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

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Russians and Lost Horse Breeds

"Lost" Caspian Horse Breed
     Following up on Bruderthaler's previous post on the Russian Mennonite or lost Russlander Horse breed, there is already precedent in re-establishing a lost horse breed.   
    In 1965, Louise Firouz, an American woman married to an Iranian, became fascinated by the depictions of horses on ancient Persian walls in Persepolis, the ancient capital of Darius the Great.  She found similar horses in the steppes of northern Iran despite there being no mention of the breed since the 7th Century AD (CE).
Reproduction of Persepolis Carving.
    She named her horses "Caspians" after the area in which she found them and started breeding them.  Despite their small size, they are horses, not ponies.  (Ponies are generally considered small draft horses, but the Caspian has an entirely different build rather like an Arab horse.)
    The breed is numerically small in numbers but now exists in Iran, Great Britain and the United States.
     If a present-day horse lover, perhaps of Mennonite, Amish or Anabaptist descent wished to invetigate and re-restablish a stud of the lost Russlander or Russian Colonist Breed, it would be likely that the present Russian and Ukrainian governments would not object since the whole procedure would have positive historical nationalistic overtones.

Jim Edminister
submitted Jan 26

Caspian Horse colt and mare


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Preserving the Diaspora

Jewish Expulsion by Titus 70 C
     I have to admit a fair amount of annoyance with the definition creep of the term diaspora to include every single instance of international ethnic community or multinational identity.  Mainly, my sense of annoyance comes from the lack of a replacement term that refers to the traditional (pre-2004) use of the term when it was seemingly expanded to refer to any international ethnic group that transcends international boundaries such as a migratory, refugee or international immigrant communities.  Disturbingly, the definition is seemingly again being modified further to refer to these international immigrant communities who retain their relations to an established, existing “homeland” or country of origin – completely redefining the most historic usage of the term.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New additions to the 2013 Mennonite Booklist

Eunice Adorno - Las Mujeres Flores (The Flower Girls:  Mennonites in Mexico) (2012)

    Mennonite lovers of art books often have to settle with beautiful prints of Mennonite and Amish quilts, photographs of barns, or the more picturesque photo journals of our Hutterite and Amish cousins.
    Mexico City-photographer Eunice Adorno is changing all this with her photographic journal of the lives of Mennonite girls in Mexico's isolated Nuevo Ideal communities (colonies) in Durango and La Onda, Mexico.
    Many Russian Mennonites left homes in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in 1922 as the Canadian government began to require greater assimilation into Anglo-Canadian culture and greater tolerance of patriotic inculcation in the then-become mandatory public schools.  Today, some 90,000 Mennonites call Mexico home.  In fact, Mexico is becoming a new global center for Russian Mennonite literature, cinema and cultural development -- though many Mexicans will continue to think of their quiet, German-speaking neighbours as the fond originators of quesa Mennonita, now often marketed by Mexican grocers as queso chihuahua.
    Adorno similarly recommends the photography of Larry Towell as a heavy influence on her work.  Check out Towell's photographic collection in The Mennonites (2000).

John M. Barry,  Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul:  Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (2012)

John M. Barry's Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul:  Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (2012) is an effective and informative look at how religious dissent and a reactionary intolerance in the early Massachusetts colony gave rise to the developed principle of religious freedom in the modern United States. 

    Many Americans and Anabaptists tend to forget or overlook the contributions of the Dutch Mennonites in shaping the attitudes and doctrines of the Pilgrim settlers.  Perhaps their influence on religious dissent in the Massachusetts Bay colony settlements helped establish this democratic principle on American soil well before the first Mennonites and Amish arrived in New York or Pennsylvania.

Friday, January 20, 2012

119th Anniversary Hansen's German Edition

    Today is the 119th Anniversary of the publication of the Georg Hansen Volume in Elkhart, Ind.  To celebrate this anniversary, I submit the editorial exhortations from this publication in defense of our need to be aware of and to study the traditions of the past.  Please forgive my overly under-qualified attempts at translation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Faith, Lists and Consensus

The Fundamentalist writings

en Gruntsteen 

    Sometimes, contemporary Anabaptism seems to have become almost pre-occupied with the concept of written confessions and statements of faith.  Statements similar to “you must believe…”, “We Believe…” or “Anabaptism today is defined by…” are seemingly increasingly common.  Make no mistake, Liberal Anabaptists, so-called Traditional Anabaptists, Fundamentalist Evangelicals and the Evangelical Mennonites all seem to be just as determined to increasingly define both themselves and others in the narrowest terms possible.  Amongst the Brüderthaler and former EMB, people are still being asked the two questions – “What do Mennonites believe?” and “Do you identify with the Evangelical creed or the Mennonite creed?”.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Civil Notions of Marriage

