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“So, You’re All Mennonite, Right?” A Reflection

“So, you’re all Mennonite, right?”

I should’ve began counting how many times I’ve been asked this question the first time I heard it. The number would be laughably high.

Most often, I receive the question in response to me stating that I go to Canadian Mennonite University. They hear the word “Mennonite” paired with the word “university” and their eyes narrow, the wheels in their brain spinning. The person I’m talking to has most definitely never visited campus; they don’t know what we all know.

If you head to the “Fast Facts About CMU” page on the CMU website, you get a quick rundown of what’s going on here on campus regarding faith backgrounds.

  • 44% of students are from diverse Ecumenical traditions
  • 37% of students come to CMU from Mennonite or Anabaptist related backgrounds
  • 19% of students disclose no faith or church background.

Wait a minute… we’re not ALL Mennonites? I laugh as I’m writing this, because I am Mennonite and I have met plenty of other Mennonites during the past few years, but I have also met the most culturally and religiously diverse student body that I have ever been a part of.

Last week in my Theology and Art class, we went around the classroom stating what our faith backgrounds were, just to get a sense of the different angles we would be approaching the art and readings we were about to dive into.

I began writing down what I heard, the “so you’re all Mennonite, right?” question surfacing in my mind. Here’s the list I gathered:

We're all different...

 “Pentecostal”

“Agnostic”

“Evangelical”

“Christian”

“Muslim”

“I’m still figuring things out”

“Not religious”

“Roman Catholic”

“Swiss Baptist”

“Buddhist”

“Mennonite Brethren”

“Mennonite General Conference”

“Anglican”

“Protestant”

“Ethiopian Orthodox”

The diversity of the list was interesting, sure, but what interested me more was the confidence in which these words were being said. No one felt like they were “wrong” or “an outsider”, and there was no perceivable judgement coming from the professor or the class. If anything, there was an feeling of gratitude emanating. If you’re a student or staff member here at CMU, you’ll recognize this feeling.

We all had this amazing opportunity to gather together twice a week, to have conversations about art and theology, and we were already being blessed with such rich conversations because of the religious diversity within our classroom. We were all different, and that was good.

I truly believe that CMU is a place for everyone, not just Mennonites. Yes, the university is built upon a foundation of important Mennonite values (check out the Mennonites and CMU page on the website for more info), but we’re a stronger institution when we recognize our differences. And students, professors, and staff all know it! My education has only benefitted from my conversations with and the contributions of everyone here.

So, are we all Mennonite? Definitely not. Am I thankful for that? Yes.

Chloe Friesen, 3rd Year Communications and Media Student

“When I Grow Up”: Life as a Mature Student at CMU | Guest blogger: Jan Otto

Today, like many other students, I attended my first class of the fall semester. I felt excited, a little nervous, and more than just a little sad to see the end of summer. What makes my summer a little different from many of you is that I celebrated two things that most won’t celebrate for some years to come. First, I celebrated the marriage of my son. Second, I celebrated a birthday that puts me in the ranks of those who get to order off the special menu; the one at the other spectrum of the kids’ menu!

As a mature student, my school life isn’t much different than the rest of the students here at CMU. But outside of school, life for mature students is generally very different. Most of us have homes to look after, some have kids, and some are looking after aging parents (that’s my story). In addition to being a “mature” student (I use quotes because I’m not so mature sometimes), I am single. That means that there is no one at home doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying the bills, or doing the shopping. Yup, I do it all! There is no one out working to provide financial support either, so I rely on student loans. Some of you also rely on student loans, so you know how much (or how little) I am provided to live on. I can’t make ends meet on student loans, so I also work part-time, and just so that I don’t have to live on rice and skim milk, I host international students with the University of Winnipeg’s English Language Program.

So, let’s see…going to classes, reading, writing, reading, other homework, and more reading, meeting with groups for assignments, going to work, grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, providing for ELP students, making time for my parents and for my kids (who are older than many of you)…yup, I must be insane.

So, why do I do it? Well, when I was in my twenties, I went to university to become a teacher. But I was a rebel. I didn’t agree with so much of what I was being taught that I felt led to quit. Then came marriage and children. I’d always wanted to be a mom so that’s what I did. When my kids started school, I went to work for my church’s national office doing human resource work. I always told my friend that one day I would be a counsellor. I didn’t know how that would happen because I was, at the time, a single parent and I made a good salary with benefits. I thought I would have to go to school part-time, but that didn’t seem to work out for me.

