Best Media Reviews in Mennoniteville

Do you delight in going to the movies, or watching DVDs, or streaming “not-current-run” shows or old TV series at home? Or maybe you enjoy winsome, meaningful, offbeat music that not everyone else is reviewing?

I’ve set you up for the pitch: If you are a person of faith, especially of the Anabaptist-Mennonite persuasion, you might find the media reviews at Third Way website to be of value. Especially if you are a youth teacher or leader looking for material to spice up a church school moment or youth meeting.

Many of us take in movies, or watch more TV, when we have a few days off over the holidays. Or you may be looking for unusual music for that special person on your gift list.


MennoMedia is pleased to have Third Way website (and yes, the update and relaunch is still upcoming, which we’ve written about several times: these things take patience), and offers much e-content including new daily, weekly, bimontly, and monthly posts.

Most of the movies and music we review (and occasional books, advertising, and TV shows) have very little overt religious or Anabaptist content, but our reviewers all come from that perspective or lens. They are all busy people and excellent writers, and avid media or movie buffs who write their reviews mostly out of love. They have to, for the small remuneration we are able to pay them. Earlier this year I compiled this list of links to their “best films from the past ten years.”

Here I’d like to say more about our Third Way reviewers and some of their excellent and varied work.

VicThiessen2Vic Thiessen
is a seasoned media reviewer and writes a media blog with his brother, Walter Thiessen. For his day job, he was, until recently, the Chief Administrative Officer at Mennonite Church Canada. Before that, he worked for eight years as director of the London Mennonite Centre in England, where he interacted with the UK’s Anabaptist Network. Vic is also the film writer for Canadian Mennonite.

He often reviews a wide variety of indie or artsy flicks that are not hitting every multiplex. Here’ s one example of a film you have likely never heard of but may want to check out: Locke.

Vic often is willing to tackle the films that are so obvious in religious content that they beg to be reviewed here, even though the acting or the plot or the direction is subpar. Here he finds Heaven Is For Real to have “many watchable and discussable moments” even though it may not be his pick of the year for artistic content.

Gordon2011Gordon Houser is a journalist, editor, avid book reader, and film buff. By day (and sometimes night) he is associate editor of The Mennonite, the main denominational magazine of Mennonite Church USA. He is also the author of a book, Present Tense: A Mennonite Spirituality (2011).  You can actually sample his thinking and speaking on a video called “Who are Mennonites in a Time of Diversity and Change?”

Sometimes we’ve provided discussion questions, as with Gordon’s review of Boyhood, but more often we hope teachers or leaders can put together the questions that will work for their focus and group. Gordon is sure to bring out religious or Christian themes in movies he reviews, perhaps because of the fact that he helps put together The Mennonite every month.

Of all our reviewers, you’re most likely to find Gordon tackling a book review (even though I know most of them are always reading books). Here Gordon writes about Lila and the exploration of meaning in life.

holsoppjJerry Holsopple is the brainchild behind the beginning of this site, Third Way Café, back in 1998, for which he wrote some of the HTML coding. He is an artist, photographer, and videographer, teaching photography and digital media-related courses at Eastern Mennonite University. Jerry spent the 2009-2010 academic year as a Fulbright scholar at LCC International University in Lithuania. Jerry is the recipient of more than a dozen awards in recognition of his video, public service announcements, and websites. Journey Toward Forgiveness, a documentary that he produced for Mennonite Media in 2001, aired on Hallmark Channel and ABC-TV.

While Jerry is a huge and skilled visual producer in his own right (as well as musician and artist) he focuses mainly on music/album reviews for Third Way, partly because no one else does this very often for us. Here are some of his recent, often eclectic, posts on a wide variety of music/albums:

MatthewKauffmanSmithNew.1Matthew Kauffman Smith is a freelance writer and music critic in addition to paying some bills as he works in “middle management.” But he first started writing for us when he was a part-time stay-at-home dad. He has written for the online Propeller Magazine and probably his most unusual post for us was his somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Matthew Kauffman Smith’s First Annual National Mid-Year Music Award Day” where he pokes fun at some of the plethora of show biz awards programs. Matthew’s “music-related” reviews include this one on the recent The Grammy Awards.

Some of Matthew’s best movie reviews, in my opinion, include ones his daughters have seen with him, or that have somehow influenced the review, like the mostly-children’s movie, Brave.

