A Mennonite Imposter’s Discursive Rhapsody

Three Problems with Christianity: Souldierism, Heaven, and Receipts. (And possibly some of the reasons why the author maunders along in so many stories, searching out weak actors like a Red Rock Bible Camp Councillor hunting for Playboys between the mattresses.)

Problem One: Onward Christian “Soul-diers”

  • Mennonite religion (voted *Best Guilt* at Reformerpalooza) is obsessively and unabashedly built upon an army mentality.
  • Follow orders or else. It’s just that simple.
  • Those who ask questions based on some external code or sense of moral dissatisfaction are often eliminated. Shunned, excommunicated, kicked out, shit-canned… The church is governed by court-martial law, coercively presided and prosecuted by high-ranking church officials who are put in place by you-know-who (Die Owlah! An unimpeachable authority.) Just like the armed services, to disobey is to risk extreme penalties and disgrace.

So why is an organization dedicated to peace governed by the same laws, ordinances, and traditions that are used by the world’s militaries; the same rules that were in place for the fearsome armies of the Old Testament?

  • Also like the military, most Christian conventions change, but they are grindingly slow to do so. Examples of past changes I’ve seen in my own adult lifetime: Divorce (with the caveat that it is still far rougher on women then it is for men), Tight Jeans, and Rock n’ Roll. No? Just take a look around at church this Sunday, is there not at least one divorced person in your pew? Are you and others not wearing jeans that would have drawn a hair-afire rebuke in 1970? That musical menagerie: drum kit, synthesizer, and stable full of guitars up on the (ahem) stage is at the ready and is not out of place, in fact, they are the instruments of salvation and worship.

“Last one in the mosh pit is a demon!” 

  • And yet the church, just like the military, battle on in their efforts to resist LGBTQ (see below), to sustain their sadly obvious misogynistic roots, and to disavow the nativism that the church’s unholy co-combatants—far-right conservative politicians—seek to uphold.
  • In 2012, Steinbach, Manitoba’s Southland Church led opposition to a provincial law that sought to provide protection for LGBTQ students suffering from bullying. The church took the position that the Bill would promote “wrong lifestyle choices.” A petite-but-confident and charismatic high school student (not yet voting age at the time) serenely and handily took on the Steinbach Town Council, several adult congregants, a group of not-so-petite (but plenty-surly) adult members of the local ministerial association who carried NOT ON MY WATCH! placards. This latter crew had to be gavelled into silence and was threatened with expulsion from council chambers. Despite being less disruptive than the placardists, a phalanx of spear-wielding ancient Roman soldiers was prevented from entering the chambers.
    • “We want them to change it (the Bill) to say independent faith-based schools do not have to have groups that are in conflict with their beliefs,” Coun. Susan Penner told CBC News on Thursday. —https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/anti-bullying-bill-like-persecution-in-steinbach-1.1340156 (The soldiers could be heard grunting and clacking their spears in noisy agreement outside of the meeting room.)
    • At Steinbach’s Southland Church, pastor Ray Duerksen told parishioners during a (“worship”) service on Feb. 24 that God will judge those who don’t oppose the anti-bullying bill.—https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/anti-bullying-bill-like-persecution-in-steinbach-1.1340156
  • My QUESTIONS for Coun. Penner and Pastor Duerksen include: “Is it still your watch? An elected or appointed position? Both, you say?” And, “At the point when the church and the town finally change their puny positions on LGBTQ issues, what REDRESS can be expected for your irresponsible and discriminatory actions in 2012? Will this redress be financial? A public apology? Resignation? Stoning?
  • I have no questions for the placard-waving chuckleheads or the Roman soldiers. (These two represent the same fertilizer; in different piles.)
  • It is my prediction that the petite young high school student who—armed with only five smooth stones—stood up to colossal hatred in 2012. I believe she will one day be a legislator who will debate on a level battlefield. I expect she will defeat the doctrine-wielding and the spear-wielding, alike. I suspect her “watch” will be empathetic and egalitarian.

