A Mennonite rebel?

Years ago my father made the comment to me that I had always been somewhat of a rebel. I took that mostly as an affirmation; I am not sure he intended it as such! I like to think that in some ways I lived on the cutting edge of things, but I’ve never thought of myself as a true rebel. My “rebelliousness” has always been on the quiet side. I do things because I view them as the right thing to do, as living according to the truth as I see it. I have never been a “crusader”, trying to get others to change the way they do things, trying to get others to do things the way I do them.

A lot of what I do happens only in my own life, lived quietly, sometimes lonely. Yes, living this way is often a lonely existence. I can remember even in my teen years thinking that I was living more maturely than most of my peers. While I did a lot of things, escaping a lot of adventures relatively unscathed, I seldom participated in the high-jinks of my fellow students. While there were high schoolers from Lincoln, Nebraska (where I grew up) who would go down to Kansas, an hour-and-a-half drive to buy booze (because of lower age limits) and have late night parties around campfires in the countryside, I stayed away. Sure, there were times when I sort of yearned to be part of that sort of camaraderie, but I mostly kept to myself and a few close friends.

Part of that reluctance to party with my peers was my strict religious upbringing. But even in this area (my religion) I was often “ahead” of my community of fellow believers. Beginning in my early twenties I began searching for a more genuine expression of faith than I could see in the churches I participated in. This search led to some very intense experiences which were formative and life-changing. (For more detail about this, see the section of this blog titled, “Out of Winkler”.)

Several weeks ago I was part of a conversation which helped me put all this into greater perspective. At a choir social event, I found myself in a bar-booth, part of a group of five. As we were becoming acquainted we discovered that four of the five were from Mennonite Brethren background! This started a sharing of how these roots had shaped us, what steps we had taken to deal with this aspect of our beginnings, and so on.

Sure, we played the “Mennonite game” of talking about Mennonite names, connections, relations, Mennonite communities we had lived in and so on. For example, I discovered that one of the participants, whom I had known only vaguely as having Mennonite roots, was a cousin of some very close friends of ours.

But following this evening of very interesting talk, I reflected on this conversation at some length. One of the results on this reflection was that my family-of-origin contained several “rebels” within the faith community. My two great-grandfathers on my father’s side of the family, plus my grandfather, were all very highly esteemed leaders in the Mennonite Brethren Church. For example, my great-grandfather Voth was instrumental in establishing the very first Mennonite Brethren Church in Canada (the Winkler Mennonite Brethren Church) in 1888. One of this church’s early leaders was my Grandfather Warkentin (whose daughter became my Grandma Voth!). My Grandfather Voth was one of the top leaders of the Mennonite Brethren conference in North America for fifty years, the entire first half of the twentieth century.

What I began to see in my reflections was that all three of these highly esteemed men was that in their own way, each one had been trail blazers, had been known to do things not always accepted by more orthodox members of their churches. Great-grandfather Voth, for example, blazed a huge path by leaving his Minnesota home and travelling to Manitoba to preach among the “Old-Colony Mennonites”. He was criticized and persecuted for doing this. Then, in his last years, he loaded farm equipment onto train cars and moved to Vanderhoof, British Columbia, to be a leader/shepherd to a group of Mennonites seeking to homestead there.

My great-grandfather Warkentin left his own previous home community of “Old-Colony Mennonites” and established a new life among more progressive Mennonites, along with new understandings of the message of the Bible. His children were very inquisitive and often searched out wisdom not in keeping with their conservative Mennonite roots. Although I don’t know all the stories real well from this side of my family, I know that at least one of his sons became a university professor in the Maritimes. I also am aware that my father’s older brothers (and likely his sisters as well!) loved to visit with these Warkentin uncles and engage in stimulating discussions.

Even my Grandfather Voth, understandably more conservative as a second-generation offspring to these “giants” in the Church community, was known for doing things which garnered criticism from his peers. For example, I am aware of one story where my grandfather agreed to marry a couple when other Mennonite pastors refused to. I think the groom was from a military background, something quite seriously anathema to the Mennonites of that era.

