit wrote Sapientiain order to stress that knowledge and the theological virtues belong together.

While some readers may be put off by the violence, others readers may find it difficult to stomach the heavy dose of allegory in Hrotsvit’s dramas. They find it frustrating that her characters remain significantly underdeveloped, that she tilts the balance toward formulaic types and away from real human beings with emotional complexity and depth. Furthermore, her interest in telling stories about the moral purity of virgin martyrs is likely to strike contemporary sensibilities as quaint and therefore difficult to engage.[10] More important for my purposes here, a critic might suggest that while Hrotsvit may make a case for thinking that faith, hope, and love are to be understood as epistemological virtues, she does little to show what that this equation looks like—or to demonstrate why it matters. Each of these responses can make it tempting to dismiss her work. However, that would be a mistake, not only because Hrotsvit can be defended against each of these charges but because reading her helps us to make sense of other work that followed in her wake. That is, echoes of her vision of a form of knowledge that is disciplined by the theological virtues turns up in some surprising places—like the plays of Shakespeare and the philosophy of Cavell.

I think it is fair to read these echoes of Hrotsvit as commentaries that elaborate and flesh out her vision of the theological dance of knowledge and love. Although this is not how Cavell described his own work, and while some scholars have identified traces of Hrotsvit’s influence in Shakespeare, Cavell never once mentioned her work.[11] Nevertheless, I take his reading of Othelloto be an invitation to explore the relationship between knowledge and the theological virtue of faith. His discussion of TheWintersTalemakes a similar invitation with respect to the theological virtue of hope. And with KingLear, the first Shakespearean drama on which he wrote, Cavell studied the relationship between knowledge and the theological virtue of love. For brevity’s sake, I will limit my comments to KingLear—another story in which a parent is “notably and suspiciously absent.”[12]


That KingLearcan be read as a commentary on Hrotsvit’s Sapientiais perhaps most clearly signaled by the so-called abdication scene with which Shakespeare opens the play. An elderly Lear unexpectedly announces that he has decided to renounce the title to his throne. He initiates a process in which he will divest himself of his property and relinquish his hold on power. He reveals to his three daughters that he has divided his kingdom into three separate territories. In order to distribute the territory among them, he has decided to portion it out on the basis of how much love each daughter has for him. So he invites the three to declare their love for him. “Which of you shall we say doth love us most,” he asks, “that we our largest bounty may extend where merit doth most challenge it?”[13] The two older daughters—Goneril and Regan—respond immediately with effusive flowery speeches about how much they love their father. But the youngest daughter, Cordelia, responds in a completely different manner. It is at this point that the dramatic arc of the play is really set into motion.

Upon hearing her sisters boast about the depth of their love for their father, Cordelia utters her first words in the play—but only as an aside: “What shall Cordelia do?” she asks herself, but “Love and be silent” (Sc. 1, ln. 56). Later, as a second aside, she adds “Then poor Cordelia—. And yet not so, since I am sure my love’s more richer than my tongue” (Sc. 1, ln. 70-72). Later we learn that Lear loves—or at least thinks he loves—Cordelia the most, and he wishes that she so loves him in return. He tries to make it clear that she has much to gain by expressing her love for him. “What can you say,” he asks her, “to win a third more opulent than your sisters?” Cordelia responds by simply saying “Nothing, my lord.” Lear is unable to accept this and continues to press her. She says, “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth” (Sc. 1, ln. 82-83). Though Lear is desperate to hear his youngest daughter tell him how much she loves him, Cordelia finds that she has no voice capable of doing so. Cordelia  refuses  to  participate  in  Lear’s  scheme  because  she understands that flattery is the corruption of love. She calls it a “glib and oily art” (Sc. 1, ln. 215). She knows that love cannot be bought and sold and that it is incompatible with bribery, with calculation and measurement. Unlike her sisters, she really does love her father, and she is uninterested in offering him anything less than authentic love. But Lear’s problem is that he does not understand such love. He tells Cordelia that “her price is fallen” (Sc. 1, ln. 186) and cries out, “better thou hadst not been born than not to have pleased me better” (ln. 24-25). The rest of the play follows Lear’s descent into madness and demonstrates how it is bound up with what we might call the forces of misrecognition. The cascading series of betrayals and banishments that make up much of the play’s action is motivated by what Cavell calls the avoidance of love.

With Sapientiaand KingLear, then, we have two intergenerational dramas that feature the relationship of a single parent to three daughters. Both stories reflect on the relationship between knowledge and love, but they move in entirely opposite directions. In one story, a wise mother bestows upon each of her three daughters a different gift of her wisdom. These gifts are received by the daughters in a spirit of non-competitive gratitude. In the other, a tyrannical and irrational father offers his daughters not a gift but the opportunity to compete for a share of his property. Two of his daughters are all too eager to place their bids and are torn apart by rivalry and jealousy. The youngest daughter, the play’s lone figure of love, moves to the rhythms of her own love-soaked heart. She cannot help but love and so refuses to accept the bribe. And for this she is disowned by her father and banished.

If KingLearserves to interpret Sapientia, it does so by presenting a hellish inversion of Hrotsvit’s vision of the theological dance of knowledge and love. In the hands of Shakespeare, her comedic vision of knowledge perfected by love is disastrously split apart as both are violently distorted with tragic consequences. If Sapientiasketches out an image of the well- formed mind, Learis a drama about the disintegration of the mind. Where Sapientiais about the fruitful union of knowledge and love, Leardemonstrates the failures of knowledge bound to happen when love has become viciously distorted. By inverting the comedic structure of Hrotsvit’s drama, Shakespeare offers us an opportunity to pay closer attention to how love might inform knowledge. He recognized that we can learn as much from studying the process of love’s dissolution as from drawing attention to its vital significance. One of the great gifts of Cavell is the close attention he pays to these dynamics of love and his ability to describe them with subtlety and nuance.


Cavell’s reading of KingLearcan help us think about love as a virtue that can inform our pursuits of knowledge. Here I offer three observations about the claims that are central to his reading. His main contribution to this discussion may simply be the way his work is a reminder that it is not enough to make a point about the theological virtues—namely that they might have some epistemological application—but that this is only possible if we reimagine what we call knowledge and understand it as an inherently ethical enterprise.

That love serves to inform the exercise of knowledge is suggested first of all in Cavell’s influential reading of the abdication scene, where he makes an important structural observation about how the play conceives the relationship between knowledge and love (DisowningKnowledge, 57). When Cavell first turned his attention to KingLear, it was common to see Lear’s words and actions at the beginning of the play as the reflection of one already in the grip of full-blown insanity. But he argued that this assumption is incompatible with the movement of the play’s overall plot (57-58). For Cavell, it is not the disintegration of Lear’s mental capacities that explains his distortion of love. Rather, it is the other way around: the distortion of love comes first for Lear. This means that Lear’s madness and folly emerge against the background of this critical flaw in his character. His treatment of Cordelia is not the outworking of a delusional plan he hatches in a misguided attempt to secure her love but a depiction of the kind of thinking that can arise when one is incapable of loving and being loved. Lear’s forms of speech are expressions of one who is compulsively driven to control and, if necessary, to silence the voice of another.

The other side of Cavell’s observation is reflected in Cordelia’s words, “Nothing, my lord”—that is, in her silence about love. It is not because she does not love Lear that she refuses to speak any words of love to him. On the contrary, she is the only character in the play who actually does love him. For her, love comes first. “All her words are words of love,” Cavell notes, “to love is all she knows how to do” (63). It is because she is so moved by love that she is committed to speaking truthfully. This is also why she is unable to utter the lie that her father tries to coax from her lips. Under the conditions set by Lear, any true words about love are simply unspeakable.[14] Yet this does not mean that love is successfully repressed or that clear thinking is impossible: Cavell refers to Cordelia’s silence as her “revelation” (59). By saying nothing she exposes Lear’s fundamental distortion of love, and it is this revelation that ignites the rage he directs against her.

Lear and Cordelia thus reflect the difference it makes when love nourishes and sustains our thinking or fails to do so. Cordelia embodies a form of thought infused by love. It would not be wrong to call it wisdom. By contrast, Lear is unable to think because he incapable of love. All of this suggests another way of reading Cavell’s claim that the play is about the avoidance of love. If Cavell’s reading of Learis sound, not only does Lear’s denial of love lead him to banish Cordelia, the play itself should be understood as dramatizing the banishment of love from the world of knowledge.

A second contribution Cavell makes to our thinking about the relationship of knowledge and love is in his exploration and elaboration of the complex emotional register of love. He demonstrates that infusing knowledge by love is not a matter of mechanical application. It is an art, subject to subtle and intricate forms of judgment, and it involves the full range of our personhood. If we take a closer look at Cavell’s account of how Lear gets love all wrong, we see Lear as a figure desperate to receive (to obtain or acquire) love but incapable of offering his love to others. His idea of love is structured as a form of ownership, something fully under his control; the object of his love is something to possess, perhaps even something that would belong exclusively to him. This is what the attempts at flattery and bribery reveal. This is how Cavell summarizes Lear’s encounter with his three daughters in the opening scene:

Lear knows it is a bribe he offers, and—part of him anyway— wants exactly a bribe can buy: (1) false love and (2) a public expression of love. That is, he wants something he does not have to return inkind, something which a division of his property fully pays for. And he wants to looklike a loved man—for the sake of the subjects, as it were. He is perfectly happy with this little plan, until Cordelia speaks. Happy not because he is blind, but because he is getting what he wants, his plan is working. Cordelia is alarming precisely because he knows she is offering him the real thing, offering him something a more opulent third of his kingdom cannot, must not, repay; putting a claim on him he cannot face. She threatens to expose both his plan for returning false love with no love, and expose the necessity for that plan—his terror of being loved, of needing love. (DisowningKnowledge, 61-62)

This suggests that love is a reciprocal exchange—we might say a dance—of giving and receiving. Lear was incapable of love because he was incapable of being loved, of being recognized by another. He could not do “what every love requires, put himself aside long enough to see through to her, and be seen through [by her]” (73). Cavell describes the emotion that motivates the avoidance of love as a form of shame, specifically the shame of exposure. This is also how he takes the sight imagery scattered throughout the play. “Shame,” he suggests, “is the specific discomfort produced by the sense of being looked at” (49). It is the feeling that leads us to recoil or retreat from the sight of another, to safeguard ourselves against the risk of being seen.

In this sense, shame expresses a deep fear of being exposed, an anxiety about what might happen if we reveal ourselves or an aspect of ourselves to another. Because it obsessively desires the avoidance of eyes, Cavell describes shame as the “most isolating of feelings” (58). Rather than risk being in a position of vulnerability with others, a person gripped by it is confined to a position of radical loneliness. In KingLearthe effects of shame are dramatized through the image of banishment, the “last legitimate act” Lear has left (49). In exercising this act, however, the king ultimately finds that it is he himself who is banished.

Throughout the rest of the play, Lear exists as one who has effectively been sealed off from the rest of the world.[15] Given his account of the way love turns upon both the giving and receiving of recognition—what he calls “acknowledgment”—Cavell stresses that shame’s avoidance of the eyes is also the avoidance of love itself. This is how he accounts for Lear’s attraction to the blinded figure of Gloucester, who is appealing to Lear because Gloucester gives Lear an opportunity to be recognized without being seen. This demonstrates, again, how Lear convinces himself that he might be able to know and to be known in a way that somehow bypasses the work of love. Even though the meeting with Gloucester sets the stage for Lear’s reunion with Cordelia at the end of the play, it does nothing to change his understanding of love. Indeed, Cavell insists that Lear’s avoidance of love and his avoidance of Cordelia carry through to the very end, an avoidance marked by their deaths that draw the play to a close.

The  third  way  Cavell’s  reading  of  King  Lear  contributes  to understanding the theological dance of knowledge and love is his framing of the question of skepticism. Although the skeptic has not made an appearance in my discussion thus far, it is his figure that can be credited with leading Cavell into the world of Shakespeare in the first place. All Cavell’s work arises from the intuition that tragedy and skepticism share a similar structure: as he puts it, “tragedy is an interpretation of what skepticism an interpretation of” (5-6). In his hands, the skepticism that Descartes is often said to have placed at the heart of modern philosophy is not so much, or not only, a theoreticalchallenge that must be overcome in order to secure the possibility of knowledge. It is also an ethicalchallenge that revolves around the possibility of acknowledgment, recognition, and responsiveness. The overwhelming tendency among philosophers is to interpret the skeptic as someone motived by a kind of “intellectual scrupulousness” (6). However, this judgment misses the lesson that Shakespearean tragedy teaches, namely that it is equally motivated by a form of unacknowledged denial, what I have been calling ‘avoidance’.

The skeptic also desires knowledge. The problem is not that he gives up on knowledge too quickly, as if his commitment to it is somehow too weak. Rather, Cavell suggests that skepticism reflects an attachment to knowledge that is far too strong, functioning like an obsessive preoccupation. This is manifested in how skepticism requires something more than a “best case” for knowledge, whether of the world or another’s love. The skeptic demands a kind of certainty purified of the possibility of doubt (11). Not only is this desire for the best case impossible to achieve, it is also unlivable, as Lear and other tragic figures such as Othello know only too well. Cavell effectively calls the skeptic’s bluff and refuses to take his demands at face value, much like Cordelia did with Lear. This implies that Cavell has a profound love for the skeptic: instead of allowing the skeptic to keep lying to himself, he reads the skeptic’s posture of intellectual scrupulousness as a cover or shield for concealing important truths from himself.

Skepticism’s apparent preoccupation with certainty is a way of converting the experience of “metaphysical finitude” into a problem of “intellectual lack” (138). It functions to excuse his emotional dumbness. Cavell claims that the skeptic’s fantastic desire for connections that bear no trace of imperfection reflects an all-consuming dissatisfaction with the fact that humans are finite and mortal creatures who are separate from, yet dependent on, one another and the world.

Cavell’s attention to the skeptic is unusual in the world of philosophy. He insists that the skeptic is not all wrong. This marks an important departure from the tradition of mainstream epistemology and its dedication to defeating or at least containing the threat of skepticism. Instead of defending the possibility of knowledge against the skeptic’s challenge, Cavell urges us to recognize the “truth of skepticism” (25). The skeptic is correct to conclude that our relationship to the world and to others “cannot be a function of knowing” or at least “not what we think of as knowing” (95).[16] What we think of as knowing is a purely cognitive activity that denies the emotions any meaningful role. The skeptic is also right to recognize the sense in which we are separate from the world and from one another. If there is a problem with skepticism, then, it is not with its conclusions (the disappointment with knowledge, the fact of separateness) but with the emotions that motivate them.

For Cavell, the challenge of skepticism is not centered on its intellectual claims but on the practical challenge of “living our skepticism.” To try to defeat skepticism as mainstream epistemology does simply prolongs the problem. His point is that this is not a genuine response, and he seeks a genuine response. We must acknowledge that there is a legitimate place for the frustrations and worries that motivate the skeptic. We do the skeptic no favors if we enable his denial of these feelings. This is what happens when we accept the skeptic’s fixation with a knowledge we might strive to possess. What the skeptic needs is the same thing we all need: to stop avoiding the difficult work of love.

This is where Cavell’s  work  offers  an  instructive  alternative  to the approach known as ‘virtue epistemology’. From its beginning in an influential essay by Ernest Sosa in the early 1980s, virtue epistemology has been construed as a response to the so-called Gettier problem—namely that justified true belief is not sufficient for knowledge.[17] Gettier’s ground- breaking essay launched what came to be known as a search for an elusive fourth condition beyond justified true belief. This led some to suggest that epistemological virtues might supply the necessary fourth condition for knowledge. In doing so, they are construed as reliable belief-forming faculties or processes that enable us to hit on the right beliefs. Here I simply observe that virtue epistemology assumes the skeptic’s obsession with knowledge. If Cavell is correct, then we should not be surprised that it has struggled to entertain the emotions with the kind of range and depth that he finds in Shakespeare. All of this suggests that virtue epistemology has failed to learn what Cavell claims to have learned from KingLear: “What we need is not more knowledge but the willingness to forgo knowing” (95).

This way of putting it implies there are two ways of approaching the notion of “disowning knowledge” that Cavell uses to draw together his reflections on Shakespeare. For Lear, disowning knowledge is driven by a toxic mix of shame and jealousy. Disowning in this sense serves as a qualifier of knowledge. Cavell argues that when knowledge is severed from love, it becomes preoccupied with ownership yet often leads to the disowning of others who do not fit into a possessive scheme such as Lear’s banishment of Cordelia or Othello’s rejection of Desdemona. This is the form of skepticism that Cavell describes as unlivable. It tends to work itself out as a form of tragedy. However, there is another form of disowning that flows like a cross-current throughout his work. This is disowning not as a stubborn unwillingness or inability to recognize someone or something but as a renunciation of the epistemological temptation to ownership and possession. This renunciation is not a refusal of love. On the contrary, it is the very outworking of love, a generous and life-giving act of letting go. “Disowning knowledge” in this sense is not a form of knowledge that strives for ownership and is inclined to disown when it comes up short, but one that disavows such ownership. It is this sort of disowning that Cavell is calling for when he says we need a “willingness to forgo knowledge.”

This willingness is the posture of Cordelia. It is also the posture of Wisdom and her daughters. It is at this point where Hrotsvit, Shakespeare, and Cavell converge. Their concern is not to defend the possibility of knowledge as such but to indicate that there may be other ways to approach what we think of as knowing. In particular, they are pointing to the possibility of a knowledge that has been transformed into a form of wisdom. A person transformed in this way has learned how to hold knowledge loosely because she has been nourished by faith, hope, and love. One way to describe the place of Cavell’s reading of Shakespeare in this discussion is that he provides an account of how Hrotsvit’s allegorical and somewhat skeletal depiction of the dance of knowledge and love can be fleshed out so that it becomes recognizably human and thus potentially livable.

I want to wrap up this attempt to elaborate on my contention that KingLearprovides a helpful commentary on Hrotsvit’s Sapientiaby returning to Cavell’s remark about the importance of attending to stories in which one parent is notably and suspiciously absent. One way that he summarizes his account of how contemporary epistemology splits apart knowledge and love is that it reflects philosophy’s “pathological mother denial.”[18] In discussing another Shakespeare play, Cavell contends that “what philosophy renders as uncertainty in our knowledge of the existence of the world is a function of, say an intellectualization of, the child’s sense of loss in separating from the mother’s body” (13). This means that the skeptic can be described as one who reacts with disgust, or at any rate with disappointment, to everything representative of the fact that we are born of mothers. In the face of epistemology’s rather complacent attitude toward this sense of disgust, Cavell takes the skeptic’s reaction seriously and seeks to provide a response. In  doing  so,  he  offers  a  profoundly  illuminating  account  of  the dangers  of  denying  our  creatureliness  and  repudiating  our  inescapable mortality. If he is correct—if our experience of skeptical uncertainty with the world, our anxiety about human separateness and finitude, our avoidance of recognition and love, our feeling of shame, if all of this expresses unresolved separation between children and their mothers—then it is hardly surprising that mothers are nowhere to be seen in the story of KingLear. Nor is it surprising that Hrotsvit develops her account of the theological virtues as epistemological around the close relationship of a mother to her three daughters. By attending to these stories, we are presented with a vision of how love might serve to transform (mere) knowledge, redirecting our possessive inclinations into a more generous and responsive way of relating to others and the world—what Cavell calls acknowledgment, and what Hrostsvit and the biblical tradition upon which she draws calls wisdom.

Martyrs Mirror:A Mennonite Angle?

In lieu of a strict conclusion, I will briefly direct our attention to another story centered on the relationship of a single mother and her three children in the hopes of stimulating discussion among Mennonite thinkers. Prompted by Cavell’s emphasis on philosophy’s mother-denial, I have been led to wonder about the many stories of mothers and children that turn up in Anabaptist martyrological literature such as the MartyrsMirror.[19]  There is of course Anna Jansz, searching the crowd in Rotterdam for someone to take care of her young son Isaiah before she is drowned, and there is Maeyken Boosers, giving the gift of a pear to her son when he came to visit her in prison. Even more somberly, there are the children of Maeyken Wens, rooting through the ashes of their mother to retrieve the tongue-screw with which she was tortured. As stories like these pile up, one gets the sense that there might be something new worth exploring here.

On the one hand, the early-modern martyrological tradition— Anabaptist and otherwise—departs in significant ways from the discourse of the medieval martyrdom legend which gave us the story of Wisdom and her daughters. It is tempting to assume that part of this shift was due to the influence of modern epistemological developments and how they gave rise to a new, more narrowly cognitive conception of beliefs. On the other hand, I am starting to have second thoughts about this assumption. At least I am more and more inclined to think we should be careful not to overstate the break. As a way of suggesting that we might be wise to hold this question open, I reference another story that displays an approach to knowledge that is disciplined by the theological virtue of love.

In the summer of 1560, approximately 40 years before Shakespeare is said to have written KingLear, a woman named Soetgen van der Houte was apprehended by the ecclesial authorities in the city of Ghent. She was originally from the nearby town of Oudenaarde, where she lived with her husband who worked as a weaver while also running a small school out of their home. When he was executed six years earlier, Soetgen took over his work as a teacher. She remained a widow, raising their three young children on her own. Unlike the many Anabaptist martyrs put to death by burning or drowning, she was beheaded, like the daughters of Wisdom.

While she was awaiting her sentence at the Gravensteen castle in Ghent, she wrote her children a long letter that was later published, possibly by the well-known Mennonite printer Nicolaes Biestkens. Her Testament, as it was known, became a popular book that was reprinted several times. A version of the letter is also included in the MartyrsMirror. The Testamentis notable for weaving together an emphasis on the importance of learning and wisdom with an allegorically rich account of the theological virtues, especially that of love. She repeatedly stressed to her children that they should “learn to read and write, so that [they] may get understanding.”[20] She told her son David that, since he was the oldest, he was to “learn wisdom,” so that he may serve as a “good example” for his younger sisters.

The rhetorical force of Soetgen’s letter is heightened by the way she plays with a sense of double meaning that is not unlike Cavell’s treatment of “disowning knowledge.” Soetgen introduces her Testament by telling her children that it was “written by me Soetgen van den Houte, your mother in bonds written with haste (shivering of cold) out of love.”[21] Through the many examples included in the letter, she strives to teach them that “all relations are to be based on love, which is the perfect bond.”[22]  She concludes by encouraging her children to “follow the little flock, … those who walk most in love.”[23] The Dutch word zoet from which she gets her name means sweet and gentle, which seems fitting for someone who can be said to embody the sense of disowning love that is at the heart of Cavell’s reading of Shakespeare. Mennonite descendants of Dutch Anabaptists like Soetgen are well known for their deeply ingrained aversion to dancing. In fact, Soetgen explicitly identified dancing as one of the worldly pleasures from which her children should refrain.[24]  Nevertheless, I find that her writing reflects an image of a different dance, the theological dance of knowledge and love that was so strikingly presented in Hrotsvit’s story and shown to come undone in KingLear. This suggests that there might be more to the Martyrs

Mirrorthan arguments for believer’s baptism and a celebration of Christian “defenselessness.” It might also include a rich collection of philosophical undercurrents that could be approached in a manner inspired by Cavell’s reading of the plays of Shakespeare. More specifically, there might also be a Mennonite point of entry into this discussion of the relationship between knowledge and love. To read Soetgen’s letter alongside Hrotsvit’s Sapientia and Cavell’s reading of Lear suggests that there is much to explore here. But that is a task for another day.[25]

ChrisK. Huebner is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

[1] The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity (love). I give charity (love) priority only for the purposes of this article.

