This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Basketball Pacifism

    Sports tend to play a significant role in the lives and identities of most Western or prairie teens, including Mennonite youth.  While there are many lessons to be learned on the sporting fields and ice rinks of North America, few would normally expect a proper respect for and understanding of Pacifism to be one of them.
    When the school board of our small Christian Bible academy, located an hour from the next nearest school, considered the cost and commitment of fielding a boys basketball team, many were apparently dubious.  The young men enthusiastically defended the concept by promoting it as a means of reaching out to the surrounding communities and thereby being a witness to them.  On the surface of things, not a bad idea. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our Mennonite Forebears, Immigrants or Refugees?


  The migrations from Prussia to Russia proved to be mere stop-gaps to the larger problem posed by the two-kingdom theology – how to subject yourself in total obedience to one’s Lord and Saviour as indicated by conscience, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of the consensus of the Fellowship, and to yet subject oneself to the needs and desires of the temporal government under which God has placed them and to whose authority their earthly well-being has been remanded.  Their commitment to the two-kingdom theology and its corollaries made the Russländer Mennonites more than just periodic martyrs.  In their determination to avoid a spiritual compromise with Modernity, the Russian Mennonites have possibly become perpetual refugees.
    An interesting and oft underexplored position of the Mennonites is that essential definition or understanding of temporal lordship.  The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) determined that a ruler’s authority was limited to the land under his or her direct rule and was further restricted to prevent the ruler’s incursion into the conscience of his or her subjects.  Equally important to this binding of the sovereign’s will directly to the realm was the loosing of the peasant and the citizen from the land – whereby the peasant Mennonites were to find themselves released from being defined as chattel to the real estate and free to migrate – free to place themselves voluntarily under the authority of sovereigns who would freely allow the Mennonites to pursue their religion and lives in conscience to the Lord, and the urbanized artisanal Mennonites were free to travel and trade more-or-less at will.
    The states and kingdoms thus faced significant issues.  In 1793, Napoleon Bonaparte threatened to bring all of Europe under the rule of the French Empire he had created by forcing Modernization on the failed and fallen Kingdom of France.  Amongst the tools of this empire were the mass conscription of citizens in a drafted military, the strength of the French Charter or Rights of Man (interestingly co-authored by the United States’ revolutionary war heroes the Marquis de Lafayette and the future U.S. President Thomas Jefferson), and the justice of the Napoleonic Code.  While Napoleon’s conquest would eventually meet its demise under the allied armies of Britain, Sweden, Prussia and Russia at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon had nonetheless changed the rules and cost of warfare and thereby the necessary structures of the modern nation state, forever.  The return of Napoleon to the marshaling of armies in 1812 and his near capture of Moscow, and the repeated intervention of modern Britain forced the evolving empires of eastern and central Europe to strengthen their own capacities for war – either to avoid another Napoleon, or to avoid an embarrassing dependency on the liberal kingdom of Great Britain.  While Russia could depend on vast open spaces, winter and summer extremes, and seemingly limitless masses of peasant farmers for her defense, other states such as Prussia and the Austro-Hungarians sought to modernize their war capacities while reserving as much authority to the established imperial powers-that-be as was possible (King, Army, Church).  Frederick the Great and his successors had to impress the citizenry of the Prussian realm into military service – but they could no longer direct or command the obedience of freemen such as the Mennonites had become.  They found himself demanding compliance or offering exile – serve or move – initiating the second great wave of migration to Ukraine’s Molotschna Villages. 
    By the mid-century, St Petersburg too would find itself in need of completing the modernization began under the reigns of Peter the Great and Catherine II, the Great.  Unwilling and unable to depend on the forces and peoples whom the Tsar distrusted in his or her own empire, the Empire of the Russias looked towards central Europe for programs and expertise – bullheadedly, and as some would see it historically, naïve and incorrect.  Regardless, in 1868, Tsar Alexander III used the same dire wording once used by Frederick William II – and so informed the Mennonites of the Ukraine by agent of their loss of status.  Similarly to Frederick William II, Alexander gave the Mennonites ten years to acclimate themselves to the new reality or to remove themselves from his realms. 
    Unlike their fellow Russlander or Ausleider, the Mennonites were thus faced with a problem of conscience – while all were free to give up the special privileges under which they had established lives, villages and families and become “true” Russians, only the Mennonites were being forced to contemplate being forced to act against their religion and their personal conscience.  Like the companions of Daniel, they had to a point refused to eat the rich meats and delicacies of religious conformity and had separated themselves by a simple and healthy spiritual diet.  Yet, as did Daniel’s boon companions find themselves confronted by guile were forced eventually to choose between bowing to the image of the King or to obey their conscience, a certain few, roughly 4,000 persons or 1/3 of the population of the Mennonite commonwealth in Ukraine, prepared to leave.  As did Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander also eventually realized what he had done and the depth of faith amongst the Mennonite peoples and offered a compromise.  In exchange for alternative service, the Tsar offered to exempt the Mennonite peoples from greater commitment to the Imperial armies.  According to subsequent EMB tradition, no fault would be held against those who chose to stay in Russia under the new terms, apart from an oft-quietly voiced criticism that many had chosen to remain behind in comfort and luxury rather than to follow their conscience.  Yet, this was a judgment that had already begun to grow with the spread of Pietism amongst the late ancestors of the EMB through Wust’s teachings in Gnadenfelde.  The decision of many of the Grossegemeinde to remain in Russia probably served merely to confirm spiritual prejudices already existent to the renewal and reform minded Bruderthaler and Petersgemeinde.  In many ways, Alexcander III’s expulsion probably preserved the unity of the Mennonite gemeinde in Russia by allowing those in dissent or who sought reform to leave rather than to force a separation as had occurred with the withdrawal of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) in 1860.
    As historians we are also confronted with a questioning of the official narrative – to what extent were these Mennonites immigrants and to what extent refugees?  Generally, Mennonites in the United States have held that like their fellow Russlander, the Mennonites were also economic immigrants whom the various American states and Canadian provinces vied against each other to attract.  Yet, contrary to the reasoned arguments of General Eduard Totleben and despite the Tsar’s late concessions, the Mennonites were still being confronted the need to conform or remove themselves from Russia.  As would be later demonstrated by the Soviet heirs of the Russian Empire, failure to comply with the ordered assimilation would bear tragic, often deadly consequences.  At no point was a consideration made to honor the agreement of freedom of conscience under which the Mennonites had originally been attracted.  Unlike the Lutheran and Catholic Russlander who were attracted by economic and lifestyle opportunities in the New World, the Mennonites more or less sought a refuge.  The early Bruderthaler and Petersgemeinde were quite possibly in fact refugees – a status made permanent with the next generation and the fall of the Tsar and the destruction of the gemiende communal structure.
    Because we today distinguish between refugees and immigrants, and accord special rights and understanding to those who enjoy refugee status, an accurate understanding of the 19 and 20th Century position of the Mennonites in the United States and Canada entails greater attention to their actual, not perceived status.  Furthermore, we now understand that the pressures and cultural psychology of the two statuses have been established as quite unique from each other and are in fact very different.  In this case, the two key facts seem to be that the primary motivation for moving was not in fact simple economics but rather to avoid the penalty for continuing in their ancestral religion and openly practicing their established beliefs.  Secondly, they would be explicitly forbidden this freedom of conscience and freedom of worship were they to attempt to remain.  Whether or not their eventual status improved or not is irrelevant.  As the Kleine Gemeinde established in Jansen, Nebraska, the move was intended to transplant a specific way of life and set of beliefs to a setting where they could abide in peace, not to where they could perhaps become wealthy – to state their primary motivation as otherwise runs the danger of mistaking their determination and later success to base material considerations rather than a strong spiritual commitment and determination.  We owe them this much – to at least consider the alternatives. 
    The argument that I put forward simply indicates that the Mennonites of the 1874 Migration had more in common with their early Swiss forebears who sought shelter under William Penn than with the greater majority of their fellow immigrants to the prairies.  This point must also be staked out for out of it stems the argument that the United States of America and the nation of Canada were founded not merely as economic plantations but included a significant commitment to religious tolerance and freedom and define these young nations beyond being mere economic clubs but as a pact to shelter those in need, i.e. refugees – a commitment that in and of itself bears specific political fruit that must not be allowed to fade from lack of diligent attention.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some thoughts regarding Pietism:


