(fervidly asked questions)

Shirley Kurtz, are you at work on your next novel?

Put myself through the wringer again? Are you kidding?

Sometimes, reading Sticking Points, I sympathized with Anna—her sticky situations. But when she couldn’t even intercede in prayer for Brenda Arnold’s father-in-law, an unsaved, helpless old man at death’s door, she totally lost my respect. She should’ve called it quits and asked to have her name removed from the church membership list. What would have been the point in somebody like her praying?

I honestly don’t know. By then she was pretty much a basket case.

Anyhow, maybe prayer doesn’t work the way we think. Maybe it’s a mistake to expect happy answers. I’m not saying we shouldn’t grab at every straw—that’s only natural. Also, it’s possible prayer can get a person into or out of a certain kind of pickle.

Haven’t you done preachers a disservice in your portrayal of Scott Forry? Did you have to give him fleshy hands and twitchy shoulders?

Oh, come on. Surely I’ve not wronged any clergy who don’t fit the bill.

Whether Joe Sherer, who was pastoring at Mt. Joy Mennonite Church when we belonged there, remembers the Sunday morning he besought pledges from the audience to read their Bibles every day, I can’t say. But let me tell you, Joe was every inch a trim, fit, dapper young man. He possessed finely hewn hands.

I might add that a year or two ago, my husband and I attended a wedding officiated by Joe and found him still fit and hale.

Does Wade believe in evolution?? How can he call himself a Christian?? That line of his about the earth being “only so many genealogies old”—he was making sport! And how could Anna go along with it? I don’t get it!

Evolution theory, creationism—oh me, oh me.

Anna hyperventilating about the youth group’s hardtack candy—that was just ridiculous. Nobody was “perverting the Christmas spirit” just by selling candy. And so what if she did pig out on a bagful? Her anal-retentiveness—I hated that.

So what? Are you saying it’s Christian to binge? Just at holiday time, maybe? Maybe you’d like to read a story about the Christmas our kitchen stove blew up.

Would Justine Becker give out her turkey tetrazzini recipe, do you think? Could you ask?

It would take a lot of nerve. At this point I’m reluctant.

Why did Anna have qualms about purchasing her flowery sofa? What’s wrong with “posh”?

Wrong—right—everything’s relative. I suppose she wasn’t convinced she was entitled to such a luxury.

Personally, I feel like scum for sticking my head into the sand—for spending with abandon even though a scandalously high percentage of the world’s population endures the awful poverty exemplified in that Go Teams, Inc. brochure Peg flapped at everybody the day the youth group made hoagies.

If, in Nicaragua, for example, a hammock and a single, bare bench can constitute a family’s living-room furniture, how do I explain away my fits of extravagance?

How did Anna get the Goodwill smell out of that red sweater with baggy pockets?

Silly you. She laundered it.

Lily Zimmerly? Who? Lillian Zimmerman? Did your mother clerk at Lillian’s spectacular little bulk-foods place near Manheim, Pennsylvania? For the life of me I can’t place her there. I’ve sifted my brain. I had in mind Gladys worked behind the deli case at the IGA in Elizabethtown. In fact, I’m sure she did. She was always so pleasant and gracious.

At IGA, yes. I think she made the IGA deli’s rice pudding from scratch. But I can’t be positive.

I wanted to bop Anna on the head when I read about her weepy lemon meringue pies. Doesn’t she know anything? Meringue is supposed to break out like that in little boils.

The meringue beading up doesn’t matter, but rheumy rivulets shouldn’t appear along the crust’s edge. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few tricks for achieving a nearly perfect creation. For one thing, the egg whites can’t sit around waiting after they’re beaten—you have to dollop them on immediately. Also, the lemon part must be piping hot when you assemble the pie, and the meringue must ride smack up against the crust crimps. Then after the meringue has baked, hinge the oven door a bit ajar and wait to remove your golden little miracle till it has completely cooled.

Isn’t Anna seriously deluded? Somewhere along the line, she decides she ought to start using her frail, God-given wits. God-given? I question that.

Me too. Maybe what you’re really asking is, why would God claim responsibility? It gets very very tricky—this attributing to God our piccalilli quirks or the different random situations we find ourselves in. Is it any of our business, calling something “God’s will”? Making like we’re giving God the glory?

I’m so confused about Anna’s identity. By any chance, did you act out that army sergeant role at your church’s Bible school and blow on a referee’s whistle?

No, but I did recount for our congregation the story from World War I about Lloy Kniss, a Mennonite young man from Johnstown, Pennsylvania who got sent to boot camp despite his religious beliefs.

Other recruits shoved and stomped on him during drills. Officers stuffed him into a uniform. Once, after Lloy disobeyed orders in the camp kitchen, he was forced to stand for attention for hours in the mess hall. Another time, told to help the street-cleanup crew, he wouldn’t carry his end of the trash box, so an officer used the other boys’ belts to tie Lloy’s hands to the box handles, enabling the fellow on the other end of the box to push Lloy along. On one occasion, a sergeant beat Lloy in the face.

So little is known about conscientious objectors (COs)—their place in history, their particular brand of courage. When I told Lloy’s story at a local elementary school, the fourth and fifth graders sat riveted. But did the meaning sink deep? Would it stay with them through adolescence? At our high school here, swashbuckling U.S. military personnel aggressively recruit—they’re allowed free access to the students. Is anybody telling these kids that “honor” and “duty” might mean not falling for the recruiter’s pitch, not enlisting?

Stashed in my files is a children’s book manuscript, titled Grit, based on Kniss’s pamphlet “I Couldn’t Fight.” Off and on, I’ve shopped the manuscript around. Off and on, I’ve revised and tweaked—

A war raged across the ocean. More boys were getting called up, more, more. The government was shipping Lloy off to Georgia, to training camp.

“I can’t fight,” said Lloy. “I can’t be a soldier.”

On the train ride to Fort Oglethorpe with hundreds of other boys, he stayed slunk down in his seat. He snuck sidelong glances at the rowdies clumping up and down the aisle and hollering and cussing. The wheels clacked on the tracks as the night rolled past. He didn’t get a wink of sleep.

Next day when they steamed into camp, Lloy kept a tight grip on his suitcase.

He stepped off the train into a milling mob. Soldiers were barking orders and passing out supplies. He took the blankets somebody thrust at him, and the cot, and the set of plates and utensils that folded into a kit, and he hunted down an officer. “Sir,” he said, “I’m a conscientious objector.”

“You’ll be proud of yourself,” the man snorted.

The word got around. “He won’t fight!” boys yelled whenever Lloy walked past. “He’s afraid to fight! Let’s shoot him!” One jeered, “Ha ha, he’s yellow! I bet he’s got a yellow streak down his back!”

I still think loony art would work best—people with warts, outsized feet, saucer ears . . .

Here’s the thing. Sometimes “yellow” is yellow. Not always! For the rest of his life, Kniss stuck to his belief that the person who can take a blow is stronger than the one who strikes back.