[2] The point of my discussion is not to defend the value of Cavell’s reading of Shakespeare against others. Neither is it an argument in support of his general approach to philosophy. Rather, I grant the force of his intuitions about Shakespeare and philosophy and explore their implications by placing them alongside two other dramas representing aspects of the Christian theological tradition that I hold dear. Readers interested in a general interpretation (and defense) of Cavell’s work could consult Sarah Beckwith, Shakespeareand the Grammar of Forgiveness (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 2011); Peter Dula, Cavell,Companionship,andChristianTheology(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010); and Toril Moi, RevolutionoftheOrdinary:LiteraryStudiesAfterWittgenstein,Austin,andCavell(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2017).

[3] Robert Pasnau, AfterCertainty:A History of Our Epistemic Ideals and Illusions (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2017), 1.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Stanley Cavell, DisowningKnowledgeinSeven Plays of Shakespeare, updated ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003), 17. Subsequent references are made parenthetically in the text.

[6] My account of the story is drawn from Hrotsvit, “Sapientia,” in The Plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, trans. Katharina Wilson (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989). Subsequent references to the play will be made parenthetically in the text.

[7] Vasiliki Limberis, ArchitectsofPiety:TheCappadocianFathersandtheCultofMartyrs (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011), 13.

[8] Ibid., 98.

[9] Stanley Cavell, “A Cover Letter to Molière’s Misanthrope,” in Themes out of School: Effects and Causes (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984), 97.

[10] For a helpful discussion of these sorts of issues, see Marla Carlson, “Impassive Bodies: Hrotsvit Stages Martyrdom,” Theater Journal 50:4 (1988): 473-87.

[11] Some scholars have argued that Shakespeare was familiar with the work of Hrotsvit by pointing to scenes in RomeoandJulietthat closely resemble scenes in Hrotsvit’s play Calimachus. See Katharina Wilson, HrotsvitofGandersheim:A Florilegium of Her Works (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1998), 54. It is not likely, however, that Shakespeare was using Sapientiaas a source text for KingLear. At any rate, I am certainly not making a case for a direct connection. Far more likely is that both Hrotsvit and Shakespeare were drawing on a common tradition of resources for their reflections on the relationship between knowledge and love. This would include the Bible, martyrdom accounts, folk traditions, histories, other forms of literature, etc.

[12] Just as Sapientiamakes no mention of the father of the three girls, so KingLearmakes no mention of the mother of Lear’s three daughters.

[13] Shakespeare, KingLear, ed. Stanley Wells (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), Scene 1, lines 45-47. Subsequent references to the play will be made parenthetically in the text.

[14] I owe this way of putting it to Sarah Beckwith. For her, Lear’s “public ritual of competitive flattery makes any true declaration of love impossible, unspeakable under those conditions. Cordelia cannot declare her love precisely because she does really love him. Goneril and Regan can declare their pseudo-love precisely because they don’t.”—Beckwith, Shakespeare and the Grammar of Forgiveness, 90.

[15] For Cavell’s account of how modern epistemology is informed by a feeling of being sealed off from the world, see Stanley Cavell, TheClaimofReason:Wittgenstein,Skepticism,Morality,andTragedy(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), 144, 238.

[16] See also Cavell, TheClaimofReason, 241.

[17] Sosa’s essay “The Raft and the Pyramid” is commonly identified as marking the beginning of “virtue epistemology.” See Ernest Sosa, “The Raft and the Pyramid,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 5:1 (1980): 3-26. For Gettier’s short but classic essay, see Ernest Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” Analysis23:6 (1963): 121-23. For a helpful, if somewhat dated, introduction to virtue epistemology, see Abrol Fairweather and Linda Zagzebski, eds., VirtueEpistemology:EssaysonEpistemicVirtueandResponsibility(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2001). In a more theological vein, see Lydia Schumacher, Rationalityas Virtue: Towards a Theological Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2016); and Lydia Schumacher, TheologicalPhilosophy:RethinkingtheRationalityofChristianFaith(London: Routledge, 2016).

[18] I owe this way of putting it to Natalie Carnes. See Natalie Carnes, ImageandPresence:A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2018), 34.

[19] Thieleman J. van Braght, TheBloodyTheaterorMartyrsMirroroftheDefenselessChristians, trans. Joseph F. Sohm (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1996).

[20] MartyrsMirror, 650.

[21] As quoted by Marjan Blok, “Your Mother in Bonds: The Testament of Soetken van den Houte,” in Sisters:MythandReality of Anabaptist, Mennonite, and Doopsgezind Women ca. 1525-1900, ed. Mirjam van Veen, Piet Visser, Gary K. Waite, Els Kloek, Marion Kobelt-Groch, and Anna Voolstra (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 136.

[22] Ibid., 141.

[23] MartyrsMirror, 650.

[24] Ibid., 648.

[25] For an invited response to this article, see Néstor Medina, “Absent Peoples, Unaccounted Mothers, and Repressed Knowledges,” in The Conrad Grebel Review 39, no. 3 (2021): 214-219.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Response to Chris Huebner: Absent Peoples, Unaccounted Mothers, and Repressed Knowledges

Néstor Medina
ABSTRACT: The author considers theological virtues from the underside of empire and colonization, where these alleged virtues found concrete expression, and offers three concurrent stories from the Americas to help us think otherwise” about theological knowledge and virtue: Bartolomé de las Casa, ShortAccountoftheDestructionoftheIndies(1542), writings by the Incan Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616), and the PopolVuh, stories of the Quiché Maya people (ca. 1500). These stories expose the epistemological underbelly of colonization. While theological knowledge and virtue were being reflected upon in Europe, an absence of virtue was being inflicted upon Indigenous peoples at the same time.

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this conversation.[1] I was taken by surprise by the invitation because my area of research is liberation theologies, cultural theory, and decolonial debates. After reading Professor Huebner’s “Absent Fathers, Invisible Mothers, and the Theological Dance of Knowledge and Love,” I realized that there are very few points of connection for cross-fertilization between his work and mine. Although I am familiar with and admire the Mennonite tradition, Huebner’s paper deals with an area of study that is foreign to me. I do not have the scholarly familiarity with Shakespeare’s works that would enable me to adequately engage some of the points he raises. That said, I feel compelled to respond even from a peripheral position because there are some things that I can talk about. Although they may seem to be unrelated, the issues and concerns raised by Huebner have great implications for the issues and concerns I engage in my research, particularly questions about the legacy of Empire.

Huebner invites us to consider his proposal for interpreting theological virtues as epistemological virtues. He uses Hrotsvit of Gandersheim’s play Sapientia, Shakespeare’s play KingLear, and Stanley Cavell’s philosophical approach to Shakespeare’s work to help us consider other ways of thinking about the connection between knowledge and virtue. As I read his proposal, the conspicuous lack of the presence of the mothers in the two plays becomes evident, as they do not play a significant role in the respective sagas. The mothers appear precisely because of their absence. The absence of the fathers is of course also relevant.

In the play Sapientia [Wisdom], the mother is an important character, yet she only appears in a supporting role. We are told that women fell under the influence of Wisdom (the mother), but play focuses attention on the three daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love. The father is the one who remains invisible in this play. The opposite is true in Shakespeare’s King Lear, where the mother is only present by proxy, through the existence of her daughters. The father, however, is hard to miss in the plot. This dynamic of presence and absence helps us think through the absenceof wisdom and theological virtues as signaling the presence of the kind of “knowledge” that can be acquired, manipulated, and commodified, as Huebner notes. My question is whether the opposite is also true: Does the presence of wisdom and theological virtues necessarily mean the absence of the kind of “knowledge” that can be purchased or acquired as property?

The question of the presence and absence of theological virtues and wisdom as other forms of knowledge is an intriguing one, particularly because theological virtues and wisdom also provide an interpretive frame for living. They are ethical in nature. I want to highlight two points here. First, the ethical component should not be neglected. As someone who works with liberation theology and decolonial debates, I must ask Huebner for the concrete expression of these theological virtues. What do they look like on the ground? How do we move beyond the world of ideas, speculations, and abstraction?

Huebner anticipates these questions somewhat by engaging Cavell in detail, highlighting the role of emotions, shame, and skepticism as constitutive for interpreting theological virtues as epistemological virtues. However, concreteness does not come until his engagement with Soetgen van der Houte’s 1560 letter to her children in which she, while under the yoke of “lovelessness,” charges them to base all relationships on the perfect bond of love.

It is at this juncture that I hit a dead end with Huebner’s treatment of love. The notion of love (and other virtues, for that matter) remains elusive for me because I do know what this “perfect bond of love” looks like. Huebner reminds us that Soetgen’s letter reveals much more than a mere theological commitment to believer’s baptism and the consequent violence that Mennonites experienced during the 16th and 17th centuries. But we are left wanting more. Instead, he leaves the question open, and there is obviously much more to think about in relation to the connection between martyrdom and virtue.


As I reflected on the notion of presence and absence, I could not help but think about the other voices that often do not get accounted for in any way. Let me make some chronological connections between the experiences recounted in Anabaptist and Mennonite stories of suffering and the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. Three concurrent stories from different contexts invite us to “think otherwise” about the connection between knowledge and virtue. The first story relates to martyrdom: Bartolomé de las Casas’s BrevisimarelacióndeladestruccióndelasIndias(A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies), which was published in 1542.[2] The book documents the atrocities committed against, and the martyrdom suffered by, the Indigenous peoples of the Americas at the hands of the Spanish post-1492, the year when Christopher Columbus stumbled on Abya Yala, Nepantla, Wisakedjak, and Turtle Island. The Dutch and the English published De las Casas’s accounts under the label theBlackLegendto discredit the Spanish and to rally the Dutch, and thus reject the hold that the Spanish monarchy had on the Dutch.[3]

Among the atrocities that De las Casas documented is the incident of Hatuey, an indigenous Caribbean cacique, a chief who was tied to a post and burned alive for his refusal to accept becoming a subject of the Spanish Crown. The priest is called to give him the last rites and entreats him to convert to Christianity so that he can go to heaven and not hell. As we are told, in his simple words, not knowing Spanish well, Hatuey pointed to the Spanish soldiers and asked, “Are they also going to heaven?” The priest, surprised at the question, responded affirmatively, “They are Christian!” Hatuey replied, “I would rather go to hell then, I do not want to be in a place with people like them.”[4]

The second story is that of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616), whose writings have remained silent or not very well known. Ironically, he was born before and died the same year as Shakespeare (1564-1616) and had a long literary trajectory comparable to Shakespeare’s. As a descendant from the Incas and a Spanish noble, he dedicated his life to documenting the history of the Incas of Peru.[5] This daring act caused him to be exiled to Spain and prevented him from seeing his Inca family ever again. He died as an exile in Spain.[6] His writings were included in the Spanish Inquisition’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of prohibited books). These two stories illustrate the power of “knowledge otherwise,” the power of those stories that expose the impolitic character of empire and colonization in silencing the voices of colonized peoples.

The last story is actually a book of stories—with a value much like the Bible—of the Quiché Maya people of Guatemala and Mexico. It was written around the beginning of the sixteenth century but remained hidden until 1701, when it was discovered in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. I refer to the PopolVuh,[7] a volume deemed dangerous during the Spanish colonial societies because it chronicled the millennia-old story of creation of the Mayan people out of corn. With all its power and influence, the Catholic Christian church sought to eradicate this book and its stories from the memory of the Indigenous peoples and other societies. This eradication effort failed.

Why am I telling these stories? Because they are probably unfamiliar to many people. I want to suggest that this lack of familiarity is part of the larger complex of colonization of knowledges through which the Western European Anglo North Atlantic intellectual tradition arrogated to itself the center of the world, making all other forms of knowledge not worth knowing about. I also want to propose that these stories, as suppressed knowledges, can help us reorient the understanding of theological virtues as epistemological wisdom “otherwise.” That is, these stories do not come from those who claim to know what virtues are or what it means to love unconditionally. Yet, they expose the epistemological underbelly of colonization and in so doing reveal the location of virtue elsewhere, outside the centers of colonial power.

On one hand, the incident of Hatuey helps us see that the theological knowledge of empire and colonization as inherited from the Western European colonial project cannot claim to be able to teach virtues of love, compassion, and empathy. Those very sentiments of betrayal, lack of love, murder, shame, and skepticism that Shakespeare illuminated imaginatively in his work were enacted inrealityamong the Indigenous and African peoples by European Christians, many who claimed to know the virtue of love. On the other hand, the suppression of the work of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s writings and of the sacred PopolVuhreminds us that theological knowledge “otherwise” is found among the very people who were silenced or rendered non-existent in the annals of history.

As Huebner closes his discussion, he notes that the MartyrsMirrormay be about more than believers’ baptism. Indeed, what happened in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries left a painful legacy with which we continue to wrestle. My point is simple. I want to claim that what happened in Europe during that same period is not unrelated to, and should not be considered separately from, what was going on in the Americas. As virtue and theological knowledge was being reflected upon in Europe, an utter absence of virtue was being inflicted upon the Indigenous peoples in the Americas—through a perversion of theology in a grossly unethical mode.

Understanding theological virtues from the vantage point of the Americas’ experience of colonization and invasion requires accepting the fact that in finding epistemological virtues “otherwise”—outside the centers of colonial power—we can no longer see certain moments as separate from the other interconnected aspects that define those historical eras. What would it mean for us to talk about theological virtue from the underside of empire and colonization? Opportunities for cross-fertilization and intercultural conversations seem to emerge. But, then again, what would it mean for the church to speak of Hope, Faith, and Love if the experiences, voices, peoples, and knowledges of the racialized and minoritized continue to be absent from our theological conversations? However we answer these questions, they will determine the direction of our own theological journey.

NéstorMedinais Assistant Professor of Religious Ethics and Culture at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto.

[1] The author was invited to respond to a public lecture given by Chris Huebner at Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre (March 24, 2021). The lecture is published as Chris K. Huebner, “Absent Fathers, Invisible Mothers, and the Theological Dance of Knowledge and Love,” in TheConradGrebelReview 39, no. 3 (2021): 192-213. publications/conrad-grebel-review.

[2] Bartolomé de Las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, ed. and trans. Nigel Griffin, intro. by Anthony Padgen (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).

[3] Néstor Medina, “The Black Legend,” in TheEncyclopediaofHispanicAmericanReligiousCultures, ed. Miguel De La Torre (California: ABC-CLIO, Inc, 2009).

[4] Cited in Luis N. Rivera-Pagán, A Violent Evangelism: The Political and Religious Conquest of the Americas (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 260.

[5] Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, HistoriageneraldelPerú:SegundapartedelosComentariosRealesdelosIncas, vol. I, ed. Ángel Rosenblat (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Emecé Editores, S.A., 1944). See also volumes II and III, published the same year.

[6] Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, DiariodelIncaGarcilaso(1562–1616), ed. Francisco Carrillo Espejo (Lima, Perú: Editorial Horizonte, 1996).

[7] PopolVuh:lashistoriasdelQuic, trans. Adrián Recinos (Guatemala: Piedra Santa, 1990).

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Composing Louis Riel’s Dream: Exploring the History of the Red River Settlement through Family Stories and Music

Karen Sunabacka
ABSTRACT: The author discusses six compositions she created between 2013 and 2021. In the process she gained insight into her mixed heritage, the meaning of Métis,and the complicated relationships she and her family have with their heritage and living at the intersection of settler and Indigenous values. Observing Canadas political landscape and issues facing Indigenous peoples, the author comments on the current Red River Métis court fight over rights and identity. The creative process enables her to explore the personal effects of colonialism, find her voice, and heal her wounds.

Greetingin the Cree language:








I am a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation and grew up in Treaty 1 Territory, the original lands of the Anishnaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininiwak, Dakota, and Dene peoples and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. When I moved to Waterloo, Ontario a little over four years ago, I knew very little of the Haudenosaunee people. I am honored to have learned from and collaborated with a number of Haudenosaunee peoples, and to have been welcomed at the Woodlands Cultural Centre and the Mohawk Chapel. I still have a lot to learn about this area, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Indigenous peoples who took care of this beautiful land for thousands of years. I hope to grow these relationships and knowledge as I continue to live here.

I have always known I was a Red River Métis, but I haven’t always known what that means. In the last ten years I have been doing a lot of exploring and learning about my family history in the Red River settlement and what it means to have a mixed European and Métis heritage. These explorations often occurred first through my compositions and then through research and family conversations that grew into more compositions as my curiosity led to new revelations.

To provide a path through these explorations, I have divided the core of this article into five Parts. Part I sets the stage by considering the question of defining “Métis.” Part II looks at three pieces I have written about my Métis grandmother Lenore Clouston. It is thanks to her that I knew I was Métis, and it is through explorations of her life in my compositions that I discovered more about what it means to be Métis and about the history of the Métis people. In Part II I also describe how my collaborations with my mother, Joyce Clouston, began. Part III reviews a piece I wrote about my settler heritage on the theme of mental illness, specifically about my great-great grandmother Matilda Clouston. She moved to the Red River Settlement around 1866 and spent the final twenty-five years of her life in the Manitoba Asylum. In Part IV I discuss two recent pieces about my Aunt Beverley that were inspired by the writing of Joyce Clouston. Part V returns to the question of defining Métis.

1. Definition of “Métis”

Growing up, I thought “Métis” meant people with mixed European and Indigenous heritage. But I was wrong about this. I was close to my Métis family, and although I grew up in the city of Winnipeg, we visited the family farm at least once a month, and anyone I met with mixed heritage was Métis. But of course they were, as we were in the Red River Settlement! As I started meeting Indigenous peoples from across Canada, I realized that there was a unique identity specifi to my family and the Métis centered in the Settlement.

Who exactly are the Métis? The French word basically means “mixed.” The Cree word for the Métis is Āpihtawikosisān, which means “half of the people,” or Otipēyimisowak, which means “the people who command themselves” or “independent people.”[1] The word my ancestors were called, because my family heritage is English and Indigenous, was “Halfbreed.” But that doesn’t tell us who the people are or how they became the Métis Nation. Recently, the Manitoba Métis Federation left the National Métis Council, partly over the definition of who is and who is not Métis. In a press release about the withdrawal, David Chartrand, the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, says this:

"This decision to leave was not an easy one… we asked our 2019 Annual General Assembly to give us the direction to pull out of [the Métis National Council] should [the Métis Nation of Ontario] continue to be allowed a seat at the governance table while they – by their own admission – have nearly 80% non-Métis Nation Citizens in their registry. Our Assembly of 3,000 delegates unanimously supported the resolution … we feel compelled to protect and support those who derive their section 35 rights from the Red River Métis, also known as the Manitoba Métis – which is the origin, heart, and core of the Métis Nation."[2]

The section 35 rights Chartrand is referring to is Section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982) that states:

"35 (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed. (2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada."[3]

The definition of Métis that was adopted by the Métis Nation in 2002 comes from Article III of the Manitoba Métis Federation Constitution:

"Métis means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry, is distinct from other Aboriginal Peoples and is accepted by the Métis Nation.."[4]

In summary, to become a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation you must (1) self- identify as Métis, (2) prove that you have Métis Ancestry, often through records of who was given scrip (see below), and (3) be an accepted member of the Métis community. I completed the application with my brother in 2017. But my mother and a number of her siblings had their Métis cards for years!

2. Métis Grandmother Lenore

♫  Born by the River[5]

The first piece I wrote that explicitly taps into my Métis heritage began as a celebration of my Métis grandmother, Lenore Clouston. The piece for string orchestra, titled Born by the River, was commissioned and premiered by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in February 2013.

My grandmother was a farmer, visual artist, and local (Selkirk) community activist. She came of age during World War Two when her own family’s Indigenous roots were hidden (her grandparents spoke Cree, but this was not talked about). Through her art she explored her multicultural past so that her children and the following generations could be proud of their heritage. My grandmother’s hospitable Métis family was the center of the community and my Scottish-settler grandfather, who lived in the area, often gathered with the other youth at my great-grandparents’ farm. It was there that he learned to play fiddle. As a child I spent much time at my grandparents’ farm near Selkirk, where the tradition of music making and community gathering continued. My grandmother Lenore would sit at the piano laying the foundation for the pieces while my grandfather played the fiddle. I remember dancing the night away with my siblings as the music swirled around us, hearing the constant presence of my grandmother singing and laughing as she banged the chords out on the piano. For a few years I also learned some fiddle tunes myself and played with my grandparents.

For this reason it is a fiddle tune that is the background of this piece—the first time I used a fiddle tune in my music. The tune shows up in fragments and is the major rhythmic pulse throughout the work. The other musical material in the piece comes from my grandmother’s first name, Lenore. I divided the letters of her name into three syllables: Le No Re. Then I interpreted those three syllables as the pitch A-flat, pizzicato notes with silence, and the pitch D. This motive is both in the larger structure of the piece and in the foreground as small three-note motives.

During the Depression, the land developed by my great-grandparents was illegally repossessed, and her family lost their plot near Selkirk and moved a mile west. Yet the Red River and the old family homestead continued to be an important source of artistic inspiration for my grandmother. Because of her love for the Red River, BornbyTheRiveralso depicts the water’s movement through constant rhythms and the quick rise and fall of pitch patterns. The piece is also composed around the idea of fuzzy memories. Although the fiddle tune around which it is based represents the river, I also use it to depict a memory that comes in and out of focus. Thus there are times in the music when everything seems a little off, then for a moment all voices come together perfectly. But that lasts for only a few seconds and then the clarity fades. This depicts my memory of playing TheOldFrenchwith my grandparents, and you can hear this in the excerpt.

♫  Mama’s Painting: Louis Riel’s Dream[6]

In 2015, a few years after I completed Born by the River, I was commissioned to compose a piano quintet for the Agassiz Chamber Music Festival in Winnipeg. This gave me the opportunity to write a second piece about, and inspired by, Lenore. I called it MamasPainting:LouisRielsDream.When my Métis grandmother was in her fifties and sixties, she started a large project she called “Louis Riel’s Dream.” She began with five sketches that she intended to turn into five paintings. These paintings were to highlight the history of Western Canada through the stories of the Indigenous peoples, illustrating the clashes of cultures and politics in what is now known as Western Canada and pointing to a future where people of all races could live in harmony. Lenore never finished this project, and all that remains are two unfinished paintings.[7]

Because I was so compelled by my grandmother’s project, her artwork and her inspiration from Louis Riel,[8]  I decided to complete her art project musically. I sought collaboration with members of my family, using my mother’s prose to start each of the five movements of the piece, and inviting my sister, Andrea, and aunts, Lisa and Lana, to contribute artworks to display at the concert. The premiere was a wonderful and collaborative event. Composing the piece was a musical completion of my grandmother’s five-painting plan, and another celebration of her and an exploration of her struggles with her identity, as well as a glimpse at the history of the Red River Settlement.

