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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Devil's Playground

Check out review under Media.

Consubstantial Meanings

    Those Mennos in the know will be aware of the great stir last Sunday amongst our Catholic brothers and sisters.  Mere decades into Vatican II, which changed the language of the Mass from Latin to the local vernacular – in my case, American-English, Pope Benedict XVI has mandated new changes to the English Mass in an attempt to unify all English worship services around the world into a single text while realigning that single text to more closely approximate the original Latin phraseology.
    In Menno-speak, this means tweaking the common service similarly to reverting to the New King James Bible over the NIV (New International Version) in order to preserve and highlight key traditional theological teachings (or for German speakers, realigning Luther’s German Bible to more closely reflect the Latin Vulgate).  Essentially, English speaking Roman Catholics are facing the reverse of the 1980s Mennonite (Brüderthaler) decision to replace the “traditional” King James Bible (KJV) with the more approachable and modern NIV.
    As a frequent ecumenical worshipper in Roman Catholic masses, I, like many Catholics, have a series of concerns and hopeful expectations for Benedict’s changes.
    Most Catholics are seemingly focused on the mere concept of changing the texts of the traditional Mass.  As Anabaptists, this would be the equivalent of changing the wordings of many of our beloved hymns to clarify theological terms and more accurately quote the texts of the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures.  Mennonites might then understand the dilemma – to place fundamentalist orthodoxy over meaningful and traditional creative spirituality.  Are the differences in wording really that controversial that we must give up the traditional phrases?
    The Catholic changes have also resulted in some excellent religious reporting by the New York Times.  On 28 Nov, Sharon Otterman observes that, “The introduction of the New [changes] … appeared to pass smoothly in churches, despite some confusion and hesitancy over the new words. …”  But, “… behind the scenes, the debate over the new translation has been angry and bitter, exposing rifts between a Vatican-led church hierarchy that has promoted the new translation as more reverential and accurate, and critics, among them hundreds of priests, who fear it is a retreat from the commitment of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to allowing people to pray in a simple, clear vernacular as they participate in the church’s sacred rites,” (Otterman, see below).
    Father Christopher Robinson, C.M., pastor of Chicago’s DePaul Parish, puts it more mildly, “There will probably be quite a bit of opinions shared, both privately as well as in the media, about the changes we are experiencing in the language of the mass.  The challenges of learning new phrases, the costs connected the purchase of new books and materials, and the sometimes awkward-sounding word choices open us up to a variety of critiques.  One parishioner asked me if this is really the most important issue the Church needs to occupy itself with at this time,” (newsletter).
    As for me, having been raised on the so-called Protestant-Latin of the KJV Bible, reworking words such as consubstantial back into the service is a change towards which I am rather inclined.
    Yet I find myself strangely uncomfortable and perhaps a bit threatened by changes in the Profession of Faith (the I Believe…).  Significantly, the old familiar and inclusive we is replaced by the more American, more modern and more individualistically imposing I.
    Pietist Mennonites believe that Faith and Salvation are matters dependent on the individual or self, but in the context of the We (the community, the congregation, the gemeinde).
    Secular or ethnic Mennonites share this concept of subjugating the self, the I, to the communal identity of the We – a distinct counter-cultural tendency to prefer the old pluralistic gemeinshaft to the more contemporary American preference for gesellshaft – the politics, economy and identity of the individual.
    Traditional Mennonites might also be encouraged by the almost Anabaptist reaction of some Catholics to the changes in text.  Otterman quotes George Lind who attended the new Mass in New York’s Times Square-area Holy Cross Church, “I am so tired of being told exactly what I have to say, exactly what I have to pray … I believe in God, and to me that is the important thing.  ... ” (Otterman).  
    Lind recalls that his anger at being coerced in such a way actually forced him into silence during the service.  In Mennonite tradition, Lind would, of course, be encouraged to use that silence to talk to God in his own words.  Though most Catholics of my acquaintance have already discovered the power of such prayer.
    Overall, most Roman Catholics are being pragmatic about the changes.  Father Chris felt it was useful to reflect on the so-called “Watchman Passages” of Advent that were coincidentally the readings for 27 November (Isaiah 63, I Corinthians 1: 3-9 and Mark 13: 33-37). 
    As Christians, we are called to be attentive, to be aware.  Regarding the new wordings, Father Chris reflects, “There is even a part of me that appreciates having to be more attentive to what I am and am not saying in the new translation,” (newsletter). 
    In other words, take this moment as a time to get out of the rut of rote participation.  Pay new attention to the words and experience anew the meaning of the Mass and the love of Christ.
    In Father Chris’ words, “The new translation makes this easy.  If I do not pay attention, I am going to fumble around in my words and miss a few things.  The … attentiveness that Advent calls us to runs much deeper,” (newsletter).
    Just as Mennonites successfully faced many challenges changing from the German to the English (or Spanish), changing from the King James Bible to the NIV, and changing from the old traditional hymns to contemporary Evangelicalism’s lighter Christian melodies, Father Chris indicates a hopeful acceptance of such changes.  The terms of the Old Mass are consubstantially the same as those of the new.  As Father Chris recognizes, “… The light of Christ will not be extinguished for having changed a few words” (Mass).

