Sunday, January 27, 2019

For Soon-to-be Former Geez Magazine Editor, Future of the Magazine is in Good Hands

Geez! Is the cheeky alternative Christian magazine of the same name really leaving Winnipeg?

The answer is yes. Geez magazine is moving to Detroit this year, where it will be led by a new team of socially progressive Christians.

Founded in 2005 by Winnipegger Aiden Enns, Geez set out to protest the “unholy alliance between church, state, market and military” while celebrating the “spiritual dimensions of biking, energy efficiency and canning pickles.”

Its audience was the “over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable.”

For Enns, 57, reasons for the change include wanting to make space for younger leaders with new ideas and visions, and also because he’s tired—it’s not easy publishing a magazine these days.

Since Geez sells no advertising, circulation is the main source of revenue. With only about 900 subscribers, it wasn’t sustainable without fundraising.

Keeping salaries low helped too, but it took a toll through staff turnover as people left for better-paying jobs. It was also tough on Enns himself.

As he looks ahead, Enns doesn’t want to dwell on the challenges—he wants to remember the successes.

“We published some amazing writers,” he says of the people who wrote for Geez.

And the magazine tackled many pressing issues such as gender, decolonization, disability and ableism, privilege, the future of food and simplicity, he says.

One issue on living life offline—Geez  has always resisted going digital—earned Enns an invitation to speak at a conference in New York where he shared the podium with Ralph Nader and well-known environmentalist Bill McKibben.

Another issue that received a lot of attention was titled “30 Sermons You’d Never Hear in Church.” That prompted Geez to create the “Auto-Sermon-Engagerizer-O-Matic,” a fill-in-the-blanks card where churchgoers could rate sermons.

But his main satisfaction comes from letters and e-mails received from many people who were touched by Geez. The most common sentiment was “’I’m so glad I found you, I feel so alone in my faith,’” he says.

“So many people are struggling to find hope,” he says. Geez gave them the courage and inspiration they needed to “take a step in the direction  . . . it gave them hope.”

As for regrets, he’s sorry the magazine never reached its circulation goal; with more money, it could have hired more staff and paid them better. And he wishes Geez had prompted more controversy; its goal was “holy mischief,” after all.

The new publishing team will be led by Detroiter Lydia Wylie-Kellerman, a long-time Geez contributor and co-editor of, a daily online journal of radical Christian faith and social justice activism.

Why does she want to take it on?

“I love Geez,” she says. “It has been a home for me. I never would have imagined in a million years that I would one day be stepping into this position.”

As editor and publisher, she wants to “keep summoning stories” and help people “feel hope in these truly scary times.”

She intends to keep Geez’s commitment to print.

“I want to help create something that can be read around the kitchen table, that can be read as you lean against a tree, something that can be held in your hands, and treasured over time,” she says.

At the same time, she’s open to doing more online. “I want to leave a small amount of wiggle room for the spirit to take us a different way.”

As for the move to the U.S., Wylie-Kellerman is aware it might prompt some Canadians to worry the magazine will be dominated by American issues.

“I believe that Geez’s roots in Canada is a tremendous gift to the work and identity of the magazine,” she says, adding she promises to be “mindful and paying attention to this concern” while making sure Canadians continue to have opportunities to write.

For Enns, the transition produces mixed feelings. He’s glad the magazine has found a new home, but he’s also sorry not to be as involved in the future.

Of his passion for Geez, Enns says “Jesus saw things people didn’t see. I wanted to see the world with those same eyes.

“For me, Geez was a way of looking at situations with an eye to resisting oppression, to seeing things in new ways.”

He expects that vision to continue, only now from south of the border.

Click here to read a Q & A with Lydia Wylie-Kellerman, new editor of Geez.

From the January 26 Winnipeg Free Press. Photo above from the Winnipeg Free Press.

The Transformative Power of Stories: New Editor of Geez Speaks about her Vision for the Magazine

Lucia Wylie-Eggert, Lydia Wylie-Kellerman and
Kateri Boucher of Geez.

In another post, I write about Geez magazine leaving Winnipeg for Detroit, where it will find a home with a new team led by Lydia Wylie-Kellerman. Below find a Q & A with Lydia, including her vision for the new magazine. 

Why do you and your friends want to take over Geez?

Lydia: I love Geez. I’ve been writing regularly for Geez since I first began to feel my own desire to be a writer. It has been a home for me. I never would have imagined in a million years that I would one day be stepping into this position.

For the last five years, I’ve been the co-curator of which posts daily reflections from people around North America who are taking risks for justice, experimenting with creative acts of community and nonviolence, who are breaking open biblical study for liberation, who are planting gardens and raising kids.

