Being Howard Zehr

Nationally known restorative justice practitioner sujatha baliga tells this story of how she met Herald Press author Howard Zehr. It was 2007, and baliga had invited Zehr to speak at a conference on crime victims at Stanford Law School’s Criminal Justice Center.

As Howard finished his talk, Robert Weisburg, the center’s long-time faculty director, excitedly whispered, “I’ve discovered what I want to be when I grow up! Howard Zehr!”

I was in complete agreement with Professor Weisburg that day. In the years that followed, I’ve taken every opportunity to learn from Howard, in the hopes that his prodigious heart and intellect would somehow be contagious.

It’s no exaggeration to say that by asking us to change lenses, Howard Zehr has changed countless lives. Mine is among them.


Shortly after meeting Howard and encountering his paradigm on restorative justice, baliga left the practice of law to try to put into practice her emerging commitment to a justice that restores and heals. “Here was a view of justice that could better meet crime victims’ needs, while simultaneously ending our addiction to punitive confinement by believing in the power of communities to support their members when things go wrong,” baliga writes in the foreword to the new edition of Zehr’s classic text, Changing Lenses. “Changing these constructs requires fearlessly replacing entrenched views that no longer serve us with new ones that do. Howard Zehr is such a thinker.”


Like baliga, countless restorative justice practitioners have found in Zehr a mentor and a friend. Frequently called the “grandfather of the restorative justice movement,” Zehr published Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice, with Herald Press in 1990.

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It fast became the central text of the restorative justice movement, in use in classrooms and workshops and a variety of settings across the world. Zehr has led hundreds of events in more than twenty-five countries and thirty-five states. His work has included trainings and consultations on restorative justice, victim-offender conferencing, judicial reform, and other criminal justice matters. He has had particular influence in the United States, Brazil, Japan, Jamaica, Northern Ireland, Britain, the Ukraine, and New Zealand, the latter which has restructured its juvenile justice system into a family-focused, restorative approach. “Changing Lenses has done more to shape my understanding of justice and peacemaking and to define my scholarly career and sense of vocation than any other,” Chris Marshall, professor of restorative justice at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, says. “It remains my first choice when people ask me what they should read to learn more about restorative justice.”

The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times, released in June 2015, gave Zehr the opportunity to add valuable updates to terminology and paradigms that have shifted in the twenty-five years since the book was first published. Language about victim-offender interaction has changed, as have the discussions surrounding mass incarceration, race, and poverty in the United States. A new resource section adds group exercises and discussion questions from leading restorative justice practitioners. Nobel Peace Prize-winner Leymah Gbowee, a former student of Zehr’s, says that the new edition of the book “will change how you think about wrongdoing and justice and mercy.” And Michelle Alexander, author of the groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow, says, “Now that our nation is finally beginning to come to terms with the immorality and irrationality of our criminal injustice system, I hope that we will reread Howard Zehr’s classic text, Changing Lenses, and accept his challenge to reimagine what justice ought to look like.”


Undergirding all of his wisdom and experience in restorative justice is a commitment to the Christ who calls us to compassion—for both those who have been harmed and those who harm.  Changing Lenses has a robust theological and biblical rationale for restorative justice. And although he may be the grandfather of the movement, Zehr is hardly sitting in his rocking chair watching the world go by. As co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice and a distinguished professor at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, Zehr remains active in speaking, teaching, writing, and consulting. He continues to be sought out by journalists and scholar for his expertise—for example being quoted extensively in this recent article about to the Charleston church shooting.

Zehr is one of many Herald Press authors with whom I’m privileged to work. Like Robert Weisburg and sujatha baliga, I wouldn’t mind being Howard Zehr when I grow up. After reading Changing Lenses, maybe you’ll think that too. As far as role models go, you could do a lot worse.

Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times is available for purchase here.

headshotValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

Listen to My Dad: Read a Bible Commentary

On Monday afternoon I took a break from work to call my parents to find out how my mom was doing after a recent dental procedure. My dad picked up the phone too, and I asked him what he was doing. Working on a short meditation for the weekly devotional time at their retirement community, he said. This week’s Scripture texts were Revelation 21:1–8 and Isaiah 65:17–25.

Anyone who knows my dad knows that he loves nothing more than to study and meditate on the Bible, dive into the work of erudite theologians and biblical scholars, and then figure out a way to bring it all together to communicate the richness and depth of Scripture to others.

As a study resource, he had open on his desk John R. Yeatts’ commentary on Revelation, one of the volumes in the Believers Church Bible Commentary (BCBC) series. Herald Press publishes this series on behalf of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA, the Brethren in Christ Church, Brethren Church, Church of the Brethren, and Mennonite Brethren Church. It is the only commentary from an Anabaptist perspective available to readers.

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The BCBC commentary on Revelation by John R. Yeatts.