ne Kjast

 Questions regarding same-sex marriage are a hot button topic in Illinois this election cycle – much of it has to do with the Vatican’s opposition in this largely Roman Catholic heritage state.  In short, in response to the state of Illinois allowing civil unions, Illinois Catholic Charities ceased their operations lest they be forced to place a child for adoption with a gay or lesbian couple.  Also, the oft-P.R.-challenged Cardinal Francis George butted into a situation pitting a gay-friendly Catholic congregation against the local LGBT Pride Parade organization, accusing the local LGBT community of acting like the KKK – an admittedly rather bizarre analogy.
 Since I am the only practicing Mennonite that many people with whom I interact know personally, I field a lot of questions regarding Mennonites and Catholics, Mennonites and Mormons, or just plain old “What do Mennonites believe?”  In this case, I have started to field a number of questions regarding Mennonites and their attitudes towards marriage and the LGBT community (please recall that many Americans still confuse Mennonites and Mormons and wonder if we still allow polygamy).
    Regarding questions on Mennonite attitudes towards same-sex or gay marriage, I am not sure that the Mennonites really have a “Mennonite” position on this topic.  Err – that is not to say that I do not doubt that most if not all Anabaptists have definite and committed opinions on the matter – only that there is not a clear philosophical or value position to be derived from Anabaptist values.  There is no denying that the majority of Mennonite conferences have published very clear anti-same-sex marriage position statements, but as to the proportion of accepting versus non-accepting Mennonites in general, or the actuality of personal and individual beliefs versus published church papers, remains somewhat coloured and in doubt.

Colonist Horse -- the Russian Mennonite Horse

Ne Kol’ni'er Peat

Mennonites in Russia (c) MCUSA Archive.
   Out of curiosity due to conversations regarding American Amish and their preferred horse breeds, I did some research regarding breeds that were popular in Eastern Europe during the time of the Prussian and Russian Mennonites. 
    I was surprised to discover that just as the Percheron-Standardbred crossbreed is often associated with the American Amish, that the Russian Mennonites had been affiliated with their own breed or crossbreed – the so-called Colonist Horse or Mennonite Horse of Ukraine and Russia. 
    Researching the “Mennonite Horse” or “Colonist Horse” of Little Russia leads to very few clues, however, and while Mennonite livestock herds were still seemingly relatively intact at the time of the Russian Revolution, one suspects that many of the Russian Mennonite livestock-types probably degenerated into common Soviet stock – an almost certainty after the Great Famine, after the Holodomor and especially after Stalin’s post-War purges – any one of which could have easily eliminated entire breeds.
    Based in part on pure speculation, I am choosing to bring some of these clues back to the forefront in an attempt to record the past existence of these breeds and to indicate what is known of these horses.  But this is more of an attempt to alert others to continue research rather than to serve as a definitive description of the so-called lost Colonist Horse of the Russian Mennonites.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

De hejchste onn de ellste Foda

Part 2:  Kirill I's warnings resonate in the US, Canada

     As of 07 January, Sophia Kishkovshy, writing in the New York Times (Church Hints it May Serve as Mediator in Russia (p A7), continues her series of articles on the possibility of the Russian Orthodox Church repositioning itself in a middle position between the newly re-elected Putin government and the street protestors demanding an accounting for perceived incidents of potential election fraud.
    In this, Patriarch Kirill I speaks as clearly to members of the United States and Canadian electorates as he does to his fellow Russians.  While many would like to see Kirill’s recent public remarks as supporting one side or the other in this debate, it seems clear that Western observers, perhaps hoping for a public endorsement of the protestors similar to that by members of the British Anglican clergy, are probably reading into Kirill’s remarks a bit much.
    While Kirill has both addressed apparent scandal and corruption within the Russian government, and more importantly, he has quietly allowed other priests relatively free reign in criticizing the government and identifying with the protestors, Kirill is by no means clearly on side or the other.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Temporary Temporal Allegiances

 Vanished Kingdoms

“Here’s another book on your part of the world – are you interested in the review?” a friend asks me as he hands over the latest Sun-Times (Sunday, 08 Jan).

“I would be if I wasn’t so behind on the Pinker reviews,” was my lamentable answer.

Normally, I put all such reviews into a file to go through for the next year’s book list – books that pertain to the 500 years-old Mennonite Anabaptist history and ethnic identity. “My part of the world” varies between the former Assiniboia region straddling the border prairies between the US and Canada to the Prairie Midwest (that’s you – Omaha, Hutchinson and Sioux Falls) to the blurred historic region of West Prussia, Danzig and Poland south to Ukraine and the Russian Kuban. Russländer Anabaptism is more an ethnic archipelago than a single geographic heritage.

Norman Davies’ Vanished Kingdoms is the book in question. Davies’ latest (released in the EU last October) is a history of kingdoms and European nation states that no longer exist – many of them in the historically volatile Central and Eastern Europe. Seemingly Davies spends quite a bit of time exploring the various historical incarnations of Poland (including Sigismund’s Kingdom in which the first refugee Mennonites from the Netherlands weathered) to West Prussia and the small fledging nation of Rusyn that existed only for a single day, being once liberated by Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia then immediately absorbed by Ukraine.

“Thanks but with Bloodlands and Forgotten Land on the reading list for 2012 – I think we’ve had enough ‘forgotten’ history for a while,” I determined after reading the review.

Yet while dismissing the book’s long-term interest to the Russian Mennonites, I do perceive three potential interests for Mennonite readers in Davies’ book.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mennonite Children's Prayers

Late 20th Century USA: (1)

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
        If I should live another day,
        I pray the Lord to guide my way.

       God bless (names of family).

Traditional Hutterite Prayer: (2)

Ich bin klein,
Mein Herz ist rein
In Jesu Namen
Schlaf ich ein.
Die lieben Engelein,
Werden meine Wächter sein.

I am a little child
My heart is pure
In Jesus’ name
I go to sleep
The lovely Angels
Will watch over me.

