new Mennonite Life logo    December 2000     vol. 55 no. 4     Back to Table of Contents

Book Reviews

Mark Yantzi, Sexual Offending and Restoration. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1998. Pp. 254. ($13.99 -- paperback) ISBN 0-8361-9081-5

Royden Loewen, From the Inside Out: The Rural Worlds of Mennonite Diarists, 1863 to 1929. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, Manitoba Record Society, 1999. Pp. 350. ISBN 0-88755-664-7

Jean Janzen, Tasting the Dust. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2000. Pp. 69. ($9.95--paperback) ISBN 1-56148-301-X

Mark Yantzi, Sexual Offending and Restoration. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1998. Pp. 254. ($13.99 -- paperback) ISBN 0-8361-9081-5

Mark Yantzi and Herald Press have served us well with this book on sexual offending, a topic that the church has ignored for too long. Yantzi, not content to simply discuss the problem, applies principles of restorative justice and seeks to provide workable means to restore the sex offender to wholeness. Here the author challenges those who would seek to simply punish and isolate the offender as severely and for as long as possible. Yantzi challenges us to recognize that eventually most offenders, including most sex offenders, will be back on the street and living in our neighborhoods. Without some measure of restoration, the offender is more likely to re-offend. Restoration is not only the mission of the church, it is in the best interest of society.

Yantzi knows whereof he speaks. He has experience as a parole officer with the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services and is currently a coordinator with the Sexual Abuse Treatment Program of Community Justice Initiatives in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Involved in the initiation of the first Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) in North America, Yantzi helped to develop the concept of restorative justice and has been an active practitioner of its principles. He is involved with a house church in Kitchener that is affiliated with the Mennonite Church.

Another significant feature of this book that adds to its depth and authenticity is the "book reference group" that included four men and four women, each of whom had some direct personal experience or involvement in sexual abuse issues. The group involved "persons who have sexually offended" (Yantzi's preferred term) and "victim-survivors." The personal experience and reflections of these persons, which are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, personalize the issues and make this book much more than an abstract, academic treatment of the subject.

The book covers a wide range of topics in less than 250 pages. From page one, Yantzi is determined to expose and confront the pervasive reality of sexual abuse. He is convinced that we must openly talk about it if we are going to find healing and restoration. He helps us understand why sexual abuse takes place, he outlines the principles of restorative justice and how they might apply to the church community and to persons who have sexually offended. He deals with child sexual abuse, with the abuse of adults as well as sexual abuse by church leaders. He helps us understand the deep hurt and wounds inflicted by sexual abuse. He considers the complexity of forgiveness, healing, and restoration for offenders and survivors.

In one of the more provocative and engaging chapters, Yantzi describes how he was able help a neighborhood deal with fear and anxiety provoked by a convicted offender moving into their neighborhood after he was released from prison. Applying restorative justice principles, a potentially explosive situation was defused when neighbors were helped to honestly face their fears and the one who was evoking their fears.

The one area in which this reviewer would have wanted to hear more from the author was in the area of prevention. What can we do, especially we in the church, to prevent sexual offending from happening in the first place? The author describes an "ounce of prevention workshop" which is designed to empower victim-survivors to tell their painful stories. While this no doubt serves a useful purpose, the personal and societal issues that create the conditions out of which people abuse others are not addressed as systemically as one might have hoped. The church, especially, needs to understand and address much more forthrightly the ways in which it may be failing to provide the kind of teaching, nurture, and relational network that could consciously work against sexual abuse. Even more urgently, the church needs to identify ways in which it may unwittingly contribute to sexual abuse.

Sexual Offending and Restoration forces us to face the ugly truth about sexual abuse and sexual offending. It also creates new possibilities of healing and hope with its message of restoration. May its message help its readers to tell and face the truth and may it lead to new ministries of restoration.

Keith Harder
Newton, Kansas

Royden Loewen, From the Inside Out: The Rural Worlds of Mennonite Diarists, 1863 to 1929. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, Manitoba Record Society, 1999. Pp. 350. ISBN 0-88755-664-7

Royden Loewen is to be greatly commended for overcoming his confessed doubt about the worthiness of diaries written by "ordinary men and women engaged in everyday farm life." In this volume, he has brought together excerpts written by 21 rural Mennonite diarists, aged 15 to 71, writing from 1863 to 1929, who either lived in or visited Canada during this time. Loewen was able to see the significance of these diaries as personal narratives that highlight the lives of ordinary people, even though such diaries are often ignored.