My dad went on for some minutes about how helpful the Revelation commentary has been in preparing this devotional; how excellent Yeatts’ analysis is, especially with regard to the nonviolent Lamb that stands against empire; and how good it is to have informed biblical exegesis from a perspective other than the dispensationalist view with which he grew up.

He had also pulled the Isaiah commentary off his shelf, and he was just getting into author Ivan D. Friesen’s work when I called. “I am amazed at the quality of the people who write these commentaries. These authors are real scholars!” my dad said. “I mean, I just don’t think the church is making enough of these commentaries.”

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The BCBC commentary on Isaiah by Ivan D. Friesen.

Honest: I did not put my dad up to this so I’d have something to write about for this blog post. I did, however, grab a piece of paper as he was talking to take notes. Frankly, I think he would have gushed about the BCBC series no matter who had called him at that moment.

Like my father, countless pastors and Sunday school teachers and professors have reached for BCBC commentaries since 1986, when the commentary series launched with Jeremiah, to help them prepare sermons and lessons and classes. Lay readers and scholars alike praise its unique features, including two sections entitled “The Text in Biblical Context” and “The Text in the Life of the Church,” which are especially helpful in connecting believers church perspectives to the biblical text.

Part of what sets this series apart is the fact that it is aimed not just at scholars and pastors but at anyone interested in serious Bible study. Even those of us who aren’t biblical scholars—and I can assure you that I am not one—can pick up a commentary in this series and not be intimidated by an author who assumes we know more than we do.

“I have noticed how other publishers are looking to build on the BCBC format,” one man in the United Kingdom wrote to Herald Press recently. “The fact that your vision is thirty years ahead is indicative of how I see the breaking down of walls between high-end academic work and the work of the church. These books have been very well thought out to help the believer/minister get to the meat of the text. It is high-end scholarship brought to a level that can provide depth to the ordinary believer.” (Case in point: the Joshua commentary by Gordon H. Matties starts with a quotation by Leonard Cohen. Now there is a Bible commentary that is breaking down walls!)


The BCBC commentary on Joshua by Gordon H. Matties.

Another distinctive feature of this series is its commitment to community interpretation of the Word. Next week I travel to San Diego for the annual BCBC editorial council meetings, in which representatives of the cooperating denominations meet to consider manuscripts for future commentaries. These scholars and teachers sit together for two days to consider writing samples, discuss new manuscripts, and craft responses to writers to help them revise their work. While each of the commentaries is written by an individual writer, in many ways they are the product of a community of believers interpreting the Scriptures together.

We’re excited to announce that the twenty-seventh volume in the series, Lamentations, Song of Songs by Wilma Ann Bailey and Christina Bucher, will be published in February 2015. Galatians by George R. Brunk III will appear in March. This week our marketing and sales director presented these books to a team of sales representatives, who are selling them to stores even before they are published. Both volumes are already receiving high praise.

“Wilma Ann Bailey and Christina Bucher have written clear, lyrical, and academically solid studies on Lamentations and the Song of Songs,” writes Kathleen M. O’Connor, professor emerita of the Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary. “I recommend this work for believers, for those seeking for God, and for those who love biblical literature.”

And of the Galatians commentary, Eastern Mennonite Seminary Professor Emeritus Paul Zehr writes, “Brunk’s theological commentary on Galatians offers new insights that challenge the common understanding of this early Christian letter. Utilizing insights from many years of teaching, this commentary challenges traditional Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone with a more holistic understanding of Christ-centered faith and life in the Holy Spirit.”

So if you’re leading Sunday school or preparing to preach or just doing some personal Bible study, you can remedy my dad’s sense that the church is not doing enough with this distinguished and distinctive Bible commentary series. You keep your eyes open for Lamentations, Song of Songs and Galatians in the spring, and I’ll let you know what Herald Press books my dad happens to be reading when I call him next.

In addition to our Bible commentary series, check out other Herald Press books. In gratitude for our customers, we’re running a Thanksgiving sale on several titles.

headshotValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

Get Ready to Chase the Amish Dream

In case you hadn’t noticed, a long line of people stands ready to tell you Amish stories. They include:

  • Producers of Amish-themed reality TV shows.
Scene from current season of Breaking Amish on TLC.

Scene from current season of Breaking Amish on TLC.

  • Tourist-venue operators.
Signs to Amish tourist sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Signs to Amish tourist sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

  • Writers of Amish fiction.
Beverly Lewis, one of the top-selling authors of Amish fiction.

Beverly Lewis, one of the top-selling authors of Amish fiction.

  • Writers of Amish nonfiction.
Mindy Starns Clark is author of A Pocket Guide to Amish Life.