MichelleSinclairMichelle Sinclair
is my daughter (happy to claim her!) but I like to think she would have this job even if I weren’t editor because she writes so well. (Don’t take my word for it, mother’s opinions don’t count.) One of the still-top papers in the U.S., The Washington Post, hires her as an account executive in the advertising division. She is also an author in search of an agent shopping around several novels. She and her husband now have to find a babysitter when they sneak out for their movie fix.  Some of her reviews include, Secretariat and Gravity. Michelle can usually be counted on to take the superhero-adventure flick of the season, such as Guardians of the Galaxy.

With Media Matters reviews now being published over ten years, some of these reviewers have more than 100 individual reviews chalked up, which is quite a body of work. If you don’t care about who wrote what, just check the review archive by media type here. If you want to find movies that a particular reviewer wrote, look under their photo and click on “Other Posts by Gordon Houser” (or whatever the reviewer’s name).

I would love to add an additional woman or a person of color to our reviewer list. Frequently we need to fill in for reviewers taking an extended leave for one reason or another (sabbatical, long vacation, maternity leave). And sometimes reviewers move on to other assignments! Let me know if you’d like to try doing a sample review or know of someone to nominate!


What is your favorite entertainment medium: movie, TV, music, Internet, electronic games?


You can sign up for a free subscription to all the reviews, here.

MelodieDavisBlogPhotoMelodie Davis, managing editor and writer

A Magnifying Glass for the Future

I keep a very cheap child’s magnifying glass on my desk. It’s the remnant prop that I used in co-leading a workshop last May. It never quite got put away and now gets moved around. But sometimes I pick it up and hold it as I sit and think, or it will catch my eye during Skype meetings.


These past weeks I’ve tried to get out my own crystal ball and think more about the future of Christian formation in congregations.

Shine: Living in God’s Light is the curriculum produced by MennoMedia and Brethren Press for ages three through grade eight. It’s in its first quarter of use and we are already asking ourselves, What’s next?

Yes, you read that correctly: while Sunday school teachers are finishing off this first quarter of Shine, we are making plans for three years from now.

What follows is a smattering of tidbits that have piqued my attention on this topic in the last few weeks.

  • Thom Schultz, founder of Group Publishing, had a provocative post this week on the “Rise of the Dones.” This post—and the research it’s drawn from—make the case that “to an increasing degree, the church is losing its best” to no church at all. There is a growing legion of people, many of whom are boomers, who have devoted their lives to the church. They have been trustees, elders, lay leaders, Sunday school teachers, church clean-up day pros, and now legions of them are done with church. If this trend continues, what is the future of faith formation for any age in the church? Schultz’s post is based on the research in a forthcoming book called Church Refugees, by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope (June 2015).
  • Some 76% of Protestant churches surveyed two years ago* reported that they are using technology more in the church and in Sunday school. Let’s face it, technology is changing the ways we learn. I heard at the grocery story yesterday that second graders are getting tablets in schools, for example. Publishers have jumped on this trend, but many of these efforts have not been the hoped-for successes. Mostly I hear stories of publishers marrying great technology with curriculum only to have abysmal sales. Is it because users want technology for free? We’re all too happy to download the free app but are we loathe to pay for the curriculum that goes along with it?
  • Congregations want the same outcomes from children’s Sunday school that they have wanted for the last 100 years: for children to choose to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. When Mennonite congregations were surveyed two years ago* about their most desired outcomes for children’s Sunday school, this was the number one answer, followed by “understand God better.” And yet we know that the Sunday school books from that era don’t make sense for today.
    MennoMedia Survey Report (FINAL)
  • Christian educator John Roberto has written about the convergence of four forces that influence faith formation today. Given the four forces below, how do we at MennoMedia develop ways to help congregations inform, form, and transform faith (to use Roberto’s words) given this changing context?
    • Greater diversity in society and congregation
    • New Internet, communication and learning technologies
    • The emergence of connected, networked societies (moving from a grouped society to networked individualism)
    • Twenty-first century models of learning
  • Beth Barnett is exploring the paradigm shift in children’s ministry and asking what needs to change and what the future will look like. In this post she addresses how the Christian church has lost the practice and skills of being together—of how we have become consumers of church rather than contributors. Instead of harkening back to the days of yore, Barnett gives ideas for changing the script and offers new and refreshing ways to be the church together. I’m especially intrigued with her ideas about “who owns worship” and how we can prepare for all age worship that is different than simply offering a sermon for adults and a children’s story for children.