Friday, January 6, 2012

War Horses and Amish

en Kjrijch Peat
(guest posting)

(c) Dreamworks, SKG, 2011.
    “War Horse” the Steven Spielberg film adapted from a young adult novel by Michael Morpurgo confounds the reviewer:  it has sentiment without being sentimental; it shows an animal being heroic without stooping to supernatural or magic-realistic means, and it heeds the advice of every teacher of writing (whether of novels or movie scripts) to “show your theme; don’t tell it.” 
    Further, the movie (following the book in this instance – which my sister, a junior high librarian in Hutchinson, Kansas, says it does fairly well) uses the technique of novelist John Dos Passos to tell an overarching story in bits and pieces instead of a single narrative.
    Using the horse, Joey, as a framing device, the story manages to show the civilians on both sides of WWI; both armies – officers and ordinary soldiers, the trench warfare on both sides; the devastation in the countryside; 19th Century military tactics (cavalry charges) vs 20th Century tactics (machine guns, poison gas, tanks).  Joey the horse is not made to do anything impossible for a horse but is shown, analogous to people, to be able to rise to extraordinary heroism and friendship in time of deep stress.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Orthodox Mennonite Ambivalence

De hejchste onn de ellste Foda

Patriarch Kirill I
Part I:  Patriarch Kirill I’s recent statements in support of Protests – Hopeful Leadership or Mere Politics?
    Russian Orthodox Church leader, Patriarch Kirill I, has made headlines in the last few weeks simply by speaking up about the relationship between the Russian people and the Russian government and endorsing recent protests against perceived electoral and voting fraud in the latest elections as “’a lawful negative reaction’ to corruption,” (Kishkovsky, see below). 
    In an article titled “Disputed Voting Turns Church, a Kremlin Ally, Into Its Critic,” reporter Sophia Kishkovsky indicates that recent evidence of voting fraud, and clear evidence that the Putin government and his United Russia Party have lost the moral high ground with large segments of the voting public, is bringing the church and its patriarch out of the cold and into the public arena as a moral authority.
    Kishkovsky mentions fellow journalist and “avowed atheist” Dmitri Gubin whom she states had felt that “the silence of the church hierarchy [regarding recent allegations of electoral fraud] was leading him to regard the Russian Orthodox Church as a branch of the state,” (ibid) and that he was “dumbfounded” when Patriarch Kirill spoke out in favour of the protestors.  According to Kishkovsky, Gubin wrote in a recent magazine article that, “for the first time in Russia, I got a clear religious view on a secular problem,” (ibid, quoted from Ogonyok Magazine).
    Without access to English or German translations of his most recent sermons, especially those of Dec 17 and 18 to which most commentators refer, it is difficult to accurately gauge the true impact of Kirill’s admonitions to both the Putin government and anti-Putin government protesters.  At the same time, much of the excitement might simply be over the fact that the church has taken the first tenuous steps out of its seemingly increasingly formal role as a ceremonial object and is seeking to provide ethical and public spiritual leadership to those amongst the public who are becoming disaffected with Russia’s current governing officials – while continuing to maintain its historically strong ties to and support of Putin’s governing URP party.
    Writing for, an official Orthodox website, Andrei Zolotov, Jr. wrote 21 Dec, “We are witnessing a situation, when the Moscow Patriarchate, long accused of being in cahoots with the Kremlin, is making careful moves to distance itself from the most odious positions in regard to the post-election situation in Russia.  Yet he [Kirill] by no means sides with the opposition.  In the long tested practice of the church’s leaders, he makes his statements cautious enough so that people of varying convictions can interpret them as supporting their position,” (Zolotov, see below).
    As persons of Russländer descent, one notes that non-Slavic Russians (including Protestant Russländer, Russian Mennonites, Jews, Muslims and others) have long experienced an ambivalent relationship with Russia’s dominant Russian Orthodox faith.  Historically, boundaries between the Russian Orthodox Religion, the Russian State (or Empire) and the Russian people have been fuzzy and blurred to say the least.  For the most part, relations have not been overtly negative, yet, they have often not been the most positive either.
    Perhaps the same might be said for Westerners in general.  For most in the United States, the relationship or attitudes toward the Russian Orthodox faith are shaped by an almost complete ignorance of Russian Orthodoxy being coloured positively as the faith of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn or discoloured by previous associations of the Russian Orthodox Church as having been coöpted by the former Soviet government.  For my part, I am most positively influenced by the Russian Orthodox as suppliers of verenika and golubtsi (cabbage rolls) whenever I stray too far from Wolf Point or Winkler (somewhat counter-culturally, we as Russländer, refer to golubtsi as Pigs-in-a-Blanket rather than the North American food of the same name which feature hot dogs wrapped in biscuit dough).
    Regardless, noting the Russian Orthodox Church’s history of cooperation with the Soviets and of generally encouraging strongly nationalist, seemingly often anti-immigrant, anti-“Western” policies in general throughout history, a Russländer might not know what to make of this new public involvement.  Kirill’s new public visibility is perhaps bringing the Russian church to a crossroads.  You see, as non-Muslims and Westerners are now learning in Egypt, mixing politics and religion seldom turns out for the better, and is often quite detrimental to the rights of minorities – especially under national or overly dominant or exclusive religious regimes.
    A recently as 2004, the Russian Orthodox Church is suspected of using its influence to bar certain foreign missions from operating in Russia.  While historic Russländer might welcome the church’s stance against groups commonly perceived of as cults, it would behoove them to recall that since the days of Tsar Alexis I (Peter the Great’s father) and Patriarch Joachim, the same concerns were raised by the church against all non-Orthodox religious groups including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Jews and Mennonites.  Some three hundred years after Joachim, a 1997 law still requires all non-indigenous Russian churches to register with the state and voluntarily restrict their activities.  Despite questionable or even somewhat arbitrary historicism, the same law restricts definitions of indigenous to Orthodox Christian, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. 