Problem Two: Heaven

  • You rent a house. The owner stresses that you—the renter—have full dominion over that house. It’s yours to use as you please. It’s almost as though the landlord told you, “I got awesome insurance so party on, DUDE!” Additionally, you rent this house knowing that you will be moving to a castle at some point in the future. You’ve taken all the necessary steps to assure your admittance to the castle. It’s a done deal.
  • My prediction, based on close personal contact with numerous rat bastards and almost as many sweet soulful brethren is that the renter is not gonna put a lot of leasehold improvements into that rental house. The renter is not gonna worry about a drywall dent here, or a busted tile there, or a swimming pool filled with empty Tim Horton cups. (Or rusted out Chevy Blazers, dirty syringes or radioactive waste, for that matter. It ain’t the renter’s problem.)
  • The renter’s carefree attitude is in high contrast when compared to their landlord-less heathen neighbours who own their abode and who intend to hand it down to their descendants… Those dumb suckers are tasked with the constant upkeep and care of their place, unlike the renter. Renters have the same rights to live in their home as the homeowners but, ‘cuz of the whole “I’m gonna move into a golden castle in the sky” thing, renters don’t really give a Norwegian rat turd about upkeep, cleanliness, sustainability or any other word ending in pollution or climate change or extinction or any words that are not “dominion over”.

Heaven appears to be an effective disincentive to take care of the earth. “DON’T BE GENTLE—IT’S A RENTAL!”

Problem Three: Receipts

Here’s a modern parable:

You run down to Anabaptist Appliances and buy a toaster. It’s fine, until one day you don’t smell burning toast. Hot under the collar, you hustle back to the store and ask to trade-in or return the toaster or to be given warranteed compensation.

“Sure, Mister Ishmael. Do you happen to have a copy of your receipt? I’m gonna need a scriptural confirmation to verify that everything you are telling me is gospel. Know what I’m sayin’?”

“Of course. But, can’t you just take my word? Have you no, uh, faith?”

“Oh bah jo! I believe everything you’ve told me—the trilogy: alternating|direct|ground… the death of the thermostat and its resurrection via the reset button… the four horsemen of the power surge… It’s just that my boss is a stickler and I really need a  proof of purchase.”

He seems insistent, this clerk. Now, you KNOW you bought the toaster—full retail price—at Anabaptist Appliances and you never abused it or changed anything or went outside of the commandments of the operator’s manual so even though you don’t have actual written proof, you say, “Look, bro. I don’t have the receipt, but my buddy James, on King Street, he can vouch for me. Will that do?”

“Sure. As long as it’s in print, on ancient, rotting scrolls, in an appropriate language not spoken on earth in centuries, and concerns only the toaster model later built in the precise triangular region delineated by i.) the old blood-letting clinic (Abe’s Arteries) on Queen up to ii.) Spadina and then back along Graffiti Alley to the location of iii.) the common pasture … we’ll accept that as gospel!”

“Sure, partner. Sounds like we have a deal. Is it okay if the written proof from James on King is filled with ambiguities about when and exactly how to prepare and eat toast, how a toaster should properly be prepared for sacrifice, the selling of a toaster into slavery, the rules governing the crucifixion of a  toaster, and the throwing of plugged-in toasters into the bathtubs of Hittite neighbours?”

“Hittites, eh? They’re the worst. It can even be co-authored by several hundred of James’s best buddies (just not too many women, eh?) and you can come on down and revise it any time you feel like it.”

  • The main trouble with the good book is that it is the product of WRITERS and EDITORS. Untrustworthy louts, by and large. And the genre—is it literary fiction, is it reportage, is it non-fiction, is it science-fiction, is it fantasy, is it non-fiction? Astrological science?  History text-book or historical fiction? Maybe foodie lit? (What Whales Love to Eat: Old Guys with Long Beards… Superbowl Munchies? How to Feed a Crowd with Just Bread and Fish.)
  • Lots of authors. Lots of (Holy) ghostwriters. Distributors and agents gettin’ their Gideon on too and disenfranchising the Midianite Book Club. It’s quite the anthology!

The Bible is kinda like the Leity high rollers (from a long time ago) assuring all us lunchpail Leity types that a Deity won the big hand except the Deity does not want to show His cards. He wants us to take it on His word that He filled His holy straight. He understands our mortal doubts though, and instructs us to have faith. He gives His Leity pals a few tools to help with the convincing; some insider info to prove what He claims. The suite may be Clubs. (But it could be Diamonds.) He may have drawn the Ten or it may have been a pat hand. Sure, His betting pattern doesn’t support it, but… if you don’t believe the Allmighty, you just might be banished to the basement—with his relative, Diablo, who sells life insurance—for the rest of eternity, so… it’s up to you, but I know what I’d do.

~

Also, you cowboy philosophers and your John Prine mix-tapes (“Jesus Christ died for nuthin'” etc.) and your medical marijuana… you can just stop pointing out that whole, “Well, doesn’t the very presence of evil prove that an omnipotent God does not exist?” thing. The man with the long white robe and the gold throne is getting pretty tired of that whole logic spiel and if you don’t want those glaciers to start melting at TURBO speed, then—verily, I say unto you—just watch it!

