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This article was published 13/8/2016 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
STEINBACH — When it comes to covering gay pride parades, church controversies or theological differences, writer Andrew J. Bergman concerns himself more with the truth than the facts.
He freely makes up the quotes in the short news stories on his satirical news website, The Daily Bonnet, as well as the people who say them.
"Because I go to a Mennonite church and live in Steinbach, I have the licence to say some things others couldn’t say," he says of the website (www.dailybonnet.com) which has attracted more than half of million visitors through social media exposure since its mid-May launch.
"And I’m part of a socio-religious group that’s a goldmine for satire."
The 30-something University of Manitoba education graduate mines his roots in Manitoba’s automobile city for laughs, as well as digging up the not-always-funny foibles of his faith tradition.
An emerging writer with two completed novels and a theological book stored on his computer’s hard drive, Bergman also employs his wordsmithing skills to penning his daily tongue-firmly-in-cheek stories about life in Manitoba’s Bible belt.
"The things as a church we hold sacred, perhaps if they’re held up to the light of satire, they don’t have the (same) importance," says Bergman, who spends about 15 minutes putting together each 300-word story.
"Hopefully it helps us focus on what is really important."
What’s important for this church member and son of a Mennonite minister is remaining true to the heart of the Christian gospel.
"What did Jesus say? Love your neighbour as yourself," says Bergman, who writes under a pen name to separate his professional life from his satirical persona.
"All the other things (we) have added to it become less important."
Covering local, international and church topics, with a special category for stories that would attract "outsiders," Bergman gently — and firmly — skewers some uncomfortable topics such as sexuality, and inclusiveness, and puts a local twist on international stories such as the Olympics and the American presidential race.
His take on Steinbach’s July 9 inaugural pride parade? Bergman’s headline promised a comprehensive list of Steinbach politicians scheduled to attend the march, but the accompanying story was mostly blank.
Some of the content of The Daily Bonnet relates to life in a small and close community — the propensity toward gossip, and the exploration of what is and what isn’t acceptable in a community where people know each other well. Bergman also deals with broader themes, such as the clash of generations, who is in and who is out, a topic not confined just to gender politics, and how people of faith interact with popular culture and deal with swiftly changing times.
"A lot of things I’m writing about are things I’ve struggled with or grappled with myself," says Bergman, who reads philosophical works, theological texts and Mennonite history in his spare time.
"You write a satire (piece) about it and hopefully it un-muddies the water rather than adding to the confusion."
Mennonites have a long tradition of poking fun at themselves, and often joke internally about their shortcomings, says historian Royden Loewen, chair of Mennonite studies at the University of Winnipeg.
"When your ideals don’t quite match reality that’s an incongruity that can either lead to outrage or humour," says Loewen, who was interviewed for Orlando Braun’s recent 19-minute film That Mennonite Joke.
"I haven’t always appreciated all his humour, but I have appreciated some of it," says pastor Darrell Dyck of Steinbach’s Gospel Fellowship Church.
"Through satire he is trying to bring home a point people don’t otherwise see."
For the most part, folks of all theological stripes laugh with The Daily Bonnet, a name Bergman chose because many outsiders associate Mennonites with distinctive dress and head coverings. Although he’s making fun of his tradition and his community, Bergman says there’s an underlying seriousness in his writing.
"Some people come out of Steinbach and growing up in this community angry at the church and leave Christianity. I’ve not done that," he says.
"I still feel a need to belong to a faith community."