This piece marked the first time I collaborated with my mother. Her writing is deep and personal, and I was thirsty for more information about our family and how we fit with the larger Métis community. But after writing this piece and engaging with my mother’s writing and her memories of my grandmother, I couldn’t stop asking these questions: Why was it that my grandmother did not know she was Métis? Why was her mother so determined to tell everyone that her husband was Scottish? I figured a lot of this had to do with racism towards the Métis, but recently I read Jean Teillet’s TheNorth-Westis our Mother and have a better understanding of why my ancestors would actively work to hide their heritage. When the Manitoba Act was signed in 1870, and Manitoba became part of Canada, an expeditionary force from Ontario was sent to the Red River Settlement. This force was led by John Christian Schultz, a member of the Canada First movement that, among other things, believed in Anglo-Saxon and Protestant superiority. Schultz was active in the Red River Settlement before 1870, the founder of the Canada First branch in the North-West and no friend of the Métis.

"There were over ten thousand people in Red River when the Expeditionary Force arrived. Eight thousand were fairly evenly split between English and French Métis. But the arrival of the troops, just over one thousand men, established the emotion that was to dominate the population for the next two and a half years – fear.

…The Expeditionary Force…was readily available to carry out the revenge envisioned by the Orange Lodge … One of Schultz’s supporters summed up their goal: 'The pacification we want is extermination. We shall never be satisfied till we have driven the French half-breeds out of the country.'"[9]

In the 1870s the social environment of the Red River Settlement, which had been about cooperation and consensus, changed with many political white settlers enforcing a reign of terror on the Métis who remained in the Settlement. For my ancestors, there was racism within the family between those of Scottish or Swedish heritage and those with Métis and mixed heritage, but they could all claim they were English or Scottish. For the French Métis, it was much worse: They were both Métis and Catholic. The new settlers and military men, gathered and fired up through a propaganda campaign led by Schultz and others, tended to be Orangemen from the Orange Lodges of Ontario.

My ancestors were able to continue working on their farms north of Winnipeg, in their English Parishes, staying mostly out of the line of fire. The area along the Red River north of Winnipeg was where most of the English Métis had held properties since the early 1800s. However, they were still affected by the way the Government of Canada chose to interpret the Manitoba Act. The original farms of the Métis in all parts of the Red River Settlement were built on ribbons of land along a River.

"The Métis built their homes on the rivers, on long, narrow lots they called rangs….The rangswere about eight hundred feet wide and about two miles long. Each family built their home and garden fairly close to the river. Toward the back of their rangs,they had a commons that provided forage lands for their livestock (their hay privilege, woodlots and other cutting areas)."[10]

If you look at the land today from above, you can still see this organization imprinted on the terrain. The land still carries the memory of the rangs.[11]

When the Canadian Government half-heartedly attempted to fulfill the Manitoba Act they gave the Red River Métis something called “Scrip.”

"In 1870, the Canadian government devised a system of scrip — referred to as Métis (or “half-breed”) scrip — that issued documents redeemable for land or money. Scrip was given to Métis people living in the West in exchange for their land rights. The scrip process was legally complex and disorganized; this made it difficult for Métis people to acquire land, yet simultaneously created room for fraud."[12]

The land assigned to my ancestors through scrip was not anywhere near their community around Selkirk, so they had to repurchase their land along the river, with the next generation purchasing other land available on what had been their shared pasturelands. According to the Manitoba Act they should have been granted that land. Then, as I mentioned before, their purchased land was illegally removed by a large profit-making corporation during the Depression. In summary, the Birston family, my Métis ancestors, lost land in two generations.

♫  I Wasn’t Meant for This[13]

When my grandmother Lenore Clouston was coming of age, she didn’t know about her connection to the Métis. She was deeply connected to the land and community in which she was raised, because her father and grandfather chose to stay in that community, purchasing land that should have been granted to them by the Manitoba Act and repurchasing land that had been in the family for close to 100 years. After experiencing the loss of land, her father, Alexander Birston, a Métis leader in the community, insisted that all his children get a good education. His reasoning was that once you had an education, it couldn’t be removed, and you could defend yourself against swindlers. Many of his children became teachers, many of his grandchildren have graduate degrees, and many of his great- grandchildren, including me, have PhDs. I missed meeting him by only a few years, and I wish I could have met him.

With each new piece I’ve written about my grandmother I’ve gone deeper into her life and her relationships. In 2018 I was commissioned to compose a piece for ParkSounds,a newly formed viola and percussion duo whose members are old friends Jen Thiessen and Ben Reimer. As I was starting work on it, my mother was starting a book about her childhood, particularly about her relationship to her older sister. She sent me a chapter, and in it I discovered another side of my grandmother: an artistic young woman who wanted to go to art school but whose life abruptly changed during and after World War Two. With my mother’s help, we edited the text to a kind of monologue that depicts my grandparents’ relationship and struggles before and after the war. The piece is titled I Wasn’t Meant for Thisand was premiered in October 2019.

The piece moves from Lenore’s disappointments of early motherhood on the farm and the racism she experienced from her in-laws, into her relationship with her husband, my grandfather, and the love they shared. The middle movement is based on a fiddle tune that recalls their experiences at community dances when my grandfather was playing in the band. The final movement recalls their struggles after the war and dealing with his PTSD. Their relationship was difficult; there were times when her deep Indigenous- based values clashed with his settler values, but he was nevertheless drawn to my grandmother and her family and found healing there. They had a beautiful, difficult, and complicated relationship.

My grandmother Lenore was resilient. There was a long period when she was raising kids and shouldering the farm work, while her husband was toiling at the local steel mill and farming around his shift work. But she also found time to develop her art and research her heritage. Then, when she was in her 50s and her children were mostly grown and independent, she finally attended university, enrolling in the Fine Arts program at the University of Manitoba and graduating in the late 1970s. So many of my memories of her picture her in her studio at the farm, working with stained glass, or standing behind an easel, or weaving on her loom. She was producing art until the day she died.

3. Settler Trauma: Great-great-grandmother Matilda

When visiting the family farm, we often heard stories about the community and our ancestors. The most heartbreaking of these stories was about Matilda Clouston, who was from the settler side of the family—my grandfather’s family, the Cloustons—who came from Orkney, off Scotland’s northeastern coast. Many of my Métis ancestors worked at the Manitoba Asylum, now known as the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, and knew Matilda from there. My grandfather Jack Clouston was her grandson. My mother’s Métis family said she suffered because she didn’t have a community.

♫  Never to Return[14]

I decided to explore Matilda’s story for a second piece that I was commissioned to write for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in 2013. At the time, I was dealing with my own closeness to mental illness, as I watched my mother struggle with situational depression. (By 2013 she was recovering, much to the relief of all of us.) To deal with my feelings of helplessness and anger about her situation, and to try to understand the life circumstances that can lead to mental illness, I explored Matilda’s story through my music.

Matilda was born in Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands in 1847. She married Joseph Clouston, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company who had traveled back and forth between Orkney and Lower Fort Garry before their marriage. He brought his new bride back to Canada with him in the late 1860s to locate in the Red River Settlement. Life was hard for Matilda, as the Settlement was a rough and scary place for her. All her family was back in Orkney. In one particularly difficult and disease-stricken winter, two of her children died. Unable to dig into the frozen ground, her husband wrapped the bodies and placed them in the woodshed. Feeling isolated and alone, Matilda was unable to cope with this loss. She went out to the woodshed and brought her deceased children back into the house, warming them by the fire, insisting that they were not dead. Joseph would then bring them back to the woodshed. After this happened a number of times, he committed her to the Manitoba Asylum, where she would spend the rest of her life. She lived there from roughly 1887 to 1912.

NevertoReturnexplores Matilda’s life through three Scottish melodies and is a kind of lament: the cry of Mathilda, whose mind was broken by the loss of her children. Her loss and sacrifices gave me life. Her story is part of my story and our Canadian story. Giving voice to her pain, her suffering, and her sacrifices is a way for me to reconcile her story with my own and the history of the early Manitoba settlers. In the middle section there is a transition from the trauma of loss into a more hopeful section focussed on healing. I based the final section on a Scottish hymn, actually the well-known Scottish traditional melody YeBanksandBraes. I found an arrangement by John Bell and Graham Maule with the words “We cannot measure how you heal” that was particularly pertinent to Mathilda’s story.

The reception to this piece was surprising. Even before the premiere, long-lost relatives who were also descendants of Matilda contacted me and my family with their own stories of mental illness and generational trauma. Hearing these stories was devastating. Many had tried to run from the trauma and abuse that was a result of Matilda’s illness by moving far away from the community and suppressing the stories. They had no idea that there had been mental illness and trauma in the family. I am grateful to my Métis family for the values and traditions we had of sharing stories and caring for each other during difficult times. Growing up, I had often heard those stories, giving me a context and an openness about life’s difficulties. I always knew that I had ancestors who faced hardships—and that I could talk with family and be supported when I too was struggling. The strength within the Métis community lies in its core values of sharing and caring for everyone. Although my grandfather’s family looked down on their Halfbreed neighbors, it was the traditions and values of my Métis grandmother’s family that helped my grandfather thrive.

4. Relationships: Aunt Beverley

The final two pieces are about my aunt Beverley Clouston and were again inspired by the writing of my mother Joyce. As I have mentioned, Joyce has been writing a book about her relationship with her sister. My mother was the third child of seven in her family. Her oldest sister, Beverley, suffered a birth injury and became disabled at around age six. She struggled with seizures and developmental and physical disabilities, and lived in an institution for 28 years. When group homes became available for people with disabilities, she moved into one where she was loved and treated respectfully. She also stayed with us regularly, always asking how we were doing and bringing us cards and gifts that she had carefully chosen. Her generosity, warmth, and enthusiasm filled my childhood home every time she came. She died in April 2016, a week or so after my mother and I had visited her. Her joy at seeing me still brings tears to my eyes.

♫  English Horn Concerto: In Memory of Beverley Clouston[15]

When I started working on an EnglishHornConcertoin 2018, I decided to dedicate it to my aunt Beverley. I incorporated her favorite songs—“You are my Sunshine” and “Jesus loves me”—into the second movement. The third movement is based around the fiddle tune “Big John McNeil,” which in Manitoba is sometimes known as the Métis Anthem, a tune she loved and would have heard, and danced to, at the family farm. The piece was commissioned and premiered by the Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra in October 2019.

…our inner lives were entwined…embroidered with the same pat- tern[16]

Last year during the pandemic I wrote another piece about my aunt, but focused it on the relationship between her and my mother. When Naomi Woo asked me to write a solo piano piece for her and a concert she was doing in Winnipeg, she gave me the theme of “HOME.” I have written many pieces about Manitoba’s big sky, the wind, the grasslands, the northern lights, and the cold crisp winters. But as I consulted with my mother and read some of her recent work, I realized that home is also about deep relationships and deep connections. The title of this solo piano piece is a quotation from the book she is writing. The passage from which I choose the title is as follows:

"Much of my life had been influenced by my closeness to Beverley – my relationship with my children, my career. My academic research critiqued Western public policy historically separating the most vulnerable from their families and communities. I explored the values of our mother’s family that were rooted in Indigenous Traditional Knowledge where individuals like Beverley were viewed as ‘teachers’ bringing spiritual gifts to those close to, and caring for them.

In the first year after Bev’s death, I felt raw, and in the three years since – an unquiet. I wanted to find a way to express what she’d meant to me beyond and beneath the words of research and publications. In the years during her imprisonment and especially in the months and first year of her recovery from the institution, we’d had troubling struggles, disagreements, and even shouting matches. But we kept reaching for each other and this brought us closer. Every once in a while, Beverley turned to me and said, 'You’re my sister, I love you Joycie,' and then, she’d place her head gently on my shoulder.

I felt the same way about her. I’ve heard the expression that people can be ‘cut from the same cloth’, and that was certainly true of our physical appearance, but I believe our inner lives were entwined somehow, as if embroidered with the same patterns, and we recognized these patterns in each other."

My mother describes so beautifully what I saw and what I experienced in our home. To explore the interconnectedness of my aunt and my mother in music, I again developed motives from the letters of their names and their nicknames. During the faster sections, the Beverley pitch collections are in the left hand and the Joyce pitch collections in the right. Through transpositions and transformations of the pitch material I am depicting the ups and downs of their lives, their relationship with each other, and their relationships with those around them. Beverley was an amazing person who had a zeal for life and an ability to state the uncomfortable truth, and she loved deeply.

Although there is no text in the piece, the title and the structure reflect both the close relationship of the two women and the ways I and my siblings experienced the love from them and their relationship.

5. Land and Government

The politics of early Manitoba mainly centered on who did and who did not get land, and has shaped the current concerns of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF). A fight is underway that relates to Canada’s history, the land, and the relationship between the Métis and the Canadian Government. In 2003, a case was brought to the Supreme Court of Canada, R.v Powley, that held that there was a Métis rights-bearing community in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The case was successful at all levels of the court. Unfortunately, this opened the door to people in the East (Ontario and Quebec) claiming to be Métis. These “new Métis” claim that because they have a many-times-great Indian grandmother, they are Métis. This poses a threat to the Red River Métis and to their, and my, rights.[17]

As the arguments were escalating between the MMF and the Métis National Council, president David Chartrand sent a message to members of the MMF that points to how serious this matter is:

"Not since the days of Louis Riel have we had so much to lose, with so many wanting to take what we have. Make no mistake, friends, we have a fight on our hands, and it’s no different from the fight we had at Frog Plain, at Upper Fort Garry, or at Batoche. There are people from the East who are coming to take what we have, and once again it’s up to us to decide whether or not they succeed…"[18]

The Red River Métis are again being threatened from the East. As I become more familiar with the larger issues in our political landscape and issues facing Indigenous peoples in what is now Canada, I am struck by how often history repeats itself and how in Canada we seem to be going in circles. The Red River Métis are continuing to fight in court about the mishandling of the Manitoba Act, arguing that in legal terms it is a treaty and that the Canadian Government failed to provide the land grant the Métis were promised. The Supreme Court agreed in 2013, but negotiations continue.


Exploring my grandmother’s story, my great-great-grandmother’s story, and my mother and aunt’s story has opened my eyes to the complicated relationships my family and I have with our multicultural heritage. We live in the intersection of settler and Indigenous values. My grandmother and aunt often had to fight to get their voices heard, and they were sometimes angry. I too am sometimes angry at the injustices I learn about and encounter personally. But I am also in a place of privilege and must fight my own racism that can sometimes be hard to see yet is in my blood.

My mother and I continue to collaborate, and we are starting to move deeper into our heritage, including our connections to Cree communities, and to examine our relationships with other settlers in Manitoba, including Mennonites. Because of the work and encouragement of my grandmother, I know who I am and my place in Canada’s history. I am grateful to her for teaching me to be proud of my heritage. Because of that mixed heritage, I have both benefited from colonialism and been wounded by it. My music is where I have found my voice and healed my wounds, and where I continue to explore the complicated relationships of my past and present.[19]

KarenSunabackais an Associate  Professor of Music at  Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario.

[1] Jean Teillet,TheNorth-WestIsOurMother:TheStoryofLouisRielsPeople,theMétisNation (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2019), 476.

[2] Press Release, September 29, 2021. See Manitoba Metis Federation Website: https://www., accessed Oct. 6, 2021.

[4] The MMF constitution (confirmed most recently in 2019). See

[5] Excerpt of Bornby the River. Note measures 200-241. Commissioned, premiered, and performed by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with conductor Anne Manson on February 19, 2013 at Westminster United Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

[6] Excerpt from MamasPainting, text by Joyce Clouston. The clip is from the end of the second movement and into the beginning of the third movement. Performed by Marcus Scholtes, violin I; Sharon Lee, violin II; Rebecca Diderrich, viola; Miriam Stewart-Kroeker, cello; Heidi Wall, piano; Karen Sunabacka, narrator. Recorded by Earl McCluskie on February 28, 2018 at Conrad Grebel University College during a noonhour concert. The piece is available on SoundCloud:

[7] The promotional artwork for the author’s Benjamin Eby Lecture (October 21, 2021, Conrad Grebel University College) on which this article is based is the first of these paintings.

[8] Louis Riel, born in 1844, was executed for high treason by the Canadian Government in 1885. He was a Métis leader and founder of Manitoba, and a central figure in the Red River and North-West resistances. Many books have been written about Riel, but a basic article is, accessed January 11, 2022.

[9] Teillet, TheStoryofLouisRielsPeople,241-42. The Orange Order in Canada, a branch of a fraternal organization that began in present-day Northern Ireland, dates from roughly 1812. Orange Lodges were at one time the chief social institution in Upper Canada (Ontario), organizing community and benevolent activities, and helping British Protestant immigrants to settle. The Order remained a dominant but controversial political force into the 20th century.—Ed.

[10] Ibid., 268. See also Gerald Ens, Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1996), 115.

[11] A survey map of the Parish of St Andrews and Parish of St. Clement’s from around 1870 shows the long thin rangs branching out from the Red River. The Birston family farm was a little to the north of the Hudson’s Bay Company fort. A satellite view shows what the Selkirk area looks like now. The rangs are still visible in many places: place/Selkirk,+MB, accessed January 11, 2022.

[13] Opening three minutes of movement 1 from I Wasn’tMeant forThis, text by Joyce Clouston. Commissioned, performed, and premiered by Park Sounds (Jennifer Thiessen, viola d’amore and Ben Reimer, percussion) at a GroundSwell concert in Winnipeg, Manitoba on October 6, 2019.

[14] Never to Return, measures 189-225. Commissioned, performed, and premiered by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with conductor James Sommerville on November 27, 2013.

[15] Excerpt from EnglishHornConcerto:InMemoryofBeverleyClouston. The clip covers the end of the second movement and the beginning of the third movement. Commissioned, performed, and premiered by L’Orchestre Métropolitain on October 10, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec with Mélanie Harel, solo english horn and Alondra de la Parra, conductor.

[16] Opening excerpt from Ourinnerliveswereentwined…embroideredwiththesamepatternfor solo piano. Commissioned, performed, and premiered by Naomi Woo and Virtuosi Concerts during an ONLINE recital in March 2021.

[17] Métis writers and scholars discuss in detail the issues surrounding Métis identity and those falsely claiming it. See Teillet, The North-West Is Our Mother, 480-84; Chelsea Vowel, IndigenousWrites:A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada, (Winnipeg: HighWater Press, 2016), 36-51; and Adam Gaudry and Darryl Leroux, “White Settler Revisionism and Making Métis Everywhere: The Evocation of Métissage in Quebec and Nova Scotia,” Critical EthnicStudies3, No. 1 (2017): 116-42;

[18] David Chartrand, e-mail (August 19, 2021) and published in Le Métis: https://www.mmf.

[19] This article is based on the author’s Benjamin Eby Lecture, presented on October 21, 2021 at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Blackness, Whiteness, and the Anabaptist Imagined Community in Print and Mission

Timothy D. Epp
ABSTRACT: This article examines how Black and White identities were constructed and negotiated in coverage of the Welsh Mountain Mission in Pennsylvania by three late 19th and early-20th century denominational newspapers: HeraldofTruth, TheMennonite, and GospelHerald.The author employs racial formation theory and the concepts of racial projects,imagined community,and Whiteness” in focusing on how these publications reflected and reproduced racial tropes of the period. The article concludes with suggestions for applying the analysis to current discussions on race and social justice in North America, and calls for Mennonites to learn from the past in order to navigate the present and future effectively.


David Wenger, writing in the Heraldof Truthissue of July 15, 1899, penned these words:

"There is much to do to change the negro’s manner to a more Godlike character. Have these efforts been put forth? We know that they have to a certain extent. But more may be done for raising the moral character of the negro, and great will be the reward to the nation or individual through whom it may be done."[1]

Wenger’s  comments  reflect  the  growth  of  Anabaptist  outreach initiatives to African-American populations in the United States during the late 19th century, as exemplified by the founding of two Mennonite missions: one in Chicago in 1893, the other at Welsh Mountain in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1898. Driven by the evangelical fervor of a much wider White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, these initiatives were most often described in terms of the benevolence of White missionaries towards Black souls in peril. However, such a racial dichotomy conceals the processes of racialization and the social construction of Whiteness and Blackness at work in mission encounters and printed accounts.

This paper examines how Black and White identities were constructed and negotiated by writers, editors, and readers as depicted in coverage of the Welsh Mountain Mission’s work by three denominational newspapers of the late 19th and early-20th century: HeraldofTruth, TheMennonite, and GospelHerald.[2] It is primarily based on a content analysis of these publications.[3]   I focus on how they reflect and reproduce broader racial tropes in North America at the time, and I argue that their coverage drew upon tropes of Blackness while at the same time constructing the Whiteness of Protestantism and of mission workers. Before launching into the analysis, I provide theoretical foundations for it by citing Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s discussion of racial formation theory and ‘racial projects,’ Benedict Anderson’s concept of the ‘imagined community,’ and Kelly Brown Douglas’s account of Whiteness. I conclude with suggestions for applying my findings to current discussions on race and social justice in North America, urging Mennonites to take lessons from the past in order to navigate the present and future.

While I draw on a range of sources, authors, and disciplines, my own racial identity as a White male inevitably shapes my analysis. For example, I have not personally experienced the suffering and injustice that many racialized individuals and communities face on a daily basis. My Whiteness and the ways I engage in its formation on a daily basis often remain invisible to me. As I continue on a path of learning about these processes, I am deeply grateful to the scholars whose work informs this paper.

Racial Formation Theory

In his discussion of cultural identity, social theorist Stuart Hall suggests that “perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact . . . we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production,’ which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.”[4] This perspective has informed much of the writing on race for the past several decades. Michael Omi and Howard Winant define race as “an unstable” and “decentered” complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle and as “a concept, which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies.”[5] Rather than viewing race as either ‘essence’ or ‘illusion,’ they argue that processes of racial formation are central to both the structure of society and patterns of cultural representation, and are driven by “historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized.”[6] These ‘racial projects’ represent and provide a rationale for racial dynamics, reorganize society and its resources along lines of race, and are most often characterized by conflict and crisis.[7]

African-American theologians, including Kelly Brown Douglas, have also identified Whiteness[8] as inherently conflictual: “Whatever the specific twists and turns on the path to constructing Whiteness, the construction was done in opposition to blackness.”[9] Douglas writes that the lives of new immigrants to 19th-century North America were “riddled with contradictions” as they navigated and negotiated their identities of both ‘foreign’ and ‘American,’ while maintaining the identity of ‘not black.’ She asserts that “even if these immigrants were not, as some have suggested, ‘white on arrival,’ it did not take them long to become so.”[10] Print culture, including newspapers, and mission work both provided avenues for the formation of community and for the ‘whitening’ of Anabaptists.

Imagined Community

In ImaginedCommunities, Benedict Anderson states that “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their community.”[11] Within this community, members of the nation identify with common symbols and a strong sense of affiliation: “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.”[12] Anderson observes that such communities became possible because of print capitalism, and he devotes attention to newspapers as a key mode for forming and strengthening a sense of community.