Courtesy of and (c) St Vincent DePaul Parish, Chicago, IL.

  • Otterman, Sharon, “Catholic Church Uses New Translation of Mass, Closer to the Original Latin,” The New York Times, New York section, 28 Nov 2011, p A17, A18.
  • Robinson, Father Christopher, Vincent’s People, 27 Nov 2011, Parish bulletin, Chicago, IL, p 5.
  • Robinson, Father Christopher, text of homily, 27 Nov 2011, Saint Vincent  de Paul Roman Catholic Church, Chicago, IL.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Holiday Perischke

Traditional Mennonite Fruit Pockets
    In my experience, perischke have been an essential fastpa treat, but they have struggled to find a true place in the North American holiday schedule.  Anabaptists have long enjoyed perischke for “tea”, coffee breaks (lunch) or fastpa while working in the fields, between church services and choir practice or tucked into summer Bible school (DVBS) lunch-sacks.  Eating them always makes one feel warm inside – like when Grandma would sneak you an extra molasses cookie.  Like molasses cookies, they were never a “holiday” food, but just that sort of home-cooked goodness that gave you a sort of after-lunch or mid-afternoon hug from Mom or Grandma.
    The Mennonites of Montana have made perischke into a Schmekfest classic – along with pfefferneuse, tweibach and verenika.  In fact, while Grandma often made perischke for everyday consumption, Mom was more likely to make her annual super-batches that required a herculean effort to complete.  A few dozen were set aside for Schmekfest – the rest were squirreled away in the freezer to last out the year.
    Of course, the entire family, privileged patriarch excepted, got roped into helping Mom complete her late night baking.  To this day, the baking of perischke remains one of the few activities us kids have retained binding us and the grandkids together in her memory (their privileged patriarchs now excepted).
    The term perischke is seemingly becoming an anachronism amongst the American Russländer.  While Canadian, Mexican and Paraguayan literature and cookbooks continue to use the term, apart from the Mennonite Brethren and the Brüderthaler, many American Mennonites now seem to prefer the term peroghi (drawing from the Bethel  archives, Edna Kaufman uses the term perogi).  No self-respecting Russländer Mennonite would make such a mistake, however.  Everyone (at least those with whom I grew up) knows that perogi are boiled while perischke are baked.  A Polish friend in Chicago once actually apologized for serving his grandmother’s perogi baked (he had just moved and did not yet have a boiling pot).  No problem,” was my response, “these are just like my grandmother’s perischke” – which was almost true.
    Judging from Winnipeg, Minneapolis and Chicago – all with large Polish enclaves, true perogi  are a bit more similar to vereniki – more of a noodle dough rich in cream and eggs.  When you bake, rather than boil, a verenika or a peroghi, the dough tends to form a tough outer skin that easily turns rubbery in the oven.  So it is really a misnomer that perischke are merely fruit-filled peroghi.  Like lions and tigers, perischke and peroghi might look alike but are entirely distinct species.
    Nor are perischke a form of Anabaptist danish – the doughs are not at all similar.  A danish is constructed from a flakey, buttery puff pastry dough more similar to a croissant than to a pie crust. 
   Thus resisting all attempts at cultural ecumenicalism, the perishke must stand alone.
