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

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

fon Schäp, ne Schoo, enn ne dijchtewauss*

Klein -- won't read the blog ... but he supports it.

    The world of Mennonite and Anabaptist bloggers is a wild and exotic one indeed – which always intrigues me – when and where did we learn to talk like this?

    Generally speaking, it seems that Mennonite (and Amish) blogs can be relegated to six general categories:  Recipes, sermons, non-Mennonite church historians, the culturally irate Mennonite, non-Mennonite tourists taking pics of the cows, horses and barns, and everything else (my aim is to end up on the latter).  I am also a bit bemused that so many of the largest, best written blogs about Mennonites, really have very little to do with Mennonites – I mean, I guess I am glad to see others feeling comfortable and welcome to associate with us – but also feel a bit overwhelmed – couldn’t they just invent their own label – like Boyd Anabaptists or the Mars Hill Amish?  I mean it’s one more group to add to the differentiation list of definitions – and threatens to overwhelm with their high-impact websites and polished prose, the already ginger balance between religion and historic ethnic identity that ethnic Mennonite bloggers face on-line.

    The truth of the matter is that the Mennonite or even the Mennonite-Amish dialogue is relatively benign – mostly comprising honest and deeply pertinent questions of the weather, crop estimates, helpful hints on machinery or husbandry and general inquiries after the other person’s health.  Even I transgress against this basic point – though the main goal would be to return to and preserve such simple, rarified dialogue.  One of the best achievements of the Mennonite Weekly Review – a most excellent and probably under-appreciated Mennonite publication not unlike the CBC, is that it has maintained the cultural, ethnic, family and weather dialogue without getting dragged down into overly weighty matters.
    The issue is the new Facebook™ page I created for Mennonite bloggers – I mean – what a great idea, right?  - an extension of the great Mennonite dialogue?
     Perhaps not so much.
   The problem is identifying blogs to get to post to the page (or which ones should not really be encouraged).  Most of the eligible blogs are sermons – which is fine… but just based on Google™ searches – the calm, staid Mennonite and Brethren pastors of rural Indiana, the North Dakota prairie or the far-flung foreign mission station are almost completely overwhelmed by the Emergent juggernaut of Urban Mennonites – isn’t an urban Mennonite a Mennonite who lives in the city?  Are we about to face adding an overly complicated letter code of CAPs  and non-caps to our already overwhelming mix of alphabet soups?

    I am becoming much more tolerant of the raving Mennonites – and no, I don’t mean the general dissenters earnestly and valiantly trying to expose the need for greater awareness of women’s issues, LGBT awareness or compassion for immigrants and refugees – rather the alarming number of bloggers who are genuinely hurt and angry about a personal injustice in the past.  The pain I feel for them is that their passion often seems grounded in some sort of reality – but there is, and most of us will admit this, no real way for Anabaptists to deal with such conflicts or community tolerated injustice.  As a community, we too often seem to feel like these problems, and those experiencing them, will just disappear if we ignore them and don’t speak of them.  In the pre-blog world, this seemed to work.  Again, a simple Google search indicates that this is no longer the case – nor are they screaming into a sound-proof box.  Recent discussions regarding sexual abuse and assault at Prairie Bible in Alberta kind of sums up this category.  Not only is it important to understand what did or did not happen at Prairie, but it is conversation that we should be more engaged in generally as a preventative – even our Hutterite and more conservative Koloni’er cousins are finding this out.

    In the old days, we would have possibly tried to address their issues within the gemeinde -- much like the Amish of Ohio and Pennsylvania attempted at first, to deal with Sam Mullet and the recent ponzi scheme scandal.  But, as we assimilated, we gave up our cultural tools and authority -- gave them over to the national host cultures -- these problems are now beyond our ability to deal, they are no longer our responsibility -- all they can promise to us is potential liability.  Sometimes, this is a relief, and at others, makes one feel a bit helpless.  None of us are as strong or perfect as we would like to be -- nor was the gemeinde always effective or benevolent either.  Perhaps it is for the best -- but is the new system any better?

    Finally, we have the true haters – political extremist persons of Mennonite culture and descent who use the Internet to commit hate crimes against other groups.   Troubling as this is… one can really only quietly ignore them and hope for the best.  Engaging them only seems to encourage them and tarnishes all of our reputations.  Being from Montana, I should have more answers as to how to handle these extremists – but apart from encouraging them all into underground bunkers or moving them over to Idaho, I have no real solutions.
    Most problematically, it seems that in dealing with such diverse elements, the on-line dialogue is already rocky, choppy and confused.  Where is the room to quietly share and discuss the mundane but very real everyday issues of our everyday experiences if we have to sneak it past the sermons and be heard over the diatribe?  I want a quiet on-line fastpa, not a soapbox.

    There have been some great Mennonite columnists and bloggers – Dale Suderman writing of Kansas, the “Amish Cook” or Coblentz and Eicher family from Indiana, BMC’s Outspoken series on women’s issues and the LGBT, the numerous travelogues…  but these should be the norm, not the noticeable exceptions.  (I’m dealing with esoteric, mildly academic ephemera so am unable to assist myself.)
    Reading through the old copies of the Herald of Truth, one is immediately struck by the esoteric nature of the paper – social issues, political concerns, immigration concerns and sermons were all stuck together cheek-by-jowl into a pleasing mix that more or less exemplified the diversity of topic and interest that makes up the lives of the Mennonites.  The Evangelisches-Bote, which while a worthy endeavor, was definitely an advocacy tabloid, still retained numerous tidbits about the everyday lives of the Evangelical Russian Mennonites, but was definitely less a dialogue tool than a resource for spiritual instruction.
    I for one greatly enjoy hearing the personal stories, reflections, thoughts and testimonies of my fellow Mennonites and Anabaptists.  I have taken more joy from a well-written column by the Amish Cook or the everyday life experiences of a Mennonite youth newly arrived in Toronto or in-service to Peru than I really have from most of the sermons.  I have learned more about faith from Dale Suderman’s old columns than I really glean from the Mars Hills' debates…  How do we retain and encourage this?
    At the end of the day, I have no answers, only preferences.  My filtering software is set to high – but sometimes I truly wonder if we might just be better off sticking to recipes.

* I know this wrong -- but until it can be fixed....  

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