After a few unexpected and significant changes, I found myself without a job in 2017. Soon after the initial shock, I realised that this could be my opportunity to go back to school and fulfill my dream of becoming a counsellor. The only thing was that I had to figure out how to finance the endeavour. Along with student loans, my part-time job, some pension money (yes, I will have to work for the rest of my life), some scholarship money and bursaries available through the donations of some very generous people, the funding is happening. My dream is coming true…when I grow up, I’m going to be a counsellor.

I have to say that I truly believe that this has been God’s plan for me. For a long time, I have had the honor of helping people with difficulties in their lives after surviving many of my own. God has given me a heart and a talent for this. He has provided the opportunity for me to return to school (disguised as job loss), set finances in place and has given me the endurance to run this crazy race.

Jan Otto is a third-year counselling studies student

Let’s Talk About Talking: Radical Dialogue at CMU

Welcome to CMU. The land of Blundstones, angry geese, using the word “community” as many times as possible, and endless conversation.

Let’s talk about just that: talking. The art of conversation here at CMU, radical dialogue, how important it is, and how much we value learning from each other, no matter our differences. The people that sit beside you in class, pass in the hallways, and sit with in the cafeteria, are all going to help shape your education here at CMU. They’re kinda like your professors, just without the PhDs.

Like I said before, CMU is a place of endless conversation. And it’s the conversations that I have had in the past two years that have filled in the gaps and rounded out the edges of my degree. Talking is important.

Your professors are a good place to start.

They are going to ignite little fires of curiosity within you, I guarantee it. You’re going to have questions, ideas, worries, inspirations, and your professors want to hear about them all! I’m not kidding! I have walked into countless profs offices to see their faces LIGHT UP when I come to sit and chat, and sometimes/a lot of times, it’s not related to a paper I’m writing or an upcoming test I have. It’s what’s going on inside my head, it’s about that little flame. And your profs want to help stoke that fire.

Your classmates are another great place to start up conversations. These will happen before class, during class, in the dining hall, at Marpeck Commons, in the dorms, at the bus stop, in the gym, I’ve had some good bathroom chats about Biblical Literature and that is not a word of a lie. Sometimes, these classmates won’t even be in the same class as you. I’ve had great conversations with friends who are taking philosophy classes, when I’ve never taken one in my life, and we’re talking about a communications topic from one of my classes, and we’re both enriching each others understanding of classes we don’t own the textbook for.

But here’s the thing—these conversations aren’t always going to be sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, you’re going to like pineapple on your pizza and the person you’re talking to won’t. This doesn’t mean they are wrong. Sometimes your prof will introduce you to an entirely new pizza that you’re not sure you’re comfortable with, or maybe even a calzone. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who’s never even had pizza. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And this is the part where the “radical” in “radical dialogue” comes in. And this is also, where LISTENING comes in.

If there’s one lesson that’s hit me the hardest while studying and living here at CMU, it’s this. THE WORDS I WILL LEARN THE MOST FROM WILL NOT BE MY OWN. The opinions and knowledge and experiences that I have are going to be wonderfully different than everyone else’s. And this is GOOD. Imagine if the keyboard on your laptop only had one letter. Let’s say H. You’re gonna know that letter really well, and that’s great. But all you’re going to be able to type is “Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”.

If you really want to write, and think, and learn, you’re going to need so many more letters, so many more opinions and angles and pushback. So in the midst of these conversations you’ll be having, remember to listen. To really listen. Not just hear and wait for your turn to speak again. Listen and learn, respectfully.

I’m not saying that you should only listen and not speak, no no no. You also need to speak and share your unique perspectives so that others can learn from you. I’m talking to you self-professed “shy-kids”. We need you. You’re the best listeners so you’re obviously the smartest people in the room *wink wink*.

Thirdly, after we’re done talking, and we’re done listening, it’s time to engage. When I think about really engaging in radical dialogue, I think about my first year. I took an International Development course called “Voluntary Simplicity”. A classmate and good pal of mine got to talking during snack one evening about what we had learned in class, which led to us watching a documentary about fast-fashion and the clothing industry, which led us to making a pact that we would both refuse to buy any new clothes for an entire year. Just as an experiment. And we did it! Successfully! We talked about it with each other, with our professor, with our friends and family. It was like stepping into our textbook and frolicking amongst the words and ideas we’d been learning.