    Non-Orthodox churches in Russia might be their own worst enemy.  A 22 June 2004 report in the Christian Science Monitor, Moscow Ruling vexes religious minorities” by Fred Weir, reports, “Some applaud the [1997] move.  "We do not consider the Jehovah's Witnesses real Christians; it’s high time they were prohibited," says Dimitri Lotov, a chaplain with the Lutheran Church in Moscow.”
    Lotov’s dismissal of this breach of religious freedom should come as a special concern to American and Russian Mennonites and Evangelicals. 
    Historically, Lutherans have questioned the legitimacy of the Mennonites or Schwärmerei.  Luther’s Formula of Concord, which remains the bedrock of modern Lutheran Orthodoxy, describes the following, “Namely… the erroneous, heretical doctrines of the Anabaptists, which are to be tolerated and allowed neither in the Church, nor in the commonwealth, nor in domestic life…”    Article 9 of the Augsburg Confession states “…And since the Gospel is taught among us purely and diligently, by God's favor we receive also from it this fruit, that in our Churches no Anabaptists have arisen …, because the people have been fortified by God's Word against the wicked and seditious faction of these robbers. And as we condemn quite a number of other errors of the Anabaptists, we condemn this also, that they dispute that the baptism of little children is profitable…” (Augsburg Confession).
    While the European Lutheran bodies have been quite proactive in recent decades to mend and build relations with historically denounced and often persecuted groups such as the Anabaptists and Jewish congregations, groups in the United States have been seemingly more reticent to split with Luther’s opinions. 
    It would be extremely interesting to know more about Lotov’s attitudes towards Anabaptist Mennonites and Evangelicals in Russia – whether or not they are to be classified together with the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cult or exempted as “real” Christians – what about Catholics?  What about Baptists?  Is such thinking encouraged or discouraged by Russian Orthodox philosophy and political example?
    So it is essential to understand whether Patriarch Kirill is speaking to Russian society in its entirety or merely to a special group of “true” Russians and “true” believers.  Similarly, one would examine whether or not the Russian Orthodox Church is willing to lead by example while thereby calling smaller established churches, such as Lotov’s Lutherans, to exemplorate similar tolerance.  One would expect that Kirill’s calls for diversity, respect and freedom in the public realm will resonate rather flatly if similar values are not cultivated within the Russia’s religious culture as well.
    At the same time, there are indicators that Kirill is actually responding to similar non-religious pressures for reform as is the Russian state – namely the empowerment of an increasingly self-confident Russian middle class. 
Wide-eyed Ecclesia
    Zolotov writes, “One would say it is only natural for a Christian church to speak for justice and demand accountability from the government.  Yet, for the Russian Orthodox Church, what has been happening in the past few weeks is a new development and its outcome is hard to predict.  My explanation is purely sociological.  The new middle class, which is unhappy with the election results and the manner in which the elections were carried out, is also present in the ranks of the Orthodox Church.  But for them, this issue is colored in the terms of religious morality, in the terms of truth, the Truth and lies, …” (Zolotov ibid).
    Other criticism similarly seems to question whether Kirill is leading out of conviction or attempting to prevent public dissatisfaction with Putin from spreading to the Orthodox faithful as well. 
Blind Justice
    The Vatican Insider, an unofficial Catholic news blog owned by Italy’s LaStampa, seems to take an opposing interpretation of the Patriarch’s recent statements – feeling that the “influential and normally interventionist leader” … is now fence-sitting in a new era of polarized politics (see below).  In other words, for reasons of health and political survival, Kirill himself is perhaps being careful to maintain close relations with the Kremlin while giving his blessing to the activities of certain activist priests who have chosen rather to side publicly with the concerns of the protesters, i.e. to work the other side (Vatican Insider).
    Interestingly, the greater Russian society might be asking the Russian Orthodox to exchange their own “dominance” of religious debates within Russia for a more modern role in cultural and religious leadership and as a moral watchdog or moderator for other segments of society – more in line with recent developments within the Church of England in relation to the Occupy Movement.  Instead of a maintaining Orthodoxy and tradition, the new public Russian voice might be asking for “moral leadership” and a mediator able to encourage discussion and resolution of concerns such as those regarding the last election through accountability and dialogue, rather than appearing to rubber stamp the government’s actions.  In Modern Western tradition, it is Justice who is called to be blind and impartial, not Ecclesia.
    Most hopefully, Patriarch Kirill’s statements could open the door to both a more open and accountable stance vis-à-vis Russia’s political and ethical societies and perhaps even more open cooperation between Russia’s historic religious communities – Zolotov is optimistic enough to note signs of potential attempts by Islamic Russians to obtain Sharia court pronouncements against the same signs of electoral fraud in the Caucasus’ Republic of Ingushetia. 
     If Kirill’s motivation is to open dialogue, to challenge immorality and to preserve the fabric of the Russian society, and if he is yet realistically concerned with exposure, resources and personal strength, it should be seen as useful to accept the ability of others to help shoulder their fair share of the public burden as a more inter-cooperative, more mutually supporting, more unified and more historically representative religious front.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anabaptists and a Libertarian Foreign Policy