In the 19th century, many Protestant groups in the United States began to publish denominational newspapers. By 1880, Anabaptists were publishing at least nine such papers, and several had international readership.[13] These publications conveyed messages of inspiration, evangelism, and news from around the world. They also played a critical role in shaping Anabaptist ethno-religious identity in North America and in creating “a strong sense of denominational consciousness”[14] through offering conference reports, obituaries, Sunday school lessons, and news of national and international importance. Lessons accompanied by discussion questions, letters columns, and invitations to readers interested in becoming writers encouraged participation by the constituencies. The merging of HeraldofTruthand GospelWitnessto form the GospelHeraldin 1909 resulted in “a unified official church organ . . . a mouthpiece for the church” carrying “free-lance materials from constituent writers” and “editorials which reflect to a large extent the mind of the church.”[15]

Each of these papers provided a forum not only to connect readers, writers, and editors in the formation of an ‘imagined community’ but to identify outsiders to that community. In their pages, Blackness was most often identified as ‘other’ to White readers, in turn reflecting, reproducing, and at times challenging tropes of Blackness and Whiteness. Newspapers thus served as a significant site for racial formation in North America, especially as these publications introduced their readers to perspectives from a much broader White Protestantism.


The Protestant Context

Anabaptists have often been identified as unique within the spectrum of Christian denominations, in terms of their identities as ‘peace churches’ and in respect of their practices such as believer’s baptism. However, the social history of Anabaptism in North America must also be analyzed within the larger sphere of White Protestantism and its approaches to race. Critiques of Protestant Whiteness have been voiced at least since the 1920s,[16] and more recent studies informed by scholarship in postcolonial and critical race theory[17] have explored the social and historical construction of Blackness and Whiteness within Protestantism.[18] Historically, Mennonites were also influenced by, and began to borrow from, the ideologies and practices of other White Protestant groups in their new homeland, as witnessed by the myriad essays and articles authored by their leading spokespersons.

While such sharing of ideas and perspectives is still common practice, problems can arise “when this happens thoughtlessly, when people do not ask whether the method is consistent with biblical mission or is merely a reflection of the prevailing culture. Surely this is true in the case of racism.”[19] Within the context of White Protestantism, fueled by ideologies of Anglo- Saxon exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny, Mennonites had to decide “what to do with those nonwhite persons in their very midst, those who were in dire need of being civilized by means of Anglo-Saxon customs and practices.”[20] Mission work provided one answer, combining the twin agendas of salvation and civilization. In his study of the Mennonite mission in Chicago (1893- 1920s), Philipp Gollner describes how Mennonite immigrants shifted from a ‘tribalist’ and ethnic religion towards “the privilege and power of historic white American Protestantism,” negotiating “postures of benevolence and universalism” to become recognized as “good, white Protestants.”[21]

The study of mission work provides valuable insight into processes of racial formation, because “unlike racial theorists and policymakers of the time,” the workers “dealt with natives on a daily basis, recording their own actions and attitudes towards natives along with their perceptions of native attitudes, culture, and societies.”[22] However, their accounts were subsumed under the overarching goals of transforming local populations in the name of nation and religion. The Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission emphasized the restoration of social order and financial well-being to the ‘good White people’ of the local area, and the reshaping of the local Black population in terms of work, educational and home practices, and Christian worship to the standards of the White missionaries. In turn, missionaries represented “a complex institutional structure that included the sponsoring missionary societies who had chosen them, the publishing groups associated with the missionary societies, and a fundraising and fiscal infrastructure that supported them.”[23] The structure of the Protestant church and its mission activities were also informed by, and reproduced, dominant North American assumptions about race and religion.

Let me offer a personal memory that relates to these assumptions. As a child I was introduced to images and messages of a White Christ through Daily Vacation Bible School and Sunday School in the forms of picture- books and activities. The song “Jesus Loves the Little Children”[24] ostensibly directed our attention to the unity of everyone under Christ, but in doing so it also divided the world by skin color, providing a salient example of the ‘racial ambivalence’[25] which Protestants including Anabaptists have, at least until recently, taken towards matters of race. While proclaiming the Gospel to all nations, racialized populations were often identified in terms of undesirable characteristics, including criminality, “heathenism,” and idleness. These racial tropes were reflected in the words and actions of those who organized and worked at missions.

"Proselytization, catechisms, and other religious performances functioned as acts of white racialization—attempts to contour the boundaries of white flesh while prescribing the boundaries of non-white souls."[26]

It is important to note that Black Protestant churches had also emerged by this time. Some scholars have identified ‘whitening’ processes even in these congregations. Although James H. Cone identifies the early Black church in North America as “born in protest” and notes that “its reality stemmed from the eschatological recognition that freedom and equality are at the essence of humanity, and thus segregation and slavery are diametrically opposed to Christianity,” he observes that the post-Civil War Black church “adopted, for the most part, the theology of the white missionaries and taught blacks to forget the present and look to the future.” Black ministers “serv[ed] the dual function of assuring whites that all is well in the black community, dampening the spirit of freedom among his people.” [27] Meanwhile, missionaries reaped the benefits of Whiteness in their identities and status as agents of benevolence as “a sort of public and psychological wage,”[28] as reflected in Wenger’s reference to the “reward to the nation or the individual”[29] for the transformation of Black hearts and souls. The purpose of mission work to racialized populations, while ostensibly for their benefit, was also to solidify the Whiteness and authority of the White Christian church, and thereby “to determine what is or is not acceptable in the eyes of God—put simply, what is Christian and what is not.”[30]

From this perspective, encounters between Anglo-Saxon Protestant missionaries and African-American populations reflected the structure of organized religion and its ideologies in late-19th-century North America, and in turn re-enforced and reproduced cultural representations of Blackness and Whiteness. Race becomes common sense in social interaction and in the depictions of Whiteness and Blackness in denominational newspapers, as Black populations become target populations in the Home Mission field.


Three  Tropes  of  Blackness

Here I want to consider the negotiation of racial identity in terms of tropes of Blackness found in the denominational newspapers already named, tropes that persist in 21st-century media. On the first page of its initial issue in 1885, editors of TheMennonitewrote of the “Unity of the Bond of Peace”:

"For to this end was the Holy Spirit given, that he might unite those who are separated by race and diversity of habits: old and young, rich and poor, child, youth and man, male and female, and every soul become in a manner one, and more entirely so than if they were of one body."[31]

From its inception and continuing for some years, statements of unity appeared about once a year in TheMennonite. In the June 2, 1904 issue the editors declared: “We venture to believe there will be no race prejudice, or color line in heaven.”[32] While including all perceived colors of humanity within the purview of God’s love, Whiteness and Blackness were most often presented as polar opposites. This was not merely a matter of terminology but a process of assigning values and qualities to racial categories. In an essay “Education of Negroes in the German African Colonies and in America,” the unnamed author considers the innate characteristics of ‘negers’ (‘negroes’), in sharp contrast to the ‘civilizing’ influence of German colonial powers:

"With a few exceptions, their mental capacity is comparable to that of a child. Their animalistic instincts and almost uncontrollable sensuality rule their behaviour. Their character also displays conspicuous contradictions—although they are jovial and light-hearted, they also display a manifold cruelty toward people and animals that is simply outrageous. They have an undeniable inclination toward laziness and this seems to be the main reason for the darker side of their way of life. The old saying “laziness is the beginning of every vice” totally applies to them. For this reason, all efforts in educating them should be made to counteract this dangerous inclination."[33]

As Anabaptists began to develop Home Missions initiatives, similar attitudes were applied to racialized populations in North America. While Blackness was often associated with sin, Whiteness was often mentioned in relation to purity. While the Gospel was for all people, not everyone was perceived as equal. This sense of racial ambivalence[34] was repeated throughout the pages of Anabaptist newspapers.

1. Blacknessas Criminal

In their study of the criminalization of unarmed Black males in the United States, Calvin Smiley and David Fakunle contend that the image of Black men “as brutes in society has a long legacy that begins with the social construction of race and brings us to the current period of mass incarceration.”[35] The authors point out that current assumptions of Blackness and criminality, as revealed by the Black Lives Matter movement, have deep social and historical roots, and are reflected today in policies and practices such as Stand-your- ground laws.[36] The closely-related trope of Blackness as savagery informed not only the actions and policies of generations of US presidents—among them Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt—but the pages of Anabaptist newspapers as well. For instance, in his essay “The Negro,” David M. Wenger writes:

"In looking over the daily news, we often see that negroes are charged with great crimes. From this we may infer that there is much to do to change the negro’s manner to a more Godlike character."[37]

Reports in denominational newspapers of “horrific crimes” by racialized populations received little analysis or interpretation, as  was noted by A.B. Kolb in his essay “The Race Troubles.”[38] While these papers denounced lynching as sinful, they rarely considered the possibility of the accused’s innocence. Blackness was also associated with criminality in the form of “the negro problem.” For example, African-American people were blamed for both increased rates of crime and alcoholism:

"Here and there the negro problem has forced the liquor problem to the front, and to protect the wives and daughters of the white men from one form of crime it has been found necessary to do another that gives rise to it."[39]

By applying Omi and Winant’s concept of ‘racial projects,’ we can obtain a nuanced understanding of these cultural depictions, as Black Codes and Jim Crow laws served to criminalize the black body.[40] Douglas writes that “these laws assured that the black body would be viewed as a criminal body within the collective imagination. They literally made a criminal out of black people. All the black person had to do was be black.”[41] Depictions of Black offenders in denominational newspapers rarely paid attention to the circumstances of their criminalization. In addition, news media and medical journals depicted Black males as aggressively hypersexualized and therefore as threats to White women.[42]

2. Blacknessas Heathen

In commenting on Blackness and religion in 19th-century America, humanities scholar Sylvester Johnson cautions that “One should keep in mind that Euro-Americans imagined themselves to be historical Israel.

. . . It was generally assumed that the people of God described in biblical narratives were whites.”[43] Conversely, denominational newspapers most often associated Blackness with sin[44] and with those deemed lost or unsaved.[45] While the term ‘heathen’ was most often used to describe populations in Africa and the need for mission work in that continent, the trope of Blackness as spiritual destitution was replicated and extended in home missions to African-American and Indigenous populations. One example is the words of Rev. M. M. Horsch, writing from one of the “Indian Missions” in Arapahoe, Oklahoma: “In looking over our missionfield we find a dark heathenism staring at us from all sides.”[46] This sentiment was also reflected in HeraldofTruthsHome Missions column of March 1, 1901: “God loves the heathen as well as He loves us. Eveniftheyareblack[emphasis mine] they have a soul either to be saved or lost.”[47] Although missionaries argued that Christ’s salvation was for all peoples,[48] saving Black souls was depicted as relying on White intervention.

3. Blacknessas Idleness

Compounding the perception of Blackness as criminal and heathen was the assumption that Black people were lazy and lacked the necessary drive to lift themselves out of idleness and vice. This trope coincided with a more general concern for industrial mission work: “Missions, wherever they are carried on, endeavor to help the whole man,” proclaimed The Mennonite, adding that “The idle person is hardly likely to become the kind of a Christian who is to do himself or any one else very much good.”[49] However, idleness was often portrayed as uniquely true of Black people. This perspective informed Christian Education Lessons in this publication —“That some of the negroes, perhaps a larger percentage than that of white people, are shiftless, unreliable, sensual is true”[50]—and in essays such as “The Nature of Education” by C. E. Bender —“It is said that the savages of our race remain savages, not because they have not original faculties as other individuals, capable of improvement, but because they have no desire for improvement.”[51] The prevalence of such stereotypes can be explained this way:

"Many of the stereotypes created during the height of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade were used to help commodify black bodies and justify the business of slavery. For instance, an enslaved person, forced under violence to work from sunrise to sunset, could hardly be described as lazy. Yet laziness, as well as characteristics of submissiveness, backwardness, lewdness, treachery, and dishonesty, historically became stereotypes assigned to African Americans."[52]

In contrast, German people were described as “ever industrious— gorgeous (sic) characteristics and virtues distinguish them.” This blatant conflation of physical appearance and morality was followed by a query for readers: “We need to ask ourselves why we are in such a hurry to educate the black and less gifted race.”[53] According to the unnamed author, there was little hope for ‘colored people’ except through White intervention. From the perspective of Racial Formation Theory, perceptions of idleness also served the needs of colonizing powers and must be considered in relation to the ‘racial projects’ of White society, such as vagrancy laws that served to punish African-American men unable to find work due to racial discrimination.[54] Blackness was equated with laziness and a need for elevation to the status of a ‘useful’ citizen.


While Blackness was associated with criminality, heathenism, and idleness, denominational newspapers associated Whiteness with purity and holiness:

"[E]arly American Anglo-Saxons . . . came to believe that they essentially had divinity running through their veins . . . the further removed one may be from the Anglo-Saxon family tree, the further one is removed from God."[55]

The elevated status of White people was also informed by Social Darwinism, as reflected in HeraldofTruth: “We find of all the races, the white has reached the greatest perfection— physically, intellectually, and, above, all, morally.”[56] These beliefs informed discussions around outreach to African- American populations, and the call to Anabaptists was clear. Their duty was to “lift them [‘negroes’] out of the estate in which fate has placed them and help them to assume the responsibilities of citizenship.”[57] The salvation and civilization of Black people was the burden of White missionaries.



Although Anabaptists at times demonstrated interest in, and even concern for, questions of slavery and racial injustice, mission outreach to African- American populations only began in the late 19th century, almost thirty years after Emancipation. The Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission first appears as a challenge from John R. Buckwalter in the pages of HeraldofTruthin 1895.[58] He called on Lancaster-area Mennonites to look past the comforts of their homes to the Pequea valley to the north and its “powerful Mennonite church: strong in numbers and strong in means,” to the Conestoga valley to the north with its “equally strong Mennonite church, both as to numbers and wealth,” and finally towards the east and the ‘wild’ Welsh Mountain, that was

"peopled to our certain knowledge with hundreds of persons of whom it can be as truly said as the Lord said of the Ninevites, that they cannot discern between their right hand and their left. And what have we as a church done to save them? Practically nothing."[59]

The Mission first arose in response to a call from a “regular ordained colored Presbyterian minister,”[60] M.H. Hagler, who sought to help his congregants find productive work and move away from lives of idleness or crime.[61] Hagler spoke at the quarterly meeting of the Mennonite Sunday School Mission on Thursday, July 22, 1897, providing “a brief account of his life, and his present work among the colored people of the Welsh mountains.”[62] He had moved to there about six months prior to the meeting in order to devote himself to “the people of his own race . . . living among the stumps and stones of the hill[63] in order that he may devote himself to raising his brethren from the slough of ignorance, laziness and vice in which they are resting.”[64]  Secretary Amos Ressler noted that Hagler’s work was progressing rather slowly “but he feels the need to press on, trusting of Him who has made of one blood, all nations of the earth, and who gave Himself to redeem us.” Local Mennonites were generally impressed by Hagler, as HeraldofTruthdescribed his character in glowing terms on the basis of his education, work ethic, and attitude of self-sacrifice:

"He is a graduate of Lincoln University, is a hard worker, and to all appearances, a consecrated Christian. His character has undergone the closest scrutiny, and has not been found wanting.[65] He left a salaried position as Sunday School Missionary for his work here where he gets what he earns, with a little outside help. He is apparently doing a good work here, and we believe is worthy of our warmest sympathy and support."[66]

With Hagler’s worthiness affirmed, the Mennonite Church formed a committee to investigate conditions on Welsh Mountain and to develop a plan to improve the condition of its “dependent people.”[67] Having appointed a twelve-person Board of Directors, the plan for the mission was unveiled. Its first goal was to purchase “some of the better sprout land” for the local population to clear and to grow vegetables and fruits. They would also grow corn for making brooms and “any other work our experience with them may suggest as advantageous.” In addition, women were to be instructed in washing and sewing. Note the words used to describe these “improvements”:

"Help them to fix up their homes, and clean and decentlydress their children, so they are in a fitconditionto attend the day schools, Sunday-school and church. It is hard to expect children half clad in rags to attend these institutionsofimprovement. Soon as the boys and girls becomeefficientandtrustworthyworkers, the Mission Board will help them to situations where they can earn something outside the Mission for themselves. All their work at the Mission will be paid for in the necessities of life. Sunday-school and church services will be held regularly under the direction of Milton H. Hagler."[68] [emphasis mine]

This passage testifies to the social control that organizers exercised over the workers, who were viewed as unfit, inefficient, and untrustworthy without intervention by White missionaries. The Mission’s purpose was not to work alongside Black people but rather to doforthem. Its express goal was to transform workers and families into “a fit condition,” instilling in them the values of White missionaries. Control was exercised over their physical, social, and spiritual aspects.

While some of the instruction may have been welcomed by the local populace, the Mission’s strategy reflects that of a company town, as all the work performed by the people was to be paid for in the “necessities of life” or in scrip as provided by the Mission’s store. The rationale for this was also framed in moralistic tones and embodied assumptions about Blackness and self-control: “because many of them do not know how to use money to good advantage, and are liable to spend it for drink.”[69]

Although Hagler would remain significant in the work that developed on Welsh Mountain, including taking the position of storekeeper, “looking after the spiritual interests of the colored people,” teaching Sunday School, on occasion providing scripture reading and prayer at meetings, presiding over at least one wedding ceremony, and deterring the “people of the valley” from supporting “begging habits,” the narrative of the Mission downplayed his role in favor of emphasizing White missionaries rescuing an African- American community. Black voices were notably absent in both reports from the Mission itself and essays others wrote about it.

Within the year following the announcement of the calling and plan, the Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission had become a regular and prominent feature in several newspapers, crossing denominational lines and appearing to interest many Anabaptists. However, the most extensive coverage by far was within HeraldofTruthand then later in GospelHerald, as both the Mission and these papers operated under the auspices of the Mennonite Church. In these papers, the Mission’s work and well-being was featured in regular reports by missionaries and mission staff; monthly audited financial statements; reports on the activities of organizers, including their travels and pastoral responsibilities such as sermons and regular reports at the Quarterly Meeting of the Mennonite Sunday School Mission; comments by the editors of HeraldofTruth, and correspondence by visitors to the Mission. The Mission also received attention in editorial comments and the Christian Education section in TheMennonite.

These various formats also reveal a distance between the authors and their subjects, with missionaries providing a first-hand account of Mission activities and others supplying essays or lessons based on second-hand knowledge. As a result, comments by missionaries and those in charge are often markedly distinct from comments in by others. While reports from the Mission rarely provided much detail on the lives of Black workers, other writers offered more pointed and often negative comments. For example, the editors of HeraldofTruthasserted the following agenda:

"To rid the surrounding country of a very undesirable class of people inhabiting Welsh Mountain, not by driving them out,   but by giving them a fair opportunity of making an honest living, and to bring them into a better condition spiritually by establishing Sunday schools and church services among them."[70]

With this background established, we can now consider how the Mission’s work not only displayed and reproduced the tropes of Whiteness and Blackness already described but clearly revealed that “the peasant-and- burgher Lancasterians, whatever their symbols of cultural separation, were very much in tune with some basic attitudes in U.S. life.”[71]

4. Blacknessas Criminal

Criminal activity in the Welsh Mountain area crossed the lines of race and color,[72] as exemplified by the notorious Buzzard gang.[73] However, the dominant narrative of the Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission emphasized the transformation of ‘colored people’ from living a life of crime to the elevated status of living as honest and productive citizens, Christianized and civilized through the “self-denying labors of the brethren”[74] and “every honest means possible.”[75]

Referred to in biblical terms as ‘Samaritans’[76] or ‘Ninevites’,[77] Black people were destined to become “efficient and trustworthy workers” as they worked in the Mission’s shirt and broom factories, fields, and gardens.[78]

The Mission’s Board of Directors demonstrated a sense of racial ambivalence by identifying the root of criminal behavior in the institution of slavery, yet at the same time locating the area’s current problem in the perceived criminality and idleness of Black people themselves:

"Let us remember, that while the negro is noted as a petty thief and beggar, there is one kind of stealing he will never have to answer for. Had his white brother never kidnapped him and stolen him from his native home, and shipped him across the great deep to be sold and used as a slave, it is extremely doubtful whether they would be here to bother us."[79]

The narrative of Black criminality appears most starkly not in the reports of missionaries but in the articles and columns written about the Mission by others not directly involved in its operations. These pieces tended to appropriate and reshape the narrative of the Mission as a story of Black criminality and White salvation. For example, Wenger writes that “The black people found on these mountains have for years been a great annoyance to the white people living in the valley; in that they were given to stealing.”[80] Similarly, HeraldofTrutheditors justify the need for the Mission in terms of social order and, perhaps more significantly, in terms of financial costs levied by ‘colored people’ on the ‘good people’ of the area:

"These people, on account of the many crimes they commit, entail a continuous expense on the county that must be met by taxation. . . . With horses and wagons they scour the whole county, begging or stealing, and it is hoped by means of an Industrial Mission to educate and Christianize the rising generation so they may be useful citizens."[81]

The perceived savagery of the people was mirrored in the terrain of the mountain itself. With its ‘stumps and stones,’[82] it represented wilderness described in a local paper as “the hideousness of an uncloaked giant,”[83] the antithesis of ‘society’.

"The mountain, which for half a century was a tangle of briars, weeds and brush, isolated as it were from mankind, where all sorts of wickedness could be carried on unknown to the outside world, is now rapidly becoming a blooming garden. Once it was almost a visit of one’s life to go there, now it is a pleasure to visit the place, and note the scenes of activity, and the air of thrift among the people."[84]

From the perspective of this writer, the Mission activities had transformed not only the people and their values (from ‘wickedness’ to ‘thrift’), but the land itself (from ‘a tangle of briars’ to ‘a blooming garden’). However, this passage also situates the local populace as separate from the larger world—and, worse, even from humanity.

5. Blacknessas Heathen

In his first report on activity at the Mission, Jacob Mellinger (who was to become Assistant Superintendent and keeper of the store) identifies it as “a charitable institution in a business garb.”[85] Within the past year, land had been cleared and “many warm supporters” had donated money to the cause. It had been a challenge to communicate the Mission’s purpose to the local population, resulting in “the greatest excitement” and “the most ridiculous stories,” but a significant change had already been noted among the male laborers, who now saw their future as “honest work” rather than crime. However, he notes that what is missing from these men is “the grace of God in their Hearts.” What was needed was a church structure similar to that with which he was familiar. While the workers are like “the colored man mentioned in Acts 8 . . . susceptible to religious feelings,” and in spite of the fact that Hagler was leading “regular preaching and Sunday services,” there was no ‘organized church.’[86] From his perspective, the work at Welsh Mountain was truly a “mission to the lost.”[87]

This apparent lack of structure and accompanying lack of religious experience had been touched on earlier in the same issue by the HeraldofTrutheditors but to a more extreme degree, describing the people as “nearly heathen as it is possible to find them outside of the foreign mission field.”[88] This view of collective spiritual destitution is apparent in the fact that the names of workers other than Hagler only began to be mentioned on the first baptism of a ‘colored’ person in 1917, Elmer Boots. In contrast, the names of missionaries and staff became well known in the publication’s pages. Mennonite leader and future bishop Noah H. Mack, for instance, was often reported as performing sermons and services at area locations and identified as “of the Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission.”