One of the best parts of CMU is the ability to have these conversations. The small class sizes, yet beautifully diverse student body has enriched and filled and blessed each and every class I’ve taken. At the beginning, it took a little work to let go of my biases and step out of my comfort zone. To shake hands with a new friend who doesn’t like pineapple on their pizza. But believe me, this radical dialogue you will engage in here at CMU is what will shape you for the better and help you to see the world with more compassion and empathy than ever before.

Chloe Friesen, 3rd Year Communications and Media Student

The CMU Alphabet

Welcome back to another year at Canadian Mennonite University! Another year of studies, shenanigans, volleyball, and writing for the #myCMUlife blog (for me, anyways)! I’m so excited to share more stories with you all over the year. If you’d like to learn more about me, check out my “Meet the Blogger” post from last year (not much has changed, don’t worry)!

After a busy summer, it can feel hard to get back into the swing of things. But don’t worry, I’m here to help you get back to the basics: the alphabet!

I’ve created what I call The CMU Alphabet, a list of 26 facts and reminders about this beautiful university of ours. Some of them include links, so click on through for more information! Let’s get going…

A – Archives and Art

Did you know that our campus houses the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery and Mennonite Heritage Archives? Students are always welcome to peruse the gallery, and the archivists working in the centre can help you dig up some incredible history!

B – Blaurock Café

Calling all wannabe baristas! The Blaurock Café (fondly referred to as ‘The Blau’) is a student volunteer-run/non-profit café that can give you great work experience in a café setting! And you’ll meet tons of new friends and end every shift highly caffeinated.

C – CommonWord Bookstore and Resource Centre

Textbooks, school supplies, fair-trade giftware, Anabaptist resources, and CMU swag: CommonWord bookstore has it all! You’ll find the well-stocked shop inside Marpeck Commons!

D – Don’t Park Here!

If not here, then where? Check out this parking information to learn where you can park, and where you can’t!

E – Eat Healthy

It’s important to keep your brain AND body healthy while you’re at university. Pack healthy snacks for in between classes, or visit the cafeteria (the salad bar is THE BEST). You don’t have to be a residence student to buy a meal from the caf!

F – Forums

Every week you can engage in Student Forums held in the chapel on Wednesday at 11:30 AM. The topics are broad and always engaging!

G – Game Day!

Green and gold together! Cheer on your Blazers as they take to the field and court in basketball, volleyball, soccer, and futsal. Check out the game schedules here!

H – Home

Commuter students, make the Commuter Lounge your new home! There’s a fridge and microwave just for you, so take advantage of it. FYI, the Commuter Pancake Lunch is FREE and happens on September 4 from 12:00–1:00 PM at the Student Centre!

I – Internet

“Does anyone know the wifi password?” I DO! “Guest@CMU!” should get you connected on campus! Residence students can check their green cards for res-specific passwords.

J – Jam

Want to get your jam on? Join the band or choir! You’ll be surrounded by music-loving students such as yourself, and there are opportunities to travel and perform that trombone solo you’ve been practicing all summer!

K – Keep it in a locker!

If you’re a commuter student and need somewhere to store your books, there are lockers on North and South sides of the campus! Just sign up for a locker on the sign-up sheets provided beside each bank of lockers. Supply your own lock and remove it at the end of the year; easy!

L – Librarians

Librarians, best friends, is there a difference? You’re going to want to meet the lovely librarians and use their expertise to find books, print and photocopy papers, and check out camera and recording equipment! Also they sometimes have candy on their desk…

M – Mental Health

CMU offers students FREE counselling services! Sometimes it helps to have a trained professional to talk to, so don’t hesitate to reach out! More about that here.

N – New Friends

Fellowship groups offer a great opportunity to connect with students who have similar interests and goals! These groups are dreamed up by students, and run by them as well. Check out this year’s groups on Wednesday, September 4 at 11:30 AM in the Conference Room!

O – Orientation Guide

AKA A GUIDE TO FUN TIMES AND IMPORTANT REMINDERS! From free ice-cream floats to course change advising, this guide has everything you need for the first two weeks of school!

P – PAL (Peer Assisted Learning)

Don’t know where to start with assignments? Feeling stressed about school work? Come to M207 to get help from your resourceful peers. All undergraduate and graduate students welcome! Schedule TBA around mid-September, 2019!

Q – Quiet Spaces

If you’re searching for a quiet spot to study, you’ve got options! All CMU students have access to the private study rooms upstairs in Marpeck Commons, you just need to sign up and use your student card to enter. The library is also a designated quiet space, and the alcove lounges on the north side are comfy as well!

R – Recitals

Support your musical friends as they show off their talents at weekly recitals in the Laudamus Auditorium! Keep your eyes on the CMU Daily email for a list of who’s performing and when!

