new Mennonite Life logo    Spring 2007     vol. 62 no. 1     Back to Table of Contents

Commentary on Select Sayings of Abraham Nofziger by a Good-Sized Toad Discovered near the Adams Bridge over the Nearly Dry Little Riley Creek, Bluffton, Ohio, August 2006

edited by Jeff Gundy

Jeff Gundy has been publishing in Mennonite Life since he taught at Hesston College many years ago. Since 1984 he has been teaching English at Bluffton College. Publications include four books of poetry: Deerflies, Rhapsody with Dark Matter: Poems; Flatlands; and Inquiries: Poems. A fifth book of poems, Spoken Among the Trees, is forthcoming from University of Akron Press. Books of essays include Walker in the Fog: on Mennonite Writing, A Community of Memory: My Days with George and Clara, a genealogical narrative in voices, and Scattering Point: The World in a Mennonite Eye, a creative nonfiction described as "part memoir, part family history, part meditation on history and the present." In spring of 2008, he will be a Fulbright lecturer ar at the University of Salzburg in Austria.

Introductory Note: Having read with great interest an invitation of April 6, 2006, from Dallas Wiebe to "get into the act of the Nofziger saga," then forgotten about the whole deal for months, the editor of these sayings rediscovered the Wiebe letter in mid-August, nearly at the bottom of the large pile on the right side of his desk. In guilty desperation, and sure he had already fallen short of the glory of A. Nofziger, he carried his copy of The Sayings of Abraham Nofziger: A Guide for the Perplexed home with him for lunch, but apparently lost the slender chapbook as he crossed over the Adams Bridge on the Bluffton University campus. On his return—somewhat belated because of a midday nap—he encountered the above-mentioned toad hopping wildly about in mid-bridge. Through a series of peculiarly humanoid signs and gestures, the toad managed to communicate his delight at having the text fall upon him, and indicate that while he was thoroughly enamored of its author he believed a few comments and corrections from one in more intimate communion with the material world were appropriate. Leaving behind the sayings below, inscribed on a number of creek rocks in a fashion which (in respect of the squeamish) will not be described in detail here, the toad promptly lost himself in the underbrush.
      -Jeff Gundy, Editor

I, 3: You can't see grace.

Ah, but when the small rain falls through the small trees after three weeks of drought it might just as well be grace.

I, 69: The moral structure of your life should be revealed first by abstinence.

Abstinence is for the lazy, the frightened, and those bent on extinction. The moral structure of your life is revealed by how much love you make. This is not the same as how much sex you have. Still, priestly toads are not well respected in the community.

I, 168: Salvation begins in denial.

Salvation begins in love and in doing no harm, neither of which have much to do with denial. Everything worthwhile begins in love. Salvation begins and ends everywhere.

II, 41: If it weren't for words we'd have nothing to say.

Tell that to my friends the trees and my beloved dinners the mosquitoes.

II, 70: If you kiss a theologian he will turn into a frog; if you kiss a frog he will turn into a theologian.

I suspect that A. Nofziger needs to spend more time in the woods. With only a little difficulty, I convinced my friend the princess to kiss every frog for a mile up and down the creek. Not one turned into a theologian, though one turned into a prince, one vanished in a puff of smoke, and one is still spinning on one toe like a gyroscope. I then asked her to kiss the local theologians, but she stated that she did not trust herself with the younger one, who wears a pony tail and gets around town on a skateboard.

III, 17: Humor is human; holiness is divine.

Humor is divine. Holiness was invented by people with no sense of humor to justify their general dullness and inability to immerse themselves in the divine radiance. Ask any toad.

III, 113: The most important spiritual crisis of our time is our loss of piety.

Like holiness and abstinence, piety as a category is in large part a refuge for the dull, the timid, and the smug. Those who actually possess it are very rarely interested in talking about it. And if it doesn't rain soon it won't matter to us toads anyway.

III, 118: Irony is useless against gravity.

True, but so are wisdom, holiness, salvation, ethics, morality, and Anabaptism. On the other foot, powerful hind legs and pools of water deep enough to float a toad are of considerable utility in this and many other matters.

III, 120: Irony is useless.

Possibly. But many apparently useless things are worth keeping around, just in case. One of our mathematicians is attempting to prove the hypothesis that without irony the universe would lose a crucial dimension (mainly imperceptible to Earth animals) and collapse entirely, although the wider community is skeptical.

III, 121: If it weren't for irony, we'd all be poets.

We are all poets. It's just that most of us are very bad poets. In the toad community this is considered irrefutable evidence of a) our need for grace and b) the existence of God, since it seems unparsimonious to imagine a universe filled with poets, even bad poets, coming about by chance.