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, February 29, 2012

Menno Lit -- Almost Ripe, Not Quite Ready

Michelangelo - Awakening Slave
     I walk a lot.  While I walk, I think about things – these days, I think a lot about Mennonite culture – and books.  So yesterday, I was thinking about my own relationship to contemporary Mennonite culture and the relationship between literature, identity and religion.
    The thought occurred to me that while I might live in my own sort of personal Mennonite world, I could never again survive in the more collective mentality of the home community.  What is the problem?  I cook traditional Mennonite foods, read Mennonite books and poetry.  I travel to Mennonite destinations and I can read both Fraktur and cipher notes. Of anyone, I definitely possess a true Mennonite identity.   To top it off, I actually attend Mennonite church and enjoy it – I mean, who does that anymore?
    The problem is simply this, that I have the Mennonite cultural  paradigm upside-down.  The basic Mennonite (or Amish) cultural model is “separation from society” and “integration with the local gemeinde” or congregation.  But in my world, this is upside down.  In order for me survive intellectually and spiritually, I need to be part of the larger world culture while achieving some sort of privacy or social distance from the sometimes overly, er, supportive church neighbors – even all the ones to which I’m so closely related. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mennonite Heirloom Gardens

Goadenfleky (garden patch)

  March is the perfect time to order those special heirloom garden seeds and plants.  Seed Savers' Exchange is a non-profit seed preservation club that has undertaken to preserve and distribute numerous heirloom seeds, including many of Russlander, Mennonite and Amish origin.  I have combed their catalog for seeds that pertain most directly to the Mennonite ethnic heritage.  Have a great time gardening -- and don't forget to tell your children and grandchildren the stories of the many Mennonite and Amish gardens that have come before...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wer War Menno Simons?

Wer War Menno Simons?
Who was Menno Simons? by Isaac Peters (1911)

    He was one of the great reformers of the Christian church in the 16th century at the time of the great Reformation, the time of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli in Holland.  From the pulpit, all three attacked the secular authorities, and the secular church of Rome while taking shelter in their own state churches to avoid severe persecution.  Menno Simons and his associates made a decisive break with these Reformers.  They determined to base their faith on the rock or foundation of Jesus Christ, testifying as their motto, “No other Foundation can any man lay than that which is laid, that is Jesus Christ.”  I Cor. 3: 11.  For this, Simons was willing to risk everything – loss of property, life and exile.  For this risk, he found plenty of opportunity, facing persecution not only from Rome but also from the other more newly-established state churches who were just as quick to stain their hands in martyrs’ blood. 
    Luther, the main Reformer, called these simple, quiet followers of Christ swarms (Schwärmer), of which he wrote to Duke Albrecht of Prussia:  “Wherefore do I have to ask why it pleases your highness to suffer such people in your country.  Why would you allow such factious spirits and suffering?  Prussia’s conscience should complain against this credible threat against Her soul, lest this swarm seduces the Holy Church (of Luther), against which their leader preaches.  It is not just I who fear this swarm, but all emperors and princes fear them.  Suffer just a little of this heresy and you will see what comes of it.”  Luther further advised Albrecht to overcome this monstrous threat with fire and sword.  All this was in pursuit of Menno and his companions in their following of the Lord’s leading.  But Luther wanted to please man, not God, to re-establish Rome, not God’s Truth.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Latvian Linguistics

    Moscow-based New York Times reporter David M. Herszenhorn writes that Latvian voters rejected efforts to establish Russian as a second official language in recognition of Latvia's large Russian ethnic minority community.  Latvia, a small Baltic nation, became independent along with Estonia and Lithuania in 1991 -- along with their Russian populations.  In Latvia, Russians make up over 25% of the population (about 500,000) -- as many as 40% of the Russian minority have not yet received full citizenship, which Herszenhorn indicates is dependent on passing a test on Latvian language and history in Latvian.  
    About 70% of eligible voters participated in the referendum, which failed overwhelmingly, Russian language rights gaining only about 25% of the vote (less than 14% of the total population).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mennonites at the Oscars ™