Conclusion: Wherein the Author Wraps Up with a “Ha! Toro!” and a Swirl of His Fadadatj

“The Holy Fool”. Another parable, of sorts.

You know the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, where supposedly only those with “a perfect sense of fashion” can actually see the King’s new duds. Those peasants without the chic fashion eye cannot even see the King’s new apparel. At least that’s what the King’s advisors tell the King and his court in order to keep their ruse alive. No one dares point out the folly—they all pretend to be able to see the clothes, including the King—and it goes on and on.

Until, a person in the court, a jester perhaps, the so-called “Holy Fool” steps up and says the obvious. “The King is naked.”

Gasps and outrage follow. Slowly, the truth seeps in and then with a surge, everyone is busy denying that they see anything and the truth wins out after much subterfuge.

I sometimes feel like this “Holy Fool”; one who has no investment in the bullshit, a person who is not a part of it—not even close—and who without anything more than average insight utters the obvious, uninfluenced by the need to fall in line.

I am that fool. I cannot be sanctioned because I live a life within, but apart.

A believer may say to me, with force and indignation, that because I am nothing but a Mennonite imposter—a secular Mennonite—that I cannot and do not speak for Mennonites.

And yet,

  • My G-G-GF was Delegate Toews, born in Fischau and sent with 11 brooda to find a new home.
  • My G-GF and G-GM Toews, John and Sarah—late of the Kleine Gemeinde—were shunned from the Holdeman camp—shoed away like a pair of impertinent crows picking at a roadside deer carcass before the eagles had their fill. John and Sarah took umbrage at their unfair ouster and sued the church. The lowly corvids sued the uppity raptors. That must have sent tail-feathers fluttering!

Interesting bonafides, wouldn’t you agree? Plus I grew up in Steinbach Bakery—the floury bullseye of Manitoba’s cultural Mennonite dartboard. Add to that my uncommonly good and well-loved community treasure GrandMother Toews, despite her German Baptist (non-Menno) baptismal certificate. Also, my full-fledged adult-dunked Menno wife and one dunked daughter. (So our little family is 50-50: two wet and two dry. )

http___www.hendersonnebraska.com_wp-content_uploads_2012_04_zwieback

And now, at the end of this trail of breadcrumbs, I find myself standing in the court—not at the bench John and Sarah Toews stood before at the turn of the last century, but the aforementioned King’s court.

Sure enough, the king is naked. In fact, he’s got a boil on his butt the size and texture of an overfilled jambuster and a belly that must be schmaundtfat cuz jelly don’t shake like that!

The dude is, as we used to say, nuck bak-ed!

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. I Corinthians 6:12 (NLT)

So, hear me when I say that I may be uniquely qualified to see it all—including the ignoble and the insincere and the hypocritical—with eagle eyes and a crow’s discernment. I am a slave to none. And with familiarity and empathy and kinship and knowledge of the waymarkers and the places to stumble and those places too, where Mennonites soar.

~

And if I’m a little bit annoying and more didactic than you’re prepared to accept from a everyday guy, an former class-clown, an ex-jock with a plentiful supply of demons and not near enough angels, well… too bad, because no one gave me this job, I just damn well took it.

“Poets are the unauthorized legislators of the universe.”—P. Shelley

8 thoughts on “A Mennonite Imposter’s Discursive Rhapsody

  1. Enjoyed reading this Mitch. Great points made in a funny and engaging way. I think you were even too kind leaving out some of the truly horrific things the Mennonite Church has done in the past. Just thought for balance I might add a couple of footnotes.
    1)This is what appears every week in the bulletin of the Mennonite Church I attend and is often also spoken from the pulpit…
    We affirm that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. Recognizing that we are all treaty people, with gratitude we acknowledge our gathering on Treaty #1 land and the traditional homeland of the Metis Nation. Imitating the inclusive welcome of Jesus, we seek to be a community marked by the love of God. Regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation, we invite you to make Bethel your spiritual home.
    2) Have you read any stuff by Peter Enns the current guru of Biblical interpretation in many Mennonite circles? He’d basically pretty much agree with your description of the holy scriptures but still finds some value in what they have to say.
    3) If Jan was baptized at Grace she certainly would not have been dunked. That’s a totally MB thing we General Conference Mennonites were very self-righteous about. We sprinkle or pour a bit of water on the head. And there was a time in the not so distant past when someone who had been sprinkled couldn’t marry someone who’d been dunked.
    4) Southland Church is not a Mennonite church and in fact, I suspect would not want to be considered as Mennonite at all.
    Have a great day. Always enjoy your blogs.