It has been a delight. I have come to realize how much I believe in the power of stories and their intergenerational, transformative power. 

I find myself so grateful for the work that is happening all over the world and it is a gift to summon the stories as a way of honoring the work and inspiring the rest of us.

I want to keep summoning stories. I want to create beauty. I want folks to feel hope in these truly scary times. 

I want to gift the world with words powerful enough for us to dismantle “this filthy rotten system,” as Dorothy Day stated, and arise to build something new and wonderful.

What are some new things you want to try?

Lydia: My hope in these days is to maintain the current quality of Geez. I want readers to find the magazine in their mailbox and see that it is the same magazine just with some different folks behind the scenes.

That being said, I won’t deny I lie awake at night filled with ideas and dreams for themes or stories or new columns.

I would love to start a regular column that is called something like “The Elders Front Porch” where movement elders write pieces on how they see the world in these days and offer the nourishment and challenge we all need to move forward. These would be small and subtle changes.

You indicate a commitment to print, but also say you understand "in this generation we cannot hope to save print magazines." Are you open to going digital? Or would you let it close if it proves unsustainable in that format?

Lydia: It is hard to answer that question with any certainty. I have heard Aiden talk about Geez as an offline oasis. Through my work with, I have spent a lot of time cultivating stories in an online format. 

It has its value. But I am not sure I want to give my life helping people be more addicted to screens.

I want to help create something that can be read around the kitchen table, that can be read as you lean against a tree, something that can be held in your hands, and treasured over time. 

So my instinct is to say that we are committed to print and will go down fighting for it, but I leave a small amount of wiggle room for the spirit to take us a different way.

In Canada, we have a general fear of being overwhelmed by the U.S. What can you say to Canadians to assuage their fears that this won't turn into another America-first magazine?

Lydia: I hear this fear in readers these days and in all honesty, I carry that fear with every step of this transition. 

The U.S. empire is a powerful and ugly thing. I’ve spent my life discerning in community how to live so that my body and spirit aren’t swallowed whole by the empire.

I believe that Geez’s roots in Canada is a tremendous gift to the work and identity of the magazine. I cannot pretend that things won’t change. The context from where the magazine goes out matters.

What I can promise is that I am mindful and paying attention to this concern. I will also make sure that the context from which we do the work will be amidst people who are resisting the U.S. empire with their lives.

And in the concrete, we commit to having Canadians on the board, keeping Aiden in the editorial circle, and making sure that a certain percentage of the contributions come from Canadian authors and artists.

Finally, say a bit about who you are and the group behind this new ownership.

Lydia: I am a writer, editor, organizer, and mother. My partner Erinn, and I are raising two boys (5 and 3) on the street where I grew up. My dad lives five houses away, my sister across the street, and a neighborhood filled beloveds.

We spend time planting urban gardens, tending chickens and bees, and throwing block parties. In our neighborhood in southwest Detroit, loving our neighbors also means organizing resistance to the water shut offs that are happening on a massive scale in Detroit, as well as resisting the immigration system that regularly tears families apart on our block.

I am the co-editor of I am also currently working with the Louisville Institute to put together an anthology on parenting with commitments to peace and justice.

My team is pretty amazing. These are three women who I have spent endless hours with gardening, canning, praying, and protesting. I’ve been at the birth of their children and walked with them through hard moments of transition. They are three women who I trust their analysis and hopes for the world.

On top of all of that, Em Jacoby understands a budget better than anyone I know. Lucia Wylie-Eggert create beauty through design. Kateri Boucher loves to talk with people and can effortlessly turn you into a subscriber.

I couldn’t do this without them. I am so grateful.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Margaret Atwood: "I'm Not Anti-Religious"

Atwood speaking at the Parliament of World Religions

I learned three surprising things about Canadian author Margaret Atwood recently.

First, she isn’t anti-religious—despite what some might think because of her book, and popular TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale.

When you consider that Gilead, the fictional republic in The Handmaid’s Tale, is a fundamentalist theocracy where the Bible is used to justify and guide the totalitarian regime’s oppressive policies—especially towards women—it’s easy to conclude Atwood is against religion.

But she says that’s not the case.  

I heard her speak about climate change and the role of women at the November 1-7 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto. 

During a Q & A, one of the first questions she was asked was about her stance on religion.

“I’m not anti-religious,” replied Atwood, who calls herself an agnostic. “I just think religion has often been misused in the service of totalitarianism.”

That doesn’t mean that “religion leads to totalitarianism,” she added. “We’ve had some atheistic totalitarianism.”

“People have sometimes said to me, ‘Oh, this book [The Handmaid’s Tale] is really anti-religion,’” she said.