  It is not entirely clear that Pietism predated Anabaptism – in as much as Zwingli is considered to be an Anabaptist antecedent, and Dirk Philips is considered an Anabaptist founder, so would any reformer that displayed the key ingredients of the pietist theo-philosophy be by definition worked into the Radical Reformation as an Anabaptist or at least, heavily and perhaps fatally suspected of significant Anabaptist-leanings.  Just as the Mennonite and Hutterite Anabaptists built on the traditions of Zwingli, Huss, and the Waldenses, and even, for that matter, on Luther and Calvin, the Pietists represent a distinctive moment in time, separate but probably heavily influenced by Anabaptism – especially the Anabaptist strains from the Netherlands and Danzig.
  Most notably, Spener was, and remained, a Lutheran born about 100 years after the death of Menno Simons.  Of the Pietist precedents, none shines out more clearly than Johann Arndt.  In The Pietist Theologians, Carter Lindberg puts forth a pretty strong case that while Arndt was definitely a contributor to Pietism, he was not in the end a true Pietist and that the honorific of  “Father of Pietism” should remain on the faithful shoulders of Spener and his Pia Desiderata.  Arguably, both Arndt and Spener contributed significant personal and new content to the shaping of Pietism and peculiar approaches to the combined influences of the Luther Reformation, the Dutch-German Mystical traditions dating back to the Middle Ages, and the spirited Anabaptism that those men saw around them.  In fact, we know from his biographical narrative that Arndt was acquainted with and probably influenced by Mennonite neighbors and business connections.  Interestingly, his exclamatory exclamation contra his Mennonite neighbor leaves room for being both influenced by the Mennonites as well as sharing a new discovery with them  -- that they, the Mennonites, would want to keep such a wonderful things to themselves.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Here I Raise Mine Ebenezer

