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GG and Mennonites

John Grant wrote:

>Yes, there are many Mennonites up here, but their practices are not
>monolithic.   I buy very good meat from them in Toronto, but from a
>fellow (Mennonite) who actually drives a truck (not a horse and buggy)!

Trucks and cars are more the norm than the exception, considering the many
different types of Mennonites.  That is, in terms of worldwide membership,
most Mennonites today don't have many immediately obvious lifestyle
differences as compared with Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc.
among other Christian denominations.

The Mennonite ways are not really typically Protestant, but neither are
they Catholic...it's traditionally (and still) a "third way."  It's
somewhat closer to Protestant than Catholic, though.  As Lorenzo
mentioned, historically the Mennonite paths go back to the 16th century.

Two of the most substantial distinguishing features are:

- Peace/nonresistance emphasis...find alternatives to violent responses
wherever possible.  Treat everyone in as humanitarian a manner as
possible, respectfully and in service projects.  That includes a refusal
to participate in wars; historically, Mennonites have found many ways to
serve others in lieu of military service.  [I suspect this humanitarian
angle was one of the most attractive features for Glenn Gould.]

- Baptism of believers at the person's own choice, as an adult or teenager
rather than as a baby; typically we have "infant dedications" for the
family and friends, where others would do a baptism, and then typically we
become members (baptized) by choice somewhere between age 13 and 25.

A third distinction is some measure of separation from mainstream society.
This might be mostly spiritual/attitudinal, or perhaps a more physical
separation (living away from cities, dressing in conspicuous simplicity,
choosing not to have powered vehicles, parochial schools, etc.).  There
are all kinds of Mennonites, drawing that line at different places.

- My family and many of my friends are the most "modern" type of
Mennonite: OK on cars, higher education, OK on electricity, all the latest
technology, dress like others in mainstream society...our Mennonite
identity is as much ethnic background as anything.  That plus an attempt
to have an at least *somewhat* simple lifestyle.

- Many of my neighbors here are "Old Order" Mennonites: in many ways like
the Amish.  My neighbors drive only horse and buggy...but they have modern
tractors, lawnmowers, and other power equipment, plus bicycles.  Many
refuse to have electricity or a telephone in the house, but it's OK to
have it in a barn or other place of work.  The style of dress is mostly
plain.  They have their own one-room schoolhouse just up the road from my
house, and the children either walk or ride bikes.  There is a lot of
specialization in the community around here: a buggy maker, a sawmill, a
harness maker, a farm-implement shop, butchers, etc...and they produce a
very high standard of work, mostly in support of all the farming by
everybody else.  (So here I sit in the middle of all this, playing
harpsichord professionally and developing business software for a big-city
company, and my wife is a university instructor; we're sort of out of sync
with our neighbors!)  People's personal integrity around here is
extraordinary:  kindness and looking out for one another, treating others
fairly and doing good work.  Nobody around here would dream of doing lawn
work or hanging laundry on a Sunday, it's just not done.

- Then there are other smaller Mennonite groups as well, around here and
elsewhere.  Some say it's OK to have cars but only if the bumper is
painted flat black (chrome shows too much pride in worldly things)...I saw
a black Mercedes with black bumpers a few days ago!  Another group divided
a couple generations ago over the question of having hydraulics or not on
your horse-drawn wagon.  Others have distinctions on dress, buggy style,
family connections, or all the above.  Some stop the formal education at
eighth grade, and then it's time to go to work.  Some have large families,
others small.  Some groups have traditionally stayed with German, Swiss,
or Russian dialects even when living in English-speaking countries.
There are some large groups of Spanish-speaking Mennonites, too.

Some Mennonites make very little use of credit, or insurance, or the
media; like use of the electric grid or gasoline-powered vehicles, this
would bring them too closely into mainstream society and defeat the
purpose of remaining somewhat apart.  There is theological and lifestyle
debate about all sorts of things.  The common theme is trying to live by
biblical principles, especially the New Testament...and of course there's
plenty of disagreement how to interpret and do that most faithfully.


An illustration of the integrity that I mentioned: last week my wife and I
were sitting on our front steps enjoying the cool of the evening, watching
the sunset, and being with our dog.  Presently the neighboring family
walked over with all three children, to visit and to get to know us and
just enjoy the time.  And they brought along a bag of dog food and gave it
to us!  They explained that their own dog had recently brought home part
of a bag stolen from somewhere, and they thought it might have been from
our garage, so they wanted to reimburse us or just give it as a gift,

Another time, from last year: I was mowing my front lawn and racing to get
done before dark.  Another neighbor drove past on his mower, or *started*
to drive past, but he veered onto my yard and did several big loops to
help me get done in time!  And then he drove off and continued on his way,
merely exchanging a wave of "thanks" and "you're welcome" with not a word

Or people will share surplus produce from gardens, or let their irrigation
system help others' property when things are dry.  My wife gives English
lessons to our Russian-speaking neighbors to help them get along here.
People help out where a need is seen, in exchange for nothing.


I suspect that this overriding notion of separation was also very
attractive to Gould...he made it obvious in his work (Solitude Trilogy and
writings and interviews) that he was that type of person.  The individual
keeps integrity by deliberately pulling away from the status quo, choosing
a way apart.  Opt out of other people's expectations....

These are the types of issues Gould was trying to draw out in his "Quiet
in the Land" radio programme, exploring how a particular group of
Mennonites (Red River, in Manitoba) blended solitude and community.  That
was part 3 of the Solitude Trilogy.


My review of Gould's "QITL" programme that I mentioned earlier:

A basic reading list about who/what Mennonites are:

An official Mennonite Church USA web site specializing in that
introductory type of information:


Bradley Lehman, Dayton VA
home: http://i.am/bpl  or  http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl
CDs: http://listen.to/bpl or http://www.mp3.com/bpl

"Music must cause fire to flare up from the spirit - and not only sparks
from the clavier...." - Alfred Cortot