So, as a result of this seemingly random conversation, quite unsought after, and certainly entirely unexpected, I was able to see that my “rebelliousness” has honest roots!!! For anyone, seeing themselves in this light is very helpful in self-acceptance. It helped me see my own place in the progression of family history. It helped me see my own task on this earth with new light. I owe no apologies to anyone for who I am, whom I have become.

So, thank you to my friends who were part of this conversation on a recent Saturday evening in Calgary!!!


Luis Vernando Verissimo is the Brazilian author of two books I have read in the last couple months. The first one is Borges and the Eternal Orangutans, a story of a Brazilian who attends a literary gathering in Buenos Aires discussing the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The second is The Club of Angels, taking place in Rio de Janeiro. Both stories are written most excellently, and translated very expertly. They are truly entertaining reads.

The Club of Angels was so entertaining, in fact, that I ended up reading it aloud to my wife for a bedtime story! We were both enthralled by the short little book, eagerly awaiting the next chapter to see how it would develop.

The story involves a club formed around preparing and eating together gourmet meals. After twenty years of this club, a new person shows up who demonstrates himself to be a most excellent chef. Following each meal one person dies. (Verissimo tells us this right at the beginning of the book, so I am not spoiling anything!) The anticipation is to see who the next “victim” will be, how the group and individuals in it handle this dilemma, what meal will be prepared next, and so on. It truly is a delightful read, despite what may seem on the surface to be rather nefarious situations.

I will not go further into story lines or plots, but rather encourage you, my friends, to pursue this book and read it yourself. Both books are short enough to be an evening or two of intense, entertaining reading.

The Lovely Bones

This novel, by Alice Sebold, is a delight to read! It is yet again a fresh look at the relationship between the Spirit dimension and our earth.

The story begins with the horrific rape and murder of a teenage girl by a psychopathic neighbour. So, admittedly, the book has a difficult beginning. But after a chapter or two, the remainder of the book details the recollections of the girl, Susie, as she learns to navigate the afterlife. She keeps track of her family and friends on earth as they seek each in their own way to deal with the grief of her death. She seeks to send them messages. Some on earth sense her; others don’t.

The entire story is told in a rather light-hearted way. It is not a “heavy” story at all, even given the unimaginably horrible beginning. It follows the main characters through the first eight years following Susie’s death.

The truths shared through the incredibly insightful story-telling gifts of the author are timely and truly in keeping with the truths I myself have been learning of the afterlife. One, the Spirit dimension is experienced by each person in their own way. No one experiences death and the life in between lives in the same way. These varying perceptions, rather than undermining the truths about this dimension, in my mind solidify the idea of the care and love experienced in the Spirit world. We are given precisely that which we need to process and heal from whatever experiences we have been through in our life. We are given only that which we are prepared to handle. “Heaven” is not going to overwhelm us. It is a place we go to learn, to grow, to heal, to reach out to others, to seek to help those we love, etc.

Another truth Alice Sebold teaches us through her story is that “heaven” is light-hearted. It is a place filled with fun and laughter. We, as eternal souls, will continue to experience emotions. But we will learn to enjoy and have fun with the experience of being in that other dimension. There is no judgement as the Church tends to teach. There is guidance, suggestions, advice, all in the spirit of learning, assisting us in our personal growth. But no judgement, only pure acceptance, total and unconditional.

Another truth consistent with what I already have learned of the other dimension is that our contact and ability to intervene from that plane to this material plane is limited. We in physical form are continually surrounded by those who love us and who look out for our well-being. But they can only do so much. We can aide them by reaching out to them, giving them permission to enter our consciousness and understanding. But we on earth are here to live our lives and learn the lessons we incarnated for. The souls who surround us can only stand by while we make our mistakes.

Once again, I was blown away by the gifted story-telling of Alice Sebold. The story is so filled with love and laughter and acceptance, people growing through terrible circumstances, people stumbling through life, picking themselves up and carrying on, making mistakes, making things worse before they get better, but each in their own way struggling through the most unimaginable events and getting through it.

This is a highly recommended read: for anyone, whether you are facing heartache, or just want a great story to read and laugh and cry through!!!

An Uplifting Dream

I had a dream last night which left me feeling so positive I felt I had to share it.