In contrast to the workers and their perceived proclivity to debauchery, missionaries were often portrayed as selfless suffering servants. In her correspondence from the Mission, Sarah Kurtz writes: “We feel to thank (sic) the Lord for the blessings He has bestowed upon us, for it is alone through him that we receive strength to labor in His vineyard.”[89] Missionaries were described as having left the comforts of home behind in order to serve the population on the Mountain. However, while most may have lived in humble quarters, the description of a visitor from the Lancaster area depicts the superintendent’s residence as starkly contrasting to the laborers’ huts:

"A beautiful and substantial dwelling is erected which he uses as both a dwelling and a store. Here he enjoys life as well as anyone under the circumstances, and it would require a most advantageous offer to entice him away from his work."[90]

While the Mission’s purpose was ostensibly to benefit the local populace, the writer describes this “substantial dwelling”’ as the logical profit of Mission work—a sort of ‘wage of Whiteness.’[91]

6. Blacknessas Idleness

In addition to criminality, reports from  the  Mission  assert  that  Blacks have a propensity for idleness and that the Mission’s purpose is to “educate and Christianize the rising generation so they may be useful citizens.”[92] Schlabach compares the Mission to the work of educator and reformer Booker T. Washington,[93] who emphasized education and self-help through labor as the paths to ‘racial uplift’ and received strong criticism for failing to offer what was really needed to improve the lives of African-Americans. What is significant here is that Washington was lauded in the Anabaptist denominational newspapers, praise that served to reproduce stereotypes of Black idleness: “the blacks must first be taught to love their work and be convinced that their efforts will have positive results.”[94] Two reports from Welsh Mountain missionaries employ this trope:

The workers in the shirt factory have resumed their duties, after having been idle a few days.[95]

"Wood cutting has begun and there is no just reason for idleness. 'I am tired of loafing,' said one as he applied for work. He was given a stone fork and a wheel barrow and sent to a needy spot."[96]

The second statement contrasts this person’s initiative with the idleness pervasive among the local population. However, idleness in both these statements must be understood as  lack of engagement in tasks that the Mission had determined appropriate for their betterment. Failure to complete these tasks was presented as a general characteristic of Black people, regardless of their own perspectives on the usefulness and meaningfulness of the assigned work. Missionaries’ reports seldom provided much detail about the lives of the ‘colored’ workers. Instead, their reports listed the number of shirts and brooms produced, noting at times that the workers were “doing nicely.”[97] Any disputes or problems among the workers received only brief mention, although the title of “Problems of the Welsh Mt. Industrial Mission—Solved and Unsolved” suggests that these may not have been entirely dealt with.[98]

Whiteness and Salvation

At this point I must turn to an important element of the Welsh Mountain Mission’s  self-understanding  and  its  operations  that  calls  for  attention. Although founded on the premise of self-improvement  through industrial labor, the Mission gradually increased its emphasis on spiritual transformation in the early 20th century, especially when its population declined as laborers found employment in the surrounding communities. The Mission opened a Sunday school program in 1914. However, aside from some continued spiritual care by Hagler, the Mission’s Whiteness was reflected in the composition of its staff and Board of Directors and in its goal of elevating these “benighted, despised and rejected men and women” by making them “useful”:

"There seems to be a spiritual awakening among the colored people here, and they are apparently reaching after better things. During a series of meetings at the A.M.E. church, quite a number signified a willingness to lead a better life. But they have many discouragements which we do not have, and it is for us to help them over their temptations and their discouragements, and as the grace of God can save to the uttermost, there is no reason why they should not, through time, become useful as Christians and as citizens."[99]

The “better things” undoubtedly refers to work habits inculcated by the Mission and the educational goals described earlier. But it also refers to the much greater ‘racial project’ of civilization as reflected in the structure of Christian churches and their mission work. By 1902, the Mission was identified as having “performed miracles”[100] in the surrounding community in terms of crime rates and productivity.

"Mennonites were among the first to advocate the emancipation of the southern slaves. And the Mennonites of Lancaster county were the first to make a consistent effort to elevate the degraded population of the Welsh Mountain."[101]

Missionaries were portrayed as the means to salvation in terms of both spirituality and industriousness, agents in transforming workers into useful citizens and baptized Christians. However, several passages also suggest that the missionaries’ perspectives were changing; they were now offering positive and affirming comments on the workers’ spiritual engagement. For example, Lizzie M. Wenger wrote this in one of her reports:

"I must say these colored people are very dear: some of them are very willing to work. I had from two to thirteen working in the shirt factory. They can sew very nicely and it made me rejoice to hear them while they were sewing sing such songs as 'More about Jesus,' 'The Haven of Rest,' 'I must tell Jesus,' 'O Beulah Land,' 'At the Cross,' etc."[102]

Another missionary, Sarah Kurtz, enjoyed the intermingling of voices at the Mission:

“We rejoice to see so many come into these meetings and mingle their voices with ours in singing the beautiful songs of Zion.”[103]

In 1917, the Mission celebrated the baptism of the first ‘negro’ congregant, Elmer Boots, who was received as a full member of the Mennonite Church.[104] By 1920 he and his co-workers were given increased responsibilities: “the industrial work is now practically carried on by colored brethren, namely, Bro. Elmer Boots, broom making, and Bro. William Bohyer farming and general outdoor labor.”[105]  After more than twenty years, missionaries and staff were now recorded as referring to those who received baptism and church membership as ‘brethren’ and ‘sisters.’[106] In September 1921, a mission report noted:

"We also notice an increasing interest on the part of the colored people in our work. On Sunday evening, the 28th, another precious soul was received into our fellowship by water baptism. Our membership at present is four in number and others are counting the cost."[107]

The next year, the Mission reported two additional baptisms, emphasizing the role of these new converts in the salvation of other workers:

"Pray for the few at this place that the Lord may preserve them faithful and use them in bringing others to the Savior."[108]

However, these developments did not mean that dominant attitudes were completely replaced, as Theron Schlabach has noted:

"The form had changed. Meantime the attitudes by which mission-minded Mennonites judged Blacks and the work changed a degree, but not entirely…. Condescension and the attitude of moral uplift had by no means ended by the 1920s."[109]

Let me now bring this wide-ranging discussion to a tentative conclusion that takes into account where we are today in regard to the issues raised and suggests how we might proceed into the future, both as a society and as the Christian church.


Conclusion:WhitenessandSocial Power

Theron Schlabach’s observation is compelling, particularly if we consider the role of race today, in the 21st century. The Black Lives Matter movement reveals that attitudes towards race have not changed significantly over the past century, and that whether cloaked in the guise of mission work or expressed in overt violence against marginalized populations, the social power of Whiteness continues to inform both social action and social structure.

In an essay titled “The Peace Witness and Revolutionary Movements,” the African-American historian Vincent Harding wrote of Mennonites and Whiteness:

"Sometimes, . . . we clearly control the power, subtle power, like the power of Mennonite prestige, the power of middleclass respectability, the power of whiteness. Can we recommend the way of powerlessness while we dwell comfortably among the powerful?"[110]

In spite of Harding’s challenge—made more than fifty years ago— scholarly attention to the relationship of religion and social power, and more specifically to Anabaptism and Whiteness, is a body of literature still in a developmental stage.[111]

In this article, which seeks to advance that development, I have drawn heavily on the concepts of imagined community, racial formation, and racial projects in order to understand how missionaries at Welsh Mountain, while acting on the premise of delivering God’s word of salvation, engaged in and contributed to racial formations of Whiteness and Blackness through their writing and work. By conflating White expectations of social order with the message of the Gospel, and through narratives of the Mission’s work in the pages of denominational newspapers, missionaries came to be seen as miracle-workers successful at reducing crime, lowering taxes, and restoring a sense of order to the area. In stark contrast, Blackness was associated with sin, criminality, and idleness, and deemed in need of transformation by White missionaries.

The missionaries’ interests were coupled with a drive to civilize the local populace, through instilling orderliness in everything from singing and children’s clothing to the state of people’s homes. The exercise of social control by these means may not have always been intentional but probably often appeared as common sense, as it was both informed by, and reflected in, the broader tropes and structure of White Protestantism and a White North America.

"[I]t is not that Mennonites suddenly and consciously acted as white supremacists, but that their religious practice and their outlook on the role of Christianity in public life appropriated the privilege and power of historic white American Protestantism."[112]

In this way, formations such as White mission activity, as exemplified in the Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission, may indeed be understood as a racial project, often vilifying and heathenizing Black people with the goal of transforming them according to the standards of a White social structure. From this perspective, we can begin to connect this analysis to recent incidents of violence against racialized populations, particularly as revealed by the Black Lives Matter movement. While missionaries did not wield the guns and truncheons of police officers, we can identify Whiteness in the actions of both forms of authority that are in turn elements of a White North America.

In an essay on Black Lives Matter, sociologist Natalie Byfield helpfully develops the concept of “existential crime”: that which “violates the racial order of a state or disrupts other structures through which state power is ‘articulated.’”[113] Today, Black Lives Matter continues to reveal the consequences of transgressing the racial order in the forms of discrimination, inequality, and violence.  Byfield’s  analysis  of  race  and  policing  draws on a sacred/secular dichotomy of police versus community, in which the unquestioned authority of law enforcement masks the same Whiteness that informed slavery, mission work, and now police brutality. In its words and actions, the Black Lives Matter movement works to eradicate the same value systems that drove the atrocities of the past and are often obscured today in the business of our daily lives. The United States is not alone in these revelations, as investigations into Residential Schools in Canada equally demand recognition that race still informs both Canada’s social interactions and social structure.[114]

As Christians,  we have  much to  account for.  We must  begin to acknowledge the ways by which we have contributed to the suffering of racialized populations and to recognize their truths. In addition to having our ears, eyes, and hearts open to their perspectives and experiences, we also need to acknowledge lines of power running through our relationships, and that we have often placed ourselves on the side of the oppressor. If we are to make any progress in regard to racial relations, we must take an honest and even painful appraisal of our past and examine what has been done in the name of God. We must listen to the words of Black Lives Matter activists with both humility and courage. In  the  words  of  Mennonite  historian Ben Goossen, we must recognize and attend to “the ways in which we are privileged by our whiteness,” at the same time acknowledging that “there is no easy answer, only a path of discernment and faith.”[115]

TimothyD.Eppis Associate Professor of Applied Social Sciences at Redeemer University in Hamilton (Ancaster), Ontario.

[1] David Wenger, “The Ethiopian or Black Race,” Heraldof Truth. 36, no. 8 (August 1, 1899), 119.

[2] For an account of the construction of Whiteness at the Chicago mission, see Philipp Gollner, “How Mennonites Became White: Religious Activism, Cultural Power, and the City,” MennoniteQuarterlyReview 90 (2016): 165-93.

[3] I accessed digitized copies of each on the website for the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and searched for references to the Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission. I narrowed the date range to 1898-1924 in order to coincide with its operating dates. After selecting relevant articles and references, I identified themes in the depiction of Blackness and Whiteness, focusing on descriptions of mission workers and the African-American population (‘negro’ and/or ‘colored’ were the terms most commonly used). I then analyzed these references and themes through the lens of Racial Formation Theory.

[4] Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity:Community,Culture,andDifference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), 222.

[5] Michael Omi and Howard Winant, RacialFormationintheUnitedStates(London: Routledge, 1994), 55.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Tobin Miller Shearer uses the phrase ‘whitening conflicts’ to describe the ways by which Mennonite Central Committee workers negotiated their identities in working with African- American populations in the 1960s: “Conflicting Identities: White Racial Formation among Mennonites, 1960-1985,” Identities:GlobalStudiesinCultureandPower19, no. 3 (2012): 268- 84.

[8] Here I draw on recent anthropological discussion of Whiteness as “a racial formation that changes spatially and temporally and confers race privilege.” See, for example, Susan Frohlick, Paula Migliardi, and Adey Mohamed, “Mostly with White Girls: Settlement, Spatiality, and Emergent Interracial Sexualities in a Canadian Prairie City,” CityandSociety30, no. 2 (2018): 165-85.

[9] Kelly Brown Douglas, StandYour Ground: Black Bodies and the JusticeofGod(Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2015), 36.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Benedict R. Anderson, ImaginedCommunities:ReflectionsontheOriginandSpreadofNationalism(London: Verso, 1991), 6.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Harry Loewen and James Urry, “A Tale of Two Newspapers: DieMennonitischeRundschau (1880-2007) and Der Bote (1924-2008),” Mennonite Quarterly Review 86, no. 2 (April 2012):176.

[14] John A. Hostetler, GodUsesInk:TheHeritageandMissionoftheMennonitePublishingHouseafterFiftyYears(Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 1958), 47.

[15] Ibid., 72, 135.

[16] Theron F. Schlabach, GospelVersusGospel:MissionandtheMennoniteChurch,1863-1944 (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1980.

[17] Frantz Fanon, BlackSkin,WhiteMasks(New York, NY: Grove Press, 1967); Homi Bhabha, TheLocationofCulture(Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 1994); Birgit Brander Rasmussen, Eric Klinenberg, Irene J. Nexica, Matt Wray, eds., TheMakingandUnmakingofWhiteness(Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2001).

[18] Jennifer Harvey, “White way to Justice? Reconciliation, Reparations, and the Problem of Whiteness in US Protestantism,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 31, no. 1 (2011): 57-77; Edward J. Blum, Tracy Fessenden, Prema Kurien, Judith Weisenfeld, “Forum,” ReligionandAmericanCulture:A Journal of Interpretation. 19, no. 1 (2009): 1-35; Katharine Gerbner, ChristianSlavery:ConversionandRaceintheProtestantAtlanticWorld(Philadelphia, PA: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

[19] Wilbert R. Shenk, “Introduction,” in Schlabach, Gospel Versus Gospel: Mission and the Mennonite Church, 1863-1944, 11.

[20] Douglas, StandYourGround:BlackBodiesandtheJusticeofGod, 101.

[21] Gollner, “How Mennonites Became White,” 169.

[22] C.L. Higham, Noble,Wretched,& Redeemable: Protestant Missionaries to the Indians in Canada and the United States, 1820-1900 (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2000), 2.

[23] Ibid., 13.

[24] “Jesus loves the little children/All the children of the world/Red and yellow, Black and white/ All are precious in his sight.” George Frederick Root, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” 1864.

[25] Meghan A. Burke, Burke, RacialAmbivalenceinDiverseCommunities(Lanham, MD:Lexington Books, 2012).

[26] Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, “Race and Religion in the Afterlife of Protestant Supremacy,” ChurchHistory88, no. 3 (September 2019): 769.

[27] James H. Cone, BlackTheologyand Black Power(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2019), 66, 72.

[28] W.E.B. DuBois, BlackReconstructioninAmerica1860-1880 (New York: The Free Press, 1998), 700.

[29] Wenger, “The Ethiopian or Black Race,” 119.

[30] Douglas, StandYourGround:BlackBodiesandtheJusticeofGod, 43.

[31] “Unity in the Bond of Peace,” The Mennonite 1, no. 1 (October 1885), 1.

[32] “Editorial Scraps,” The Mennonite 9, no. 26 (June 2, 1904), 4.

[33] “Negerschulung in den Deutsch-Afrikanischen Kolonien und in America,” DieMennonitischeRundschau, August 3, 1898, 2.

[34] On racial ambivalence, see M.A. Burke’s RacialAmbivalenceinDiverseCommunities:WhitenessandthePowerofColor-BlindIdeologies(Minneapolis, MN: Lexington Books, 2012).

[35] Calvin John Smiley and David Fakunle, “From ‘brute’ to ‘thug:’ the demonization and criminalization of unarmed Black male victims in America,” JournalofHumanBehaviorintheSocialEnvironment26, no. 3-4 (2016): 354.

[36] Douglas provides a thorough and extensive discussion on these laws and Black bodies in StandYourGround:BlackBodiesandtheJusticeofGod.

[37] David M. Wenger, “The Negro,” HeraldofTruth36, no. 14 (July 15, 1899), 219.

[38] A.B. Kolb, “Race Troubles,” Herald of Truth 26, no. 22 (November 15, 1889), 341-43.

[39] “The Saloon in the South” (reprint from Institute Tie), The Mennonite 22, no. 42 (October 24, 1907), 1.

[40] Douglas, StandYourGround:BlackBodiesandtheJusticeofGod, 77ff.

[41] Ibid., 79.

[42] Ibid., 70.

[43]Sylvester Johnson, TheMythofHaminNineteenth-CenturyAmericanChristianity(London:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 57.

[44] Douglas, StandYourGround:BlackBodiesandtheJusticeofGod, 43.

[45] It is important to note that Black people were at times described in terms of purity and simplicity in their relation to God. Gerbner in ChristianSlavery:ConversionandRaceintheProtestantAtlanticWorldprovides an interesting discussion of the historical construction of “Christian” as “non- slave.”

[46] M.M. Horsch, “From Arapahoe, Oklahoma,” The Mennonite 13, No. 2 (November 1897), 2. Reports from several of these missions identify the presence of ‘negroes,’ presumably Indigenous Freedmen.

[47] A.J. Heinrichs, “Home Missions,” Herald of Truth 38, no. 5 (March 1, 1901), 71.

[48] Fanny Rupp, “Missionary Interests,” Herald of Truth 42, no. 28 (July 13, 1905), 221.

[49] “C.E. Topic Industrial Missions at Home and Abroad,” The Mennonite 38, no. 28, July 19, 1923.

[50] C.V.D. Smissen, “Our C.E. Topic,” TheMennonite22, no. 12 (March 21, 1907), 5.

[51] C.E. Bender, “The Nature of Education,” Herald of Truth 41, no. 40 (September 29, 1904), 319.

[52] “Popular and Pervasive Stereotypes of African Americans,” Smithsonian: National Museum of African American History & Culture,, accessed June 11, 2021.

[53] “Negerschulung in den Deutsch-Afrikanischen Kolonien und in America,” 2.

[54] Douglas, StandYourGround:BlackBodiesandtheJusticeofGod, 78.

[55] Ibid., 42.

[56] Wenger, “The Ethiopian or Black Race,” 119.

[57] Kolb, 341. For more recent examples of this trope, see Katherine M. Bell, “Raising Africa?: Celebrity and the rhetoric of the white savior,” JournalofMultidisciplinaryInternationalStudies10, no. 1 (January 2013): 1-24; Matthew W. Hughey, “Racializing Redemption, Reproducing Racism: The odyssey of magical negroes and white saviors,” Sociology Compass 6, no. 9 (September 2012): 751-67.

[58] Buckwalter would later serve as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission.

[59] “Mission Work from a Bible View,” HeraldofTruth32, no. 4 (February 15, 1895), 60.

[60] S.H. Musselman, et al., “What the Brethren in Lancaster Co., Pa., are Doing,” Herald of Truth 35, no. 6 (March 15, 1898), 91. The narrative of Welsh Mountain is most often presented in terms of a White/Colored (Black) dichotomy. However, according to one source, Melford H. Hagler was “born in either Texas or Alabama…the son of a white father and a black mother.” Hagler’s wife, hailing from Welsh Mountain, was “part Indian. Her great-grandmother, in fact, was a full-blooded Susquehannock who stood six feet tall” (https://www.newspapers. com/clip/11766861/nancy-hagler/). Hagler’s first name appeared in HeraldofTruthas Milton, Malford, and Melford.

[61] These are the words of the Mission’s organizers, not of Hagler himself, who is never quoted in the newspapers.

[62] Amos A. Ressler, Sec., “Report of the Quarterly Meeting of the Mennonite S.S. Mission, held at Paradise, Lancaster Co., Pa., on Thursday, July 22, 1897,” Herald of Truth 34, no. 16 (August 15, 1897), 250.

[63] Descriptions of the local ecological context (“stumps and stones”) coincide with descriptions of the local populace as rough and uncivilized.

[64] Again, it’s unclear whether these words belong to Hagler or to Ressler. The wildness of the Welsh Mountain area contrasts with the comforts of ‘society’ and ‘civilization:’ The use of the term ‘slough’ recalls the Slough of Despond in John Bunyan’s PilgrimsProgress.

[65] This is an interesting statement, as Hagler was already an ordained minister by the time he met the Mennonites.

[66] Jacob H. Mellinger, “The Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission,” HeraldofTruth35, no. 13 (July 1, 1898), 199.

[67] Ressler, “Report of the Quarterly Meeting of the S.S. Mission, held at Kinzer, Lancaster Co., Pa., on Saturday, Jan. 15, 1898,” The Herald of Truth 35, no. 5 (March 15, 1898), 75.

[68] Musselman et al., “What the Brethren in Lancaster Co., Pa., are Doing,” 91.

[69] Ressler, “Report of the Quarterly Meeting of the Mennonite S.S. Mission, held at Paradise, Lancaster Co., Pa., April 14, 1898,” Herald of Truth 35, no. 13 (July 1, 1898), 203.

[70] “The Welsh Mountain Mission,” Herald of Truth 36, no. 5 (March 1, 1899), 71.

[71] Schlabach, GospelVersusGospel, 74.

[72] Two Christian Education lessons suggested that the intersection of race and social class was at the root of Welsh Mountain criminal activity: “The people living there, composed of whites and blacks of the lowest class, intermarried and lived in filth and many of them were confirmed criminals.” “The C.E. Topic: Inspiring Stories from the Home Mission Field,” TheMennonite35, no 45 (November 11, 1920), 5; “Some years ago there existed a community in the upper end of Lancaster County, Penna., that was noted for its lawlessness, and immorality, blacks and whites lived together and together followed criminal careers” (“C.E. Topic Industrial Missions at Home and Abroad,” The Mennonite 38, no. 28, July 19, 1923).

[73] “Welsh Mountain Thieves Released,” Herald of Truth 38, no. 17, 270.

[74] Editors, “Items of News and Comment,” The Mennonite 17, no. 7 (January 23, 1902), 1.

[75] Musselman et al., “What the Brethren in Lancaster Co., Pa., are Doing,” 91.

[76] “New Holland Pa. Welsh Industrial Mission,” Gospel Herald 12, no. 49 (March 4, 1920), 940.

[77] “Mission Work from a Bible View,” HeraldofTruth32, no. 4 (February 15, 1895), 60.

[78] Musselman et al., “What the Brethren in Lancaster Co., Pa., are Doing,” 91

[79] Ibid. The ambivalence is also reflected in this comment: “Jesus shed his blood just as much for the yellow, brown or black-faced heathen as he did for the ‘respectable’ American of Anglo-Saxon descent.”—Oliver T. Yoder, “LOOK! PRAY! GO!”, Herald of Truth 43, no. 32 (January 11, 1906), 294.

[80] Wenger, “The Ethiopian or Black Race,” 119.

[81] “The Welsh Mountain Mission,” Herald of Truth 36, no. 5 (March 1, 1899), 71.

[82] Ressler, “Report of the Quarterly Meeting of the Mennonite S.S. Mission, held at Paradise, Lancaster Co., Pa., on Thursday, July 22, 1897,” Gospel Herald 34, no. 16 (August 15, 1897), 250.

[83]  “’Mystery Land,’ Once Home of Desperadoes is Now Quite Tranquil,” Lancaster Daily Intelligencer (January 13, 1917), 12.