en Rikjdom

Ron Paul
    Jacob Sullum’s 21 December article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ron Paul knows violence is seldom best way to go, is a compelling piece potentially unifying the values and political perspectives of traditional Anabaptists on both sides of the political spectrum with conservative U.S. libertarian Ron Paul’s radical political idealism.  Ron Paul is a controversial Republican presidential candidate in the United States.
    Sullum is both a nationally syndicated columnist based with Reason Magazine and a columnist for the Sun-Times.  A key quote indicates his support for Ron Paul’s unique Republican perspective, “The implicit assumption that violence is the only way to interact with the world reflects the oddly circumscribed nature of foreign policy debates in mainstream American politics,” (see below).
    According to Sullum, Paul supports “international trade, travel, migration, diplomacy and cultural exchange… He supports military action when it is necessary for national defense,” (ibid).  Sullum quotes Paul’s observation that “We have an empire, … We can’t afford it,” (ibid).  Sullum seems to indicate his own perspective that for the most part (reflecting on recent United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) war simply does not work and might just be making things worse.
    Anabaptists have most commonly been perceived as religious-cultural isolationists – unwilling to take part in the violence of warfare and willing to bear the cost of non-participation (non-resistance).  Non-resistance might be linked to doctrines of submission to God’s will – a willingness to accept both blessings and tribulations sent to us by God for our spiritual edification or as a witness to the non-Anabaptist world (gelassenheit)
    Today, Mennonites and Amish in North America have tended to take a more direct interest in foreign affairs.  On the left, Mennonites have taken a strong interest in world development and relief work through agencies such as the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), or through various Evangelical mission efforts in building and maintaining schools, libraries, hospitals and treatment centers throughout the world. 
    On the right, Fundamentalist Mennonites have often exchanged their traditional principles of non-resistant pacifism for a sort of Just War Theory such as is more common to Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.  These Anabaptists might tend to see war and the military as a means of defending Christian homes against aggression by enemies of Christian values, a means of restoring peace and order to troubled spots around the world, a means of relieving the suffering of persecuted populaces or nation-states under the domination of tyrants or even a means of hastening the coming Kingdom of Heaven through military support of the nation of Israel or other prophetic peoples (though the latter is often deemed difficult to justify ethically).
    Importantly, both Evangelical and Traditionalist Anabaptists often factor the so-called American Empire or Pax Americana, the modern successor of the former Pax Britannica, into their complicated perspectives on foreign policy.  Whether one supports a Christian vision of global development and relief service or one of old-fashioned Evangelical ministry, the historic world-wide efforts of the American, European and Anabaptist relief efforts and missionary forces have both depended on and helped to maintain the global hegemonic cultural and military positioning of the Anglo-American empires.  In other words, one could hardly effectively reach the Amazon or the Congo for Christ or to successfully build schools and hospitals in the jungles without the hegemonic global peace maintained by the force of arms and threat of military intervention by the traditional Western imperial powers. 
    Anabaptist aid workers and Anabaptist missionaries may or may not support the military hegemonies, but the base truth is that these hegemonies often made it possible and relatively much safer for both secular service workers and Christian evangelical workers to pursue their goals.
    Ron Paul’s vision for future foreign policy might indicate that there is a way to bring all of these distinct visions and goals together into a re-unified Anabaptist vision for foreign policy. 
    First off, Ron Paul seems to call for a more realistic expenditure on military spending and a withdrawal back towards a more cultural or value-oriented foreign policy such as that of many European nations (contrasted against the Empire building goals of domination ascribed to George W. Bush’s neo-Cons).  Paul’s vision seems to include both a refocusing on diplomacy and cultural exchanges – cooperation rather than domination, with the ability reserved to intervene militarily when and where absolutely necessary to maintain the peace.  Though supporters of the largely discredited neo-Cons might similarly state that this is exactly what their far more comprehensive and far-reaching program of empire building was designed to accomplish, Ron Paul is serving such thinking a reality check – it is beyond our reach financially – we simply cannot afford it.
    Secondly, such a foreign policy shift could provide more resources to various missionary and development endeavors – though American Anabaptists would remain wary of the maintenance of the separation of church and state and Canadian Mennonites would recall recent controversies over allowing federal aid funds to go towards development projects in global hot spots such as Gaza (the 2011 Kairos controversy). 
    Most importantly, Paul, who enjoys wide-spread support amongst more politically conservative and Fundamentalist elements in the United States, could help re-align conservative priorities from Bush’s neo-Cons to a stance more consistent with historic Anabaptism and more compatible with liberal Anabaptist preferences – a clear commitment to a foreign policy based on trade, cooperation and development rather than on massive military spending and continued global military domination. 
     Sullum is correct that Paul’s perspective is a necessary component to Republican ideological debate (ibid), and one that is also needed in the congregations and conferences of a politically divided Anabaptist diaspora.