As many of my dreams do, this one involved travel. There was a long, involved section of the dream which I have no real clear recollection of. But at some point in the journey, I found myself in a room with an old lady. The only other person present was Peggy, my wife. This old woman, in the dream familiar to me, has no connection to anyone I know or have known. She looked to be in her eighties, a typical older Mennonite-type person.

But for some reason I was filling her in on where I was at in my spiritual journey. I remember making the statement that I no longer held the Christian scriptures, the Bible, as my main source of truth. I could see the dismay in her face. She didn’t argue with me, but I could see she thought I was really “lost”!

So I set out to reassure her that my relationship with God was solid, that I had never been more confident in my faith in God and heaven and the Spirit dimension. “I’ve been there; I know where I stand; I know what I believe, what I’ve experienced.”

I also sought to reassure her that I did not think she was “wrong”; I was not trying to convince her to change her beliefs. I was merely trying to inform her of where I was at in my spiritual life. And whoever this woman was, or represents from my past, this was important to me. I wanted her to be reassured. I wanted her to know where I was at. And that the place I was at was a good place, not one to be feared. She did not need to fear for my spiritual life!

The main thing I took away from this dream was the completely overwhelming feeling I had toward the end of the dream of being filled with light. I felt so loved, so accepted, by the Spirit realm. I was so reassured that I was on the right track in my life, in my beliefs. I felt light, I felt I was glowing, almost floating in the room. I felt very close to my Spirit guides, very surrounded by the “cloud of witnesses” which the scriptures assure us of. I suspect this was the main reason for the dream. I was given it as a confidence-booster to reassure me I was on the right track, to feel encouraged to continue on my path. And this feeling of encouragement was so strong I sensed I should share this with the world through this blog, and not confine it to my journal.

Upside Down

I watched a delightful little film this weekend, titled, Upside Down. I don’t know how wide a distribution this movie got in theatres a year or two ago, but I had only very vague memories of the reviews it got around the time of its release. So it is likely if you are reading this review, that you may never have heard of this flick. Go on a search! It is very worth your while!

Another thing which I had not known about this movie is that it is Canadian. It comes from Montreal. The director, in Special Effects commentary speaks in French, explain how this movie came to be made. And it sounds as if it was filmed almost entirely in Montreal.

The story is a very basic love story: boy from the “wrong side of the tracks” meets classy girl; they fall in love but seem destined to never be together. Everything, and everyone, are out to prevent their ever getting together. This part of the story is told gently, with a lovely air about it.

The setting is very unusual: science fiction. Sci-fi was the reason I was interested in the movie; but as it turns out, the sci-fi dimensions become secondary to the story. It is just the world they live in.

This world they live in is explained in voice-over at the beginning. There are two worlds in proximity to each other. Each has its own gravity. Whatever world you originate on, that is the world whose gravity you experience, and the other world appears “upside down”. As you can guess, the two lovers come from opposite worlds, providing numerous obstacles which must be overcome. There is quite a mystical, magical component to this, but the unimaginable improbabilities do not seem to detract from the story. They add to it, if anything. Upside Down is a modern, magical fairy tale, told with a gentle touch.

Another aspect of the movie which is there, if a bit understated, is the class/power divide on this world (or these worlds!). The two worlds evolved separately, one becoming very wealthy and successful, the other not so much. The wealthy world exploits the lower one. There is some working together, but always with the power gap very obviously in place. No one from “below” is allowed to succeed beyond certain limits. This power differential pervades every aspect of the story.

In this way the movie is a very powerful commentary on our world today. There are power-elites who control all the financial and political power structures. And don’t you dare challenge them!! And of course, the love of Adam and Eden (very interesting choices of names!) challenges them in numerous ways. Their simple idealism is a light shining out in dark hopelessness. And (spoiler alert!), as it is a fairy tale after all, love carries the day! I don’t think it will really spoil anyone’s enjoyment of this delightful tale to know that! I really do encourage anyone wanting to see an uplifting story, or anyone interested in seeing how a very fanciful, imaginative world works, check this movie out. You will not regret it!!! It is very well made. The few inconsistencies necessarily arising out of such a uniquely creative world do not detract from the story.