[84] “Welsh Mountain Mission” (from the Reading, Pa. Eagle), Herald ofTruth39, no. 14 (July 15, 1902), 218.

[85] Jacob H. Mellinger, “The Welsh Mountain Mission,” HeraldofTruth38, no. 6 (March 15, 1901), 86.

[86] This theme of organization also appears in the missionary’s concerns for the state of clothing of Black children, the cleanliness of their homes, and the orderliness of their singing.

[87] A.T.M., “New Holland, Pa. Welsh Mt. Industrial Mission,” Gospel Herald 13, no. 28 (October 7, 1920), 558.

[88] “Editorial Notes,” Herald of Truth 35, no. 13 (July 1, 1898), 193.

[89] Sarah Kurtz, “Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission,” Herald of Truth 40, no. 12 (March 19, 1903), 94.

[90] “Welsh Mountain Mission,” 218.

[91] See Du Bois, BlackReconstructioninAmerica, 1860-1880.

[92] Musselman et al., “What the Brethren in Lancaster Co., Pa., are Doing,” 91.

[93] Schlabach, GospelVersusGospel, 74.

[94] “Negerschulung in den Deutsch-Afrikanischen Kolonien und in America,” 2.

[95] Kurtz, “Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission,” 94.

[96] J.S. Musselman, “Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission,” Gospel Herald 4, no. 38 (Dec. 21, 1911), 601.

[97] Lizzie M. Wenger, “Welsh Mountain Mission,” Herald of Truth 38, no. 18 (September 15, 1901), 278.

[98] Ressler, “Quarterly Meeting of the Mennonite S.S. Mission,” Herald of Truth 38, no. 15 (May 15, 1901), 153.

[99] Mellinger, “The Welsh Mountain Mission,” 86.

[100] Editors, “Items of News and Comment,” The Mennonite 17, no. 7 (January 23, 1902), 1.

[101] Ressler, “Quarterly Meeting of the Mennonite Sunday School Mission,” Herald of Truth 36, no. 10 (May 15, 1899), 151.

[102] Lizzie M. Wenger, “From the Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission,” 6. However, her positive response may simply indicate that she knew these hymns.

[103] Kurtz, “Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission,” 94.

[104] Arthur T. Moyer, “New Holland, Pa.,” GospelHerald10, no. 7 (May 17, 1917), 116.

[105] A.T.M., “New Holland, Pa. (Welsh Mt. Industrial Mission,” Gospel Herald 13, no. 28 (October 7, 1920), 558.

[106] Sister Bolyer was baptized on November 14, 1921, Henry Hershey, “Intercourse, Pa.,” GospelHerald13, no. 35 (November 25, 1920), 683.

[107] Arthur T. Moyer, “New Holland, Pa.,” GospelHerald14, no. 24 (September 15, 1921), 469.

[108] Arthur T. Moyer, “New Holland, Pa.,” GospelHerald15, no. 9 (June 1, 1922), 165.

[109] Schlabach, GospelVersusGospel, 77.

[110] Vincent Harding, “The Peace Witness and Revolutionary Movements,” Mennonite Life 22, no. 4 (October 1967). In 1955 Harding had written that “[W]e have loudly preached nonconformity to the ways of the world, and yet we have so often been slavishly and silently conformed to the American attitudes on race and segregation.”—Vincent Harding, as quoted in Tobin Miller Shearer, “A Prophet Pushed Out: Vincent Harding and the Mennonites,” MennoniteLife25(69):

[111] Gollner, “How Mennonites Became White,”167.

[112] Ibid., 168.

[113] Natalie P. Byfield, “Blackness and Existential Crimes in the Modern Racial State.”

ConnecticutLawReview 53(3), 2021: 619-43.

[114] Anthony Siegrist, “A Failure of Good Intentions,”, accessed June 23, 2021.

[115] Ben Goossen, “Mennonite Privilege,” The Mennonite 20, no. 2 (February 2017), 21-23.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

On Dwelling: Shelters in Place and Time

Sofia Samatar
ABSTRACT: This Refraction is a mediation on dwelling” and the possibilities and prospects for deep immersion in place and time—to be truly “earthly”—in todays digitized world. The author weaves together comments on Rainer Maria Rilkes DuinoElegies, acute observations on nature and place by 19th-century Mennonite bishop L. J. Heatwole, an account of accompanying her mother on an Amtrak trip and encounters with people who cannot dwell,” engagement with Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steve Rubins recent ShalePlay(on fracking in Pennsylvania), as well as a revelatory visit to a former Mennonite colony in Uzbekistan, where local Muslims preserve its memory in a museum, a shelter in time.

Staying Is Nowhere

January 2, 2022. The tree still up, the lights on the porch. Tomorrow we expect the first snow of this springlike winter. Mom was up at five, coughing, but is quiet now in the bedroom behind the closed door. I comfort myself with the thought that her temperature was normal last night. Tomorrow, in the predicted snow, will we still be able to get tested at the park? Must remember to add flour to the grocery list. Remember to put the tree at the curb on Wednesday. I am reading a biography of Rilke, who wrote, “I cannot dwell.”[1] The poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was a famously restless figure, spending years moving between hotels and the houses of friends, born in Prague but circling around Paris, Berlin, and Munich, with sojourns in Italy, Spain, Russia, and Egypt. DennBleibenistnirgends, he wrote in his first Duino Elegy.[2] I’ve encountered three translations of this line: “For staying is nowhere.”[3] “For to stay is to be nowhere at all.”[4] “For there is no place where we can remain.”[5]

If staying is nowhere, then I have lived nowhere for almost two years. Then my mom is nowhere, shut up in the bedroom I enter wearing a mask, bringing her soup, tea, cough lozenges, books. As she grows stronger, I think how bored she must be, though she never complains. Sometimes I find her upright, leaning on her cane, taking a slow walk in the narrow corridor between the bed and the dresser, a walk that seems to replicate the last two years in miniature, in the light that ghosts in through the window, blanched by the deep snow.

This morning my friend Kate sends me the words of the writer Lydia Davis, who has decided to give up air travel for good. “Our emergency responses to the COVID virus,” Davis writes, “should, really, be the prologue or the dress rehearsal for a more extended action to counter climate disaster—since we still have a little time to avoid the very worst of it. Some of the limitations we are accepting now should, probably, become part of our way of life.”[6]

Settled Sings of Rain

To think about dwelling, I turned recently to the life of Lewis James Heatwole, a Mennonite bishop who once lived near my home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Born in 1852, just over two decades before Rilke, Heatwole was the eldest of eleven children. With the exception of a three-year period during which he served as a bishop in Missouri, he lived his entire life in Dale Enterprise, Virginia, an unincorporated community four miles from my house. In 1888, he established the Dale Enterprise weather station, the oldest operating weather station in Virginia and the third oldest in the nation.[7]

I became fascinated by Heatwole, who, according to local lore, used to walk for miles around the county in pursuit of his duties and passions. He was a person of remarkable energy and drive. A teacher by profession, he advocated tirelessly for education in the valley, founding the Rockingham Teacher’s Institute, helping to create Eastern Mennonite School, and supporting the movement for the State Normal School in Harrisonburg, which eventually became James Madison University, where I now teach.[8] But Heatwole was more than a church leader and educator. He was wild about the weather. He calculated almanacs, composed treatises on astronomy, kept up a column in the local paper that included weather reports as well as details of local news, patented a calendar system he proposed to the League of Nations, and, as an official observer for the US Weather Bureau, maintained records of temperature and rainfall for fifty-two years.

The word dwellhas a complex history. Etymologists trace it to a Proto-Indo-European root meaning dust, cloud, smoke, or vapor.[9] During the Middle Ages, its connotations of a fairly passive process—tolinger,remain,orstay—expanded to include the more active and intentional tomakea home. There’s something weighty, almost material, about the word. The verb tolivegives us the expression tomakea living, an abstract economic operation; by contrast, a dwelling is a physical structure, a house. Since the late 14th century, the word has also included a sense of interior concentration or brooding, as in todwellupon.

Lewis J. Heatwole dwelt in this valley. He remained here, he made a home here, and he gave this place his undivided attention, immersing himself in the seasons, the day-to-day changes in temperature, moisture, and light, which were for him a source of inexhaustible interest. He began recording the weather as a teenager. In the Menno Simons Historical Library at Eastern Mennonite University, where Heatwole’s papers are held, I once spent a delightful afternoon reviewing his diaries, his weather accounts, and the massive scrapbooks in which he pasted cuttings of his newspaper column. The oldest diary I encountered dates from 1869. He was sixteen years old.

L. J. Heatwole Diary, 1869, Courtesy Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives

"Friday, January 1, 1869

Fogy rainy creeks raised. Took Sarah over to the school house father was at Meeting at Weavers Church. The Scholars [cleared? scoured? cleaned?] out the school house to day.

I done the feeding and chopped.

L. J. Heatwole Commencement"

I wonder if Heatwole received this diary as a Christmas present. I can only imagine the excitement of this boy, who would become such a meticulous observer of time, as he held in his hands this handsome book containing a page for each day of the year, with charts of the phases of the moon and the motion of the tide. This diary launched Heatwole as a writer, and as a particular kind of writer: one who dwelt. Every entry begins with the weather and ends with his signature. He maintains this practice even when there is very little space for each day on the page, perhaps only five or six lines. The weather is never the same, and it’s important to him to record the slightest shift. And within this flickering world, he is always L. J. Heatwole.

My favorite entry is January 1, 1872, which opens with Settledsingsofrain. I love this accidental poetry. Heatwole means signs, not sings. In the entry for January 2 he writes, Moderatesingsofsnow. Later in the same year, he corrects his spelling and begins writing signs. Part of the pleasure of reading these diaries is watching writing style emerge, witnessing an education that included science courses at Bridgewater Normal Institute but also a great deal of independent study. Tucked into the journal for 1879, there’s a clipping of a weather report. I wonder why Heatwole kept this piece of paper so carefully: was it for the list of terms he could add to his own weather writing? Was it for the word meteorologist—had he just realized that his quirky hobby was both a science and a job?

The Heatwole archive contains books from his almanac collection, meteorological documents ordered by mail, and the InstructionsforVoluntaryObservers of the Signal Service, which he must have studied thoroughly to achieve his goal of becoming an official weather observer. These papers demonstrate a simultaneous process of opening out and delving in. Heatwole wanted to learn about the weather, a global phenomenon, and he pursued that aim with tremendous effort—the archives include meteorological data from different parts of the world and notes in Spanish. But for him, the large found its most powerful meaning in relation to the small, to where he was standing. His newspaper column, DaleEnterpriseDottings, preserved in his scrapbooks, presents a detailed portrait of rural life, always anchored in the quotidian marvel of place. In the Dottingsfor May 13, 1884, we learn, among other things, that Reverend J. S. Coffman of Elkhart, Indiana preached during the weekend, that Amos Shank has given his dwelling house a coat of whitewash—“a good example for his neighbors”—and that four out of five Merino sheep on the farm of A. D. Weaver have died. Heatwole’s greatest attention goes, as always, to the more-than-human world. “In no department of nature,” he writes, “is the creative hand of God more visible to the finite mind than that which is at present seen in the vegetable kingdom. Nothing is more astonishing than the unbounded varieties of trees, herbs and grasses that like a living carpet cover and adorn the landscape. Every season of the year seems to have its own peculiar charms, but in the month of May when all vegetation is teeming with new life, man can more readily trace upon every unfolding leaf and spear the wisdom and excellence of his Maker.”[10]

This was an observer, a writer, who traced every unfolding leaf and spear. Heatwole hardly went anywhere, but no one who glances into these archives would call his a small life. In dwelling on the space around him, giving it his full attention, he unlocked a vast, luxurious dwelling, a world that gave him more than he could ever write. He was settled and he sang of rain. For him, staying was everywhere.

I Can’t Sit Here

January 7. Mom is well and our quarantine is over. It’s time for her to go home to Indiana. She’ll go as she came, on the train, and I’ll accompany her, as I did when she came to Virginia a few days before Christmas. This means two nights back-to-back on the train for me, riding to and fro between the stations in Martinsburg, West Virginia and Elkhart, Indiana, a route that serves a number of Amish and Old Order Mennonite people, as well as a large, random selection of the American public. Maybe some passengers take the train because they’ve given up air travel for environmental reasons. I bought the tickets before I began to consider this question seriously, so my decision was based on other factors: Mom likes the train, she’s most comfortable when she can take short, frequent walks, and I don’t want her to travel alone, so I go with her. We arrive at the train station in Martinsburg an hour early and sit down with our bags on the smooth wooden benches. This elegant little station, dominated by a magnificent model train in a glass case, houses the Washington Heritage Trail National Scenic Byways Welcome Center and Bookshop, but there’s no one to welcome visitors, and the miniature bookshop is closed. The taxi driver who dropped us off told us there’s been no station agent here for years, not since long before the pandemic. The place is deserted, a ghost depot. The local police open it before the train comes and lock it up afterward.

We’ll depart at 5:45 p.m. and arrive in Elkhart at 7:30 tomorrow morning. I’m hoping for a quiet night. Three weeks ago, when I rode the train to pick Mom up, my sleep was shattered at three a.m. by the woman in the seat behind me. “I’m coming out of my skin!” she shouted. “I can’t sit here! I’m hot! I have to get out!” The passengers had been promised a fifteen-minute cigarette break—the only one, the woman repeated in tones of increasing agitation, that she would get during her sixteen-hour trip. The only one. And the train was late. The break had been delayed. “I haven’t smoked in more than eight hours,” she sobbed. And then the announcement came: because the train was running behind schedule, they were going to skip the cigarette break. She would have to do without.

I remember the train rocking, the black windows on lightless fields, my eyes closing and opening as I huddled under my coat, the woman’s shrieks and curses until at last, at a station somewhere in Ohio, she grabbed her suitcase and fled the train. She was halfway to her destination. She left behind her elderly aunt and her teenage daughter, who were traveling with her. I heard the daughter crying into her cell phone. Near dawn, she fell asleep, and so did I.

I can’t sit here. I’m coming out of my skin. At the station in Martinsburg, I open the book I’ve brought along on the trip, ShalePlay:PoemsandPhotographsfromthe Fracking Fields, a collaborative work by the poet Julia Spicher Kasdorf and the photographer Steven Rubin.[11] Their book grew from the time the artists spent talking to people on the Pennsylvania portion of the Marcellus Shale, the largest natural gas field in the US, which runs from New York to eastern Ohio. I know Julia Spicher Kasdorf; we’ve been friends for many years. Like me, she has roots in Pennsylvania’s Kishacoquillas Valley, a place named for a Shawnee chief and now commonly known as Big Valley. For Julia, who still lives in Pennsylvania, the poems in ShalePlayrepresent a process of intense and deliberate dwelling.

I page slowly through the book, in which pen and camera trace every unfolding leaf and spear, the towering rigs, the trucks, the tankers, the lengths of pipe, the protests and counterprotests, the public hearings in small towns, and the enduring and fragile beauty of the landscape. Todwell, with its embedded meanings of home-making and sustained attention, means to open the senses, to be actively in a place. “Not until I undertook a documentary project that took me out to listen to people,” Julia wrote recently, “did I come to see how deeply I care about this place and to recognize what a rare privilege it is to live, even in the middle of nowhere, if your people have resided there for a long time.”[12]

This recognition of rare privilege takes me back to L. J. Heatwole’s “settled sings of rain,” and the many meanings of the word to settle: to place so as to stay, to establish in residence, to make quiet or orderly, to colonize, to clarify by causing dregs or impurities to sink. Any serious attempt to think about dwelling must consider those who cannot dwell, who would gladly remain in place if they could, even in the middle of nowhere, and who have been driven out of the places where their people have resided for a long time.

As I turn a page, a shadow falls over the book. I look up to see the only passenger in the station other than Mom and me, a man in a Yankees baseball cap. For the purposes of this story, I’ll call him Mr. Yu, which is close to his real name. Mr. Yu needs help to buy a ticket to Chicago; he can’t get the automated kiosk to work. I go to the kiosk with him. I type in his name, his birth date, his debit card number, and his home address, but the kiosk refuses to dispense a ticket. The name on his debit card, I notice, is “Valued Customer.” As it turns out, Mr. Yu purchased it down the road at the 7-11 because the automated kiosk doesn’t take cash. There’s money on the card: one hundred dollars. A ticket to Chicago costs eighty-nine. He’s done everything right, but he can’t get a ticket, because it’s the wrong kind of card.

He takes his glasses off and rubs his eyes. I’ve just entered his birth date, so I know we’re the same age, though to me Mr. Yu looks much older. His English is weak. He types Chinese characters into his phone and shows me Google’s English translation: “Can I buy a replacement ticket on the bus?” Replacement ticket? Bus? He gives up on Google translate. He shows me a crumpled ticket from Washington, DC to Chicago, dated the previous day. Will they let him board the train with this ticket? No. Can he buy a ticket on the train? No. I know this much about Amtrak. Mr. Yu is no longer concealing his tears. He has to get to Chicago. It is a mystery to me how he wound up in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He shows me a handful of cash. Will I buy him a ticket? Let me skip forward in time and reveal that the answer is yes.

Yes—but not before a twinge of uncertainty, an effect of the vulnerability that can suddenly charge a meeting between two strangers. Is this a trick? I wonder briefly. Is Mr. Yu trying to take advantage of me in some way, maybe steal my credit card number? But in fact it’s Mr. Yu who is vulnerable here. In addition to his birth date, I know his home address, his email address, his cell phone number, his driver’s license number, and his legal name, which, after the kiosk fails us, I attempt to spell on the phone for Julie, Amtrak’s automated assistant. Julie is the robot who answers Amtrak’s telephone, because the company’s human agents are so busy it often takes more than an hour to get through to them.

Unfortunately, Julie’s an idiot. Repeating the letters of Mr. Yu’s name over and over, with all the clarity I can muster, while Julie says cheerfully “I think you said” and chants back to me an impossible string of letters that bears almost no resemblance to what I said, as the train, the only train to come through this station in twenty-four hours, draws inexorably closer, as Mr. Yu wipes his eyes or shuffles outside to smoke a cigarette, I think of all those who are summoned to my consciousness by his predicament: immigrants, refugees, poor people, people without debit cards, without cell phone data, people whose knowledge is locked in a language their neighbors can’t understand, manual laborers in American towns who work jobs that give them little exposure to English and no time to study, people with the wrong names, people in places abandoned by human beings, in empty train stations, who can only address themselves to broken or uncomprehending machines, people who wind up stranded, who have to put themselves at the mercy of strangers and of chance, people who cannot dwell and can barely move.

The pressures, the pressures. The forces that drive a body onward or suddenly make it stop, compel it to swerve in a different direction. Vast swells of history, economic power, and geopolitics manifesting as a tinny voice on the phone or the gloom of a railway yard. I think of the voices Julia Spicher Kasdorf records in Shale Play, voices of settlers, most of them, who often speak of the pressure to move. “Since the mines shut down and the mills closed,” a pastor tells her, “people here have to travel for work.”[13] A man from Nebraska, who drives around the country laying pipe for hydraulic fracturing in Michigan, in West Virginia, in Pennsylvania, tells her, “I wish there was some other way.”[14] Those who have stayed in place find that the land has transformed around them, familiar roads blocked, dirt trails widened with gravel, giant pipes coming out of the earth, so that now, one man says, to find his way around the mountains he knew and loved as a boy, he’d have to use a GPS.[15] What does it mean to dwell in a changing world, in a country addicted to fossil fuels? A woman says of her meadow, tainted by sludge from the frack pits, “I can’t dig or plant a post there.”[16] A man who has had a tumor removed from his forehead says, “If I’d have known what was coming, I never would have built my log home.”[17]

On board the train, in the middle of the night, somewhere in Ohio, I’m awakened by voices around me. Someone was caught smoking in the bathroom, they say.  Someone’s getting  thrown off  the train. Mom  has woken up too. “I hope it’s not Mr. Yu,” I whisper to her, and we giggle at the thought of such an absurd coincidence. Then, in the square of light at the end of the carriage, the window that shows us a section of the corridor where the restrooms are, I glimpse a familiar Yankees cap. It is Mr. Yu. I see him gesturing weakly at the conductor. She shakes her head. The train pulls into a small Ohio station. Ohio again, the witching hour again, I think, remembering my last trip, and the woman’s desperate cry, I can’t sit here. Suddenly I understand how Mr. Yu wound up in Martinsburg, holding a ticket from Washington, DC that was dated the previous day. I believe he smoked on that train, too, and was put off in West Virginia. Now I watch him disembark with his suitcase onto the icy platform. He lights a cigarette. The conductor gestures toward a row of streetlamps, dimly green through the blowing snow. That is where he must go.

ToHaveBeen Earthly

January 9. Train to Virginia. I left Mom safe and well, and I’m going home. Last night I had my first real night of sleep in all these travels. I was lucky enough to get two seats to myself, and the carriage was quiet: only the low sound of coughing, muffled by masks, could be heard through the rush of the train. Now, going through the snowy, reluctantly bluing countryside, I watch for day. The landscape looks as if it’s been treated with an indigo wash. Hills pass by like a strip of film, but I know I am inside them. The rain that blurs the ridges lashes the windowpane, almost against my face.

[T]ruly being here is so much,” wrote Rilke, in the beautiful translation of Stephen Mitchell, “because everything here apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.”[18] The lines are from the ninth poem in The Duino Elegies, written not at Duino Castle in Italy, where Rilke began the poem cycle in 1912, but at the Château de Muzot in Switzerland’s Rhone Valley, where, after a ten-year writer’s block, he finished the elegies in 1922. This is a famous story among writers, evidence that even when language seems lost forever, it can suddenly return. Presence can return: the capacity to perceive and to express. “Everything was inside me,” wrote Rilke in a letter describing the experience, “thread, webbing, framework, it all cracked and bent.”[19] He was inhabited by the fleeting world. “Once for each thing,” he wrote in the NinthElegy.

"Just once; no more. And we too,

just once. And never again. But to have been this once, completely, even if only once:

to have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing."[20]

To have been at one with the earth. In Rilke’s words, “Irdisch gewesenzu sein.” To have been earthly. In the emphasis on that word, an intensity of presence. After finishing the poems, he later told friends, he went outside to caress the wall of the Château de Muzot in the moonlight, as if it had been a large old animal.

Only the presence Rilke writes of, the kind of deep immersion in place practiced by L. J. Heatwole, can produce a work of art like ShalePlay. This is an earthlybook. Through its earthliness, it bears witness: it carries the impact of a physical experience into the reader’s hands. I am concerned by the multiplication and spread of technologies that reduce the full presence of human beings together in their environment—a phenomenon already entrenched before the COVID-19 pandemic, but wildly accelerated by the need for isolation and distance. Technologically assisted distance has a tendency to creep, to infiltrate every aspect of life, to become a habit. It may be necessary, for a time, to order groceries by phone, but is it necessary for me to text my teenage son in his room upstairs? Is texting him just as good as calling him from the foot of the stairs, or walking up the stairs to knock at his door? Does the reduction of sensory details such as tone, vibration, and echo constitute a meaningful loss?