  • Sullum, Jacob, "Ron Paul knows violence is seldom best way to go," Chicago Sun-Times, 21 Dec 2011, p 31.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Russian Mennonite Booklist

En Büakschaup – the Bookshelf
My recommended reading list for 2012 looks back over the last 16 months of publishing.  I am recommending twelve books – one for each month, that help promote, expand or establish the historical and philosophical identity of the Russländer Mennonites.  Thanks to an expected research vacation to Winnipeg in 2012, there should be more Canadian selections for next year.
    For 2012, I will be reviewing the following books in the following order online:

Jan – Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature
Feb – Leymah Gbowee’s Mighty Be Our Powers
Mar – Derek Wilson’s Peter the Great
Apr – Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
May – Robert Massie’s Catherine the Great
Jun – Patrick Friesen’s The Shunning: The Play
Jul – Charles King’s Odessa
Aug – Mennonite Girls Can Cook book
Sep – Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands
Oct – Donald Kraybill’s The Amish Way
Nov – Stuart Murray’s The Naked Anabaptist
Dec – Max Egremont’s Forgotten Land

The Amish Way:  Patient Faith in a Perilous World, by Donald B. Kraybill, Steve Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2010, p 288 ($24.95).  

   The same team that sought to explain Amish faith and forgiveness to the non-Anabaptist world in the wake of the Nickel Mines, PA, schoolhouse shootings has elaborated on its explanation of Amish faith as a means of more fully introducing Anglo-American Christians to the peculiar yet very orthodox Christian faith of the Amish. 
 This is a great review for Anabaptists of all stripes as to how basic Anabaptist values are uniquely exemplified in the simple lifestyle.
    I would also highly recommend this book for fans of Christian Amish Romance literature for additional cultural information and as a theological corrective to many of the beliefs, lifestyle issues and fictionalized testimonies found in the books by writers such as Wanda Brunstetter, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Beverly Lewis and Cindy Woodsmall.

The Better Angels of Our Nature:  Why Violence has Declined, by Steven Pinker, Viking: Penguin Group, New York, 2011, p 802 ($40.00/CA$46.00).

   Widely being touted as a Pulitzer nominee, The Better Angels is Pinker’s latest evolutionary look into the mind and society of homo sapien.  Counter-intuitively (and he admits this from the outset), Pinker explores the last 100,000 years of human history to discover that homo sapien is evolving into a more peaceful, less violent species and society.  Whether examining warfare or domestic violence, the overall occurrence of incidents or the overall percentages of victims, even incorporating World Wars I & II, Pinker’s evidence is well researched and a bit confounding.  No one will be able to convince you of this until you read the book for yourself.
   If Pinker is correct, his findings should have wide-reaching consequences in almost all aspects of social life from the criminal code to warfare to Fundamentalist Christian interpretations of history.  Whether you agree with Pinker or not – you will soon be arguing for or against his findings.  I myself am a reluctant convert to his thesis.  I highly recommend this book for individual and group study.

Bloodlands:  Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder, Basic Books, Philadelphia, PA, 2010, p 544 ($29.95). 

   While I did not find this book pertaining overly specifically to the Mennonite experience of World War II, it informatively and effectively describes the world of chaos, violence and bloodshed that engulfed the peoples of Eastern Europe caught between the armies of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. 
    This is not a book for the faint of heart – investigating both Stalin’s pre-war Sovietization efforts against Russian minorities and the outlying republics – including the horrors of the Holodomor in pre-war Ukraine, then Hitler’s devastating genocides and ethnic cleansing efforts during World War II, and then back to Stalin’s punitive post-war purges.
    Snyder seems to focus increasingly on the fate of Eastern European Jewry as the book moves into World War II – but even this is useful as one of the cultural challenges for Eastern Europe’s many cultural identities and ethnic minorities – including Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Jews, Mennonites, Russländer, Gypsies and innumerable others, is the lesson of a shared history and a shared fate.  We need to better understand all of these stories in order to better understand our shared narrative.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie, Random House, New York, 2011, p 625 ($35.00/CA$40.00).

    I greatly appreciated Massie’s latest contribution to Russian Biography.
    Massie won a Pulitzer prize for his biography of Catherine’s predecessor Peter the Great, who also seemingly served as Catherine’s inspiration and model.  He brings the same brilliance and insight to the life and reign of Catherine, focusing on her native intelligence.  Avoiding over-romanticizing Catherine, Massie presents a young and capable woman who rose to the occasion fate offered her.  Massie is to be credited for treating her as merely a capable woman who did what had to be done and was fortunate to have access to a few key advisors (including the infamous Potemkin).
    Potemkin, yes, he of the village façade fame, truly deserves a biography of his own.  Massie treats him respectfully and admiringly, often crediting him with establishing Catherine’s southern front in Ukraine and providing her with the political and geo-strategic stability necessary for consolidating and modernizing the empire.
    Of course, it is in the lands governed by Potemkin that the Mennonites settled in Chortitza and Molotschna, and in the cities of Sevastopol and Odessa wherein the Mennonites traded and sent their produce off to the world markets.
    Also of special interest to Russländer Mennonites is his treatment of the defining relationship between Catherine and Fredrick, also nick-named “The Great,” both being well-loved by the Mennonites of Prussia and Russia.  It was during the reign of Frederick’s nephew and successor, Frederick Wilhelm II, that the Mennonites of Molotschna were convinced to move to Ukraine, aka Little Russia, instead of being forced to conform and assimilate into Prussian society.
    For those who want to better understand the minds and geo-politics that governed the migrations and cultural development of the Mennonites of Eastern Europe, this book (and Massie’s biography of Peter the Great) are highly recommended.