This movie will certainly make you think. I expect this story to be with me for a long time!


Anne Rice

With a many-years gap since reading other of this author’s vampire stories, I just finished Anne Rice’s latest Vampire Chronicles novel, Prince Lestat. What a great story; what an entertaining read; what a well-woven chronicle! This novel is great on several levels.

One, it is a very entertaining story. Because of the intervening years, I did not remember much about the previous few Vampire Chronicles I had read. But that did not matter. With Anne Rice’s gifted writing, I was able to pick up many threads from earlier stories. Plus, Prince Lestat stands on its own very well. It would be a good read for anyone, even if you have not read any of her previous vampire books (or seen the movie!). I had picked this book up to read as pure entertainment.

Two, I found this book to be much more than entertainment. It had a lot of deep stuff in it! The primary message of this novel is the encouragement to accept our path in life, and walk it. The vampire Lestat, of the title, was the main one struggling with his destiny. And Anne Rice brings us along gently and slowly as Lestat wrestles with who he is, and what his role is amongst his vampiric family. He does not want to accept his place as a leader among them. Vampires tend to be solitary creatures, and he does not want to give this up. But Anne Rice develops this theme so eloquently, that by the end the reader is cheering Lestat on, as he very gradually owns up to his giftedness. Included along the way are the stories of numerous others who also, in their own way, are wrestling with who they are, and what role they live in their world.

Three, even one destined as clearly as Lestat has deficiencies. He constantly doubts himself, questioning his actions, second-guessing. He does not always handle situations very well, blowing up in anger over others’ behaviour. He comes upon new situations he has never before encountered, new creatures, and is very unsure about these and how to proceed. He comes close to giving up numerous times.

Four, Anne Rice, in placing this novel in the world of fictitious vampires, helps us to see ourselves in the context of beings very completely different than we are. Even though completely strange, these beings still have the same emotions, the same struggles, etc. It is a profound story at this level.

This novel should be read by everyone!! It is so encouraging and positive. The fact that the characters are vampires should not deter anyone from picking this novel up. Give it a try; you won’t regret it!

Writing in the Sand

This book by Thomas Moore is an incredible read, especially for those of us who come from Christian/Church traditions. It focuses on the New Testament gospel accounts of Jesus’ teachings and his actions. I want to expand on this in the future, but for now, just let me say that this is a book well worth much effort to track down and read. It will open your eyes to new understandings of the person of Jesus and his sayings.

More later!!!

Kate Mosse

This may seem like a post a bit out of sync with many of my musings. But this author, Kate Mosse, has written three novels about the Languedoc region of southern France, titled, Labyrinth, Sepulchre, and Citadel. Each of the three stands alone as a stunning story. But there is a certain thread which somehow weaves its way through all three. 

The first obvious thread is that each novel deals with hidden artifacts. There is a search for these, by both those who seek to know the truth in an enlightened way, and by those who would use ancient esoteric knowledge for evil. This gives each novel a terrific element of suspense. Kate Mosse is a very gifted writer and her stories are difficult to put down. Each one is a page-turner in its own right.

Another commonality is that in each novel Mosse uses the literary device of twin stories, each happening at a different point in history, but which are intertwined. Obviously, in light of the hidden-artifact thread, the early-time story deals with the creation of the hidden artifact, which becomes the object of search later in history.

Another common thread is one mysterious character who appears in every book, and whose presence is key to each story. This I found to be a clever device, adding much intrigue to the books.

Also, the Church and religion play important parts in all these stories. There are ancient mysteries, mysticism, both modern and ancient, organized religion trying to control the dissemination of knowledge, etc. (Maybe this is the hook connecting this review with much of my other writings.)

I cannot write this review without referring to another author who deals with the same landscape, and with some of the same themes. That author is Kathleen McGowan. Especially her first two novels of a trilogy, The Expected One, and The Book of Love, deal with the Languedoc, the Cathars, esoteric ancient knowledge. McGowan also uses the device of old stories being discovered by modern protagonists.

