OK, so some of our early choices were a little…reactionary? Neither Rhoda Janzen nor I married a nice solid Mennonite Brethren man, a believer, an early-waking guy who reads a lot, has a general knack for fixing things, and, possibly, a beard. Instead of the “smart, kind, humorous, attractive and affluent” MB Karl Kroeker, Rhoda married a gay athiest. Instead of an intelligent, gentle, mathematical Mennonite Brethren man with a passion for social justice (and a short beard), I chose an illegal alien who pumped gas for a living.
And then, the reckoning. After our failed marriages, some flailing about, wondering, who am I? The reactionary approach didn’t work. So now what do I do? I’ve peered into the chaos and have seen that there is no Truth with a capital “T’. So now, what’s true for me?
Darting away from a tradition of four and a half centuries of living a set-apart life and learning to make one’s own decisions: the way I see it, this behavior is not a break from the Anabaptist tradition but a bold continuation of the path of our ancestors, on the roam for one’s soul, intensely concerned with protecting and nurturing one’s individual experience.
Then, after some amount of individuation, what’s it like to come back and try to take a place in the Mennonite world again?
And here is where another aspect of the Mennonite Brethren church culture, one of the most attractive aspects, comes into play: family solidarity. The story of the prodigal son is not lost on the MBs, and I have seen many examples of young people decisively abandoning their Mennonite homes, communities and churches, becoming worldly in every way that they can – and then being warmly and lovingly welcomed back home. As has happened to me, more than once. As Rhoda experienced, when she returned to the family structure during a time of crisis, her mother “has always backed her daughters up, always supported us, always welcomed us into her home with open arms, no matter what choices we’ve made.” I can say the same for my mother, the essence of spiritual hospitality.
My mother, Katie Funk Wiebe, says that when she was a child growing up, when a guest was about to leave, she remembers that the host would remonstrate and say, “Doaut nobaat noch so schoen” (The conversation is still great. Let’s not quit so soon). But I’ve said enough for now on this topic of my distant cousin and her book. So for now, my fellow writers of poetry, eaters of borscht and zwieback, lovers of education, my MB brothers and sisters, the ball is in your court.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen
New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2009; 241 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8923-7, ISBN-10: 0-8050-8925-X; hardback $22.00.