Some people may be thinking: Dan, I knew you in [high school] [college] [just a few years ago], and you were vaguely [Catholic] [Agnostic] [Unitarian] [Quaker] at the time and not terribly pious. What’s with the whole Mennonite self-identification thing? Is this some kind of over-reaction to finally being able to grow some facial hair?
Sadly, no, I am still unable to properly grow facial hair. I think one of my ancestors must have some secrets about who, exactly, they procreated with.
But, yes, I do self-identify as a Mennonite these days. In fact, I would be a card-carrying Mennonite, if they issued cards. (This is actually a little joke about Mennonite registration. See Anabaptists, History Of, for why you should be rolling on the ground laughing hysterically right about now.)
Here’s how’s those pesky Mennonites got their claws into us: We wandered into a Mennonite church eight years ago just looking for the More With Less Cookbook, assuming that they would have some sort of money-changing table in the sanctuary where you could buy the book, and maybe also get some discounts on indulgences, since we heard that Mennonites were pretty cheap.
Instead, we were surprised to hear a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount. And, not just one, but a whole series of sermons over the next few months, focusing on how Christians should be servants to others and maintain an attitude of mutual respect and humility. I was so disappointed. I had all but given up on Christianity, due to its proclivity to turn its followers into self-indulged, judgmental hypocrites, and now I would have to re-examine this beloved stereotype.
With their toleration for my more inclusive world views, I’ve learned that there can be a voice within Christianity for service, simple living, peace and justice, and a witness against militarism and the “redemptive” violence that so permeates our culture today. Mennonites aren't the only denomination with these values, but they were at the right place at the right time for me. Plus, they don’t wear those “simple” (i.e. unattractive) clothes anymore, and they sure can cook and sing.
I’m obviously not an “ethnic” Mennonite. This merely means that I don’t have an Otto or Yoder as a relative, and when I meet other Mennonites, they usually don’t try to figure out if they are related to me. This is a good thing, since “Schreiber” is a tip off that my German ancestors probably oppressed their Anabaptist ancestors somewhere along the way, or at least transcribed the orders to do so.
Instead I’m calling myself a “Modern” Mennonite, because it fits, alliteratively speaking, and because I want a way to exclude ethnic Mennonites in casual conversations.
Random Ethnic Mennonite, engaging me in conversation: “Oh, you’re from Champaign. Are you related to Eli/Harold/Peter Otto/Yoder/Kaufman/Dyck?”.
Me: “No, I’m a Modern Mennonite”.
Disclaimer: Please don’t mistake anything I say in this blog as being typical, representative, characteristic, standard, reliable, trustworthy or authoritative on Mennonite theology, beliefs, principles, opinions, views, policies, politics, affairs, traditions, practices, customs, rituals, ceremonies, or habits. I just like calling myself a Mennonite, that’s all.
That said, it is totally true that a “real” Mennonite believes every letter, stroke, and mark in the Mennonite Confession of Faith and will punch you in the nose if you challenge them or disagree. But secretly, most of them like the Vision Statement a lot more.
My own views will be left as an exercise to readers of the blog.