    In the 3rd Lustre EMB Ladies’ Aid cookbook, What’s Cooking in Lustre, journalist and cultural historian Carolyn Fauth defines perischki  as “… a fruit-filled pastry.  The crust is generally a rich pie crust dough but can also be a yeast dough like a basic sweet roll dough.  The fillings vary with the two most commonly used ones being finely cut apples with sugar and flour mixture sprinkled with cinnamon or fruit mixture made of dried apricots, dried peaches and prunes or each separate cooked with water until the mixture thickens like jam, then add sugar to taste.  Other fruits are cherries, Juneberries [Saskatoons], or blueberries.”  To her list of add-ons, one might readily add the historic mulberries of Molotschna.
    Having identified perischke, here are a couple of ideas to make holiday perischke special and reflective of other holiday food traditions (see the recipe tab for recipes).
     The Pumpkin Perischke is an idea whose time has come.  An aficionado of traditional pumpkin pie, I have often been guilty of having pie for breakfast.  These treats are equally good for dessert or that quick morning pick-me-up.  I recommend the half-circle shape for the pumpkin perischke.  Just beware that pumpkin perischke are a bit more work than pumpkin pie.
    There are a couple of differing opinions regarding the correct shape of perischke namely whether they should be cut and formed into half-circles similar to verenika or folded into true square fruit pockets.  My mother preferred the more decorative square pockets she had been taught by my great grandmother – but also tended to make perischke only for special occasions. My grandmother tended to make perischke more often for everyday consumption and almost exclusively folded hers into little half circles.
    Otherwise there is no clear reason as to why some fold their perischke one way or another.  I have heard that the half circles are easier to form, but this has not been my personal experience. 
    It is possible that more people from Mountain Lake tend to fold theirs into half-moons – this might also hold true for their descendants out West.  Possibly then, the square pockets might be a more traditional Nebraska approach to perischke -- with possible ties to the Kleine Gemeinde.  But this is all speculation.
    Another new holiday favorite for me is the cranberry-apple perischke.  These tasty bites look great peeking through the folds of the traditional square pockets.  You might even want to consider adding walnuts to the filling -- but be sure to label your perischke clearly for those guests with food allergies.
    Celebrating the global diversity of the Mennonites diaspora during the holidays, I am a new fan of the guava perischke reminiscent of Mexican or Cuban Pastelitos.  Definitely consider cheating and resorting to use of a commercial guava paste such as is used by my local Mexican pasteleria – you might have to look in the ethnic food aisle of your favorite grocer or specialty market.  Guava paste has the added benefit of being relatively inexpensive – a lot of taste for the buck.
    Finally, for more of an ethnic Mennonite touch, it is now possible to purchase dried mulberries at Whole Foods.  While they are sold as “The Turkish Super Food” meant for trail-mix, it should be possible to reconstitute them into a suitable filling.
    So while I am comfortable with the humble perischke remaining a simple everyday treat, try out a few new twists and dress them up for the holidays.  There might be some life left in them yet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Madonnas, Breasts and Mennonites

A Review of Diane Driedger’s The Mennonite Madonna (1999)

    Diane Driedger’s book is hardly news – in fact, many have come to regard it as a classic of the protest poetry of late 20th Century Canadian Mennonite-dom – the so-called Bitter Poets, the self-styled Recovering Mennonites.
    Driedger’s compositions can be divided roughly into four groups – poetry dealing with the shunning and ban of her great grandfather Johann Driedger in a 1908 frontier town in northern Saskatchewan; the poetry of her own autobiography; the poetry of womanhood finding its own strength and empowerment; and poems of her personal liberation in Trinidad and Tobago. 
    The Mennonite world is full of descriptives – English, German  and even a few Russian modifiers flying about seeking to inform and influence every moment of worship, work and self-consciousness.  So many words might be found filling the air that Mennonites have often become masters of the acronym and the code word just to marshal these spurious gnats into a semblance of order, to constrict them enough to give us the space necessary for us – for our individual living and the freedom to form our own identities.  In many ways, Driedger’s book Mennonite Madonna is exactly that – the marshaling of words into small coherent packets of order that can be dealt with, celebrated, praised or even buried and forgotten.  Under her direction, words of hatred, control and even the unspoken Mennonite sins of communal abuse, are slowly forced back into place – into a format and cogency that diminishes their power to inflict pain.  In this Driedger succeeds admirably – establishing a collection infused with meaning culturally, sexually (as in relating to the genders) and yet intimate through personal reflections of herself and her great-grandparents.
    Driedger takes the title of the book from Pieta – a reflection on the vandalizing of the famous Roman statue in 1972.  Driedger reflects on the dismemberment of a finger:
                I looked at the finger
                glued on?
                yes it was still
                resisting the comforting motion
                of the other fingers
                a finger
                                going its own
     Perhaps this image of a broken finger, restored, yet going its own way is a the picture of both the experience of the greater Driedger family still paying for the presumed offense of Johann in 1908 and still bearing the marks of a generation of emotional and social abuse against her family.  At the same time, Driedger reveals a picture of her own conflicted heritage as a Mennonite.  Obviously, Driedger feels shaped and formed by her Mennonite ethnicity, and yet like her great-grandfather, demands the freedom to identify with it but not to be shaped, controlled or abused by it. Unlike Johann, Driedger finds her own strength to accept the church, society, marriage, others… on her terms, not theirs.  Sometimes she chooses to cooperate and accept:
nasty hand his.  on my knee in his office where I need to
fundraise for this project you see. and he waits until my male
colleague is out of reach and then sets me down in his den.
pretends to flip over my page. he’s not interested in
the paper. finds a fancy for knees and thighs as his fingers
lightly touch my knee. I breathe in out in out in out. I think
our government should be hiring decent men.  pretend not
to notice, like a lady. …
    Sometimes she chooses to decline:
                 … now I leave him
                our established routines
                the old withering away
                I fashion new wineskins
                of my own
                loving leaving entirely
                arriving at myself
                and on this day death smells
     But always, she sees participation as a choice – if not in fact, at least in her ability to withhold consent:
                 … your life giving
                had a plan
                a prerequisite
                if I had known
                I would not have
                would not have accepted.
     The image of the Madonna itself is perhaps borrowed.  As Mennonites, we have no strongly preserved tradition of spiritually powerful and authoritative women – at least not outside of the kitchen, bedroom and garden.  So the image of the Madonna is appropriated from Rome, from Catholicism – and yet it finds a comforting home astride Driedger’s collection.  By page 68, Dreidger finds her own Mennonite and personal identity by allowing others to discover her self, her words and her female form through the consensual sharing of her private thought, her physicality and her independence:

                My boyfriend read that poem
                about breasts
                at Bible college
                it was by a Mennonite writer
                so my boyfriend read it in class
                amid snickers
                I knew he was filled
with breasts
in his heart and hands
my breasts
beautiful       he said
a Venus di Milo
but I had arms
and a head

now    oh   breasts
once perky and proud
womanhood has set in
the after thirty plunge
no longer goblets

afraid     I avert my eyes
try to focus on another
body part
that may have fared better
but alas
my breasts
were my last stronghold
of youth
I wonder
will these breasts
lure men to my den
ah    it doesn’t really matter.
    Driedger’s portrayal of Johann as the proverbial victim, creatively allows him to emerge – a man more interesting in life for his afflictions, a man more sure of the love and dedication of his wife for her support in his spiritual and social exile – a man empowered with a strong voice, a voice able to single-handedly push back against the many combined voices of a weak, passionless and fearful congregation.  Yet as an outsider, Johann is allowed to become a prophet – a position of authority he never held from inside the church.  Johann’s voice emerges from the one-amongst-many as the solitary voice of a poet-writer – a crooked finger, once cut off only to be restored in its uniqueness, strengthened to makes its own way apart from the general curves of the whole:
                 The Congregation

                to the church
                up the stairs
                he comes again and again
                shut the doors
                hold them tight
                against Johann Driedger
                why does he come here
                why keep pushing against
                our shunning
                our beliefs
                our God
                hold the doors shut
                Dreidger is pushing
                saying let me in
                I will blow your house
 and from Johann’s Psalm:
                 …  I have become a god head
                the head beckoned by God
                to do his will to be in
                love with the world the
                modern world
                the sins of the Mennonite fathers
                keep piling up
                even the snow cannot hide them.
 or Johann 1911:
                 … yes to the church to confront the Bishop
                his lack of understanding
                of biblical teaching
                to love each other in difference …

                … I will not be silenced
                in my opposition
                will not accept
                no never accept
                their shunning
                I am of the Mennonite Church
                of God
    From this tradition, Driedger has dredged her own identity, her own strength, her own voice and her own commissioning by the Spirit.  In my sir name, she pays heed to her name – Driedger, of Flemish origin meaning “powerful spear”.  She explores this meaning and decides that it is a good name for a “Menno knight.”  Diana, her first name, hearkens back to the Roman goddess of the hunt, the moon, of women – a “power full spear.”  As an ethnic Mennonite, she also couches her quest in the spiritual language and metaphor of her forebears:
                my pen
                is this what  is
                meant by the inspired writing
                of the Bible…
                … he wrote was he like me
                trying to find a way out of
                (into) the maze of the world
                of himself …
     Less compelling stylistically yet equal in emotional vigour is her anthem to Mennonite writers:
                 This is a psalm of praise
                to the homeless ones
                from Russia
                from Reinland
                from Steinbach

                … oh for a thousand tongues
                yes in Winnipeg there are many
                Mennonite writers
                all tongues wag
                praise to the writers
                for they have tongues of fire
                and God has not delivered them
                unto their people
                He has cradled them
                with words fiery    deep
                and so full of love for this home
                selah …
     The Mennonite Madonna, despite its age – it was published in 1999 – continues to resonate with pride, determination and voice.  Drawing from the stories and strength of her great grandparents and their pioneer history, their quiet, individual spiritual determination and their survival as spiritual outcasts in an inhospitable world, as well as from her own quiet struggles with self-acceptance, womanhood and socially-empowered injustices, Driedger wraps the comforting arm of her great grandmother Katharine around individuals seeking their voice in this world.  The solid unwillingness to wrongly concede defeat when words of truth are meant to be spoken comes from Johann, Katherine’s husband.  Yet nowhere is there such a strong condemnation, a bitter gall of past wrongs, as much as an invitation to the present to be inspired by the errors of the past to create a better now – to feel sorry for those who unlike her great grandparents, cowered together in dull, conformist, unfulfilled and perhaps erroneous lives.  Her own stories demonstrate how those lessons remain pertinent to this day.  Any bitterness would be directed not against the past or even against organized religion, but rather against the expectant assertion that one could choose fear over life, conformity over self-realization, and silence over truth.  The secret of the Madonna seems to be that life is a choice – not one necessarily entered into freely, but one of how we will choose to live.  While the Pieta’s pose is traditional, formal and manipulated – hope rests in the divine inspiration of that tiny little finger – going its own way, drawing strength from the whole yet following the inner inspiration of its own voice, resolving its own maze, confronting its own physical insecurities – finding its own way.  Selah.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Anabaptists on Wall Street

We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.”  Slavoj Žižek, Zuccotti (Liberty) Park, New York City, 10 Oct, 2011   
    No – I am not making an obscure reference to Anabaptists in Montana’s Lustre-Volt communities (along Wall Street Road).  Rather, I am muddling through potential similarities and differences between the so-called Radical Anabaptists of pre-Modern Europe, from which the Lustre-Volt Mennonites descend, and current non-religious social and market protesters in Cairo, Vancouver and New York.
    Žižek's words were directed to Occupy Wall Street protesters in present-day New York City.  Yet, they could just as easily be applied to the social upheavals of 16th Century Europe.
    Contemporary Anabaptists – what your everyday North American thinks of when you say Mennonite or Amish, are in many ways the result of a very successful, centuries-old public relations effort.  In reality, Anabaptists have only recently been seen as harmless, pacifist farmers who dress funny and speak poor English.  For much of history, the term Anabaptist indicated a suspicious, grass-roots, democratic and anti-elitist movement in both church and state – a movement condemned  and feared equally by Rome, Martin Luther and the secular princes of Reformation Europe. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Keystone Pipeline

Nebraska farmers may not have prevented the Keystone XL pipeline from going through in the long run, but they are to be credited for bringing environmental and safety concerns regarding such mega projects to the forefront. Hopefully, future projects will be held more accountable for past safety records and for disclosing the full negative potential impact of future accidents to host communities.

An environmental action website ( indicates that while Keystone estimated that it would have 1 incident in 7 years, that in fact, Keystone had 12 spills in 1 year.

Even 1 spill in 7 years is too many considering the potential damage to the heartland of America’s grain exporting region – and the permanent damage that could be done to the region’s giant aquifers. In Canada, many First Nations’ groups have questioned the moral ethic of placing such pipelines across historic First Nations’ lands – and the potential devastation that accidents could wreak on both present communities and historic cultures.

Many historic Russländer Mennonite and Hutterite communities could be directly impacted by accidents in these Keystone projects – including the Hillsboro-Newton, Kansas region, noted academic centers for both the Mennonite Brethren and former General Conference, the former south reserve in Manitoba, the Nebraska birthplace of the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren (former Petersgemeinde), the historic American settlements for the Kleine Gemeinde and many others. This region is the North American equivalent to Witmarsum; to the Swiss Emmentale; or to the Ukrainian Chortitza, Molotschna, and Borosenko communities.

Russian Mennonites and Hutterites settled in the region as refugees from Russia about 140 years ago (ca. 1874). In that time, even by Keystone’s best estimates, they would have sustained 20 emergency ruptures. However, if their current track record holds, this Russian Mennonite heartland would have sustained 1,680 such incidents.

Many good arguments exist for why this and other such pipelines should be built – but recent events in the Gulf of Mexico, along the Alaska Pipeline, on Montana’s Yellowstone River, and on an even greater scale, in Nigeria, indicate that impacted communities and cultures need to be better informed about emergency prevention and maintenance issues. Involved governments also need to become proactive rather than reactive to potential emergencies. Trust funds need to be established to repair expected damage and to compensate impacted communities. Fees and fines for realized accidents need be meaningful and preventative in their scope.

As an ethno-sociologist, I would also like to see monies set aside by the owners of these projects to help develop, preserve and protect the local histories and unique cultural identities of these often small communities and cultures – aboriginal, Anabaptist, rural and otherwise. Only in the maintenance of strong community and cultural ties will the resources be found to protect the local environment and culture against the ill-effects of pollution and potential accidents, and to establish the cooperative networks necessary to both monitor the projects and to respond effectively to each potential incident.

Canada’s First Nations and the farmers of Nebraska have taught us that we need to value, protect and maintain our personal ties to the land from which our families and cultures originate. It is a mutual, multi-generational obligation. It is an obligation that current generations need to take a bit more seriously.

We owe it to the past. We owe it to the future.

Keystone Pipeline Map courtesy of (14 Nov 2011), modified 14 Nov 2011).

Mennonite Culture

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