    One of my favorite authors has published a nifty little Postmodern religious primer on what those of us in the Evangelical world coyly refer to as Protestant Latin.  Protestant Latin is perhaps not as different perhaps as traditional Russländer Plautdietsch, but infinitely more complicated.
    In Amacing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris takes Protestant Latin head-on, detailing her vocabulary of faith, while expounding on why those definitions are pertinent to her rich spiritual life.  One of the terms that she explores, Ebenezer, comes to her from a popular hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which begins the second stanza, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; Hither by thy help I’m come,” (Norris, p. 251).  While many would recognize the term Ebenezer as the Christian name of Charles Dickens’ most memorable Christmas character, Ebenezer Scrooge, Norris reveals its deeper pedigree:  “The word Ebenezer is found in a passage in First Samuel, one of the historical books of the Hebrew scriptures.  It describes an event, the celebration of Israel’s victory over the Philistine army, a victory that came against the odds, when the thundering voice of God threw the troops into confusion, and they fled.  The passage reads: ‘Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’ (1 Sam 7:12, KJV),” (Norris, p. 251).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Forgetting the Dead

en Denkjemol

    As Mennonites, we seem to have a complicated relationship to the dead.  Officially, we, as Brüderthaler, seem to have a belief against honoring the dead.    Interestingly, my grandmother reiterated this when I questioned whether or not she wanted to view Grandfather’s grave in the country churchyard.  “No,” she replied, “he is not there – that does nothing to remind me of him.”
    This is despite the fact that she often joins her non-Mennonite family in recognizing their duty to decorate and clean the graves of her non-Mennonite family located in the city cemetery an hour away. 
    Half-Swedish, I also belong to a Scandinavian culture that has often historically blurred the lines separating the living from the dead -- the paradoxical personal resolution of the opposing cultural beliefs that I have had no problem resolving in favor of the Swedes. 
    The theory behind the Brüderthaler tradition is that in the graveyard, we have merely buried a husk and that the essence of the person is now in Heaven with the Heavenly Father.  If we want to speak to them or miss them, the appropriate response is to not waste one’s time in an empty graveyard, but instead to live a Holy life so that we too might join them in paradise.  The bodies are of no account, merely resting in storage, carefully arranged so that they will raise facing Jerusalem (east) when they are called for at the end times Resurrection. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More Work on Definitions


Defining Oneself

    This past weekend, I have spent considerable time attempting to develop stronger, more universal definitions for many of the terms that I use in my essays and which I tend to encounter in my reading.  I also spent a fair amount of time writing an essaic criticism of the rhetorical argumentation in a recent series published in Fellowship Focus on the emergent churches.  The emergent church movement is a new concept to me, so I was able to approach the articles with an open mind.  However, the quality or organization of their particular line of argument was often inconsistent, non-linear, even self-contradictory, leaving me, the reader, confused and uncertain.  Note that one finds it much easier to criticize the work of another than to recognize the same deficiencies within oneself, which is why there is a certain intellectual strength to be found in the Scholastic or even consensus-building process -- and why most books and literary efforts shower such profuse praise on those who assisted in the editorial process.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Evangelicals, Mennonites and the Emergent Church


Response to Harvey Schultz’s Methodology in “What is the Emerging Church Movement?”

Note:  The tone of this essay is quite strong -- be advised in reading it that both authors are trying to critically engage a set of terms and ideas in an effort to advance teachings and understandings of these very important topics.
    Generally, one is excited to come across a hardcore, realistic engagement by a church leader of a leading, if not controversial, theological or philosophical issue.  All to often, we are spoon fed “talking points”, cozy “3-point Homilies”, and slickly packaged ethical and theological truths along with the supporting bumper sticker moralizing.  One of the great differences between Anabaptism and American-style Evangelicalism is the implied accountability the Anabaptist retains as a member of the congregation.  We do not achieve Salvation through the Church so we cannot blame the Church for our success or failure.  We are responsible to explore the scriptures and participate in the Spirit of Fellowship so as to be able to discern and recognize Truth and right doctrine.  We are to come forth in our true conscience and to participate in the consensual congregational fellowship of the believer found in the correct relationship to God, our fellow humankind, the Church, and God’s Creation.  The “Nuremberg Defence” is simply not available to the Anabaptist -- we cannot say that we believe this or that because we were told to, because that is what we have been taught, or that “it” made as good sense as anything.  Simply put, as Anabaptists, we have been called individually and congregationally to engage the Scriptures and the world in a Spiritually tuned manner.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Multi-Axis Identities, the Lustre Synthesis


Multi-Axis Identities as a Unifying Concept:

Note:  This is a reflection on the organizational difficulties in mapping out an organizational structure for a proposed cultural and spiritual history of the EMB church or Brüderthaler Mennonite culture.

    While I understand previous thoughts regarding a structure based on the name changes, I am not sure that this as effective for delineating the generational shifts in perception of the conference, the self-identity of the membership, or the growth stages of the conference.
    I would recommend an organization based on growth stages (Erikson’s developmental models provide some intriguing ideas), with a strong emphasis on biographical details of the men and women who created the conference, supported the missions and were called to service.
    What we need is a system that recognizes that the EMB were often a very loose fellowship of many different groups who were more involved or more influential at different times but always present in shifting alliances -- the missionaries, the Mennonites, the non-Mennonites, the Evangelicals, the Urbanites, the Rural Farmers, those who wanted to Reform existing movements, those who wanted to plant new endeavors.  Furthermore, I am more and more convinced that many of the church bodies joined and remained part of the conference for different reasons -- some wanting fellowship with reform-minded congregations, some wanting to join resources but otherwise be left more or less to their own devices, and those who wanted to join resources to generate a strong missions presence, and those who wanted to maintain a strong ethnic identity.  Even amongst the ethnic Mennonites, you had Kleiners, General Conference, those who leaned towards the MB, the Bruderthaler, the cultural Mennonites, etc. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Corn, Goshen and Dillweed

    Visiting Goshen and Elkhart this summer, one could not but be impressed with the lushness of the corn crop this year. One could smell the sweet corn fragrance even while whizzing by on the blacktop. This is indeed the perfect summer for corn on the cob.
    Growing up, the farmwives always planted an ample supply of sweet corn -- my grandmother would put in at least four double rows (about 200’) of corn to feed grandpa and a host of hungry grandchildren. My mom would plant about eight rows (about 400’), not including the row of popcorn that we always planted but never really worked out. The double rows (one on each side of a shallow irrigation channel dug by hoe) would soon be tall enough to hide us cousins from each other as we played tag in the garden (or hid from each other during BB gun wars).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MCC and the EMB


PRELIMINARY FINDINGS REGARDING THE EMB-FEBC AND THE MCC   

Caution:  While this essay represents a review of available materials and will probably exist in a state of constant revision as additional materials and persons become available.

    Having spent two days in the archives looking into the nature of the relationship between the Brüderthaler-Evangelical Mennonite Brethren (EMB) and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), I think that I have discovered the probable truth regarding their divorce, and that like most stories, it is both mundane and revealing.
    The MCC was established 27 July 1920 in response to the famine decimating the then Soviet Republic of Ukraine.  In many senses, the modern identity of the Anabaptist community was born in this struggle of the new world Mennonite immigrants to meet the needs of starving family and conference members in Ukraine.  One early lesson being that all of the disparate Mennonite-Amish-Anabaptist groups would have to work together.  The situation was complicated and dire enough without having to work around the efforts, needs, and preferences of individual congregations and small conferences.  Secondly, in learning how to care for our own, we learned how to cooperate to effectively minister to the needs of others, non-Mennonites, as a form of service witness.  Third, the international effort to meet the international needs of an international faith body reinforced the internationalist perspective of the greater Anabaptist community.  Fourth, the need was met by everyday people, each doing their own small part according to what they had or could do, thereby contributing to a great and effective project.  Everyday people doing everyday things to help and assist everyday people is more or less how the MCC has generally been perceived.  So what then is the problem?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Evangelicals, Mennonites and the MCC


Dialogue on Peace with Non-Mennonites   MCC World Report, 1976, p. 122 - 123

courtesy of Mennonite Church Historical Archives, Goshen, Indiana

    One of the striking phenomena of 1976 on the US church scene has been the rising visibility of Christians identifying themselves as Evangelical.  All of the evangelicals have in common an explicit emphasis on the Bible as the source of their authority and direction.  But with that the similarities cease.  One type of emerging evangelicalism is represented fairly typically by the Campus Crusade style of evangelistic activity.  This movement is characterized by ‘God and country’ mentality, an individualized and spiritualized definition of the Kingdom of God and more interest in doctrinal than discipleship questions.
  Another emerging form of evangelicalism is characterized by the Sojourners’ style with an emphasis on the church’s duty to stand outside of and critique the state, an understanding of the Kingdom of God which encompasses as well as individual aspects of life and an examination of the hard sayings of Jesus about discipleship.  Peace Section (US) has  maintained some dialog with representatives of this latter type of evangelicalism where it finds great interest in the Anabaptist point of view.  A cooperative adventure is emerging with Evangelicals for Social Action in Philadelphia where a VS couple will have a shared assignment under Evangelicals for Social Action and Peace Section (US).  The possibilities for extending a peace witness in this direction are great.
  Another striking development in 1976 has been the emergence of New Call to Peacemaking.  This is an initiative which comes from the evangelical Quakers who have been feeling they need to rediscover the peace testimony and base it solidly on a scriptural foundation.  They have taken steps during the past two years to dialog with other Quakers about this and in the spring of 1976 the Mennonites and Brethren were invited to join.  A Central Planning Committee made [up of] 15 persons -- five representatives from each of the three historic peace churches -- has been formed and has met twice.  A series of regional conferences across the United States during 1977 will be followed by a national conference in October 1978 at Great Lake, Wisconsin.  Each historic peace church will send 75 delegates to the national conference.  It is the goal of New Call to Peacemaking to articulate a united voice from the historic peace churches bearing testimony to the way of peace in a very militarized nation and world.
    We are in correspondence also with Christians from the more ecumenical perspective and consider it part of the opportunity and duty of MCC Peace Section (US) to be in dialog with Christians all across the confessional spectrum.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mennonite Catholics and Catholic Mennonites?


Catholic Mennonites or Mennonite Catholics?  

    In an article from The Christian Century Magazine, “Going Catholic: Six Journeys to Rome,” Jason Byassee explores the faith journeys of six protestant theologians to the Roman Catholic faith.  Gerald Schlabach, a Mennonite who had studied at Notre Dame, claims to found a certain consistency in the universality and mission of the two faiths.  Noting his conversion, Schlabach claims to now be, “a ‘Mennonite Catholic,’ --before, he had been a ‘Catholic Mennonite,’” (Byassee, p. 3).  Schlabach’s personal eschatology seems to leave room for a joint fellowship of all Christians wherein the many denominations have developed unique paths and spiritual gifts.  Byassee indicates that, “[Schlabach] affirms the gifts of the Mennonite tradition of enduring persecution and speaking out for nonviolence when the rest of the church is too cozy with imperial power,” but warning that, “God always intends such witness to help transform the whole (catholic) body, not to cement an eternal split,” (Byassee, p. 3).
   Byassee compares Schlabach’s understanding of the consequences of this split similarly to that of the Lutheran convert, Mickey Mattox.  Mattox writes the inter-Catholic and Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification should have been sufficient to re-unite the two faiths and bring the Lutherans back into the Catholic fold, (Byassee, p. 2).  Mattox sees a problem in that the Lutherans, in his view, seem more determined to remain apart than to heal the breach that spawned the violence of the Reformation.  “Once both Catholics and Lutherans concluded that they have no substantial disagreements on the doctrine of justification--the doctrine on which Lutherans have long said the church stands or falls--then there is no reason [now] why they should not reunite under the bishop of Rome,” (Byasee, p. 2).  The fact that the Lutherans are still separated from the Bishop of Rome now indicates not a difference in spiritual understanding but rather, “There is an institutional intransigence, I [Mattox] believe, on our Lutheran side, and a cultural captivity to hyper-Protestant ways of understanding the church that stymies even the best efforts to overcome the visible breach of the sixteenth century,” (Byassee, p.2).  Byassee finds these sentiments reflected in Schlabach’s conversion, “Like Mattox, Schlabach worries that Protestant churches have become ends in themselves rather than reform movements dedicated to the church universal,” (Byassee, p. 3). 
    A Catholic writer, Byassee might be forgiven for overlooking the obvious.  Both Mattox and Schlabach might be guilty of oversimplifying the Reformation.  Luther pounded 95 Theses to the door in Wurttemburg -- not 1.  Justification by Faith might have long been considered the chief of these, but it is not the sole. 
    I might be forgiven for detecting just the smallest hint of pre-Reformation Arrogance.  On his blog, Against the Grain, (11 Feb 2004), Christopher Blosser whose Swiss-Mennonite family converted to Catholicism in the generation prior, he relates a portion of an interview conducted between the Roman Catholic priest, Friar Cornelius, and the Anabaptist leader, Pastor de Roore, in 1569.  In The Bloody Theater, or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians, Theileman van Braght records the exchange as an historical example of Popish arrogance:
Friar Cornelis: "I've come here to see whether I can . . . bring you back to the Catholic faith of our mother, the holy Roman church, from which you have apostatized to this damnable Anabaptism."
Pastor de Roore: "I have apostatized from your Babylonian mother, the Roman church, to the . . . true Church of Christ-this I confess and thank God for it.