“And I’ve said, ‘No, that’s not the point.’”

Religion, she said, has been “used as a hammer to whack people on the heads with. But it also has been—and is today—a sustaining set of beliefs and community that get people through those things.”

The second surprising thing I learned about Atwood is she believes religion has a role to play to “get people through” climate change.

During her presentation at the World Parliament of Religions, she said most faith traditions promote the idea of caring for creation.

“Unless people of faith get behind fixing the planet, it’s not going to happen,” she stated.

“We need people [of faith] who are vested in the earth,” she added.

And the third surprising thing I learned is that Atwood supports A Rocha, an international Christian environmental organization that promotes a “biblical call to steward creation.”

As it turns out, Atwood is a big supporter of A Rocha’s Canadian branch. She has participated in fundraising events for them in B.C. and Ontario.

She even lent her name for their website, where a blurb from her says: “If all Christians were like those in A Rocha, ours would be a radically different world.”

At one of those events, she said the organization “parallels the efforts of the fictional God’s Gardeners”—a small community of survivors of biological catastrophe in her book The Year of the Flood—by “seeking to cultivate a convergence of ecology, Scripture, and stewardship.”

Curious about how she became involved with the organization, I called Leah Kostamo, co-founder of A Rocha Canada with her husband, Markku.

It goes back to 2014, Kostamo told me, when she and Markku were booked on the same episode with Atwood on the Christian TV talk show Context With Lorna Dueck.

Titled God’s Gardeners, the show was about the need for Christians to care for the planet. Dueck thought it might be interesting for Atwood to actually meet a couple of “God’s gardeners”—the Kostamos.

Something clicked between them during the show, Kostamo said. It sparked a relationship that continues today with the two staying in e-mail contact about the organization.

“It’s humbling to have her recognize our work,” she says, noting that one of A Rocha’s goals is to build bridges between religious and secular environmentalists.

“Having an ally like Margaret shows we are able to build those bridges,” she adds.

A Rocha has had a presence in Manitoba since the early 2000s. It opened an office in Winnipeg a year ago.

According to A Rocha Manitoba director Scott Gerbrandt, its goal is to help people of faith to “take practical action” to address environmental issues, and “cultivate hope” that change is possible.

Based out of Canadian Mennonite University’s Centre for Ecological and Economic Resilience, one its big projects is the Boreal Ecology Centre in East Braintree, where visitors can learn more about the environment and talk about ways communities can be involved in creation care initiatives.

“The story of Christian faith is the story about the restoration of all creation,” he says. “We want to help people connect their faith with practical actions.”

Who knows? Maybe one day Margaret Atwood could even come to Winnipeg to give their efforts a boost.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Remembering Peggy Unruh Regehr, Pioneer for Women's Rights in Mennonite Churches

Before #MeToo and “#ChurchToo—before there even was the Internet—there was Winnipegger Peggy Unruh Regehr.

Unruh Regehr, who died September 27 last year at the age of 89, was a pioneer in championing the cause of women in leadership in Mennonite denominations in Canada.

She became interested in feminism in the late 1960s. By the late 1970s, the mother of three went back to university to study feminist theology.

In 1984 she was hired by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada in to start its new Women’s Concerns program.

Speaking at her funeral, friend Esther Epp-Tiessen remembered Unruh Regehr as “a middle-aged biblical feminist who believed that Jesus wanted women to flourish.”

She grew up, she said, “at a time when women in the church had secondary status, and limited roles. She chafed under it, and it sparked a passion to change things.”

Problem was, the world of the Canadian Mennonite church in the 1980s and 1990s wasn’t very open to those kind of changes. 

Although Unruh Regehr relished the job, she encountered challenges and obstacles right from the start.

As Epp-Tiessen put it: “She knocked on the doors of Mennonite denominational leaders, asking them to open them to women in leadership. They were resistant.”

Reflecting on that experience in the 1990s, Unruh Regehr said: “As I tried to address some of those issues, I found I [was] treading on toes . . . in fact I had some personal attacks and criticisms for what I am doing.”

“She paid a price for her outspokenness,” Epp-Tiessen said.

While her work generated a lot of negative reaction, it was a source of hope and encouragement for many women who wanted equality and full participation in the church.

But while that door to increased involvement in leadership was kept mostly closed, another opened.

During her travels, Unruh Regehr became increasingly aware of the problem of abuse against women and children in Mennonite churches. 

She was often pulled aside by women who told her about the abuse they were suffering in their families—physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

Although the stories weighed her down, she always took time to “tap into the secret traumas experienced by women across the country,” as Epp-Tiessen put it.

“She validated those women by hearing their stories, and bore their pain in her own soul,” she said.