What bothers me most is the way the rapid escalation of technologically assisted distance tends to elide these questions, to make them appear silly or simply unaskable, when what is really at stake is something enormous, something I’m thinking of, on this train, as the difference between Julia and Julie. It’s the difference between a poet of witness and a customer service robot, between an earthly being and a software application. Laughably huge, yet more and more acceptable. I’ve just agreed to give a virtual talk, in which I won’t see my audience’s faces, only their names on a screen. In such conditions, I cannot feel the presence of a listener. There is no you. I cannot hear you talk or shuffle in your seat. There is no murmur, no sense of atmosphere, of walls, floor, or ceiling, no resonance, no shared enclosure, no shelter. Good accidents are not possible here: the dropped pen, retrieved, that leads to a warm exchange of glances, or the slip as I climb the steps to the podium, which makes the audience catch their breath and, as I recover, laugh softly in relief, enfolding me in their sympathy. Here there are only bad accidents: the malfunctioning microphone, the screen that won’t load—annoyances that interfere with our staged encounter. In the sensory deprivation chamber of the virtual meeting, where most forms of feeling are banished and sight and sound are tightly controlled, being here is so little. I become unearthly, a shadow. I am in mourning for your presence and my own.[21]

In the preface to ShalePlay, photographer Steven Rubin expresses his concerns about the autonomous nature of photographs, how easily they circulate far from their origins. He writes, “If my images from this project were to be shown outside of a journalistic context, or devoid of any kind of meaningful writing, they would remain free-floating aesthetic objects, untethered from the vital but invisible details lying beyond the lens’ vista.”[22] For him, it was important to work with Julia, a poet, in order to counter this tendency toward  detachment,  an  aspect  of  photography  exploited by digital media, which feed on the high-speed circulation of visual information. Rubin reminds us that trulybeing here involves all the senses, and that communicating an experience requires narration, which integrates perception with history. “While a single photograph can only ever capture a momentary, discontinuous slice of life,” he writes, “language offers the possibility of expanding the moment and unfolding larger, more involved stories over time.”[23]

I have some experience with the distance between a photograph and a story. In the summer of 2016 I traveled to Uzbekistan to research a small group of Mennonites who migrated from southern Russia, later Ukraine, to Central Asia in the 1880s. My trip was inspired by a photograph of the church in the Mennonite village taken by a Swiss traveler in 1932. I was amazed at the thought of this Mennonite community in the middle of Muslim Central Asia, which by all accounts existed in peace for fifty years, and was only dissolved when the Mennonites were deported by the Bolshevik government in 1935. I spent three years researching this history before I joined a Mennonite Heritage Tour following the path of those migrants from Tashkent to the village where they once lived, called Ak Metchet, which means the White Mosque.

I already knew a great deal about this story, much of it gathered from photographs. But nothing could have prepared me for the reception my own group received, as we visited a rural mosque where the Mennonite travelers had sheltered one hundred and thirty years earlier, and were welcomed by a descendant of the imam who had given them refuge on their journey, who now invited us home for tea. In Khiva, the capital of the region where the Mennonites once lived, we visited the Mennonite museum, where a team of archivists showed us a model of the Mennonite village, of which almost no physical traces remain today, and clothing handmade by the women of the team, accurate down to the smallest pleat, which they reconstructed by studying old photographs. In the book I eventually wrote about my trip, I noted that the word curatoris related to care.[24] Though the Mennonites were ultimately driven out of Ak Metchet, their story is still being cared for, still lovingly and anxiously preserved, in the museum, a shelter in time.

To have been earthly is to have been present in the flesh. My book on the Mennonites of Ak Metchet is an attempt to give language to a photograph, to fill in the sensory details of a place: the fragrance of rice, the humidity of the air, the sound of conversation. It’s a project close to my heart, one that I hope will draw attention to peaceful and life-sustaining links across religious and ethnic borders, one in which I tried, as Rilke adjures us, to “Speak and bear witness,”[25] one that required a journey by plane.

The Cloud

On the night of January 12, 1879, L. J. Heatwole recorded, “a dense fog settled down over the country: the night being very cold, the result was that on the morning of the thirteenth every visible object out of doors was encased in thousands of glittering spears of hoar frost. This was the most beautiful sight I beheld in the bosom of nature during the year.”[26]

The roots of the word dwellare steeped in fog. How strange that this word, associated today with earthliness and solidity, can be traced to such insubstantial things: smoke, steam, and clouds. Many of the older meanings of the word are negative: to hinder, to lead astray, to perplex or stun. Dwell is related to words for error, heresy, stupor, trance, and the poisonous deadly nightshade. I like this complex history. It reminds me that a dwelling can easily become a source of error, belching toxic smog, concealing harm in a haze of complacency, obscuring its own violent origins. It reminds me, too, that all of us dwell in clouds, in the milky atmosphere that surrounds our planet and makes life possible. Our dwelling is cloud. Cloud shelters us: this fleeting world, incredibly delicate, not solid but shimmering in the depths of space.

Walking through the train to the café car for a cup of coffee, I press my hands briefly against the backs of the seats where people are sleeping. I do this to keep my balance, but in the dimness, among these lax, defenseless bodies, the gesture feels strangely potent, as if I am gathering a blessing with every touch. I am a person with the rare privilege of choice. It’s possible for me to go for weeks without getting into my car, and I can certainly reduce my air travel as well, I can think before I fly, I can weigh factors such as the length of time I’ll spend at my destination, I can bundle activities together so as to accomplish several things in one trip instead of taking multiple flights, I can talk about what I’m thinking, I can push against the culture of frequent flyer miles that reckons only the personal, economic cost of air travel, not the broader ecological toll, and against the academic conference culture of my profession, according to which it’s perfectly normal to fly somewhere for a weekend. I can try to reconcile myself to that other cloud: to the internet. I can agree to meet you there.

In the café car with a steaming cup, I search my phone for information on Julie, Amtrak’s automated assistant. I want to know what she’s made of, where she came from, and exactly what type of threat to civilization she represents, but what I find is Julie Stinneford Seitter, the professional voice actor who gave the robot her voice and name. I learn that when Seitter wants to sound friendly, she smiles as she speaks. When she records a list of diseases for Blue Cross Blue Shield, her expression saddens. It fascinates me to think about the intricate facial muscles whose movement lingers, still perceptible in the disembodied sound. There’s something uncanny and wonderful about it, like one of those fairy tales in which a voice is stolen or transformed into diamonds or toads, especially when I read of how Seitter, making a call to her credit card company, encountered her own voice on the telephone.[27]

Julie has history. Julie once had a body. Could this be a way for me to dwell in the cloud of the virtual: to seek out its buried good accidents, the compression of sound induced by a smile, the traces of a fuller, more chaotic world caught without intent or purpose? It’s the feeling of control I can’t stand, the sense that everything has been staged, that even accidents have been packaged to circulate as funny videos. Could attention to the history of digital objects unlock their veiled disorder, an unruliness that would give some sign of life?

“Perhaps we are here,” wrote Rilke,

"in order to say: house,

bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window—

at most: column, tower . . . But to saythem, you must understand,

oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves

ever dreamed of existing."[28]

To say something in this way requires sustained absorption. It takes time. Rilke, who claimed he could not dwell, took ten years to find his way back into his DuinoElegies, returning to them as if from exile. He found a way to dwell there again, not in the place where he had begun to write, but in poetry itself, in a “hurricane of the spirit” as he put it, the world he had glimpsed and lost in 1912. “Miracle,” he called it. “Grace.”[29] All dwelling is durational. To be present, physically or virtually, is to build a shelter in time. Say it: d-w-e-l-l. It’s a word that can’t be rushed.

My, but this country is gorgeous. Still so dark under the misty sky, but limned with luminous blue snow. Forests. Ravines. We are following a river. The rain continues; water drips down between the train cars, splashing me as I return to my seat. Passing through a carriage occupied almost entirely by a large Amish family who boarded with me in Indiana, I notice that one of them is awake: a woman in the last row. She’s pushed back the window blind; a dim radiance touches her face. What I see next seems to me like a scene in a dream. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but I think she opens a small suitcase on the tray table in front of her, and withdraws from it an old-fashioned telephone receiver on a spiral cord. She puts it to her ear and listens.[30]

SofiaSamatar, anAssociate Professorinthe Department ofEnglishatJamesMadisonUniversityinHarrisonburg,Virginia,is the author most recently of Monster Portraits,a collaboration with her brother, artist Del Samatar. Her memoir The White Mosque is forthcoming in October 2022.

[1] Quoted in Tomas Espedal, Tramp:Or,theArt of Livinga Wild and Poetic Life, trans. James Anderson (Kolkata, India: Seagull Books, 2006), 90.

[2] Rainer Maria Rilke, TheSelectedPoetryofRainerMariaRilke, ed. and trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Vintage International, 1989), 152.

[3] Rainer Maria Rilke, The DuinoElegies, trans. A. S. Kline,, accessed April 17, 2022.

[4] Quoted in Lee Siegel, “To Work is to Live Without Dying,” The Atlantic Monthly 277, no. 4 (April 1996): 112-18,, accessed April 17, 2022.

[5] Rilke, SelectedPoetry, 153.

[6] Lydia Davis, “Lydia Davis on Making the Decision Not to Fly,” LiteraryHub, July 20, 2020,, accessed April 17, 2022.

[7] Heather Bowser, “Weather’s in Their Blood,” Staunton[VA]MennoniteChurch, May 14, 2009,, accessed April 17, 2022.

[8] Evan K. Knappenberger, ToShaketheWholeWorldfromErrorsChain:AnAlternativeHistoryoftheFoundingofEasternMennonite(MA Thesis, Eastern Mennonite University, 2018), 5-6.

[9] “Dwell,” OnlineEtymologyDictionary,, accessed April 17, 2022.

[10] L. J. Heatwole, “Dale Enterprise Dottings,” Rockingham [VA] Register, May 13, 1884.

[11] Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin, ShalePlay:PoemsandPhotographsfromtheFrackingFields(University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 2018).

[12] Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “God and Land: Remembering Dreams of the Commonwealth,” TheConradGrebelReview 39, no. 1 (Winter 2021): 17.

[13] Spicher Kasdorf and Rubin, ShalePlay:PoemsandPhotographsfromtheFrackingFields,25.

[14] Ibid., 70.

[15] Ibid., 63.

[16] Ibid., 18.

[17] Ibid., 66.

[18] Rilke, SelectedPoetry, 199.

[19] Quoted in Ralph Freedman, Life ofa Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1996), 493.

[20] Rilke, SelectedPoetry, 199.

[21] When I gave the virtual lecture on which this article is based at Conrad Grebel University College in March 2022, Professor Marlene Epp helpfully noted that “technologically assisted distance” could also be called “technologically assisted closeness,” as technology had brought us together for the lecture. Her remark has prompted me to think more deeply about how virtual interactions produce their own spatial relations, making us closer to what is far away and farther from what is near.

[22] Spicher Kasdorf and Rubin, ShalePlay, xxv.

[23] Ibid., xxv.

[24] Sofia Samatar, TheWhiteMosque(New York: Catapult Books, 2022).

[25] Rilke, SelectedPoetry, 201.

[26] L. J. Heatwole, “Weather Record of 1879,” Bridgewater [VA] Journal, December 31, 1879.

[27] Amy Sutherland, “Answering the Call,” Boston College Magazine, Summer 2009, https://, accessed April 17, 2022.

[28] Rilke, SelectedPoetry, 199-201.

[29] Freedman, Lifeofa Poet, 493.

[30] The author’s 2022 Bechtel Lecture in Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies, on which this article is based, included numerous photographs and other graphic items. To view the video recording of the lecture, go to—Editor

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Book Reviews

Moving toward Integrity: Drew Hart and the Black Anabaptist Prophetic Tradition

Drew Hart. TroubleI’veSeen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2016.

Drew Hart. WhoWillBe a Witness? Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2020.

Drew Hart writes within a tradition of Black Anabaptist activist scholars who have criticized and challenged White Mennonites in particular and broader Christendom as a whole for more than seven decades. In TroubleI’veSeenand WhoWillBe a Witness, Hart replicates that tradition’s scaffolding even as he integrates key elements long missing from past prophetic polemic. The result—part oratory, part tactical warehouse—offers readers practical guidance, thoughtful reflection, and a lived theology for responding with integrity to a society defined by imperialism, capitalism, and racism.

To understand and appreciate what Hart has done in these complimentary texts, a brief review of that Black Anabaptist prophetic tradition is illuminating. Although the first Black members of the Mennonite church received baptismal rites in 1897 and an article on “The Race Troubles” appeared in the Mennonite publication HeraldofTruthsix years previously, Black Mennonites did not receive bylines in anything but letters and “testimonies” until the 1950s.[1] Although white Mennonites had been writing about Black people in mission reports and discussions of “our duty” to the African-American community since the 1920s, Black people’s voices delivered directly to White audiences were almost entirely absent from church publications through the first part of the twentieth century.[2] Some of the first Black authors to appear in print were Black women. In 1950, for example, early church planter Rowena Lark penned a history of Bethel Mennonite Church in Chicago.[3] But church publications otherwise continued to feature articles about the Black experience rather than voices from the Black community through the 1950s despite the passage of the 1955 (Old) Mennonite Church General Conference declaration “The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations.”[4]

By 1960 that had changed, marked by TheMennonite’s publication of an essay by Vincent Harding—who was then serving as a Mennonite pastor—entitled “Peace Witness to Racial Strife.”[5] From that point forward, Black male Mennonite voices spoke directly and unequivocally to White Mennonites about their acquiescence to whiteness, acceptance of White superiority, naïve promotion of colorblindness, and hypocritical claims of separation from society in the midst of close connection to and participation in institutional racism. In addition to Harding, other Black authors like pastor and Minority Ministries Council director John Powell, pastor and church executive Hubert Brown, evangelist William Pannell, pastor and Chicago-based activist Curtis Burrell, and social worker Ed Riddick spoke directly and forcefully to White Mennonites.

They were indeed direct. Consider the following. Harding, 1967: “[W] e must admit that we are … missionaries of law and order, defenders of a status quo and seekers for peace without a cross.”[6] Riddick, 1967: “Integration is irrelevant precisely because in integrationist politics Negroes have not been integrated. They have been ‘swallowed’ up in a cellophane cavern.”[7] Pannell, 1968: “Our brothers have been using us for years.”[8] Powell, 1970: “We say that we don’t believe in power, yet we possess power and refuse to give it up or share it with those who have none. We revel in our thriftiness and refuse to understand why the disadvantaged can’t be like us.”[9] Brown, 1976: “Unfortunately, the Mennonite Church has failed miserably in being a radical manifestation of God at work in the world.”[10]

However, the force of that critique had it limits. Women’s voices were muted and rarely lifted up to similar levels of public prophecy. Issues of sexism, colonialism, or colorism received next to no attention. Means of applying and addressing the trenchant critique offered were general and underdeveloped. In the 1960s and 1970s, the primary emphasis seemed to be on just getting White Mennonites to acknowledge that they had a problem with racism. That took enough energy as it was. Those early authors focused on asking for funds for the Minority Ministries Council, advocating for hiring of Black folk in church-wide leadership positions, and, perhaps, encouraging White Mennonites to do something other than feel sorry for the Black community and offer them handouts. They had little bandwidth left for specific, considered tactical instruction.

One exception to the relative paucity of focused direction was a 1963 multi-authored article by a group of men including Harding and Riddick. In this instance, the group, which also counted six white men among the authors, challenged leaders of the Mennonite seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, to sell lots of their campus property to “those who have been denied the opportunity” to purchase property “because of their race.”[11] They also called for those living on “rich and comfortable farms” to relocate to cities where they could be in solidarity with the poor and for others to “wage war” in the suburbs against the “pleasures of materialism.”[12]

Other than an outpouring of shock and grief in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, subsequent challenges by the Minority Ministries Council through the early 1970s, and periodic reports on the rural summer hosting venture for Black and Brown children from the city known as the Fresh Air program, White Mennonites’ attention turned away from discussions of racism in the community through the 1980s. Although Herald Press released Rafael Falcon’s history of the Latino/a Mennonite community in 1985, the Black prophetic tradition in the Mennonite church had been dampened and seemingly cut off from print sources.[13] Due to both the ascendancy of key conservative voices in church publishing circles and denominational decisions that had resulted in fewer Black employees at the church wide level—particularly defunding the Minority Ministries Council—fewer Black writers appeared in church publications.

The publication of Hart’s TroubleI’veSeenin 2016 marked the reappearance of this Black Anabaptist prophetic tradition in book form by a Mennonite press. In so doing Hart offered several key innovations. First, and perhaps most obviously, he wrote for a broader audience than had those before him. TroubleI’veSeenfocuses on Christians rather than Mennonites. Consistent with a shift by Herald Press to focus on larger markets, Hart set his gaze beyond Anabaptist circles even while writing from a distinctly Anabaptist perspective. He incorporates the doctrine of “nonconformity” (141), calls readers “to be angry and yet not sin” (358), and reflects the community’s commitment to nonviolence (169). But he frames those commitments as “Christian” rather than “Mennonite” as he analyzes racism in the church.

Hart also wields theological tools more deftly than had those before him. In Who Willbea Witness, he explicates the gospel’s portrayal of Barabbas in a nuanced and thoughtful manner (72), offers critical insight into “orthopathy,” which he defines as “right ‘internal experience’” (347), and dives deep into the dynamics of church polity by asking congregations to have integrity between their “ecclesial gathering” and their “social scattering” (176).

That hermeneutical sophistication is likewise matched by an intersectional approach missing in previous iterations of the Black Anabaptist prophetic tradition. In this pair of books, Hart acknowledges his sexism (Trouble, 151), lifts up the experience of Black women (Trouble, 156; Witness, 161), makes connections with colonialism (Witness, 129), and lays bare the church’s participation in capitalism (Witness, 246). While he does not take up in any substantive way the history or present practice of homophobia and heterosexism in the church, he does call out the hypocrisy of “traditionalists” who focus on homosexuality but rarely discuss wealth (Witness, 247-48) and makes numerous connections between and among “racism, sexism, and classism” (Trouble, 165-66) in both texts.

Hart’s primary departure from the tradition in which he writes, however, is a much more specific and careful focus on tactics. Most evident in WhoWillbea Witness, the practical suggestions offered emerge from his position as a scholar/activist. Like Vincent Harding before him, Hart remains active in and committed to a variety of social justice movements. Stories from those involvements pop up throughout both books and give integrity to the suggestions he offers. His comments on “strategic revolutionary symbolism” (57) invite readers to be much more strategic about how they organize public witnesses. His discussion of speaking truthfully includes wise commentary about weighing the certainty of backlash against the need to speak to power as expressed in the church (201). He also warns against the “savior complex” (301), discusses differing perspectives on the appropriateness of participating in electoral politics (327), and features robust examinations of “nonviolent resistance, social movements, community organizing” and reparations (284).

Perhaps one of the author’s most important articulations of tactics is found in Trouble I’ve Seen. Although somewhat less specific than his advice on community organizing, his recognition that the racial socialization of White people is so strong that they should “nottrusttheirowngut” (77, italics in original) but rather follow the lead of communities of color is consistent with the scholarship on white identity formation in particular and whiteness in general.[14]  Hart’s contribution is not so much that he has come up with a new idea about whiteness but rather that he has articulated the idea in an accessible format and linked it with the expression of Christian witness.

The question that Hart’s work raises in light of the Black Anabaptist prophetic tradition is, What has been the result of this tradition? To which end have Black Mennonite and Black Mennonite adjacent speakers and writers appearing in print challenged the white Mennonite and white Christian community? Scholarly work is never the same as activist effort. The modalities and assumptions within those fields are distinct. Or at least they can appear to be so. The field of African-American Studies, an academic discipline emerging in 1968 and thereby relatively concurrent with the most active period of the Black Anabaptist prophetic tradition, has from its inception demanded that those pursuing its academic pursuits remain in close conversation with and be accountable to the Black community.

That focus  on  accountability—a  concept  foreign  to  much  of  the White-dominated theological community—requires a different approach to scholarship and its application. Throughout these two texts, Hart demonstrates deep connection to the African-American community through personal and communal networks. He not only writes about the topics he addresses but lives out the biblical principles that he promotes. Anecdotes describing the conversations he has had, the activism in which he has engaged, and the neighborhoods where he has lived, worshipped, and developed relationships reveal that he is writing from within the Black community, not separate from it. His writing is not just that of a Black man but of a Black man held accountable by his community for what and how he writes. He notes, for example, conversations with his friend Rafik (260), the multiracial congregation that he and his family attend (209), and the Harrisburg neighborhood in which they live (208). That communal context not only gives integrity to his scholarship, it shapes it as well. This may be one of the most important contributions that Hart makes in these books.

Even without a discussion of the Black Anabaptist prophetic tradition, TroubleI’veSeenand WhoWillBe A Witness are challenging and insightful texts for the white Christian community writ large. More important, they raise essential questions for scholars who wish to speak to the church: “How will we be held accountable for the words we write? Do our lives and our scholarship match? Whose voices do we listen to when evaluating our work?” Echoing and building on the voices of those who have come before him, Hart models one way to answer those questions with integrity.

Tobin MillerShearer,ProfessorofHistory,UniversityofMontana, Missoula,Montana

[1] Abram B. Kolb, “The Race Troubles,” Herald of Truth, November 15, 1889.; William Bolyer, “Testimony from a Rockland Street Mission Convert,” Missionary Messenger, October 16, 1938.

[2] Katie Wingard, “Our Duty to the Negro,” GospelHerald, October 5, 1922; Merle W. Eshleman, “Mission for Colored, Philadelphia,” Missionary Messenger, February 16, 1936. The one exception to this pattern that I’ve found was a 1926 article in the MissionaryMessengerwritten by a Black woman from outside the Anabaptist community. See Jessie Faust, “A Negro View of the Color Problem,” ibid., June 15, 1926.

[3] Rowena Lark, “The History of Bethel Mennonite Church,” Our Journal, May 1950.

[4] Mennonite General Conference, “The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations,” (Hesston, KS: Mennonite General Conference, 1955).

[5] Vincent Harding, “Peace Witness to Racial Strife,” The Mennonite, November 8, 1960.

[6] “The Beggars Are Rising . . . Where Are the Saints?,” Mennonite Life, October 1967, 152

[7] George E. Riddick, “Black Power in the White Perspective,” ibid., January, 1967, 30.

[8] William Pannell, MyFriend,theEnemy(Waco, TX: Word Books, 1968), 54.

[9] John Powell, “The Minority Ministries Council: A Call to Action,” Gospel Herald, March 31, 1970, 294.

[10] Hubert Brown, BlackandMennonite:A Search for Identity (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1976), 47.

[11] Vincent Harding et al., “Church and Race in 6 Cities,” The Mennonite, February 12, 1963, 100.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Rafael Falcon, TheHispanicMennoniteChurchinNorthAmerica1932-1982 (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985).