    Like

    1. Cheers ML! I chose the more absurd word “dunking” as a proxy for all of it but you are right to point out the distinction. Like buttons and hooks, it’s funny but… I still need to be respectful to those for whom these faint variations have meaning and occupy a solemn place in their lives. I have no quarrel with them, but sometimes my workboots are a bit big and clumsy.

      Also…years ago… driving in the car to golf with a wonderful friend in BC. His son had just come out and both father, my buddy, and son were having a rough go of it. The whole shiteroo seemed unnecessarily hard for everyone! Then—just then—on pops the Southland head of Propaganda to shout, “Not on my watch!” and other roadside slurs, on CBC radio. My friend says, “Hey, aren’t you from Steinbach? Do you know that tool?” I was. I am. I did. I do.

      That particular chunk of rancid tuna was hard to swallow then and now. I know that as churches change, contorting themselves into less excruciating poses as popular opinion evolves, this too will go away. But what of the past sins visited upon the meek and the outcast and the hard-done-by and the powerless? Do they get a gift card to Tim Horton’s or what? This issue roasts my beans!

      Like

    2. No respect necessary. I was being sarcastic when I pointed out the different kinds of baptism. It is completely absurd to me too as are many things about the institutional church. And as you well know the LGBTQ issue and the church strikes pretty close to home for me. I think we have all evolved. I know at the Pride Parade in Steinbach a number of people approached me and asked me to tell my brother that if they had ever said something inappropriate or derogatory to him they were very sorry. I know the same holds true for me and I suspect might for you too. I have my own sins in my closet when it comes to the way I treated LGBTQ people or those who seemed to be, before it became such a personal issue for me. Unfortunately we can’t undo all the hurt we as individuals and the church and society caused but we can be genuinely contrite. I feel bad about the times someone told a joke or made a degrogatory comment about LGBTQ people in my presence in the past and I didn’t call them on it. I am embarrassed I behaved that way and need to remember that before I become too judgemental of others. I was part of the rancid tuna in my distant past and I think most people would have to admit the same thing if they were being honest. I don’t think the church was unique in doing this but should certainly be held accountable, as should we all. And of course there remains much work to be done as the Southland example makes clear. I am heartened however that in the last election the majority of Canadians voted for parties that have an accepting view of same sex relationships and wouldn’t vote for a man whose personal beliefs could not include that kind of acceptance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravo…everyone is running around naked…..secret to living is to know which group you want to join and be ready to change loyalties.

    Like

  3. Don, you should paint it—the secret to life complete with water spouts and weird beasts and devils pitchforking sinners into the depths or maybe Devils pitchforking Flyers or Rangers onto the ice? Either way, Dave will strum his git-box and I can write a story about it and Hans will recite a lyric and all will be well. But I will remain fully dressed.

    Like

  4. ML. You said a lot and I liked all of it. I did one story about my B.C. friend described above and how the boy’s family might have reacted, especially older generations whose sensibilities were different and embedded. I sensed from my golf friend how difficult it was for him to figure out. He figured it out thanks to an abiding love for his kid and his family as a contiguous being. (Simple, right?) It’s “The Log Boom” in Storgy, an online lit mag in the UK.

    Another glimpse I had was care of an expressively feminine boy, also in BC. A group of us, all cousins, were going to a drive-in movie. The fun part was to smuggle a few kids into the movie in the car trunk. Petty larceny by the dashboard lights, kinda. There was a prolonged awkwardness when the “flamboyant” (a trigger word, no doubt, but you get the meaning) kid offered to go in the trunk first. Finally, I, as the distant Manitoba relative volunteered reluctantly. We emerged a few minutes later and it was all fine, his brothers and other cousins taking a practiced and kind approach. The boy was so happy that the weirdness of it had been ended that he made an obvious effort to quell his “real” persona and put himself with the rest of us in the stereotypical 16-year-old-male box that we all were being extra-expressive about in our own learned, culturally-accepted way. (Think: John Candy motel room scene in “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”.)

    From then on, I struggled too—like you described—knowing that the smallest gesture of acceptance or of rejection had a profound and lasting impact. To simply not laugh at a hateful joke is just a small thing in a way, but I’m sure it can make a difference, pebble in the pond-wise. I still laughed (laugh) too often, took the coward’s way out, but at least each one of those breaches hurt a bit, spun the grindstone wheel of my conscience. I somehow want the church’s conscience to be stricter, a higher bar, than mine, but all that doctrine is hard to just throw overboard, I suppose.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s