S – Snack

RESIDENCE STUDENTS REJOICE! We all know that snack time is the best time, and you can enjoy an evening treat and fellowship every night in the cafeteria.

T – Thursday Workouts

Come get your exercise on in the Loewen Athletic Centre every Thursday! These 45-minute free guided workouts are an easy way to stay fit and learn about healthy living on a weekly basis among friends!

U – Unscented

CMU is a scent-free campus, which means you should be focusing on the “unscented” section of your body-grooming products. One simple change can help your “scent-sitive” friends immensely.

V – Volunteering

Student groups are a great way to get involved in the community and do some good! Check out the Student Group Carnival on September 3 from 3:00–5:00 PM on the South Lawn.

W – Wednesday Night Worship

Join your friends and classmates for Worship Nights every Wednesday evening at 9:30 PM. It’s a focused time for prayer and worship and singing!

X – Xerox

… is the name of a printer company (it’s a stretch, I know, but not many words start with X). You can print for FREE using campus printers, as long as you supply your own paper! Regular printer paper is perfect!

Y – YUM!

Treat yo self at folio café in Marpeck Commons! They make delicious coffee and espresso beverages and teas, and serve up delicious gelato, soups and sandwiches, fancy toast, and baking from local bakeries (did someone say Oh Doughnuts?).

Z – Zzzs

A well-rested mind and body is a healthy mind and body. It can be tempting to try and cram more studying into the late hours of the night, but believe me, you’ll be much more productive and happy if you get enough sleep!

Chloe Friesen, 3rd Year Communications and Media Student

My Biker Friend | Guest blogger: Natasha Neustaedter Barg

It was day two of orientation for Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. We were learning about managing our expectations, something that I learned at CMU but still hadn’t fully come to internalize. Looking down at my last remaining goal, I couldn’t help but smile at the seemingly simple, unimpressive, and unimportant goal that I had left— smile at one person a day.

I lived in a studio apartment by myself. It was at the far end of a courtyard inside the school gates of Chuyen Hung Vuong, the school where my SALT friend Eva taught. Every day an old man would do laps around my courtyard. We would occasionally cross paths and I decided that I was going to try to smile at him every day. So when we crossed paths I would look up into his weathered and wise face, give my best Natasha smile, a bit of a head nod, a mumbled “xin chao” (hello) and keep walking. But instead of smiling back at my over-eager face, he would nod his head a bit, and continue biking on. He would do laps for an hour or so and then disappear only to return the next day, where we would do the same thing. I’d smile at him, he’d nod his head and keep pedaling on. This happened day in and day out. Throughout the seasons, my good days and bad days my biker friend (as I have come to call him) would bike, I would smile and we would go our separate ways.

Many times this year I have felt like my biker friend, continuously going in circles, not really getting anywhere or feeling ‘successful’ as I had come to understand that word. I didn’t get a participation mark for every day that I sat in the staff room surrounded by a spoken language that I did not understand. I didn’t get a grade for noticing that the architecture was different, or for how many people would stare at me for a myriad of reasons as I walked down my street. I most definitely did not get a grade for every time that I would reach for something with my chopsticks only for the food to splash in my bowl and stain yet another of my shirts.

This year I have come to see the meaning of success not only through an academic lens, but also through the lens of my biker friend. He showed me that success means showing up and being present. It means becoming part of someone’s fabric, routine, and life. It means acknowledging the anxiety and laughter, the homesickness and joy, the constant embarrassment and grace, and continuing to persevere. It means noticing the unspoken languages of love, courage, and hope amidst the spoken language of Vietnamese.

Two weeks before I left Viet Tri, I made my way back to my room bleary eyed, in desperate need of a nap. I had stayed up late lesson planning the day before, not so uncommon to my late nights of studying, and had two hours before I taught again. Through my narrowed eyes I saw my biker friend doing his laps and approaching me. I didn’t want to smile at him. I was tired, and he hadn’t smiled back at me for the last nine months, so I didn’t have much hope that today would be the day. But a goal was a goal, so I opened my eyes wide, gave my best tired Natasha smile, and was shocked when instead of seeing a weathered face, I saw eyes that twinkled, lips that twitched into a smile, and a hand that was raised and waving at me.

Like my time at CMU, this past year has given me another perspective and lens through which to look at the world. I have come to act on the lessons that I learned through classes, conversations and friends. I have come to learn that the biggest challenge we face wherever we are is to show up, be present, and to keep smiling every day.

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