OttawaWatch: Wayne Northey's crucible

By Lloyd Mackey

WHILE serving a stint as scholar-in-residence at Ottawa's St. Paul University, Wayne Northey has completed a several-year novel-writing project. Entitled Chrysalis Crucible, it has now been published by Freshwind Press of Abbotsford, BC.

Northey is likely best known as the co-director of M2-W2, the Christian agency committed to linking people of faith to prison inmates, in the interests of biblical restorative justice. He has 33 years of experience in that field.

It was a letter to the editor, from Northey, published in late spring in ChristianWeek that alerted me to the fact that he was on sabbatical from his BC work, and ensconced in an office just 12 blocks from my desk on Parliament Hill.

Soon after that discovery, Northey and I had a chance to chat. It was then that he presented me a copy of Crucible, for review purposes.

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I had always known Northey to be a Mennonite and what I would congenially describe as an "aggressive pacifist." His ability to engage in debate with militarists and various other more stridently fundamentalist Christians has left me, at times, in awe and reluctant admiration.

Thus it was that I appreciated that he was enrolled in the conflict studies program at St. Paul. Perhaps just a little background on that program is in order.

St. Paul is a small bilingual Catholic university which is actually "parent" to the much larger University of Ottawa. As its rector, Dale Schlitt, puts it, U of O was originated by the Oblates, who oversee St. Paul. When the former grew too large and complex for the religious order to administer, it spun off into the public sector. St. Paul then continued operating in what are, today, four faculties -- canon law, human sciences, philosophy and theology.

Within the human sciences faculty is a conflict studies program and it is in this program that Northey has been doing his scholar-in-residence stint. By the time this OttawaWatch appears, he and Esther will likely be back in Abbotsford, and he will be hard at work with M2-W2 again.

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The major requirement of his scholarly stint was to do a lecture on the subject of restorative justice. He delivered that lecture in September to an audience of just over 100, many of which were faculty and students at St. Paul. A fair number more were from Ottawa Mennonite Church, one of whose members, Vern Neufeld Redekop, heads up the conflict studies program. I understand that the text of his lecture will be posted to an as-yet-unnamed website. I will keep OttawaWatch readers posted on that.

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All of which brings us to Northey's novel, which is not set among Mennonites, but, rather, the Christian (Plymouth) Brethren. That captured yours truly's interest because the CBs are my roots, as well.

Northey builds the novel around a CB mission organization for which his central character is a field worker, distributing Christian literature in some of Europe's largest cities in the '60s and '70s. His eclectic group of characters are all engaged in a range of spiritual struggles which were certainly a part of the CBs of that era, but pop up in various forms in the many theological and cultural subsets in today's Christendom.

The concepts argued out on Crucible's pages tend to fall into the pacifist and militarist biblical outlooks, with pietism forming an undercurrent.

From the perspective of this particular Christian journalist, the intrigue of the arguments gives way quickly, in most cases, to the simple conciliatory explanation generally enunciated by the central character's girlfriend. This technique, of course, advances the novel's love story. But as a polemic, it suffers from the tendency of the reader to blink, thus missing the explanation that could well have the potential to resolve the conflict between the would-be peacemakers, the militarists and the book-peddling evangelists.

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And yes, this all has some potential to relate to conflict resolution in an adversarial political setting.

Particular food for thought emerges with respect to the various political posturings on Canada's role in Afghanistan -- especially those parts of the discussion that try to reconcile the "3 D's" -- the defence, development and diplomatic issues. Anyone wanting to try to weigh these issues in biblical terms could do well to work through Crucible's 732 pages.

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Lloyd Mackey is a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa and author of Stephen Harper: The Case for Collaborative Governance (ECW Press, 2006). He can be reached at lmackey@christiancurrent.com.

October 26/2007