    Blosser is intrigued and gladdened to see the great contrast of the two great spiritual actors in the lives of his extended family (his grandparents remain Anabaptist) now speaking to each other and celebrates the new dialogue.  He quotes the blessing of Cardinal Edward Cassidy of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on the World Mennonite Conference, 1997, Calcutta, India:  “We are convinced that it is the will of Christ that his disciples seek unity, for the scandal of division amongst Christians ‘provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature.’  Please know that we are with you in prayer in your daily deliberations,” (Blosser, 11 Feb, 2004).
    Blosser continues engaging an article written by Ivan J. Kauffman, “Mennonite-Catholic Conversations in North America:  History, Convergences and Opportunities.”  Blosser follows Kauffman’s reflection on how a greater, more respectful dialogue in now possible, especially in a North American context, “Both [Mennonites and Catholics] adopted similar survival strategies [against early American persecution] by forming tightly-bound subcultures, with their own schools, cultural traditions and religious organizations.  ‘The right to religious liberty and the separation of church and state which Mennonites and other Anabatpist-origin groups required came to be sought by American Catholics as well, since only under these political conditions could they hope to survive in a majority Protestant culture,” (Blosser, p. 2).  continuing, “Kauffman goes on to describe in great detail how five factors -- 1/ internationalization of the church; 2/ shift from a dogmatic to an historical intellectual perspective; 3/ democratization of society; 4/ liturgical and spiritual change; 5/ changes in the morality of warfare -- shaped Catholics and Mennonites and their interaction with each other,” (Blosser, p. 2).
    In these conversations, we need to recognize that Protestants, Anabaptists, and Roman Catholics may share a common faith and one Lord, but that we live in very different, possibly mutually exclusive religious paradigms.  Schlabach mentions the two greatest differences between Anabaptism and both the Protestant and Roman Catholic paradigms, again, “the rest of the church is too cozy with Imperial (state) power,” (Byassee, p. 3).  Blosser notes, “Friar Cornelis was willing to cause Pastor de Roore’s death for the sake of preserving social and religious order.  But Pastor de Roore would not have been willing to cause Friar Cornelis’ death, even in self-defense… The rejection of lethal violence under any circumstances continues to be a major issue dividing Mennonites and other Anabaptist-origin groups from other Christian churches,” (Blosser, p. 1, 2).  The same concern has long led many Anabaptists to suspect similar dialogues with the Lutherans who have willing apologized for their roles in the deaths of the early Anabaptist martyrs.  The Lutherans will apologize for their actions but not for Martin Luther’s justification for these actions (contained in his ­Book of Orange). 
    What Mattox may be missing in his observations of the division between Lutheranism and Catholicism is the increasing Democratic nature of the Lutheran Church and its congregation-led spirit of worship.  Mattox states, “We as a family want to venerate the Blessed Virgin  Mary, and to unite our prayers with and to the holy martyrs and saints.  We want the holy icons, the rosaries, the religious orders, yes the relics too… and to practice and experience the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist meal while retaining the bond of love and fellowship in communion with the bishop of Rome,” (Byassee, p. 1).  Having attended a Lutheran service off and on for the last three years, I have seen lots of ecumenical interest and support amongst the congregants, but no desire on their part to re-adopt the trappings of the Catholic liturgy or to again submit themselves to the authority of the Vatican.  Mattox’s perspective might indicate a personal desire, but he could hardly state it as a goal in common with his former faith.  In fact, he indeed seems to ignore the aforementioned 94 additional theses.
    Schlabach, Byassee notes, “sees the Catholic Church as the best hope for a reunion of “liberal” and “conservative,” “protestant” and “catholic” visions of the church, ‘Imagine a church…that could not sing without feeding the poor, or feed the poor without nourishment from the Eucharist, nor pass the peace without living peaceably in the world, not be peacemakers without depending on prayer, nor pray without joining in robust song,” (Byassee, p. 3).  Yet, a simple reference to Father Schlabach’s website indicates that he, like Mattox, has perhaps crossed over to preferring the trappings of liturgy and the submission to an authoritarian papal king over the simple, democratic, and humble faith of his forefathers. 
    Blosser indicates that Pope Benedict XVI might have a clearer understanding of what it would take to reunite the various faiths, or what it is at stake in a conversion between them.  During the Bruderhof-Catholic dialogue in 1995, the Bruderhof reacted to Pope John Paul II’s willingness to apologize for the Church’s past use of “violence in the service of the truth,” and commenced several dialogues with the Vatican, including a meeting with Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger.  Reacting to the readings from The Bloody Theater, Ratzinger responded:
    What is truly moving in thse stories is the depth of faith of these men, their beign deeply anchored in our Lord Jesus Christ, and their joy in this fact, a joy that is stronger than death.
    We are distressed, of course, by the fact that the Church was so closely linked with the powers of this world that it could deliver other Christians to the executioner because of their beliefs.  This should be a deep challenge to us, how much we all need to repent again and again - and how much the Chruch must renounce worldly principles and standards in order to accep the truth as the only standard, to look to Christ.  Not to torture others but to go the way of witnessing, a way that will always lead to martyrdom in one form or another.
    I believe it is important for us not to adopt worldly standards, but rather to be ready to face the world’s opposition and to learn that Christ’s truth is expressed above all in love and forgiveness, which are truth’s most trustworthy signs.  I believe that this is the point at which we all have to begin learning anew, the only point through which Christ can truly lead us together, (Blosser, p. 3).
    What is needed now is not for individual non-Catholics who have a preference for High Church services and liturgies to convert, one-by-one as Byassee seems to prefer, but rather to take a hint from both Schlabach and Ratzinger.  Again, Schlabach seems to see the various churches as having differing gifts and unique roles in Christ’s Kingdom.  Begging to disagree with them however, I would propose that we heed Ratzinger’s exhortation that the churches need to come together in love and forgiveness, not in a political-liturgical unity, so that Christ can truly lead us together, Ratzinger did not use the word unity, rather expressed a togetherness which implies separate components. 
    The personal faith journeys of Schlabach and Blosser’s father led them to reject Anabaptism in favor of Catholicism, and if they did this in accord with their personal consciences in obedience to the personal journeys to which God called them, then it is all well and good.  Nor do I feel that it is impossible to be what Schlabach calls Catholic Mennonite or Mennonite Catholic.  But even in these terms one finds the essence of separate identities that cannot be merely united.  Ratzinger understands what would be necessary before these identities can truly unite, “I believe this is the point at which WE ALL HAVE TO BEGIN LEARNING ANEW,” (Blosser, p. 3).
    It seems that Blosser, a Catholic, maybe learning through the efforts of the Bruderhof and Kauffman’s observations, “What remains is to explore the possibility, inherent in Cardinal Ratzinger’s remarks, that the Anabaptist martyrs could in some way be honored by the Catholic Church for their witness to religious liberty and the Church’s peace position,” (Blosser, p. 4). 
    Blosser closes also realizing that at this moment, personal conversions and inter-Church dialogues are what we can realistically expect, “To be honest, this [the conversion of my father from Mennonite to Catholic] is something I regard with mixed feelings -- gratitude for myself, at having discovered the Church and the Catholic faith; but at the same time mixed with sadness for my grandparents, because especially as I get older I find much to appreciate about the Mennonites and my background, and I wonder how much, if anything, of their religious heritage will be carried on by their offspring…How does it feel to be in their shoes, I wonder, now separated by the gulf of troubled history and religious tradition, a rift not likely to be healed in this life?” (Blosser, p. 4). 
    So what can we do now?  Blosser has a great suggestion -- that we seek ways to honor and remember the experiences and faith of our fellow Christians.  Schlabach’s vision of a church that recognizes and incorporates the unique strengths of its constituents, is a great idea that might be implemented now, without requiring an actual unification of the various bodies.  Finally, we might just simply start referring to each other as brothers and sisters and opening our communions to each other that we all, might, as unique individuals responding to singular callings in the Spirit, yet Fellowship in a joint Christian communion.  If the Vatican would move forward on that point, then naming the labels that divide us would be increasingly forgotten through the experience of the ties and spirit that bind us.

Blosser, Christopher, "Against the Grain,' personal blog 11 Feb 2004.

Byassee, Jason, "Going Catholic:  Six Journeys to Rome," The Christian Century Magazine.

Kauffman, Ivan J., "Mennonite-Catholic Conversations in North America:  History, Convergences and Opportunities."

Note that certain bibliographic details have been lost due to software issues.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Form Follows Function

    In a culture known for its quilts, furniture, and quality handicraft in general, one is not surprised to find a deep appreciation for quality design amongst the Anabaptists.  Evident at any MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) fundraising auction, or Schmekfest quilt sale is the Anabaptists’ response to God’s injuction, “In whatsoever ye doest, do heartily as unto the Lord.”  Noting that the Saviour himself began as a carpenter by trade, the pursuit of sturdy and good workmanship could almost be seen a sort of worship.
    I see design and craftsmanship as playing important three important roles in our lives.  First, they witness as to the values and characteristics of the crafter.  Secondly, they fill others with a sense of beauty and comfort.  Finally, they should make life easier, simpler, or more bearable.  Taken only slightly out of context is the Scriptural admonition, “For by your works will ye be known,” (Matt 7: 16). 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fundamental Definitions of Evangelical


[Note that this essay neither utilizes nor refers to the work of Mr. Calvin Wall Redekop or Mr. Kenneth Rempel-Enns, but rather relies on personal experiences within the Brüderthaler Mennonites and documents produced and released by their primary church organization.]

