Visions and Realities: Essays, Poems, and Fiction Dealing with Mennonite Issues


260 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-920534-38-4





Edited by Harry Loewen and Al Reimer
Reviewed by Neil Querengesser

Neil Querengesser taught in the Department of English, University of Calgary, Alberta.


What do you want to know about Mennonites? What don’t you know? Do you want to know about good people or not such good ones? Do you want to know about those that went to Africa or Asia to save the souls of heathens? Or do you want to hear about the quiet ones who live their faith so you never really notice until they’re dead?

(Patrick Friesen, The Shunning)

For those familiar with “Mennonite issues” as well as for those who are not, this is a worthwhile anthology of critical and creative pieces. While the pieces in this collection are not always stylistically smooth (with a few exceptions), taken together they provide a fairly broad and balanced perspective on some central Mennonite issues. The overall theme of this collection seems to be the Mennonite — indeed the Pauline — paradox of being in but not of the world, and more specifically, in the words of the editors, “the strong Mennonite longing to replace ‘paradise lost’ with a ‘paradise regained.’” Whether a heaven can even be built on earth is an often asked but unanswered question of this collection.

The first of the collection’s four sections, “Visions of the End,” consists of Walter Klassen’s series of three essays in which he traces the history of apocalyptic movements within the Christian church from the time of the apostles to the sixteenth century anabaptists. He claims that there was “an unbroken tradition of apocalyptic thought in Western Christianity” and that the various reform movements of the sixteenth century were simply “changes on an old and standard theme.” Klassen’s conclusions may be open to question, but they nevertheless color thematically the rest of the readings. The second section, “Between Heaven and Earth,” consists of four essays that examine the conflicts and tensions existing in colonies of believers who strive toward divine ideals but are yet rooted to the earth. Calvin Redekop’s two essays, “The Mennonite Romance with the Land” and “The Mennonite Transformation,” arc quite enlightening in this respect. The poetry and prose fiction pieces (many of them excerpts from longer works) that make up the third section serve to illustrate the anthology’s central themes, although most of these pieces would not qualify as great literature. The best piece in this section, one that seems to capture clearly and perceptively the inherent conflicts experienced by some Mennonites in contemporary society, is the rich poetic sampling from Patrick Friesen’s The Shunning. The final section, “Voices and Critiques,” consists of five critical essays and an interview with two Mennonite poets. The best of the essays, Herbert Giesbrecht’s “The Significance of ‘Words and, Above All, Voice’ in the Fiction of Rudy Wiebe,” provides a perceptive analysis of Wiebe’s fiction, although the subject matter also made me wonder why Wiebe himself is not represented in this anthology.

Except for a few too many annoying typographical errors, the anthology is well organized and nicely laid out. Of special interest are illustrations from Thieleman J. van Braght’s The Bloody Theater or Martyrs’ Mirror of the Defenseless Christians (1660) which are interspersed throughout the test.


“Visions and Realities: Essays, Poems, and Fiction Dealing with Mennonite Issues,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024,