It’s an exciting time to be thinking about faith formation for congregations, and what the future will hold.

What are your predictions? What do you think the future of children’s faith formation should look like? Hopefully it will look as joyful as this child holding her copy of the Shine On story Bible!

Aleesia Alderfer with Shine On Children's Bible Storybook

Amy Gingerich, editorial director

Amy Gingerich



* The survey referred to in this post was commissioned by the Protestant Church-owned Publishers Association, of which MennoMedia is a member. All Mennonite churches were asked to participate in this survey.

Amish Author Loren Beachy Answers Your Questions

Loren Beachy Answers Your Questions (Part 1)

We [Amish America] got your questions over to Loren last week, and on Friday I got a fax back from him.

“This is what I’ve got so far,” Loren writes. “I plan to give the other questions some attention, too.” You’ll find about a dozen-and-a-half responses below. I’ll get the rest up [at when I get them in from Loren. Until then, I hope you enjoy. — Erik Wesner

[Editor’s note: Mistakes in spelling/usage etc. from readers are left in.]


Loren Answers Your Questions

Trish in Indiana: Sometimes, I wonder what it must be like to be so “visible” to the community around you, and to know that there are tourists who actually travel from miles around to see Amish people.

Can you tell me if you believe many Amish feel a “burden” of responsibility at being so identifiable to the public?

Thanks, Trish. Jesus calls us to be a “city on a hill”. Yes, that’s a burden, but an opportunity, as well. We are conscious of the scrutiny you mentioned (we even hear it in sermons occasionally), and it is probably good for us.

Bill Rushby: What don’t you like about being Old Order Amish? (Please forgive the impertinent question!) 

Nothing major comes to mind. You’re forgiven, go and sin no more.

Slightly-Handled-Order-Man: We’ve read through different Amish America posts that the farm life is not as lucrative as it once was for many Amish (and non-Amish alike) and that many Amish people seek out careers outside of the home / farm, for instance the biographical information provided for your book states that you are both a school teacher and an auctioneer in addition to author and columnist. Acknowledging that, have you ever found resistance among your community toward your career paths as perceived to be immodest, very much unconventional or against community rules, or perhaps just against the personal opinions of other people?

Amish communities across America vary widely in how conservative we choose to be. In more conservative communities my auctioneer career would not work. In our community, as in most large communities, it is accepted. I have encountered very little resistance and much encouragement from my community members in my careers.

Al in KY: Two questions:

How many Amish auctioneers are there in the U.S.?

Are there other training schools (like Reppert Auction school) for
other occupations that are OK with Amish districts for Amish men and women to attend?

Lots. Probably hundreds.

My dad attended a farrier school when he was young. There are probably others, like tax clinics for bookkeepers and so forth, though it’s not exceedingly common for Amish to go.

Kim Shinn: This sounds like a very unique book to be written by an Old Order Amish gentleman…can’t wait to partake in the humor! I am interested in knowing what percentage of the teachers are male, as Loren is, compared to the customary young females that are teachers. 

Thank you, Kim. In the past decade or so, the percentage of male teachers in our community has risen to perhaps 20 percent (my guess). In Pennsylvania, there are almost no male teachers.

HDL: As a school teacher, are you concerned with the federal government interfering with what and how you teach?

Not yet.

Theresa H: We have Amish friends in New York and one of their boys wants to be an Auctioneer when he grows up. Is their any books that we could get for him to read about Auctioneering?

Sorry, I don’t know of any.

lincolnlady1121: I would love to read your book. Seeing you are a bachelor I was wondering if there was a certain age that Amish men and women are expected to be married by? Are there many Amish who remain single all their life? If you were too marry, could you retain your job as a teacher or would you have to get another occupation? 


Not really, though I think the average is something like 22 years old for men and 20 for the ladies. There are some who remain single–I’m going to guess between 5 and 10 percent.

I could keep my job as a teacher, though some men quit upon marrying because of financial considerations.

tjk: I was wondering how far you travel for auctions, and is this your first book?


The rest of AmishAmerica’s blog post of Loren Beachy’s great and fun answers to questions that inquiring minds want to know can be found here.


[Editor’s note: Feel free to ask your local bookstore to order or carry Chasing the Amish Dream, or you can buy it at our store, here, for just $12.99.]


If you’d like to know how our designer came up with cover design, check this blog post from Merrill Miller. And no, the man running behind the buggy is not actually Loren!