Anything But “Ordinary”

Chris Steingart is from Kitchener, Ontario. A MennoMedia board member for the past 2 years, Chris is the lead designer and founder of QT Web Designs a full service online marketing company. He is the father of 2 children – Rowan (2 yrs) and Maya (1 month) and husband to 1 wife – Jillian, all show below.

Chris Jillian Rowan and Maya

About a year ago, I picked up a copy of Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting.

As a parent of a rambunctious toddler (Rowan), I was excited that Herald Press was offering titles that explored something directly relevant to me, and was thrilled to read a book by a friend, Rachel Gerber!

Last spring on my way home from a board meeting I cracked open Ordinary Miracles and couldn’t put it down. Gerber’s thoughtful and relevant insights mixed with her down-to-earth wit combined for an enjoyable read that had me in stitches and tears and sometimes both at the same time. It seemed like with each turn of the page there was always something that had me saying to myself (and occasionally out loud) “that is so true!” Throughout the book we hear accounts of Gerber’s own parenting experiences and observations, cleverly woven into the “Emmaus Road” story (Luke 24:13-35). The overarching theme is that when parenting seems bleak, God is present.

Fast forward in my own life to this past month when we welcomed Maya, a little sister for Rowan. When the going has gotten tough (as it inevitably does with a 2 year old and a 1 month old), I’ve found myself coming back to Ordinary Miracles for a comforting word, a relevant chuckle, and also to ground myself a little bit in the Holy work that’s going on in our household.

In particular I found Gerber’s depiction of two different kinds of time that govern our lives to be very relevant to my experience:

Chronos is the time that we live in. It is the time that is told by the clock. It’s the five minutes left in time-out. It’s being stopped by another red light as you race to preschool to try not to be late again. It’s holding your breath as you wait to check out at the grocery store while your squirrely boys try to rip down candy displays and whine at the top of their lungs about why they need M&Ms now.

Kairos, however, is God’s time. It is time above time. It is a time with no end, when you are able to momentarily stand still in the midst of the hub-bub of life and see how things really are. It is stepping back, even in the craziness of life, to take notice of the blessings in life. To realize how God moves, how God provides and how God simply is.”

As a business owner who works from home, way too much of my life is Chronos-led time. I start work at 8:30, I work till noon – I eat, I play with Maya, put Rowan to bed – hoping that Maya’s not screaming in the background distracting his focus on his nap, only to ruin his chance at giving me an extra couple hours to work… We feed Rowan dinner, then I hold Maya for a while in the evening and if I’m lucky and not totally beat, I put in another couple hours of work in the evening – YEESH! If Chronos was the guiding force in our lives, I would be consumed by schedules to the point of insanity. Gerber helps us to remember, to take time and look for the opportunities for God’s time: Kairos. It’s only when we (occasionally) throw out the clock and the phone calendar alerts, that we can truly enjoy bath time – when more water is splashed outside the tub than remains in it, or snack time – where we discover the best place to eat apple sauce is off of a bib, not out of the bowl. Or bed time, when reading a couple more books and singing two or three more songs is a joy and a privilege, not a burden.

I wouldn’t say that I’m the model parent who makes all the good decisions, but with Ordinary Miracles as my companion, I can really come to terms with the Holy work of raising two amazing little human beings that is taking place in our home.

Whether you’re a parent-to-be, a new parent, or are someone who delights in reading about the trials and tribulations of parenting young children, this is the book for you! Ordinary Miracles also makes for a perfect faith-based gift for an upcoming baby shower!

More than that, it is a reminder for anyone of these two concepts of time—and how Kairos time is needed by all.

Ordinary Miracles is a book that is anything but ordinary. It balances funny accounts of Rachel and her boys (Owen, Connor and Zachary ) and her continuous battle to drink a hot… (no), warm… (no), reheated coffee, wipe runny noses, fit in time to work, and cope head on with the endless calamity, distractions and tearful moments that parenting in a God-centered home can bring.

–Chris Steingart

Chris was recently named to MEDA’s 20 Under 35 list of “Young Professionals Changing the World.” 

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For more on this book or to purchase, check our store.

I Don’t Have a Hammer, But I Have a Mennonite Hymnal

Guest post by Bobby Switzer, student at Goshen College, Goshen, Ind.

Speech made at Laurelville Worship and Song Leaders’ Retreat — 10 January 2015

If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, all over this land, I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out love between my brother and my sister, all over this land!

(Pete Seeger and Lee Hays).

