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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

French Mosques for Women and Gays?

Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, French Muslim
Fienet Kor’tün fe Früesskjleeda,
en Je’spräakj tweschen twee ooda mea

    French Muslim Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed has got some balls, to say it bluntly.  In a 26 Nov 2012 commentary for the London Guardian, he undertook to answer the question, “Why I want to open a gay-friendly mosque in Paris?”  As Mennonites, we are still fighting over having women- and gay-friendly Mennonite churches – and I’m used to thinking that as stubborn as we might often seem, we are still light-years ahead of Islam.  Well, maybe not…

    In as much as the difficulties with Zahed’s vision are readily self-evident (if a bit stereotyped), readers’ comments reflect a bit of skepticism with quotes such as “well, good luck with that,” and “wouldn’t it just be easier to give up religion entirely?”  

  With memories of Theo van Gogh’s assassination and the political harassment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali as outspoken advocates of the rights of women and the homosexual community in the Muslim environment of the Netherlands, I leave unspoken my questions having to do with security and safety.  [An aside, Ian Buruma, author of Murder in Amsterdam:  Liberal Europe, Islam and the Limits of Toleration, dealing specifically with van Gogh’s murder, is an ethnic Dutch Mennonite.]

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spiritually Restless Holidays

ne jeistlijch Pogge

    Religious traditions and holidays are meant to bind us together – especially in the traditional faiths such as Judaism, Anabaptism, Catholicism and Protestant Lutheranism.  But sometimes the ties that are meant to bind often seem rather to distance us from each other – even within our own faith traditions.
    These days, ethnic Mennonites and Roman Catholics seem to get along quite well.  All four of my sisters married Roman Catholics and the majority of my friends in the Midwest seem to be Roman Catholic (admittedly with many significant exceptions).  In fact, given the dearth of active Mennonites in my age group (being the 20s and 30s), I often find myself fellowshipping or spiritually caucusing with Roman Catholics of my age group. 
    I have already written that the recent elections in the United States were bruisers – ideologically divisive in the extreme – especially within the Catholic parishes which are now just as split politically as their Anabaptist counterparts – a relatively new phenomenon for a religious electorate that has often been noted for its cohesive unity.  Many of my Catholic friends are considering changing parishes or redefining their religious identity.
    Understanding the split within my own family between Social Progressive elements and the Fundamentalists and that we no longer even celebrate holidays together, many non-Mennonites have asked me why I continue to identify as Mennonite as why don’t just give up on the family.
    The answer is simply that while Anabaptists remain a relatively united ethnic religion, we are in fact about as diverse politically and spiritually as one can find outside of the Jewish culture.  One of my greatest frustrations – past Mennonite treatment of my non-Mennonite mother, actually reflects one of our greatest strengths.  Ethnic Mennonites such as my father provide stability, context and an historical perspective to the church and ethnic group while adult converts from other backgrounds tend to provide the enthusiasm, the energy and the vital faith that reenergizes the ethnic pact generation after generation.  This is a lesson shared with the faculty and leadership of Grace University in Omaha who recognize that while the school seldom identifies as Mennonite any longer, it is the old Mennonite families and churches that continue to imbibe Grace with a depth of support and heritage.  To this day, many of the multi-generational, multi-unit (meaning cousins and cousins) families at the University are of some sort of Mennonite derivation.  Conservative or progressive, liberal or fundamentalist, all Mennonite-derived or affiliated congregations tend to share these two pillars of strength and identity.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Churches Refuse Communion, Refuse Dialogue

When it Becomes too Radical to Dialogue, Perhaps it’s Time for Reform!

   The last election in the USA was a bruiser – leaving both sides licking deep wounds.  As never before, political campaigns, churches, and even employers, turned their back on basic democratic principles such as freedom of conscience and the integrity of the individual ballot and sought to not only influence how those under their authority would vote, but sought near absolute control over the dialogue on each issue.
    Changes to campaign finance laws have now enabled large corporations and trust funds to “donate” almost unlimited amounts for select campaigns and clever little loopholes encourage churches to take more direct roles in the political lives of their memberships. 
    In Minnesota, Roman Catholic and Evangelical churches made the most of laws enabling churches to take sides in divisive constitutional amendment battles.  While churches are excluded from endorsing political candidates, their potential support of political causes is almost open-ended – in this case, amendments requiring a photo ID for voting (an amendment that most opponents saw as anti-immigrant), and an amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.  Note:  In as much as the voter ID amendment campaign was accompanied by dramatic posters conspicuously placed in immigrant neighborhoods which warned potential voters that they could be jailed for voter fraud, the connection seems rather reasonable and the message rather clear – voting is just not worth the chance that you’ll end up in jail.
    Not surprisingly, many members of congregations from both sides are now ready and willing to just walk away from churches that seem to be more political and less spiritual.
    One of the less reputable reactions is from a priest in Barnesville, Minnesota, near Fargo-Moorhead, who has apparently refused to confirm a 17-year-old Roman Catholic teen on account of the youth’s Facebook photo showing him posing with a strongly Catholic-supported Vote YES! against same-sex marriage poster with the “yes” crossed out and a big “NO!” written over it.  Apparently, the youth did not even have access to a proper poster from the Vote NO! campaign in that isolated, church-dominated community.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Finally, a Definitive Word on Tatarstan and Mexico's Mennonites

Time to add a new decal?  Russian Mennonite - Tatarstan

The American press has finally discovered the story about Mexican Mennonites possibly returning to Tatarstan, Russia.

Please follow this link to Tim Johnson's excellent coverage of this story in the Kansas City Star:

Neu Bruderthaler's comments:

An excellent article.  Thank you Tim for taking the time to research this story properly.  It is very informative.

