Author's Preface
A Little Left of Center


I was an editor at Mennonite Publishing House for thirty-eight years. Right away I feel a need to qualify this statement. Those years included leaves of absence and so were not a solid block of editorial work. Also, some six months after I retired, I went back on staff part-time for three-and-a-half years and midway in this period received a forty-year award.

So there is a slight untidiness in speaking about my term of service as editor. But then editorial work itself was not tidy. Editors by definition are enthusiasts for the subjects treated in their publications. On occasion they may be more enthusiastic than their readers. Indeed an editor is in some sense an educator, and educators are never satisfied. So editors may tend to push their readers and some will be uncomfortable.

I was dismayed by a reference to Mennonite Publishing House that once appeared in a Mennonite district conference publication. “Materials coming out of Scottdale,” this writer said, “are generally a little left of center.” I was concerned because I disliked the burden of a stereotype. I had hoped to be able to describe and report on things as they really are—to break down stereotypes. The writer had stereotyped me.

On further thought I was inclined to accept his stereotype. At least he had not labeled us reactionary. And it occurred to me that the work of an editor for a Christian publication might well take him “a little left of center” if the center represents the status quo. Should not an editor be an advocate for change?

Because the church supported me for over four decades, I owe it some account of how I became an editor and what I think I did. This book tells that story. Although I did not often have time to reflect on it, to be supported by the church is not a role to accept lightly. I hope I did not do so.

I begin with the story of my family background. I could start otherwise for the church itself is a family. Indeed the amount of detail available on my family used to embarrass me, since some lack this luxury. Then came Alex Haley’s Roots and it seemed genealogy was an “in” topic. If a descendant of slaves could find and rejoice in his family tree, why not the rest of us? Of course to write a memoir has its own hazards. Now my friends—and any enemies—can say to themselves about me, “Now I understand why he is the way he is.”

I find as I reflect another reason to write. There are things I want to say and I feel more comfortable saying them as part of my story than getting up on a stump and “preaching.” So here is what I have found as I reflected on—and in some cases did research on—my background and my experiences.

This account has the memoir’s limitations. This is how I saw matters. Others looking from other perspectives no doubt saw things differently. I have tried to allow for that. I also find that most of my work was probably not very far “left of center”—just enough to cause an occasional disturbance.

As I review these materials I see the usual tension between a chronological and a thematic approach. Unless one is to write only a diary or a strict chronology, one finds oneself carrying some themes through to the end before going on with the rest of the story. I think there are enough reference points to keep you from getting confused about this, but be forewarned.
Daniel Hertzler, Scottdale, Pennsylvania


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11/27/00