Loewen states that the "daily diary written by the ordinary person about everyday life turns the often hidden contours of household and community 'inside out.'" In other words, as 21st century outsiders looking in on the world of 19th and early 20th century people, we are able to catch glimpses of their personalities, routines, concerns, religious experience, and social networks. We can see how their status as insiders ­ members of a close-knit, minority group ­ affected their viewpoints. There is much to savor here: social patterns within seemingly homogenous communities; women's perspectives from "inside the house"; the safety of a common belief versus the yearning for a deeper spirituality; the literacy inherent in the Mennonite culture so that the Anabaptist martyr story is referred to; the intrusion of "worldliness" into the rural patterns handed down from previous generations and/or from the old country; the variables of ethnicity, gender, class, age and religion.

Missing from what could have been discussed were the collective memories of the diarists with common backgrounds; the lens we use today to study historical writings; and the silences or gaps about subjects that Loewen expected to find when he started this project. However, his preoccupation with certain variables (such as the differences between the Swiss-American Mennonites in Waterloo County, Ontario, and the Dutch-Russian Mennonites in Manitoba) shows his areas of passionate interest, which will bring much-needed illumination to many. As a non-Canadian and a Mennonite of non-Russian background, I am certain that many details of significance to Loewen would have gone unnoticed or unappreciated without his careful notations.

Loewen utilizes much of his introduction to discuss his theories about the types of diaries on the continuum of "literary self-consciousness," and how he rates the diaries he excerpts from. The travelogue required a broader world view than those that were confined to a certain place. The pietists may have recorded the minutiae of their daily lives, but were also concerned with their state as spiritual beings, and so needed words of emotion that carried them beyond the routine. The private, personal diaries are records of people who saw themselves as individuals and not just part of a group psyche. Finally, the daily household journal ­ the most common form of rural Mennonite diary ­ is simply a record of information about the weather, work, family and their community.

Loewen has arranged the diaries in this book into eight sections called: 1 - Migrating Men; 2 - Immigrant Women; 3 - Old Men and Young Boys; 4 - Merchant Fathers; 5 - Married Men and Their Work; 6 - Bishops and Evangelists; 7 - Farm Women; 8 - Diverging Paths. Unfortunately, his discussion of these sections in his introduction jumps around (1, 2, 6, 4, 3, 7, 8) so that it is difficult to get a sense of continuity or to know if the selections are interrelated or build on each other thematically. The section titles are rather inconclusive too, and anyone uninterested in reading the introduction may well find them confusing. For instance, ten of the diarists emigrated from Russia but only three were included in Section 1 or 2. Granted, Cornelius Loewen included a short travelogue of his immigrant journey, but neither of the women in Section 2 did. In Section 4, Elias Eby was not a merchant anymore when he wrote his diary, so it is hard to make comparisons re: wealth and status with the other diarist in this category. In Section 3, I was expecting the youngest diarist to actually be a young boy, not a 15 year old youth. And the list could go on.

The book would have been improved by not categorizing the diaries into sections, but instead arranging them chronologically. The introduction could have categorized all the diaries, first according to how they fit into the Ontario versus Manitoba Mennonite groups in order to examine the role of ethnicity etc. in understanding the diarists. Then, all the diaries could have been categorized according to their type to help us understand why different kinds of diaries were kept and what this reflects about the diarists. As stated above, some of this was done by Loewen, but not in as nearly an orderly a fashion as it could and should have been done. I had to put together a chart to get some kind of intellectual framework figured out in these matters, and I can't imagine that most people are going to bother.

Thankfully, there are the diaries themselves to enjoy, with or without an intellectual framework. There is much here to relish, to be moved or amused by, to be wondered at, and anyone with an interest in how rural Mennonites spent their time will want to read this book. The maps, photographs and biographical notes provided are very helpful and interesting. Loewen is somewhat inconsistent in how he lists what diaries are available by each diarist: sometimes he tells what the complete span dates are of any diaries written, but other times he leaves out this vital information. Hopefully, other scholars will be inspired to search out these and other diaries anyway to include in their research.

It is unfortunate that only a third of the diarists in this book are women. In the preface, Loewen lists six women diarists whose writings he could have included, but didn't. This makes for an imbalance of viewpoint, and it is too bad that Loewen has helped to silence the voices of women in this way. However, that caveat aside, Loewen, in publishing this set of diaries for the first time, has made a tremendous contribution to making visible the lives of ordinary people and filling in gaps in the historical record about rural Canadian Mennonites.

Anne Yoder
Archivist, Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Jean Janzen, Tasting the Dust. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2000. Pp. 69. ($9.95--paperback) ISBN 1-56148-301-X

As readers of Jean Janzen's poetry have come to expect, the poems in her newest volume, Tasting the Dust, are provocative and approachable both for readers trained in the study of literature and for those new to poetry. Many of the themes in Tasting the Dust carry on emphases from her earlier volume, Snake in the Parsonage, as Janzen examines her history, family, and place. And even a heightened focus in her new volume on poems inspired by paintings is not entirely unanticipated, since she includes a few of these art poems in Snake in the Parsonage.