Both Mosse and McGowan are gifted writers. Their stories are difficult to put down, and I as a reader found it hard to wait for the next book to come into my hands. Both authors have obviously done a great deal of historical research, and I found their books to be completely absorbing ways to learn more about historical events I knew little of.

I would say I think Kathleen McGowan’s writings are a bit more historical than Mosse’s. I say this because of hearing an interview with McGowan where she relates that her writing began by researching the lives of women who have not been dealt with accurately by historians. She wanted to put the record straight, and tell more of their story than has been known before. While initially aiming to publish these as historical works, a friend encouraged her to write them into novels, thereby achieving a wider audience. I think this was magnificently accomplished!

Another aspect of McGowan’s books, especially the first novel, The Expected One, is that she revealed in her interview that the images which the modern day protagonist sees from the first century, are pretty much word for word descriptions of images and messages she herself has experienced. This gives her story an immediacy, a sense of really happening, scenes from history actually having occurred.

Kate Mosse’s stories, on the other hand, are purely fictional accounts of events set in historical events. For example, the third book, Citadel, is set in the context of the French resistance movement of World War II. It especially shows the role women played in this resistance against the Nazi occupation of France, specifically the southern area of France. Mosse’s stories are just awesomely good reads: very entertaining, somewhat enlightening, but made-up stories nonetheless. McGowan’s stories are almost real; I as the reader really, really wanted them to be true accounts. And I ended up believing that things happened pretty much as she puts forth (creative licence notwithstanding).

So, my reader, if you want a good, enthralling read, choose any one of these author’s books!! You will not be disappointed, and they will cause you to think.

American Graffiti

I watched this movie last weekend. It showed what was in my opinion a very idealized look at the youth culture of the ’60’s. Set in 1962, it was still an age of innocence: before the JFK assassination, before the Viet Nam war, before the British invasion, before all the race riots, before Woodstock, before Easy Rider, etc.

In other words, it is set just before my generation. I would’ve been in Grade Nine when this movie was set.

But it was an enjoyable watch none-the-less. It showed hot cars, had actors in it dressed like we did in the sixties, at least the early sixties. It brought back many memories of an earlier time. Today this seems like another life time ago. Of course, it was set in California, which I imagine was vastly different than Lincoln, Nebraska, where I grew up. Not many kids had hot cars like shown in the movie. There were some, but they were not prolific. Most of us drove rather prosaic, ordinary cars, at least in my circles.

But I enjoyed the movie, despite all my criticisms. Filmed in 1973, it was George Lucas’s look back at his own youth in central California. So for him, I would imagine this is how he remembered his teenage years.

One thing this did for me was to point out the incredible changes my generation has lived through. Following the time period depicted in this movie, there were so many huge events, life-changing, society-changing, earth-changing happenings. Beginning with the JFK assassination, of course, but then the rise of the Viet Nam war (which my generation fought), the race riots, the anti-establishment ethos which very quickly developed during the sixties, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert Kennedy. These last two deaths affected me personally more than the death of President Kennedy. I had heard RFK campaigning in person in Lincoln. I was so much more aware of the wider world around me than I had been when JFK was killed.

And of course, the Viet Nam war affected us extremely deeply. I served two years in “civil service” as a conscientious objector to the war. One brother-in-law spent four years in the air force. Many of my classmates went to fight and never came back. Many of my generation came back deeply scarred from their experiences.

What a time it was!!! And American Graffiti helped bring up many of these memories. If you haven’t ever seen it, I would recommend you watch this movie, either to recall this era if you are close to my age, or to help understand this era of an earlier generation.



Watch the brief video of seven-month Olivia learning to crawl. There is so much we can learn from her! One, she goes to such immense effort to accomplish her task. She works and works, finally getting herself up on all fours. Two, when she falls down, there is no sense of failure! She smiles, quite proud of herself, for what she’s done! Three, notice the huge sigh as she rolls over onto her back. She is content!

Another lesson is that Olivia has no concept of the immensity of her victory. She does not realize its place in her overall development. She does not think of what she’s accomplished to lead up to this next victory. She has no idea of what is yet ahead of her in terms of developing mobility! All she knows is that she has this urge to get herself up onto her hands and knees. Totally in the present moment.