In response, Unruh Regehr was at the forefront of helping Mennonite churches and MCC respond. One way was by creating resources for pastors and churches to both make them aware and help them respond to these tragic situations.

When she met women who were ready to give up on their faith, she encouraged them to keep at it—despite the personal attacks and her own anger at the church. 

She told them to keep at it; if not for themselves, then for the women who would follow.

Her work with MCC came to an unsatisfying conclusion in 1989 when she was let go. 

She believed her dismissed was because of her forceful advocacy on behalf of women in Mennonite denominations, and also for battling for equal pay for women at MCC. It was a bitter pill that gnawed at her for the rest of her life.

Today, things are very different for women in most Mennonite churches. And Unruh Regehr’s advocacy on their behalf, as forceful and strong as it was, would seem tame in these days of #MeToo.

And yet, as Epp-Tiessen put it, the gains women have made would not have been possible without people like her.

“We stand on the shoulders of others who have gone before, people like Peggy,” she stated. 

“She was ahead of her time, committed to justice and equality for women, and we are deeply indebted to the sacrifice she made.”

As for Unruh Regehr herself, in the early 2000s she reflected on her legacy this way:

“It was a work that I cherished regardless of what I experienced. I do not ever regret having been involved with it. Personally, it sums up a great part of any legacy I may have left for the future. It may have been ever so small, but it was important to me.”

And, as it turns out, it was important to many other women as well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Response to Yazidi Refugees, and Other Good News About Faith

Yazidi children in a refugee camp prior to coming to Canada.

The urgent appeal for help came in late August.

It came from Belle Jarniewski on behalf of Operation Ezra, a grassroots group of over 20 Jewish and Christian partners which had sponsored 55 Yazidi refugees to come to Winnipeg in 2017.

In her note, Jarniewski indicated most of the refuges they had sponsored were doing OK’ the children were enrolled in school and the adults were studying English.

In fact, many of the adults were already working.

But the same could not be said for another group of approximately 180 government-sponsored Yazidi refugees who also came to Winnipeg.

“They are struggling to adjust without the kind of supports that private sponsors—often faith groups—supply,” Jarniewski said.

One of the greatest needs was for food.

“The money they receive from the government leaves very little for groceries once rent and other essential expenses have been paid,” she explained.

Although Operation Ezra was not responsible for these refugees, “we feel an obligation to help, as do our Operation Ezra Yazidi families, who want to ‘pay it forward’ by helping families who are not as fortunate.”

Many of the government-sponsored refugee families were single mothers with children, she said, their husbands having been executed by ISIS.

“They are still dealing with the trauma of their experience at the hands of ISIS, where many of the moms were sex slaves for extended periods of time and many of the children were also captives and severely abused,” she shared.

Operation Ezra was helping as it could, providing bi-weekly food assistance. But its resources were stretched.

As the faith page columnist at the Free Press, Jarniewski asked: Could I do something to help?

I said yes—how could I not?

I sent an e-mail to a couple of dozen churches I had developed relationships with as a columnist, inviting them to help.

A few got back to me quickly, saying they’d like to do something but they had refugee families of their own, and were stretched to the limit.

But ten congregations came through. Of the donations, Jarniewski said: “We are so grateful!”

Of course, the help—as important as it was—won’t meet all the needs for the refugees.

They will continue to require various kinds of assistance now and into the future. But the response was still a great illustration of how people of faith rally to help when called upon.

The situation facing the government-sponsored refugees also showed the important role faith groups play in refugee sponsorship.

As a 2016 report by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada demonstrated, refugees sponsored by faith or community groups do better than government-assisted ones, with fewer refugees ending up relying on food banks and social assistance.

The experience is also shows there is a lot of good news about faith today.

So much of the news about religion in 2018 was about scandal and sexual abuse. These are things that need to be reported, as hard as it is to read.

Faced with this constant drip of negative stories, it can be tempting to think nothing good can come out of organized religion.

But as the response to the Yazidi refugees shows, there are also lots of positive stories about the ways local faith groups have made a difference in Winnipeg and beyond—something readers of this faith page are made aware of on a weekly basis.

Credit for this goes to the Free Press. You may not realize it, but the Free Press is of the only newspapers in Canada that still has a weekly faith page carrying local religion news.

While shrinking revenues have caused other newspapers to eliminate their religion coverage, or reduce it to a few wire service stories, the Free Press has maintained its commitment to telling the stories of Winnipeg’s faith groups.

So here’s to all the faith groups and individuals who keep on shining the light to make Winnipeg and the world a better place, and to the Free Press, which continues to provide a way to share those stories.

From the Jan. 5 Winnipeg Free Press.