I don’t have a hammer, but I have a Mennonite hymnal.

I did not grow up Mennonite or singing, and now I cannot imagine my life without either. I distinctly remember the first time I heard a congregation sing. It was on the way back from a work weekend at Camp Friedenswald. I had made some friends from Bluffton, Ohio, and they invited me to join them for the weekend. We stopped in Goshen on Sunday morning to attend church, and I remember feeling nervous because I hadn’t brought proper church attire. All nervousness fell away when I heard the congregation sing You are Salt for the Earth (HWB 226). Immediately upon hearing the verse, I thought, “Wow, this congregation can sing!” But when the congregation got to the refrain and sang its harmony, something in the world shifted. Something in me shifted, and the world seemed illumined. The profound beauty of voices joining together creating this harmonious music struck me then, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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The Goshen Hymn Club in front of an old Goshen College sign. 

As a senior at Goshen College I’ve had the privilege of singing from Mennonite hymnals in Goshen’s Hymn Club for almost four years. At this stage in my college career, I often look back and think about the moments that have shaped who I am, and many of the most meaningful experiences have been because of these hymnals and the songs contained therein.

At Goshen these hymnals do not gather dust in pews or remain stagnant on students’ shelves as forgotten gifts from congregations; they are used.

Hymnal: A Worship Book, Sing the Journey, and Sing the Story are not hammers, but rather entire toolkits.

Each hymn held in these books has a story and serves a purpose. Hymns do work. I’ve seen college students in the last four years use hymns in many and varied ways outside of the traditional church setting. They’ve sung in the morning, they’ve sung in the evening, they’ve sung all over campus; they’ve sung out warnings, dangers, justice, and freedom. And most significantly, they’ve sung love between their brothers and their sisters, all over the land.

GoshenHymnSingForPeaceWhen gun violence touched close to home with a local shooting at Elkhart’s Martins (grocery chain), we turned to our hymnals. When news of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson highlighting systemic oppression and racism reached our ears, we turned to our hymnals.

And when stories of drones and new wars in the Middle East appeared on every news station, we turned to our hymnals. If the war goes on and children die…who will keep the score (STJ 66)?

We sang our frustration and lament; we sang our sorrow and weariness. And yet, we sang our hope: Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow (HWB 377).

These hymnals gave us words when they were so hard for us to form. They gave us voice when we struggled to speak. They helped us to acknowledge real pain, to lament as a community, and they enabled us to cling to the hope that our faith gives us: death does not have the final word.

Beyond naming our hurt, expressing our anguish, and granting us hope, the songs in these books have been used to create. We’ve sung with folks at Greencroft retirement communities in Goshen and formed intergenerational relationships through stories, shared experiences, and song. We’ve facilitated a mid-day hymn sing at Indiana-Michigan’s Mennonite Relief Sale. We’ve said no to divisive political polarization by singing our commitment to community through love by having an Election Day Communion hymn sing.

We are people of Gods peace as a new creation; Love unites and strengthens us at this celebration (HWB 407).

goshen-hymn-marathon1Sing for Peace Hymn Marathon. Photo by Brett Conrad, used by permission of Goshen College Communications and Marketing Office.

Most recently, we’ve used hymns creatively for peacemaking by singing every verse of every hymn in Hymnal: a Worship Book, in our student initiated and led Sing for Peace: A Hymn Marathon. Over 4000 people in more than 40 different countries viewed our singing on the live stream, with people singing along as they cleaned, and cooked, or worked at their computers. Our 30 hours of singing were multiplied nearly 50 times for a total view time of over 1500 hours. A group of over 350 students, faculty, and community members of vastly different backgrounds and theology came together, sang, and raised more than $15,000 for Christian Peacemaker Teams. We sat in a circle, with a Christ lamp at our center and joined our voices despite our differences; we forged relationships with each verse of each hymn.

Hymns truly are the instruments of peacemaking.

Let woe and waste of warfare cease, that useful labor yet may build its homes with love and laughter filled! God give thy wayward children peace (HWB 371).

 

O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams, guide us to justice, truth and love, delivered from our selfish schemes. May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release, till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace (HWB 408).

GoshenHymnClubWithBobbySwitzerInMiddleThe Goshen Hymn Club; Bobby Switzer is in the center with a plaid jacket and blue shirt.