I do have some unease with Dr. Koth's remark which might indicate a clearer connection and gross oversimplification between the Russian Revolution and the immigration of the Mennonites out of Russia and Ukraine than is the case.   The primary immigration to North America, as most Kansans recall from their state history courses, immigrated in the 1870s when Alexander II's policies towards minorities became increasingly irrational and ambivalent and Mennonites were faced with the threat of losing their freedoms of religion, individual conscience and from mandatory military service.  Many Mennonites chose to immigrate to North America while many chose to stay during this time and negotiate further regarding these freedoms with the Czar.  The farms of those leaving were sold to either Mennonites who remained in Russia-Ukraine or to Russians and Ukrainians desiring new farmland.

Arguably, it was the unrest created by the Revolution and contact with invading German armies who promised stability and protection during WWI and WWII that caused the greatest impetus for further immigration amongst those who stayed.   But land appropriation was only one concern -- much more important was the general level of social and political violence encouraged by the early Soviet regime and Stalin's administration, natural and man-made famines, the imposed atheism of the Soviet state and the horrors of the Holodomar -- one of the darkest periods of Ukraine's history.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mennonite Portrait wins 2012 British Taylor Wessing Prize

en Pe'trett auf fäaschmiete

© Jordi Ruiz Cirera, 2011-12.
And the prize goes to – a portrait of a Mennonite youth.  Yes, in fact, the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 has gone to London-based, Spanish photographer Jordi Ruiz Cirera for his hauntingly beautiful 2011 photographic portrait of a young Bolivian Mennonite, Magarita Teichroeb. 

    According to Marina Vaizay, the 2012 Taylor Wessing Prize recognizes some 60 recent photographs chosen from among more than 5,000 entries by 2,000 photographers in a blind jurying process.  Cicera’s photograph of the 26-year-old Teichroeb won first prize and a cash award of 15,000, 00 (12,000 or about US $24,000.00).
    Cicera responded to the prize with, "Estoy encantado de la vida" or “I am delighted with life,” adding that he hoped winning the respected prize would help open doors to a career in media photography.  Also according to lainformacion,com, a Spanish-language press source, Cicera spent time amongst the Bolivian Mennonites in 2010 and 2011 developing a photographic essay story, “Menonos” (see link below) that was then published in the European print media.
    Now, as the British press goes, well, let’s just say that in our excitement over the prize, English art critic Marina Vaizay might be forgiven for misidentifying Teichroeb as the member of a mysterious German sect “similar to the Amish of Pennsylvania,” rather than the member of a distinctive Dutch and Swiss ethnic community that would include the Amish of Pennsylvania, or the misnomer that the Mennonites settled into Bolivia “centuries ago,” rather than understanding their settlement there as post-World War II refugees from Europe and as technological separatists from North America. In appreciation for Cirera’s giftedness and Vaizay’s attention to this topic, I hope I can shed some additional light on the background. speaks of Bolivia’s Mennonite’s as being roughly 50,000 in population and having descended from Anabaptists who left Germany in the 16th Century (perhaps the source of Vaizay’s errors). 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mennonites and Democracy

courtesy of
ne Re'jiarung derjchem Folkj

  I n the 29 Oct 2012 issue of Mennonite World Review (MWR), Berry Friesen pondered the question:  If neither major candidate sufficiently reflects Christian values, why support one?  

    Inside his essay, he ponders not voting -- not as a return to Mennonite "quietism" or "separation from the world," but rather as a political statement.   But once we, as an ethnicity or as individuals, have determined the possibility of voting or have actually voted, our participation in the democratic process would seem to co-opt us.  Our decision to vote or to not vote merely reflects our general agreement with one or none of the available candidates -- to not vote is still to vote.  

    I would submit that the only way one could remain free to reflect a personal stance rather than a united democratically corporate stance within the larger society, would be to refrain from voting altogether.  In placing ourselves "outside" of the system, Anabaptists become an "Other" that is not associated with the "system."  We are then freed to express our own political perspectives and pursue personal and social policies that most conform to our individual consciences and within the general consensual guidance of the congregation.  But we can only be an "other" if we are not part of the system.

Friday, November 2, 2012

an update in response to HadW...

kjirtslijch ... 
An Update on the Drought-related Tensions of Mennonites in Chihuahua:
    The Mexican consulate of Minnesota has confirmed that there are increasing tensions in the Chihuahua region between Mennonites, non-Mennonites and others over land and water resources.  The Consulate also confirms that rumours have been circulating in the national press of Mexico that the Mennonites are going to immigrate elsewhere.  BUT there has been no confirmation from authorities in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Mexico or Tatarstan, Russia, that any of the smaller Mexican Mennonite groups have or are planning to immigrate back to Russia.  You will recall that it is from Russia that these Mennonites’ fore-parents fled as refugees from legal and religious persecution by Tsarist officials and later, economic, political and physical persecution from the Soviets.

    It seems clear that there have been some sort of contacts regarding immigration potential by Mennonites from Chihuahua elsewhere due to the drought and rising tensions with non-Mennonite neighbours.  BUT this is also a very normal thing for Mennonites.  As Mennonites communities, congregations and kolonies increase in size, small groups often leave to establish new communities and farms elsewhere.  In fact, Amish and Hutterite groups within the United States and Canada are constantly making news with their plans to move to new areas to buy inexpensive land for establishing new farms, communities and families.  So the entire immigration angle might be true but have nothing to do with any potential conflict or even the drought.  The Russia and Kazakh angles are interesting only in that they would indicate a return to the Mennonite diaspora’s ancestral “homeland.”

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