Herald Press, 2010
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”—Hebrews 12:1
Written in the 17th century, Martyrs Mirror has been an important book for many Mennonites. Its stories of the sufferings and persecutions of many of these witnesses, who were part of the pacifist Anabaptist movement, continue to inspire its readers. Tongue Screws and Testimonies is an anthology of fiction and non-fiction, creating, in effect, a mirror of the Mirror.
The book is divided into sections based on themes within the Martyrs Mirror. Ian Huebert’s clever and thought-provoking parodies of Jan Luyken’s famous picture of Dirk Willems reaching out to rescue his persecutor illustrate the title page of each section.
I appreciated the editor’s introduction explaining the literary approach taken and some guidelines on how to read the book. Other editorial notes were helpful in understanding historical or cultural background surrounding the Mirror. The writing in the book is at times inspiring, at other times humorous or even irreverent. I found it challenging to consider this particular cloud of witnesses and the effect they have had on the Mennonite community and continue to have in certain circles.
Though an Anabaptist myself, I do not share the family history often referred to by the authors. As such, I felt like an outsider looking in on a precious family reunion. In one essay, Julia Spicher Kasdorf writes, “In the absence of published fiction and poetry, outsiders have no access to the experience and imagination of the community.” While I think this book would appeal mostly to those who do share the collective memories of the Mirror, it did allow me that access.
Jean Janzen challenges me with her poem, “After the Martyrs Exhibit.”
We had seen the copper plates
under display lights, each line
etched to evoke remembrance
acid for my conscience…
“We dip hummus and swallow,
talk easily as evening folds.
Sliced bamboo driven under fingernails.
The jeering. The betrayal of dawn.
I never said I could do it.
I pray that I could.