In 2009 I was finishing up what had turned out to be a long scholarly undertaking — a book on economic dislocation in the Midwest — and beginning to consider new ones. That book had taken me eight years, and left a nagging sense that it was time for me to put a scholarly oar back into Mennonite matters.
A colleague remarked that he had heard that the Smith Trust was looking for someone to write a biography of the Trust’s founder and namesake. I had a gut sense that it would be an interesting project. The figure of C. Henry Smith is deeply engrained in the academic woodwork of Mennonite higher education; in fact, he was one of my scholarly ancestors in the Bluffton University (Bluffton, Ohio) history department. He was also, I knew, a major figure in Mennonite historical writing. For much of the twentieth century, his books served for generations of Mennonites as the basic scholarly introductions to their history. We needed a biography of Smith. So I sent the Smith Trust an email.
A half dozen years later I am delighted to see Herald Press publish this book. I enjoyed the entire project immensely. My hunches, as it turned out, proved correct. Beyond the inherent drama just in tracing the parameters of one human life, Smith’s life was an especially rich target of exploration. He was at the center of developments and controversies – the Mennonite “fundamentalist/modernist” fight, early movements toward Mennonite unity – that echo down through the years. They may even shed some light on current Mennonite struggles today. I only hope, now that the project is done, that my readers will find Smith’s life as alluring as I did.
A few years ago, I was invited to contribute a story to a collection being proposed by Herald Press. I was asked to write a story that told of an experience of grace. I decided to write a story about my friend Amiroon.
I met Amiroon in the summer of 1981. I spent the summer in Calcutta, volunteering with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. With my wife and several other volunteers I lived at the YWCA. Street kids hung around the YWCA, hoping for a gift of money or food. One of those kids was Amiroon.
The story I wrote tells of a day near the end of our time in India. Amiroon and I were walking down the street together. And it was while on that walk that I witnessed a beautiful example of grace, a gift from Amiroon. She taught me a lesson that has informed my faith ever since.
The story of Amiroon’s gift is one of fifty short essays collected into a book titled, Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise. Despite the title, with its unfortunate resemblance to another and more notorious book, the collection is family-friendly and well worth reading. Inundated as we often are with bad news, Fifty Shades of Grace offers a welcome alternative. In story after story, you’ll read of grace found in the most unlikely places and situations. And don’t we all need a little grace every now and then?
If you feel the need for some good news, for a little bit of grace, for inspiration that will help you get through your day, consider picking up Fifty Shades of Grace. I promise you will find at least one story that will lift your spirits and encourage you in your faith walk.
A couple of times a week I go to JigZone online and put a puzzle together. I choose the picture and the cut of the pieces, then I move them on the screen till I hear the last, satisfying clicks. This activity may or may not contribute to keeping my brain alive, but I enjoy the challenge. Writing fiction allows me to create the pieces of the puzzle. I choose the cuts and colors of characters and settings. I figure out how, or if, the pieces fit together, which sides mesh, whether the edges are straight or wavy.
In the case of my recently published novel (Everyday Mercies, 2014) I had the pleasure of creating story pieces that reflected the years around 2005 on a Wisconsin dairy farm. I developed the Mennonites I chose to represent: a conservative matriarch with her family members who made a range of choices along the assimilation spectrum. I found the forms that would fit the multiplicity of viewpoints I wanted: introspection, dialogue, and diary entries of four generations of women, plus the use of an occasional omniscient voice overseeing developments. When writing, I made choices about how these characters would bring conflict to the scenes, where someone would need to change to make the pieces less of a jangled mess. Fun? Yes. I could let the characters wrestle with some of my questions: how we farm, what we eat, how we die, what impact our desires to “do good” or “live our dreams” have on others. Writing has been an imaginative way to search for meaningful answers.
If you want to learn more about my fictional puzzles, please visit my website: www.evieyodermiller. My current writing project fictionalizes historical material and creates characters and situations that capture the varied experiences of defenseless Anabaptists during the American Civil War.
Theology can be fun—at least it seems that way to me. What makes it fun is the thrill that comes from successfully articulating a new idea, particularly when that new idea challenges long-standing beliefs. This challenge may be a bit like that of a musician, say a violin player, who stands up to perform in front of a large audience, asking herself, ”Can I excite this audience with a top performance?” Or perhaps it is like an athlete, a tennis player about to open serve in the championship match: “Can I successfully play my game and win?”
The Nonviolent God engages such a theological challenge. It begins with the assumption that God is revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that this story should be used as the base for Christian theology. That methodology is already a challenge to standard approaches to theology. And theology that begins with that story challenges—that is, attempts to overturn—many longstanding ideas in standard theology. Views challenged include the idea that the saving act of Jesus is his death (atonement theology), and the assumption that God controls everything and therefore exercises great violence, both in ecological destruction and in commanding the destruction of war. But challenging the violence of God leads to other big challenges as well, namely dealing with the massive violence attributed to God in the Old Testament and in the book of Revelation. If you want to experience the fun of theological challenge and judge whether it results in the “thrill of victory or the agony of defeat,” read The Nonviolent God.