[14] Matthew Hughey, “The (Dis)Similarities of White Racial Identities: The Conceptual Framework of ‘Hegemonic Whiteness’,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 33, no. 8 (2010); 1289-1309; Tobin Miller Shearer, “Conflicting Identities: White Racial Formation among Mennonites, 1960–1985,” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 19, no. 3 (2012): 268-84; George Yancy, “Looking at Whiteness: Subverting White Academic Spaces through the Pedagogical Perspective of Bell Hooks,” in Look, a White! Philosophical Essays on Whiteness (Philadplphia: Temple Univ. Press, 2012); David Evans, “To Rid the Italian Soul of One Dark Blot: Recognising Race in White Christian Religion,” Journal of Religious History 39, no. 3 (2015): 370-85; Tobin Miller Shearer, “White Mennonite Peacemakers: Oxymorons, Grace, and Nearly Thirty Years of Talking About Whiteness,” The Conrad Grebel 35, no. 3 (2017): 259-66.

Peter Oakes, Empire,Economics,andtheNewTestament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020.

This collection of previously published essays and articles (from 1998 to 2016) and one new essay gathers many of the insights developed by Peter Oakes on the three topics named in the title. Oakes has published book-length studies of the Pauline letters (on Philippians and Romans respectively) that root this literature in the material and social conditions of ancient cities in the Roman Empire. The present volume still privileges Pauline texts but spans a broader scope of topics, with attention to methodology, the ancient economy, and the implications of archaeology, space, and household structure for thinking about the diversity of economic conditions and attitudes towards empire experienced and manifested by ancient Christ groups.

In the first section the author studies house churches and begins with a chapter (previously unpublished) describing a model craftworker house, and then proceeds to hypothesize how the various people associated with a church in this house might respond to the Roman Empire. The craftworker, a non-elite, likely rented his living space from the owner of the larger house, which in this case is based on archaeological evidence from the House of Menander in Pompeii. If a church existed in the craftworker’s living quarters, it would have consisted of a few dozen people, including other Christian householders and their families; members, including slaves, belonging to households with non-Christian heads; and probably a few homeless persons. That this diverse group was vulnerable in different ways and to varying degrees assists, argues Oates, in accounting for the range of NT texts relating to economic or empire-related issues. A subsequent essay again uses the House of Menander as a model but explores how different spaces within it could serve as sites for different types of house churches led by people of varying social levels. Both essays prompt the reader to imagine the concrete physical conditions of these ancient gatherings, and how the spaces where they met could affect both the internal and external issues they faced.

Section two contains four essays centered on economics with attention to questions of methodology and how to apply different economic approaches to the study and illumination of specific texts. An essay on method provides a very useful review of scholarship, while one featuring Romans 12 uses the portion of the letter as a test case for how different approaches to economics can assist interpretation. In another essay, Oakes explores how some Pauline texts may have posed challenges to ancient practices of patronage, and in yet another he creatively hypothesizes how imaginary members of the Philippian church might respond to portions of that letter based upon their dissimilar socio-economic situations.

The book’s final section foregrounds the topic of empire and offers focused essays on NT texts. Here, Oakes discusses his perception that early “Christians” had varying attitudes towards the Empire ranging from awe and appreciation to “resentment, contempt, denial of ultimate authority, [and] expectation of overthrow” (179). The subjects of analysis are primarily several undisputed Pauline letters (especially Philippians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians), although there are brief treatments of Acts, the Gospel of Mark, and Revelation.

Sometimes there are overlaps between chapters, especially with regard to the interpretation of First Thessalonians and Philippians, as well as the general point that members of ancient Christ groups would have responded to imperial power in different ways. Moreover, because almost all the essays are re-publications, they do not engage more recent literature on the Empire and ancient economy. I also found myself wondering what Oakes makes of Paul’s letter to Philemon which, although a real puzzle of a text, reflects a fascinating window into the dynamics and tensions that arose between people of presumably different social and economic levels (Paul, Philemon, Onesimus).

These quibbles aside, this volume comprises a rich collection of essays that engage multiple types of evidence (material culture, especially archaeological  remains,  as  well  as  texts),  using  predominantly  social-scientific approaches. Oakes demonstrates how daily life, politics, social structures, and access to resources would have affected political, social and theological allegiances. I found “Nine Types of Church in Nine Types of Space in the Insula of the Menander” (31-62) particularly helpful, for it reinforces how a constellation of factors (economics, social status, space) require consideration when analyzing tensions that could exist between members of these fledgling groups. Oates’s study would further assist interpreters to avoid generalizations about house churches.

The essays exploring the diversity of responses to imperial power and dominance (especially “Jason and Penelope Hear Philippians 1:1-11,” 123-32) based upon members’ social and economic status could be valuable in courses on Paul, as they would prompt students to imagine not only how such ancient people lived but why they might be attracted to (or dissuaded by) his teachings. In sum, this book is recommended reading for NT, especially Pauline, scholars, and portions of it would be very useful in upper- level undergraduate and graduate level classes.

AliciaJ.Batten, Professor of Religious Studies and Theological Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, Marriage,Scripture,andtheChurch:TheologicalDiscernmentontheQuestionofSame-SexUnion.Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 2021.

In Marriage,Scripture,andtheChurch:TheologicalDiscernmentontheQuestionofSame-SexUnion,Darrin Snyder Belousek provides an ambitious, cogent, and critical biblical argument for a theology of heterosexual marriage at the exclusion of a theology of same-sex unions. Although the last decade has seen an abundance of publications related to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church, the author focuses his arguments around a biblical theology of marriage. The “heart of the matter” for him is not necessarily sexuality or ethics but rather a theology of Christian marriage or what he claims as “God’s design of marriage” (30). He highlights the inadequacy of approaches that focus primarily on texts dealing with same-sex interactions, arguing that a constructive focus on a biblical theology of marriage allows for a fuller engagement with both Scripture and the Christian theological tradition.

Throughout the book the author is keen to engage the many arguments and counterarguments used for and against extending a theology of marriage to include same-sex unions. He adeptly anticipates his detractors and frequently provides rebuttals. For example, at numerous points he engages the work of Christian ethicist David Gushee, standing with Gushee in harshly critiquing the church for its unchristian treatment of LGBTQ+ persons. At the same time, he criticizes Gushee’s caution against relying too heavily on arguments of God’s purported design for Christian sexual ethics based on stories of creation, arguing that Christian theology does better “to lean forward” into Jesus Christ (74). While acknowledging and condemning the contemptuous ways that Christians have treated sexual minorities in the past, Snyder Belousek nevertheless argues the “burden of proof” for a theology of marriage that is inclusive of same-sex unions rests with the “innovationists” to justify revising Christian doctrine based on scripture which he believes Gushee’s approach to theological ethics is unable to do.

Snyder Belousek rightfully presumes that Christian marriage is about more than a committed human partnership and bears witness to God and Christian faithfulness. He argues that it signifies God’s promise of salvation and presents the biblical traditional view of marriage as a “God-originated creational-covenantal pattern specially fitted for God’s purpose in creation and covenant and divinely designated as a symbol of salvation” (161). Such an understanding, he contends, restricts the possibility of redefining marriage to include LGBTQ+ unions. Such a redefinition would alter this “God-divined form.” God’s divine ordination of marriage supports only heterosexual union, says the author, precluding the possibility of Christian sanctioned same-sex unions.

Snyder Belousek closes his arguments with an appeal to the discernment process of the Jerusalem Council found in Acts. This process, while recognizing difference and affirming gentile Christians as equal members of the community of faith, nevertheless appealed to the ethical standards of holiness and righteousness as discerned, interpreting Scripture in light of the work of the Holy Spirit. The author extends this insight to contemporary discernment around same-sex unions, arguing for a compassionate recognition of the experiences of LGBTQ+ people as part of the discernment, nevertheless holding to traditional marriage and calling gay believers “to the holy discipline of sexual chastity.” “The church today, guided by the Jerusalem Council,” he writes, “should decide to ‘burden’ gay believers with biblical laws of sexual holiness” (286).

The book ends with an Afterword by gay biblical scholar and author Wesley Hill, who asks the lingering question, “Is this Christian vision of marriage and sexuality actually livable, especially by those who know themselves to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual?” (289). While Hill supports the argument for traditional marriage and argues for a positive Christian ascetic of celibacy, the question highlights a critical issue in this book’s methodology and central thesis: What about the lived experience of marriage? Snyder Belousek’s approach assumes that it is possible to discern a Christian theology of marriage apart from the lived and embodied experiences of people. While he compassionately recognizes the pain experienced by LGBTQ+ people in the church, he nonetheless brackets that experience in favor of a disembodied theology of marriage that is “God-ordained.” Additionally, he brackets the patriarchal and misogynist context out of which his theology of marriage emerges, reducing the understanding of sexuality primarily to sexual intercourse for procreation, an understanding that has had a particularly destructive impact on women and LGBTQ+ people.

Furthermore, the language of “God-ordained” or “God-intended” central to this volume’s thesis is fraught with oppressive associations in the history of Christianity. Historically, the  same  language  has  been used to justify all kinds of abuses of power (slavery, the oppression of women, colonialism, residential schools for indigenous peoples). It raises the question of whether this language can still be used to convey new understandings and insights. Given that the situation of same-sex unions parallels a similar inequality of power (a dominant group over and against a minority group), one wonders why Snyder Belousek continues—at this time and place in history—to appeal to such language. How, with integrity, do we engage careful discernment around the revelation of God through scripture and tradition, and at the same time avoid making truth claims that have historically been so oppressive?

At its best, theology should inform the life and practices of the church and the life of faith, and in turn the life and lived experience and practices of the church should inform and deepen Christian theology. While Marriage,ScriptureandtheChurchmay provide a coherent argument for how scripture shapes a theology of marriage, it is unpersuasive in taking seriously the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ Christians and the contemporary context in which the church finds itself, which is necessary in order to enrich and deepen a theology of Christian marriage.

IrmaFastDueck, Associate Professor of Practical Theology, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Aileen E.  Friesen. Colonizing Russia’s Promised Land: Orthodoxy and Community on the Siberian Steppe. Religious Freedom in Modern Russia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020.

Aileen E. Friesen, the Executive Director of the Plett Foundation in Winnipeg, is perhaps best known to readers for her scholarship in Mennonite history. Yet it is no accident that she has also worked on larger themes found in Russian history, as is prominently displayed in the volume under review. Russian specialists will immediately see its significance for their field, but what might it offer to generalists? This review intends to address that question directly, but first things first.

In her study Friesen explores the role of the Orthodox Church in the settlement of the vast Siberian steppe from the late 19th century to the revolution of 1917. In a few short decades millions of Orthodox peasants moved eastward from European Russia to begin new lives in this vast land, and they did so alongside Russian and Ukrainian sectarians, German Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonites, and thousands more. On the steppe they encountered a diverse yet relatively sparse population of Islamic Kazakhs, former convicts, a variety of numerically insignificant Siberian peoples, and still others who had previously settled in villages strung out along steppe and riverbank. Although the process was state directed and had the direct involvement of the last two Tsars, Friesen wants to understand the role of the Orthodox Church. If anything surprises, it is that such a vital matter has not previously been investigated by historians. The author’s work fills an important blank spot.

Friesen divides the book into six concise chapters in which we first see the development of a mass migration of Slavs. The few Orthodox priests living in Siberia prior to the onset of this late 19th-century movement mainly endeavored to convert Muslims. Suddenly they faced the immense challenge of meeting the spiritual needs of their own adherents. A shortage of priests meant, for example, that Orthodox peasants routinely cohabitated and even bore children before a priest could be found to marry them and baptize their infants. Peasants died and were buried in unsacralized cemeteries without Christian rites. When the church managed to establish parishes, it often found that Orthodox peasants, who had settled from across the empire’s breadth, brought with them a host of localized Orthodox practices. How, then, to determine, the One True Faith?

Friesen lays this all out but also explains that Tsarist officials joined the church when they declared the settlement of Siberia to be an Orthodox project; for example, much of it was initially financed through a fund named after the late Tsar Alexander III. Both church and state officials viewed with alarm the migration of European colonists eastward as a threat to Russian interests as these colonists diluted the very Russianness that emergent nationalist impulses deemed essential. The author ends her study before the Imperial disintegration, which began in 1914 and culminated in the revolutions of 1917.

Although Friesen focuses on a single Orthodox diocese in Siberia, namely that of Omsk, her work has broader applicability, as is characteristic of all strong regional studies. Here are two examples. First, she mentions Mennonites only once in the main body of ColonizingRussiasPromisedLand, yet her work provides an essential context for their experience in late Imperial Russia. Mennonites were a key component of the mass of European colonists who flooded across the Ukrainian and Russian provinces and into Siberia in the late 1890s in search of daughter colonies and private estates. It was precisely because the state linked national identity and Orthodox faith in the late Imperial era that Mennonite expansion provoked such unfounded fears. Many observers warned that this expansion threatened the empire itself, especially given Germany’s rise. Friesen makes plain the contradictions confronting an  Imperial  state that wanted  to  be simultaneously united, modern, Romanov, Orthodox, and (Russian) national across confessional and ethnic lines. She explains why Mennonites felt increasingly alienated from a Russian state in which they had prospered and to which they had been unfailingly loyal, and why so many initially welcomed the Tsar’s abdication in 1917.

Second, we are living at a time when a single word from this book’s title—“Colonizing”—thrusts readers into a dominant contemporary discourse. The word provokes a Manichaean drama in which the complexity of human interaction is reduced to two caricatures: one is either a victim or a victimizer. Th s is what makes Friesen’s narrative so refreshing as she brings nuance and agency to personas as diverse as those of Tsar Nicholas II, German Baptists, Molokan sectarians, Orthodox priests, Muslim Kazakhs, Ukrainian-speaking Siberian settlers from Chernigov, and countless others. Even if done unwittingly, the author’s embrace of this grand narrative of Siberian colonization challenges a central construct of our time.

In sum, Friesen has written an engaging, thought-provoking study of the Orthodox impact on the colonization of the Siberian steppe, one that is thoroughly grounded in contemporary sources and archival records from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Omsk. We can hope that she will return to the story begun in these pages and take the question of “Orthodoxy and Community” into the Soviet era.[1]

LeonardG. Friesen, Professor of History, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario.

[1] The reviewer and the author are not related.—Editor

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Steve Heinrichs and Esther Epp-Tiessen, ed. Be It Resolved: Anabaptists & Partner Coalitions Advocate for Indigenous Justice, 1966-2020. Winnipeg, MB: MCC Canada and Mennonite Church Canada, 2020.

Be It Resolved is an indispensable resource for anyone within the scope of its subtitle and important for many others pursuing or researching faith- based advocacy of Indigenous justice. This collection of official statements is published jointly by MCC Canada and Mennonite Church Canada to serve as a marker of over fifty years of engagement and as a call to self- examination and renewed commitment. The editors will be well known to those acquainted with Mennonite and MCC history (Epp-Tiessen) and Indigenous activism (Heinrichs). (Full disclosure: the reviewer has what could be called an “intimate arms-length” distance from the book. I am currently employed by MCC Saskatchewan and have worked with, and been enriched by, both Heinrichs and Epp-Tiessen in the last few years. I had a brief involvement in this publication as one of several MCC readers of the final draft, shortly after I began in my current role.)

The book’s format is well planned and executed. A foreword by Stan McKay, Cree  minister  and  former  Moderator  of  the  United  Church  of Canada, reflects on his long connection with Mennonites, noting efforts towards justice and peace and a continuing “absence of Indigenous voices in our church” (iv). A second piece by Ruth Plett of MCC Canada introduces the scope and hoped-for uses of the anthology: spurring on individuals and church groups to greater faithfulness and solidarity.

The core of the book, some 90 documents in 400 pages, follows in chronological progression. For each year represented, a title page with a footer lists key cultural and political events of the period. These tiny notes are easy to overlook (the font is close to microscopic) but give helpful global context. The following page features a quote from an Indigenous writer, speaker, or leader—an editorial way of reminding readers of the importance of centering and starting with Indigenous voices in a book that is almost exclusively Euro-Canadian voices talking aboutIndigenous justice.

The book concludes with an Afterword co-written by leadership from Mennonite Church Canada (Doug Klassen) and MCC Canada (Rick Cober Baumann). Since the book is intended to be used for study, conversation, and action, it includes a “Study & Action Guide” written by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen and Vic Thiessen. An annotated list of further reading rounds out the volume. The book’s large size may be daunting to some readers. It can be read piecemeal as a reference work (the Study Guide takes this approach), but there is something to be gained by reading it as a chronicle. Readers will be reminded of the arduous journey for rights and recognition by Indigenous peoples marked by critical milestones in recent Canadian history: the White Paper, the Constitutional crisis, Oka, RCAP, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and UNDRIP. These markers can help create a long, sacred litany of both lament and hope, a necessary ceremony to fuel the work for justice.

The documents are generally official statements from church bodies, MCC, or other partner agencies. That MCC and MC Canada are the most prominent voices comes as no surprise—these bodies have engaged and invested the most in Indigenous relationships over the decades. MC Canada with its denominational predecessors contributed 26 statements and MCC Canada, 22 (six are joint statements with the MC Canada). Provincial MCCs add another 10 statements to that tally; three statements derive from MCCs in the US and one from MCC binational. Arms-length organizations like Christian Peacemaker Teams and KAIROS contribute another 24 statements.

A few reflections on the content. First, perhaps the strongest and most important impression left by this volume is how slowly the wheels of justice turn, how long it is taking for the claims and concerns of Indigenous peoples to be addressed. Second, while the book gives the impression of being a comprehensive collection, the  Introduction  promises  that  it  is “by no means . . . exhaustive” (vii). This admission makes analyzing the statements difficult, because it is not clear when an argument from silence might be valid. Does an absence of official statements from an Anabaptist denomination, for example, mean it has not made any? Some readers will want to know, but they will likely have to wait until given definitive data. The editors note a problematic omission in the Canadian Council of Anabaptist Leaders’ 2014 submission to the TRC: no mention of three Mennonite-run Indian Residential Schools in Ontario (336). But we might also wonder why a 2013 (or possibly earlier) statement of apology issued by the heirs of those who ran those schools (“Truth and Reconciliation,” from Living Hope Native Ministries) was not included in the anthology.

Third, the process of church bodies issuing statements is not unlike Treaty making. There is much talk, but the process of the conversation, the sacred and ceremonial context, and the personalities involved tend to get erased in the writing down of the words. So the words lose vitality. This volume reminds us of the ancient truth that Word and Spirit need to work together in order to make the documents live and bring life to others.

This collection of statements is an excellent resource to facilitate and reanimate the journey of justice. There are indeed good words here, signposts of hope for a journey of justice, but they continually need the “Spirit and intent” of the God of covenant to keep them living and active in the lives of the communities who spoke them into being.

RandyKlassen, Indigenous Neighbours Program Coordinator, MCC Saskatchewan. He lives in Saskatoon, in the heart of Treaty 6 territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Bradley Jersak. A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2021.

In this follow-up to A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, Bradley Jersak proposes a hermeneutical model in support of his prior assertion that the incarnate Christ is the center of God’s self-revelation rather than the written texts of Scripture. Jersak’s central claim is that “the Scriptures prefiguretheir cruciform climax . . . through a polyphony of texts in travail . . . all converging at the crux of God’s self-revelation in our Lord Jesus Christ crucified, risen, ascended” (21). This thesis is supported through a “christotelic” approach that sees the Scriptures as witnesses to Christ rather than independent authorities on the nature of God. Jersak calls this hermeneutic the “Emmaus Way” in homage to the interaction between Jesus and his disciples in Luke 24. By adopting this lens, the author follows OT scholar Peter Enns, whose Inspiration andIncarnation: Evangelicals andthe ProblemoftheOldTestament(2005) generated controversy over the question of biblical inerrancy. Jersak enters this debate by distinguishing between Christ as the infallible revelation of God’s character and the Scriptures as the inspired witness to God’s works of salvation through Christ.

In contrast to “flat” readings of the Bible that assume all verses are sufficient disclosures of God’s character, Jersak offers a typological-fulfillment method of interpretation that borrows from early Christian writers such as the author of the Gospel of John, Origen, and Melito of Sardis. This approach consists first in interpreting the literal(as opposed to literalistic) meaning of a text by determining its grammatical, literary, and social boundaries (121). Texts whose literal senses do not cohere with the portrait of God disclosed through the life of Jesus may be subjected to moraland spiritual(specifically allegorical and anagogical) methods of interpretation (131- 38). Particularly influential for Jersak’s argumentation is Melito’s On the Passover, a 2nd-century work that discusses OT motifs as prefigurations of the person of Jesus. The varying approaches that fall under the Emmaus Way show, in Jersak’s opinion, that the Scriptures are most appropriately used for illustrating typological fulfillments in Jesus’ life, as a moral mirror for the reader, and for challenging one’s mental portraits of God.

The second part of the book incorporates additional methodological considerations to assist with moving from a text’s literal sense towards potential moral and spiritual interpretations. A chapter on polyphony, heavily influenced by Walter Brueggemann, reviews a tension between retributive and restorative views of justice in the Scriptures and argues that it is resolved in the cross of Christ. Chapters on narration, rhetorical conventions, and anthropomorphisms explore specific instances in which the literal senses of texts should prompt moral and spiritual approaches to interpretation. Of note here are Jersak’s discussions of violent language ascribed to God and Jesus by the biblical narrators. Approaching this language through the Emmaus Way, for Jersak, points beyond disturbing surface level readings and challenges the reader to follow the self-sacrificial love of God revealed through Christ.

The book’s core thesis, that Christ is the end goal of the Scriptures, coheres well with inclinations within the NT, especially the early speeches of Acts (Acts 2:14-40, 3:12-26, 4:8-12, 5:29-32, 7:2-60, etc.) and the Epistle to the Hebrews. By setting the external person of Jesus as God’s perfect self- revelation and the Scriptures as a witness to it, Jersak circumvents the need to “protect” the Scriptures from higher criticism that is so prevalent within modern evangelicalism.

Readers with Anabaptist backgrounds might be familiar with some of this argumentation, as the christotelic model of exegesis bears some parallels to the interpretive priority given to the Gospels in the Brethren in Christ, Mennonite Church USA, and similar denominations. Jersak, who acknowledges modern Anabaptism among his many influences, stands out through his significant number of references to patristic writers.

Like many of Jersak’s works, A More Christlike Word is directed towards a general, ideally well-read audience. His references to academic and ancient literature do not assume familiarity with the sources themselves, nor does he expect his audience to engage with the biblical languages. He adopts a cordial tone by frequently punctuating his arguments with personal and pastoral anecdotes. For readers with minimal exposure to debates about hermeneutics, such anecdotes will likely be most welcome and informative. Those wishing to dive deeper into the proposed method may find that finer points in Jersak’s argumentation are assumed rather than stated and could profitably skip to the book’s eighth chapter, where the Emmaus Way comes into focus. Here the book would benefit from including focused studies demonstrating how the three vantage points of the Emmaus Way could be applied to a given text, especially with its target audience of students, ministers, and general readers.

This book might be most fruitfully used as a discussion starter about the nature of Scripture in college and early seminary coursework. It may also prove engaging for book clubs and church small groups, assuming participants have some basic familiarity with the broader issues alluded to throughout its chapters.

MatthewR.Peterson, Ph.D. Candidate in New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews