Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Going to the Mennonites

When my wife told her parents where I'm going this weekend, she said "He's going to the Mennonites," with more than a little bit of sarcasm. This is true, and it's not. I've told her several times that I'm not going to convert, that the Mennonite/s Writing conference is not about religion, but culture. And besides, I can't convert to something I already am. 

Yes, I am a Mennonite. I echo the words of one Brethren founder Alexander Mack when he says, "We are in complete agreement with them as to their doctrine." Although I am not a member of the Mennonite Church, I hold their confessions (herehere and here) as my own, with the exception of rituals and ordinances. I prefer the Brethren love feast, baptism, annointing, etc... I appreciate the more ecumenical view of the Brethren, because I think that Christians are more similar than we want to admit, and I believe that the Brethren should join the Mennonite World Conference. As an Anabaptist, I am theologically very close to Mennonites, but not completely there at the same time. Culturally I am certainly Mennonite, as a large part of my ancestory since 1525 has been from Mennonite circles. The Millers were Mennonites from very early on. Many of them married into the Wine family, which joined the Brethren in the mid 1700s. 

I do not say 'I am a Mennonite, but really Brethren.' Instead, 'I am Mennonite and Brethren.' Culturally and religiously. Or, I could say I am a Brethren Mennonite (not Mennonite Brethren: that's a Mennonite denomination from Russia that migrated to Canada and the US in the first half of the twentieth century). In this postmodern world, we can say we are Mennonite/s: religiously, culturally, ethicallyin the same boat as earlier and contemporary Anabaptists, but one pariticular 'school' or 'movement' among many other Mennonite groups.

One professor here at Bethany said to another student that we should go with our theopoetics hat on. I don't know a lot about theopoetics, and athough it seems intriguing, it feels a little too religious to me, like baptisting Mennonite writing when perhaps it should not be. Instead, I think it should be allowed to be what it is--literature and art that reflects one's experiences within the Anabaptist community, religious or not, for better or worse. While I admit that it is difficult not to baptize it, I think it would be difficult for some at the conference to swallow (but I expect others there would gladly do this, because it seems all too easy and tempting, and comforting to us seminarians. But most at the conference, I assume, will have literature degrees rather than ones in theology). I think that it can be legitimate exercise to 'de-profane' Mennonite writing, but perhaps we must first see it in its profane (secular) sense, as it stands, before we try to spin our religion onto it. Or we can interpret it with our religion scholar glasses on, but should be extra careful to not put it into theology. I don't know. This is tricky to define, the lines blur very easily. Perhaps this is why many Mennonite writers are hesitant to call themselves Mennonite writers. 

I had hoped to blog the conference, but as I don't own a laptop, I may try to find a computer lab on campus I can use, or just take notes and blog them after the weekend is over. In any event, I'll have more to say about this within the next week or so, so stay tuned. 

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