New Mennonite Programming

It was recently announced that the DIY network will be airing a new TV show called “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish.” Of course, this comes as a huge disappointment to all those who hoped that reality programming based on the Amish, which is a pretty big segment of the population. It also comes as a huge blow to everyone hoping there wouldn’t be any more Vanilla Ice based programming, which covers pretty much everyone else. I could respond to the mainstream fascination with Amish lifestyle, but that would quickly head in a predictable direction.

I’m trying to be more positive these days, so I’ve come up with a few ideas of Mennonite themed TV shows that we actually do want to see.

Breaking Bread – a Mennonite pastor finds out he has terminal cancer and starts selling unpasteurized milk on the side to raise extra money. Does his new secret life harbour hidden dangers like the bacteria in the milk he sells or is he simply freeing himself from needless religious and governmental restrictions?

Not Dancing with the Stars – a TV crew follows around a group of Mennonite young people who visit high end night clubs and try to demonstrate to their contemporaries that they can have fun without dancing. Episodes usually end with the group putting up non-violent resistance when the bouncers seek to remove them from the club.

The Shame of Thrones – an HBO history style show. The story of Münster, a city of apocalyptic expectation, exclusive political and religious practice, vanity and struggle for superiority, and what late-night TV audience wants, wanton sexuality. (This one isn’t really a joke, this story is made for this genre of TV history. Historical details had to be altered to make the Tudors and the Borgias sexy, but this story is ripe for the picking.)

Mad Mennonites – a travelling deacon/conference minister visits various Mennonite congregants who are demonstrating far too much agression to be in good standing with their spiritual or birth families and are either on the verge of being shunned or are already being viciously gossiped about (or both).

Boardgame Empire – a home-schooling family designed their own boardgame and travel North America trying to find buyers for their game and keeping up their education as they travel.

Downtown Abbotsford – a hidden camera show where residents of British Columbia’s Mennonite Bible belt are presented with moral scruples while their pastors sit in a van and watch the action/inaction unfold on TV screens.

The Voices – a choir director at a Mennonite college is trying to assemble his ensemble for the year. The contestants try to demonstrate the right amount skill, personality and lack of personality that the panel is looking for in a Mennonite college choir member. The panel consists of the choir director, college president, the wife of the school’s biggest donor, and the diva from the previous year’s choir that couldn’t get a job with her music degree and so she has nothing better to do with her time. (Rejected name: The MezzoSupranos)

Any TV networks interested in developing these ideas should indicate so in the comments.

I forgave Ben Johnson

Twenty-five years ago this week our country was in turmoil. There was only one thing we wanted to hear about on the news and there was only one thing we discussed at the coffee shop. Even on the playground at my elementary school, all we wanted to talk about was how much we hated Ben Johnson.  Only a few days before, of course, he was our greatest hero. His monumental victory at the Seoul 1988 Summer Olympics was our victory too. His enemy, the cocky Carl Lewis, was our enemy too. So when Ben tested positive for use of performance enhancing substances and his medal was stripped away, it was as though Ben had allowed our enemy to celebrate. The joy we felt in the moment of his win was turned to agony and was stretched out for weeks and months after that.

In the time that followed, we as a nation became quite introspective. We wanted to know just how rampant this kind of drug use was among our athletes. Other countries were happy to believe that their programs were fine, but our international reputation had been scarred and we needed to fix that. We interviewed doctors, coaches and doctors. A number of atheletes came forward and admitted their drug use. They publicly recognized the impact their behaviour had on us, their fan base, and they apologised. They told stories of broader drug use and an internationally corrupt system, but we didn’t believe them and while we may have heard their apologies, we certainly didn’t forgive them.

More recently the sports world has had to come to grips with drug use in cycling.  A similar hero admitted to using similar substances which was followed by a similar scandal. In the years since 1988, six of the eight runners in that 100m dash final have had positive drug tests.  The skeptics would say that we can no longer assume that our athletes are all clean. But it certainly paints a clearer picture of the world that Ben Johnson was competing in.

Some would say that he doesn’t deserve it, but I have forgiven Ben Johnson. After all, he apologised. He later repeated his mistake and coached others to do the same, but he has punished for his transgressions, and then some. We were wrong to hold him up on a pedastal like we did, and when he fell off of it, we were wrong to kick him while he was down. I think any of us as parents, teachers or community leaders can identify with the risks of being held up too high and the grace required when one does not live up to unrealistically high expectations.

I think he has some more apologising to do, but I would be willing to forgive Lance Armstrong too. For a long time, he would aggressively defend himself against any accusations of his drug use and now he has admitted that it was all true. For all of those who put their faith in him, forgiveness will be difficult.  For all those left in the wake of his compulsive self-defense mechanisms, forgiveness will be a long journey. From the outside though, I see in his defensiveness the same patterns of deception that all of us are capable of when we too are caught in a lie. When we try to be alone at the top of the ladder, we will find that the bottom is even lonelier.

The greater question, though, is,  “Can I forgive Carl Lewis?” While some suggest otherwise, officially he has nothing to apologise for. Even if he did, the greater problem is the resent in my heart. There is a quote that says, “Forgiveness is like setting a prisoner free, and then realizing that the prisoner is you.”

For all of the Ben Johnsons, Lance Armstrongs and Carl Lewis’ in your life and for their adequate and inadequate apologies, it is important for all of us not to live in that past, but to look toward a future free of the burden of resent that we all carry.