This collection is aptly named Tasting the Dust, for Janzen guides us deeply into the places of her life, a space filled with a growing-up family, an aging mother, a profound sense of the past, a larger world of visual artists, and, of course, a keen engagement with the land around her adopted home of Fresno, California. As suggested by this glimpse of her themes, Janzen's poems are firmly grounded in the everyday images--a boy kindling a fire, a stash of children's school papers--yet often also transcend this physicality to give a glimpse of eternity. But these suggestions of the eternal are no glib attachment to Janzen's poems, for they grow out of an engagement with real pain, from the martyrdom of the Anabaptist past to the grief of seeing a mother pass from this life.

The centrality of the geographical place, evident in many poems, can well be seen in the final, title poem, "Tasting the Dust" as well as its companion near the beginning of the volume, "Claiming the Dust." In "Tasting the Dust" Janzen describes her husband's love of gardening, this "physician / curing himself with soil"--a soil that, with its origins in the lava rising from deep in the earth, offers a taste of the depths through the fruits of the garden (66). The ground in "Claiming the Dust" appears less fertile, with Janzen describing the dry California "ancient lakebed" and quoting a neighbor who sighs that "It takes dynamite to plant / an orange tree" (4). Janzen moves, though, from her description of the land to suggest something of the life beyond:

This hard earth not our final holding
place after all, but the air
into which we sail,
breath by dusty breath,
toward a distant shore. (5)

This easy moving from the temporal to the transcendent is among the greatest strengths of Janzen's poems.

The changing spaces occupied by family are an important theme in this collection. Striking for any parent who has admired the school papers of their children, but also despaired of knowing how many of these treasures to save, is Janzen's poem "Markings." Remembering the reams of papers tucked away, Janzen writes, "Oh, I know it will all be buried, / pressed into rock at last. And yet, / somehow those markings loosen out of time." What the children have written becomes forever saved and for Janzen is connected with "the place we enter after death. / That book of leaves. / And on the front, our names" (25). This linkage between family and eternity is at times one fraught with pain, as Janzen reveals in a series of three poems near the end of the volume. The struggle of seeing her mother die is evident in these poems, with Janzen lamenting, "I want her hot again" (64). Yet she affirms at the end of her "Elegy in the Shenandoah Valley" that she has found

. . . what lay hidden and waiting
in you. All those years a gathering
of streams for such a place

as this, where you hold me
and let me go.
Where I will find you again. (65)

The third of the four sections of Tasting the Dust most explicitly engages the lives of Christ and his followers. In a series of five poems, titled "The Frescoes, Fra Angelico," Janzen examines scenes from the life of Jesus through her close examination of these frescoes. These poems invite the reader to re-experience these familiar stories as Janzen describes the "golden needles" on which the baby is laid in the manger (49) or the manner in which the Sermon on the Mount has continued its process of "sinking in" all these many years (51). Janzen further explores the implications of following Christ as she presents the lives of saints and martyrs, often through her encounter with visual art. Anyone who has faced the images from the Mirror of the Martyrs exhibit will resonate with Janzen's struggle to reconcile the ordinariness of sharing a familial meal with the images of torture she has seen. Wrestling with how she might have responded, she concludes her poem "After the Martyrs Exhibit" with the line, "I never said I could do it" (41).

Although this section contains the heaviest concentration of poems inspired by visual art, that linkage of art forms is evident throughout the volume. In fact, Janzen begins each section, each of her "windows," with a poem based on a Vermeer painting. These poems exhibit Janzen's admirable eye for detail and her ability to make an image live. Yet in my view, Janzen's most compelling texts remain her poems that more explicitly investigate her relationship to the places in her life.

In several poems, Janzen acknowledges that she cannot fully control the medium of her communication, the words of her poems. "Our stories are too big / for our bodies," she writes (18). "These vowels I fasten down / want to fly, . . . and you and I can only gaze / at what flashes by" (22). Yet in the midst of this humility, understanding that we can never fully grasp language, that words can never fully communicate what we want to say, Janzen nevertheless shows herself wonderfully capable of capturing a moment for us and holding it up for our contemplation. Reading her poems is a delight because she so ably helps us see what is around us through the lens of what is ultimately important, to look closely at the valley and the mountain--but also to wrestle with "Grace and necessity, the endless paradox" (14).

L. Lamar Nisly
Bluffton College