What I consider most significant, though, is not a 30-hour hymn marathon, but rather a four-year history of gathering in a circle to sing every Tuesday night. For four years on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., Hymn Club has gathered in the choir room, pulled chairs into a circle and grabbed our hymnals. For an hour, we sing hymns, one after another. Hymn Club started with 15-20 people regularly attending my first year, and now our attendance is averaging 40-60 with over 120 attending our larger, campus-wide hymn sings. We’re doing something right, and people can feel it. I believe that each time we gather and sing we form a type of God’s reconciled community, where each person can know and be known by one another. When we sing, we say no to a society that continually seems to drive us apart and say yes to forming community. Hymn singing allows each voice to be held as beautiful and unique, and even more beautiful when joined with others’ uniqueness to create harmony.

I believe this is a radical act of peacemaking: being in a circle singing, and looking on each face as a beloved child of God made in God’s image. When sharing a hymnal while singing, it is hard to harbor hate, and walls of division begin to break down. Hearts that are cold melt, and a community forms. This is what I’ve experienced these last few years because of this hymnal, and this is what I pray we can experience in Kansas City this summer. I pray that we can use our songs, our voices, and our hymnals to sing past our differences and to see each other as beloved children of God.

When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony, born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony. Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too. (HWB 307)

 

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Bobby Switzer, Goshen, Ind. 2015

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The Goshen College Hymn Club posts many wonderful hymns on You Tube, such as this one, “Praise, I Will Praise you Lord.”

For Mennonites singing #606 “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” at this same Laurellville Music and Worship Leaders retreat several years ago, check this YouTube video.

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For all these hymnals and more, visit the MennoMedia store under “Hymnals and Songbooks.”

Third Way Movie Awards: Films for Your “Must See” List from 2014

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Over at Third Way website from MennoMedia, three Media Matters reviewers have just posted their individual “Top 10 Films” list for 2014 (inspired by Oscar and other awards season). Here, we’ve compiled these lists into one, for great options for your viewing pleasure anytime (from Netflix, Redbox etc.). You might want to share or favorite this post for when you or others need inspiration for what to watch next. Each of our reviewers look at media from an Anabaptist Christian value perspective, while not necessarily endorsing everything (not even close) in the films named! The ones with live links take you directly to our reviews on Third Way. Initials beside the synopsis indicate which reviewer wrote it. VT = Vic Thiessen. GH = Gordon Houser. MKS = Matthew Kauffman Smith.

Third Way Café Top Films of 2014

1 Interstellar. The only Hollywood film in my top ten, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic is one of the wildest rides in the history of film, an audio-visual feast for the senses that engages both our minds and (unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey) our emotions, though its underlying message that we should consider giving up on earth is a dangerous one. VT

2. Ida. This small Polish film by Pawel Pawlikowski, set in 1962 and stunningly filmed in black & white, tells the moving and compelling story (featuring exceptional character development) of a young woman, about to take her vows as a nun, who discovers her Jewish roots and the horrific history of her family during the Nazi occupation of Poland. VT

3. The Congress. Ari Folman’s partly animated (gorgeously so) sci-fi film is based on a 1971 novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. It stars Robin Wright as Robin Wright, an aging actor who is offered a form of immortality in this sharp satire of the Hollywood film industry, ‘celebrity’, the pharmaceutical industry and individuality/identity. VT

4. Locke. Tom Hardy is the only actor we see (and he delivers a wonderful nuanced performance) in Steven Knight’s film about a man whose life crumbles around him (despite his efforts to do the right thing) as he talks on the phone during a two-hour drive across southern England. VT

5. Selma.  (review to be posted by Jan 16, 2015) David Oyelowo is perfect as Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in 1965, led the campaign for voting rights for African Americans in the southern U.S. Focusing on a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, Ava DuVernay’s film is an inspiring, moving and gripping drama and a powerful depiction of a story everyone needs to see and from which we all have much to learn, even in 2014. VT

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Another of his trademark quirky, intelligent and surreal comedy dramas, this film may be Wes Anderson’s best yet. It’s full of superb acting, clever dialogue, gorgeous cinematography and pointed satire (of authority, governments and attitudes toward immigration). VT

7. The Great Beauty. This Italian film from Paolo Sorrentino won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013, but was not released in North America until 2014. A breathtakingly beautiful and thought-provoking satire about life in contemporary Rome, The Great Beauty stars Toni Servillo as an aging journalist looking for moments of great beauty in his pointless existence. VT