    Post-Modern religious writer, Kathleen Norris writes of the term Evangelism, “’Evangelism’ is a scary word even to many Christians.  I have often heard people who are dedicated members of a church say “I hate evangelism” or “I don’t believe in it,” or, usually from the shy, more introverted members of a congregation, ‘I’ll do anything else for this church, but don’t ask me to serve on the evangelism committee.’ … The word comes from the Greek ‘euangelos,’ meaning a messenger (or angel) bringing good news.  The authors of the four Christian gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- are referred to as evangelists, as are those who preach the gospel.  The bad news about evangelistic might be personified as the stereotypical glad-handing Christian proselytizer,” (Norris, Kathleen, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (1998), Riverhead Books, New York, NY, p. 300).
    Part of the problem that the Brüderthaler - EMB communities have always had is the definition of Evangelical -- a word as prevalent and eventually longer lasting than either the words Defenseless or Mennonite in their tradition.  In a sense, this is not their fault -- Mr. Martin Fast, of Montana’s Grand Prairie community, once defined Evangelical, quite correctly in my understanding, as the mission that Christ’s church inherited from the angels who gave to the shepherds that first Evangel or message -- Evangelical means to spread the message or evangel of Christ, more or less in response to the Great Commission. 

The Beauty of Clouds in the Morning Sky (2010)


Patriarchs of time and cyles, brute strength pushing me forward when all I want to do is to rest for a while and be still, to contemplate and adjust, not move on and forget.

After the fact I look up.  Feminine shades of hue outline billowing puffs of compressed fog smiling into the rising sun.  Stillness, stillness, they greet the rising masculine one, but for this moment, all I have to do is to look, and see, and be.

Despite the lightness of the beauty, my heart is heavy, troubled.  She will never again be part of this stillness.  There will be no more morning coffees in quietness.  No longer will blankets shelter us from the outside cold, the outside time.  No more pancakes steaming on the grill.  Still, quiet moments of being are found, remembered -- time pressures in, erasing them one by one. 

Yet, if I stay quiet, and turn my back to the rising sun, all I can see is beauty, and stillness, and quietness.  My soul rushes up to Thee, I cannot remember, slowly I forget.  The sun warms my arms, my shoulders, my neck.  My coffee is almost gone.  Memory evaporates into light.  I’ve got more important things to do.  I’m awake.  I’m awake.

~ sdw

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bluffton College and WWI COs

    Major Walter Guest Kellogg’s World War I memoir,  The Conscientious Objector (1919) (Boni and Liveright, New York, New York, P. 141), is greatly informative, if not highly flattering, reading for those Anabaptists continuing to hold to a Pacifist idealism.  Very intelligently, Kellogg examines the dilemma of the wartime conscientious objector and the necessary conflict with the state needing to field armies of soldiers, “Numerically, the problem indeed is of small importance; as a matter of principle it is of great importance.  The problem is to be fair to the minority without thereby being unfair to the majority.  A sovereign government must not oppress the honest objector nor, assuredly, should it grant him such special privileges that it thereby discriminates against its patriotic soldiery,” (Kellogg, p. 6). 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Legacy -- a Spiritual Archive