Mindy Starns Clark, author of A Pocket Guide to Amish Life.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with non-Amish people telling Amish stories. In fact, I’ve done it myself, in a book that I wrote about Amish-themed fiction (Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels). And we at Herald Press tell Amish stories as well, through series like Ellie’s People: An Amish Family Saga by Mary Christner Borntrager, a series of young-adult Amish novels that we are re-releasing, and Return to Northkill, a series of historical Amish novels by Ervin R. Stutzman.

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Those of us who have told Amish stories have a variety of motives. Herald Press produces Amish-related books because we see it as part of our mission as a Mennonite publisher. We believe that we have a responsibility to produce books that correct misconceptions and offer authentic portrayals of the Amish, a community that is close to us historically and theologically (and sometimes genealogically!). But even those of us who are motivated by goodwill and careful about our representational work can’t escape the reality that we’re telling someone else’s story and that we’re telling it from our own angle.

Isn’t it time that Amish writers have a chance to tell their own stories?

A new series from Herald Press gives Amish and other plain Anabaptist writers the chance to do just that. Plainspoken: Real-Life Stories of Amish and Mennonites, which features books on daily life and faith written by Amish and other plain Anabaptist writers, launches this coming Tuesday with Old Order Amish writer Loren Beachy’s Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor.

I am thrilled that this series is kicking off with the work of such a talented and hilarious writer. People might pick up Loren’s book because it’s written by an Amish writer, but they’ll keep reading because it is some of the best humor writing around. Loren, a beloved columnist for the Goshen News, is a schoolteacher and an auctioneer, and his chapters teem with the pranks and foibles and routines of the folks in his Old Order Amish community in northern Indiana. When I was editing Loren’s writing, I’d often read parts to my sons and husband because, well, I couldn’t not read them out loud. And if the cover makes you at all curious—why is that man chasing that buggy?—let me just say that there are actually two accounts of two different buggy chases in the book. You won’t want to miss either one.


New York Times–bestselling author Cindy Woodsmall says readers won’t want to miss any of these firsthand accounts of Amish life. “Anyone with an interest in the Amish or in humor will love this unusual rendering by a young and very spirited Amish man,” Woodsmall says. And Philip Gulley, author of the Harmony and Hope series, says this about the book: “For years I have harbored a secret desire to join the Amish. Now I can chase my Amish dream through this wonderful book by Loren Beachy. This treasure of a book has taken me into their homes, and them into my heart.” And here’s one more endorsement, this one from Lorilee Craker, bestselling author of Money Secrets of the Amish: “Loren Beachy is such a charmer! Reading through these delightful stories of life as an Amish bachelor, I felt like I was with Loren at an old-fashioned box social, a farm auction, and all the places and spaces he occupies in his plain community. Jump in the buggy with Loren Beachy and you’ll take to this book like a rabbit to a carrot patch.”

I told Lorilee this, and I can tell you: Loren is as charming in person as he is in writing. He stopped by my house in central Pennsylvania a few months ago, on the way to an auction, to hand off the final manuscript. My sons loved meeting him in person, and he did some of his “auction calling” for them. He almost had us bidding on a pair of sneakers sitting in the middle of the living room.

The Amish have been writing about their lives for a long time. In periodicals like Die Botschaft and The Budget, Amish writers across Canada and the United States connect with each other, and Amish printing presses and publishing houses bring books by Amish authors to Amish readers. But such magazines and books are read mostly by other Amish and Mennonites and rarely by the larger reading public. What is new about the Plainspoken series is that it makes Amish first-person writing accessible to readers outside Anabaptist circles.

We all know that interest in all things Amish is rampant right now, and Loren knows it too. I think he’s a little ambivalent. Given his faith’s emphasis on humility, he’s not comfortable being in the limelight, and we at Herald Press are respecting his wishes in a variety of ways: no author photo, of course, and marketing plans tailored to the parameters of what he can offer as an Amish author. But Loren still has hopes for his first book and its potential to reach readers. He tells me that his three wishes for readers of this book are: “that they will be inspired by how joyful the Christian life can be; that they will realize how absurdly normal the Amish are; and that they will relate to how much we can enjoy a good joke.”

Chasing the Amish Dream launches on Tuesday. Keep your eyes open for the next two books in the Plainspoken series. In Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to Old Order, which will release in February 2015, Old Order Amish writer Marlene C. Miller tells her rare story of growing up non-Amish and joining the Amish as an adult. Then in May 2015, Hutterite writer Linda Maendel will invite readers into her experiences as a lifelong Hutterite living in a colony on the plains of Manitoba in Hutterite Diaries: Life in My Prairie Community.

So you can tune in to the latest season of Breaking Amish, if you’d like, or visit the Amish-themed tourist attraction nearest you. Then again, you could pick up a copy of Loren’s book and listen to an Amish writer tell his own story for a change.

You can order Chasing the Amish Dream for $9.75 U.S. until the end of the day on Monday, October 20. 

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.