en Stearnkjekjikja
    From Glee to the Simpson's, from Roswell's aliens and Star Trek to Lady Gaga and Will & Grace -- a growing number of ethnic Mennonite actors is confidently, if perhaps a bit controversially, impacting how ethnic Mennonites and Amish are perceived...
    In celebration of the Oscars™, I thought it would be fun to indicate some of the acting powerbrokers of known Mennonite ethnicity.  This has been a somewhat difficult task in that actors are not known for revealing their religious upbringing or might not identify as ethnic Mennonites or Amish.  But, they are there – the following is just a taste as to who to look out for.
   While movies ( en Ssinema ) have long been controversial amongst Mennonite households and congregations, the number of Mennonites and ethnic Amish involved in film and television has grown tremendously and they are definitely making a name for themselves -- often bringing their ethnic roots along with them.  (I am not making a judgment about the spiritual ramifications -- merely noting and celebrating their shared ethnic roots.)
    From a list of some 45-odd ethnic Mennonites, Russländer Mennoniten and ethnic Amish, and giving Matt Groening a rest (we just congratulated him on the 500th Episode of his long-time classic animated series The Simpsons), four actors (catch up, women - this is so far a Men's Night at the MENnonite Oscars, ... ) stand out at present:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Photography by Elliott Tapaha

Elliott is a photographer from where I grew up -- note the limitless horizons and the rather decent storms.  I played around with some of his images (with his permission) to match some words to his images to personalize my memories of this landscape.  All images retain his (c) protection.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent - Ash Wednesday

Lent –  ne Fauste

    Today being Ash Wednesday, most of the Christian world is beginning their Lenten season.  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Lent is an old Teutonic name for the period 40 days before Easter in preparation for Easter – a sort of time for spiritual reflection and personal purification.  The length of the fast is apparently based on the examples of Moses, Elias (Elijah) and Christ.
    While fasting is clearly scriptural, Lent itself appears to be more of a spiritual tradition than a New Testament precedent.
    According to experience and GAMEO, Lent is not a common holiday amongst the Anabaptists of any major branch, being celebrated mostly by acculturated Mennonite congregations in Anglo-American North America.
    Interestingly, GAMEO does indicate that many German-speaking Anabaptist communities do celebrate Buβ und Bettag or a day of repentance and prayer popular in Germany.  Buβ und Bettag, according to (German Wiki) is celebrated roughly eleven days before the first Sunday of Advent on the nearest Wednesday before November 23 (note the similar timing to the United States custom of Thanksgiving Day).  Interestingly, German Wiki also indicates that Buβ und Bettag is based on the scriptural story of Jonah – in Jonah 3: 4-10, we find Jonah convicting the citizens of Nineveh of their sins and immanent destruction by God’s judgment in 40 days unless they repent and are able to convince God to let off. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mennonite Mnemetic Model

ne fräjoasche Mood
Multiple-Gene Reproduction (c) source
    In as much as many branches of the Anabaptist faith/ethnicity are borderline anti-intellectual (in the strict sense) and that many lack functioning intellectual organizations beyond periodic conferences, I have taken to outlining my understandings of certain pertinent cultural processes and elements prior to attempting to utilize the more formal terms, models and explanations of others.
    Simply put, the Mennonite culture, per se, is both unique and extremely receptive to non-threatening ideas from the outside.  In order to identify and protect a potential Mennonite or traditional perspective (perhaps even a folk tradition or understanding), I feel that this exercise is both warranted and useful.  The following reflects one such case.
    In attempting to codify and communicate Mennonite colonial culture or that of the gemeinde, I have intuited that cultural activities, traditions and knowledge centers around four key groupings or cultural rolesRitual, Artisanal, Household, and Cultural.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Simply the Simpsons

(c) Fox Broadcasting Co.
    Congratulations to the cast, crew and creative genius behind Fox Television’s The Simpsons on the occasion of their 500th episode (airing 19 February)!  The Simpsons is now officially both the longest-running scripted show for television, and one of three to hit the coveted 500-episodes mark (along with Gunsmoke and Lassie).