    In Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris writes of her return to religious life:
    When I first ventured back to Sunday worship in my small town, the services felt like a word bombardment, an hour-long barrage of heavyweight theological terminology.  Often, I was so exhausted afterwards that I would need a three-hour nap.  And I would wake depressed, convinced that this world called “Christian” was closed to me.  When, a few years later, I stumbled across that Benedictine monastery, I found worship that was far more accessible and refreshing.  The monks, it seemed, were in less of a hurry, less frantic to fill the air with a quantity of words.  They allowed for silence, room in which the words of scripture and Christian theological tradition might be more readily taken in, digested, absorbed.  Day in, day out, they immersed themselves in the poetry of the psalms.
    …In fact, it took years for me to truly feel a part of Christian worship.  Ironically, the qualities that so often got me in trouble as a child -- anger, stubbornness, a daunting mix of impatience and tenacity -- were a great help to me throughout this confusing and often painful process.
    I am grateful now for that experience of pain and struggle; it makes my present enjoyment of worship all the sweeter.  I now find this enjoyment inseparable from my experience of the communities involved… And I find also that the long struggle to sort out a genuine Christian vocabulary that made me much more wary of religious language that strikes a false note -- the narcissistic babble that masks itself as spirituality, the conventional jargon of evangelism, which can narrow all of Christiandom down to “Jesus and me,” and preachy gusts of sermon-speak, which, in the words of the great preacher Gerard Sloyan, “is the language of a land with no known inhabitants,” p. 7-8.
    In my world, I too have had my difficulties in sorting through the painful recent evolution of my childhood church into something of which I am wary and I do not instinctively recognize.  Growing up, we were always instructed to not touch the nestlings which would often be blown out of their protective nests by the numerous windstorms.  The danger is that if we transfer our scent onto the birds, it will mask their own and their mother will reject them, sentencing them to a slow death by starvation.  Being schooled in the faith of my forefathers by my grandfather and an influential high school administrator, the events of 1987 whereby the old Mennonite church was shelved as irrelevant, unwanted, and wrong, and recast in what my parent’s generation hoped would be a refreshing coat of Evangelical paint, changed that essential scent by which I would naturally recognize “my own.”  As the Mennonite-identified congregation has died out or been safely stored away in nursing homes, a growing sense of alienation has taken hold.  If the church of my grandparents, and great grandparents could be wrong, then why should I accept any church that claims to be “inherently” right and everlasting?  If the Mennonite faith is so wrong and had to be cast away as being incompatible with Truth as my parents’ generation understood it, then were they also ready to condemn these forefathers and remove their place from Heaven?  If my grandfathers were led to Heaven through that church, then was it not dangerous to change it?  In a situation where I was indeed far closer to my grandfather spiritually than to my father, these were painful and dangerous questions indeed.
    Elsewhere Norris describes the period of her life wherein she described herself as “spiritual” rather than “religious” -- a phase with which I also identified.  Again, like Norris, I also found shelter within the walls of the Catholic Church.  Like Norris, I also could identify the reasons why I feel comfortable there -- having experienced the overthrow of an historic religious identity by a rather transient faith that has no identifiable historic or intellectual heritage or accountability, I am comforted by the Catholic church’s longevity.  Finding myself adrift spiritually in a sea of constantly changing absolutes, I can no longer trust absolutes but find comfort in the great diversity tolerated within the Catholic church.  And like Norris, I have often taken refuge in the “silence” of the Catholic worship service.  Many Catholic masses focus not on dogma or “truth” but rather on experiencing and worshipping God.  I have been to too many “Evangelical” services that feel like I am constantly negotiating a contract with my Lord -- I will behave a certain way and believe certain things if He will grant me certain favors in this life and freedom from death in the next.  I will give Him.  He will give me.  After a certain age, it seems that one would possibly desire more out of the reified experience of his or her spirituality.  I have often tried to explain my Catholic experience as being freed within the service of the mass to worship and experience my God.  He needs nothing from me and I need nothing from him, but to “be” and to belong.
    I am fortunate, like Norris, to have gained a more unique relationship with the Roman Catholics in that like her, I became acquainted with it through the monastic orders rather than through a local parish or congregation.  Norris’ journey back to her faith was through the Benedictine’s (p. 80), mine was through the Jesuit educators and those who freely choose to follow the rule of St. Francis.  Unlike Norris, I am unable to return to the faith tradition of my childhood as it has been dismantled and “archived“.  So I am free to choose that which works best for me -- those who speak with words or those who speak in their silence, and which of the two will allow me greater room within their ability to tolerate diversity to preserve what has been retained from my own heritage within my own soul.
    Norris answers the question as to why it is important to resolve your spiritual existence within the context of your own tradition -- “I often find that discovering the family connections is the solution to a puzzle; what happened in a family’s past can help me to place current behavior in perspective.  Sometimes it is possible to see, looking over four generations or so, that the sins of the forebears are indeed visited on their children.  And it is not because an angry and vengeful God has decided to punish the innocent.  It comes from an ancestor having chosen death over life, sowing great bitterness, and sometimes establishing patterns of destruction that endure for generations.  Blood inheritance … is not a curse that renders us helpless, but unless we recognize the patterns, and make choices other than the ones that have caused our families pain for generations, we are doomed to repeat them,” (p. 82).  She goes on to say, “Surely we are more than the sum of our blood inheritance, our family traditions, or lack of them.  In religious development, as in psychological development, we must become our own person.  But denial of our inheritance doesn’t work, nor does simply castigating it as “nothing.”  … There is a vast difference between blindly running away from old “nothings,” and running with mature awareness toward something new,” (p. 82-83).  I would add that there is also a positive inheritance towards which our spirit is biased.  In the physical world, we have recently been made aware that our bodies have evolved a certain way to take best advantage of the worlds of our ancestors.  For this reason, I am counseled to supplement my diet with fish oil capsules because my Dutch-Swede physiology had evolved on a fish-based diet.  I would argue that the same is true of our Spiritual selves.  Conversion is not such a simple thing -- and we need to take care that we still feed our spirit appropriately and be wary of signs indicating the sprouts of inherited spiritual disease.  As Norris points out, this does not mean that we cannot instead adopt a beef-based diet, but if we do, we need to do it with awareness and understanding, not just enthusiasm or passion.
    My personal journey also explains my need to establish and pursue this blog -- it is a narrative interaction with the archive within my own memory, within the conversational narrative of others, and with the paper or print remains of the materials influencing my grandparents and great grandparents to preserve my own Mennonite identity.  Memories of Bible lessons, conversations and the printed testimonies of forebears are the spiritual DNA that helps us understand who we are, how we got here, what we are prone to (good and bad), and thereby, how we can best contribute to life and grow.
    In his book, Archive Fever, Jacques Derrida indicates that the archive is the cultural memory of a people -- and that within it is reflected a sort of natural law indicating our own experiential reality.  In retaining access to this cultural archive we retain the ability and the right to change it, augment it, and to analyze it.  These rights and abilities give us the ability to the legislate or elaborate on that “natural” law or circumstance.  In this case, though the childhood church might be no more, we nevertheless have preserved its memory and retained our access to that experience -- thereby retaining the ability to learn from it, be nourished by it, and to grow beyond it -- providing of course, that a suitable environment for our soul’s nurture can be identified and that we are free to transplant our soul into that new soil.

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