Forgotten Land:  Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia, by Max Egremont, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2011, p 384 ($28.00).

   Despite recent news in Europe regarding naming and territorial jealousies between the nation of Greece and that of Macedonia over the neighboring Greek province of Macedonia (or the name thereof), Egremont reminds us that territorial tensions quietly exist elsewhere on the continent – in this case by calling to mind the lost realm of Eastern Prussia – the historic German lands ceded to Poland and the Soviet Union as war reparations after World War II.  Even in the USA, calling Gdansk by its historic name of Danzig can quickly clear a room.
   Egremont seems to tread fairly closely in not attempting to restore the map of lost empires while calling modern Europe to task for seemingly washing an entire Germanic culture under the rug.  I was in fact relieved that Egremont does not call for an reapportionment, any redressing of past decisions or a vision of a restored greater Germany at the expense of Poland or Russia.  Rather, Egremont asks a few simple questions in order to help us consider terms such as historic versus geographic culture or history, cultural claims to artifacts (such as the Silver Library of Duke Albrecht) or the justification of war spoils, some sixty years after the war.
   Mennonites, who historically identify as neither German nor Polish, were not historically bothered by nationalist feelings when borders between the two nations switched over, around and between them.  For Russländer he greatest interest in the contestation of this strategic region between two rival cultures that both impacted and sheltered Mennonite refugees.  Much of Mennonite interest in the region rests in genealogists’ attempts to locate long-gone German place names for former Mennonite villages on the Vistula.  While GAMEO is a great resource for finding out what the new Polish-language place names are, Egremont’s book helps to recreate the culture and history of those former place names. 
   For those of you interested in this mostly forgotten time period in Anabaptist history, I would also recommend Peter J. Klassen’s 2009 book, Mennonites in Early Modern Poland and Prussia

Mennonite Girls Can Cook, by Lovella Schellenberg, Anneliese Friesen, Judy Wiebe, Betty Reimer, Bev Klassen, Charlotte Penner, Ellen Bayles, Julie Klassen, Kathy McLellan and Marg Bartel, Herald Press, Scottdale, PA, 2011, p 208 ($24.99).

   By the well-known bloggers of the same name, Mennonite Girls Can Cook is a good common-sense, Prairie-style approach to the family meal. 
   This cookbook is more than a collection of recipes though, it is a contemporary look at faith, family and an impactful contemporary Anabaptism. 

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home, by Rhoda Janzen, Paperback, Holt Paperbacks, New York, 2010, p 272 ($14.00).

    Sometimes as Mennonites, we just need to sit back and have a good laugh. 
    Janzen’s witty commentary on her start in life and the breakdown of her marriage – a Russländer Mennonite to a gay husband, is both compelling and comforting in the many layers of cultural humor and good-will that recall the traditions and community within which many of us grew up.
    Janzen’s book also deals with the challenges of treasuring these aspects of our heritage while moving on in life, beyond the colony and the gemeinde
    Mennonite in a Little Black Dress would make an excellent choice for a winter book club or for just curling up with under great grandmother’s antique quilt in front of the fire with a perischke or a lapful of pfeffereneuse.

Mighty be Our Powers:  How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee with Carol Mithers, Beast Books, New York, 2011, p 246 ($25.99/CA$30.00).

    Gbowee (pr like David Bowie) should be required reading for all Anabaptists of both political stripes.  The spiritual daughter of a church mission, she is a credit to the Evangelical spirit embraced by Liberia through the efforts of foreign missionaries, immigrant believers and native Christians.  Her memoir is a compelling read for the practical manner in which she used her faith to challenge the warfare, violence and destruction that was ravaging her country, her family and her life by banding together with other women, both Christian and Muslim, to peacefully confront and convict those who were doing the fighting.
    Gbowee’s book is remarkable in that it is a simple story of a rather normal woman – she could be any Christian woman today – who, led by her faith, refused to compromise, refused to be afraid and refused to give up until the vision Christ had given to her was fulfilled.
    Gbowee is co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
    There are many other attributions to her strategy and the result, but in this very readable book, we find a woman whose only strategy was to depend on her faith and in the power of community and personal relationships.
    Again, this is a must read for both men and women of the church – not just those interested in political science or peace studies but in all who rejoice in the strength of faith in fellow Christians.
    For Mennonites – yes, there is a direct connection – Gbowee is a graduate alumni of Eastern Mennonite University with a graduate degree in peace-building and conflict resolution.
    Remarks by Gbowee indicate potential companion books to be read by those interested, including The Peace Book by Louise Diamond, and The Journey Towards Reconciliation and The Book of Conflict Transformation both by John P. Lederach.

The Naked Anabaptist, by Stuart Murray, Herald Press, Scottdale, PA, 2010, p 300 ($13.99).