    A television standard for over 20 years, the Simpsons were created as a bit for the Tracy Ullman show in 1987.  Creator Matt Groening, an ethnic Dutch Russländer Mennonite, used a cast of characters from his own family to create America’s First Family of Dysfunction.  In 1989, the show gained its independence and is still beloved by millions 23 years and 500 episodes later.

    Groening’s Mennonite ancestry has deep roots.  His father, Homer Groening, was raised in a Plautdeutsche-speaking family  in Main Center, Saskatchewan.  His grandfather, Abram Groening, of the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, taught at the MB’s Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas.

    I would write more, but an old friend, Mr. Dale Suderman, has already written one of the best articles on Matt’s connections to his Mennonite heritage.  I strongly recommend following the link below.

Congratulations, Mr. Groening!


Dale Suderman - The Groenings, The Simpsons and the Mennonites

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hauerwas at the Table - Aggregated Conversations

(c) Ian W. Scott -- Mausoleum scene - Dinner Party ca 25-1 BCE
    I could image having had a wonderful dinner the other night with an assortment of professors from mixed disciplines.  The food would be amazing – asparagus, Levantine couscous, pork shoulder and four other courses.  The conversation – exceptional.  As usual, I would expect to be grilled as to who the Mennonites are, why I care about their social history and why others should be interested as well.  Then would come the kicker – Who can one read to better understand our ideas, our culture and our theology?
    “Um, well, no-one really – I mean there is Stanley Hauerwas – he’s not exactly ‘not’ Anabaptist, and the American Mennonites seem to like John Howard Yoder a lot.  We don’t actually have anyone from our side – I mean, we normally just take our cues from American Evangelicals like Dobson and Jerry Falwall – but American Evangelicals don’t tend to be pacifists – they er, um tend to be pretty heavy into politics – more so than Mennonites have been.”  Humiliation in the intellectual sense.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Flags, They Are What They Are

Ne flag

    Would a symbolic ethnic flag violate core principles held by many Mennonites over the propriety of saluting a national flag?  Well, no, yes and maybe…
    Evangelical Mennonites are traditionally split over displays of overt patriotism.  Statistically, they had a higher than average participation in alternative service during World War II and were amongst the leaders in protecting freedom of conscience and religion during World War I.  However, the Baby Boomer generation has been much more heavily influenced by United States-style Evangelical Patriotism – possibly on account of cultural embarrassment during the Vietnam conflict, increased rates of political and cultural assimilation and a lax or completely lacking effort by elder generations to train their progeny and to pass on many aspects of Anabaptist cultural heritage (for instance, Non-Resistance, foot washing, the German language, an agrarian lifestyle).
   Today, there would be little apparent negative ideological impact regarding the adoption of or use of a symbolic ethnic flag to help pass cultural heirloom traditions to future generations, and much positive cultural value in utilizing such a tool to simplify and codify this inter-generational transference of narrative and values.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blog Audit

met selfst aufschatse 
     After several months of building up this blog, one should find it prudent to audit and analyze one’s efforts.  Truly, I have been amazed at the level of interest in the blog.  What I intended as merely an intellectual exercise to organize my thoughts regarding the characteristics of the Russian Mennonite or Russländer Mennonite ethnicity has reached more people in more countries than I had expected.  While I have attempted to maintain a high level of intellectual integrity, it seems that I might have need to make a few organizational changes to maintain clarity of thought and source and to more bluntly indicate the questions or issues under examination.
    The feedback unsurprisingly indicates that readers are most interested in historical information or data.  This is not surprising given the high regard of Russian Mennonites for their history and genealogies.  Other areas of interest are in essays exploring the characteristics of the ethnic diaspora today, relations between the Russländer Mennonites and other groups and, truthfully, not so much interest in determining how or if traditional Russian Mennonite values remain pertinent to today’s world.  Regrettably, in studying sociology, I gain the most personally from exploring the latter topics.
    So the question has to be asked – does one attempt to meet the need for more and additional historical information regarding the Russian Mennonites and focus on developing that strand, or should one use this tool as it is most beneficial to myself personally.

Mennonite Culture

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