8. Only Lovers Left Alive. I’m no fan of vampire films, but Jim Jarmusch’s slow-paced, gorgeously-filmed (at night, in Detroit and Tangier) drama about the lives of a very old vampire couple (played wonderfully by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) provides a profound and unique perspective on the history of human civilization and the dangers we are facing in the 21st century. VT

9. Boyhood. Richard Linklater almost had my favourite film of the year for two years in a row with this amazing drama which he filmed over a period of twelve years. By allowing us to watch family members naturally grow and change over twelve years, as if we’re viewing a documentary, Linklater (one of the greatest filmmakers of our time) gives us an insightful cinematic masterpiece about everyday life. VT

10. Calvary. This small Irish film by John Michael McDonagh stars Brendan Gleeson in an Oscar-worthy performance as a small-town priest slowly losing the respect of his parishioners as the church becomes increasingly irrelevant to their lives. While this dark (but often funny) film is not for all tastes, Calvary is a sublime meditation on the future of the church, on violence, on forgiveness and on what it means to be faithful to Jesus. VT

11. Whiplash. This riveting film about a young jazz drummer and his emotionally abusive teacher asks, How much should one sacrifice for one’s art? But it goes beyond the creative arts. Is it good to push ourselves (or be pushed) beyond our perceived limitations in order to reach our full potential? J.K. Simmons’ performance as the teacher is outstanding. GH

12. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). This intense film is about a washed-up actor who 20 years earlier played a superhero called Birdman and now wants to be recognized as a serious artist. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s satire skewers blockbusters and theater while presenting serious questions about our search for significance and recognition. The cast here is excellent. GH

13. Under the Skin. This science fiction thriller about an extraterrestrial (Scarlett Johansson), disguised as a human female, who drives around Scotland and tries to lure unsuspecting men into her van. This is not your standard thriller but an artistic, brilliant, stunning exploration of being marginal. This creature who preys on men to take their skin becomes, in the end, a sympathetic character. Not for everyone, this film stayed with me a long time. GH

14. The Imitation Game. Another historical film, this one is about Alan Turing, a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist who led a team of cryptanalysts in breaking the Nazis’ Enigma code during World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch is especially good in capturing Turning’s tics and submerged emotions. The film is suspenseful and heartbreaking and opens up an era where men were put in prison for being gay. GH

15. The Immigrant. Set in New York in 1921, this film is a portrayal of spiritual and psychological struggle. Marion Cotillard heads an excellent cast as Ewa, who falls prey to Bruno, a pimp who forces her to become a prostitute in order to make enough money to gain her sister’s freedom from quarantine on Ellis Island. It is a powerful film about forgiveness. GH

16. Alive Inside. Music has always been therapeutic for me, but this documentary about how music soothes, inspires, and jogs the memories of Alzheimer’s patients offers emotional and scientific proof that music can heal. MKS

17. Pride. Even though it is over-dramatized at times, the true story about the unlikely bond between the gay rights advocates and the striking miners in mid-80s United Kingdom is an entertaining feel-good underdog story. MKS

18. Skeleton Twins. Saturday Night Live alums Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader prove their dramatic chops in this dark comedy about troubled siblings who re-connect with each other as their other relationships crumble. MKS

19. Chef. Jon Favreau’s portrait of a acclaimed chef/not-so-acclaimed father at a career/personal crossroads is witty and heartwarming. MKS

20. Next Goal Wins. American Somoa was the worst soccer team in the world and holds the dubious distinction of suffering the worst defeat in international soccer history, losing 31-0 to Australia. This documentary chronicles the team’s attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and reverse their historic bad fortune. MKS

21. Snowpiercer. The first half is much more violent than I can normally tolerate, but the second half of the movie is compelling. Yes, the premise of the last of the earth’s humans living riding an eternal train around the world is far fetched, but its Speed-meets-Children of Men juxtaposition makes for a highly entertaining film. MKS

22. Ernest and Celestine. OK, you can get me on a technicality because this was nominated for an Academy Award last year. However, this animated tale about an unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse, didn’t receive a major release stateside until this year. My daughters, age 10 and 8, loved it. MKS

23. We Are the Best. This Swedish-Danish film about three 13-year-old girls who form a punk band to perform their song “Hate the Sport” may seem like a film about rebellion. But at its core the film is about finding joy and acceptance through music. The band is loud and terrible but their happiness is undeniable. MKS

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What would be on your list of favorite films from 2014??

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You can get an even bigger list (best 100 movies from the last 10 years), according to Third Way reviewers, which we shared last year. Go here.

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Original art illustration by Josh Byler for MennoMedia.