    The news amongst Anabaptists these days is that of the Emergent church movement – a often controversial Evangelical reaction against the Fundamentalist movements that dominated Evangelical thought for much of the 20th Century.
    Stuart Murray has claimed to find inspiration within the historic Continental or European Evangelical traditions of the Anabaptists  -- Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish, for a new understanding of Evangelical (or even Radical Evangelical) faith.
    I agree with many other reviewers who remain somewhat dubious of the new Anglo-Irish movement and yet am heartened to see them challenge many of the previously non-contested beliefs of the Fundamentalists regarding responsibility, spirituality and community.  I am not sure that Murray’s program is in and of itself an antidote to the excesses of Christian Evangelical Fundamentalists in the 20th and early 21st Centuries but am glad to see those assumptions competently challenged.
    Nor am I completely convinced that the new Anabaptism shares the historic understanding and spiritual context of the historic surviving Anabaptists amongst the Quakers, Brethren, Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish who have in many ways evolved into their own religious-ethnic identities and have preserved unique and hopefully non-repeatable historic identities.
    Murray’s book is an excellent challenge to historic or traditional Anabaptists to see our faith in new ways and to find new ways to understand the interaction of our faith in the new context of Anglo-American culture – just keep one foot planted on the ground.

Odessa:  Genius and Death in a City of Dreams, by Charles King, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2011, p 336 ($27.95).

   The first book I have come across dedicated to this topic, King’s Odessa reveals a peripheral outpost of European civilization and culture pinned on the boundary between the Ukrainian steppe and the Black Sea, between the Western Ideals and Enlightenment and the chaos of global borderlands, between development and a libertine desire of freedom.  Part Skagway (or Dawson City for Canadians), part Omaha or even Regina, Odessa is a recent city built mainly to supply 18th and 19th century steppe settlers with goods while marketing their grain to the outside world.  Like Skagway, Dawson City, Regina and Omaha, Odessa was also established as a frontier town to help civilize, order and lay claim to vast frontier resources against the former inhabitants of that frontier and against other colonizers who would encroach on the rights and claims of the present settlers.
   King makes little mention of the Mennonites as a distinct group.  He does note the Mennonite colonies as a source of agricultural commodities and cultural diversity.  King makes much more of the Jewish minority settling in the city from the farms and shtetls of the Pale, perhaps even the Kherson settlements where Mennonite and Jew lived side-by-side learning from each other – yet there is no reason given as to why the surplus of landless Mennonite settlers would not be included in his observations of the Russländer or other “German” settlers inhabiting both the fashionable neighborhoods and Odessa’s vast underground.
   Regardless, King’s treatment of Odessa as a marketing town and imperial administrative center contributes much to the understanding of this city’s impact on Ukraine, Russia and the Mennonites.
  One interesting observation was the ability of the citizens of Odessa to weather economic downturns, invasion, social upheaval and famine by retaining strong ties to the rural farm base of many of the ethnic groups.  As more and more Mennonites leave rural farms and villages for life inside Omaha, Winnipeg, Chicago and Toronto, it is worth contemplating the costs and impact of this out-migration and the subsequent loss of our cultural farm base on the cultural sustainability of the Mennonites.
   For non-Mennonites, King’s book will also explain how Odessa became a center of black market goods and crime, and a nascent community of outcasts, exiles, homosexuals and émigrés and a market for Russia (or Ukraine’s) growing agricultural commodities.  Strongly recommended.

Peter the Great, by Derek Wilson, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2009/2010, p 236 ($29.99).

    Cambridge scholar Derek Wilson wrote a small, easily read tome on one of history’s greatest rulers.  The focus of this book is really on the history of the great tsar and the Westernization of Russia (although Wilson takes great pains to indicate that Peter’s efforts were just as significant in the Russification of Europe as well). 
    Importantly for Mennonite scholars and genealogists, Silson’s Peter the Great helps to answer questions about how the Mennonites ended up in Russia in the first place – beginning with efforts by Peter’s father Tsar Alexis I to invite skilled laborers to Moscow to live in special neighborhoods where they could manufacture their goods and teach Russians their skills.  Objections to this program by the Russian Orthodox Church (notably Patriarch Joachim) led to the lengthy and confusing systems of ethnic segregation, isolation of non-Orthodox Christians from others and other bureaucratic immigration concepts that would later shape the Mennonites and the unique society they would become under Catherine II in Chortitza and Molotschna.
   Wilson’s book also firmly places the pro-Western reigns of Peter, Catherine II and Alexander I in a more secure and informative context.  Though, it would behoove the reader to bear in mind a certain Anglo-centric perspective that Wilson never seems to shake in interpreting this great Tsar of the Russias.  While the Camford-style comes across as charming and quaint under Alexander McCall Smith, it is something to work past in attempting to understand the motivations, challenges and successes of such an important person as Peter, in such an important time, to such an important nation.

The Shunning:  The Play, by Patrick Friesen, Scirocco Drama, Winnipeg, MB, 2010, p 96 ($14.95).

   Admittedly, I enjoy the book better than the play, but for fans of Friesen, Mennonite Theatre or Friesen’s book of poetry by the same name, the dramatic edition of his work is both compelling and true to the original poems.  Anyone with ethnic ties to the reserves of southern Manitoba (Steinbach and Winkler) will understand both the prairie geography and the spiritual landscape of this tragedy.
   The Shunning is a look at place of the individual amongst the greater community in terms of faith, intellect, questioning, creativity and self-understanding. 
    Both Friesen’s original poetry and the dramatic setting are receiving renewed interest as Anabaptists and Anglo-American Fundamentalists look more closely at concepts such as spiritual or social bullying and the inherent violence in a coöptive society.  
   Christian students of sociology, political science and psychology will find this work immensely appealing and instructive.


Mennonite Culture

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