I don't often write about my Mennonite roots, perhaps because it's just vaguely uncool, but mostly because I've largely forsaken the culture. Over the last few months, I've had a bunch of experiences that have me thinking about those roots again.
The dude in the photo is my good friend Lorne. He still feels deeply connected to his Menno background in Altona. We've had an ongoing discussion about the topic and it always gets me stewing. It's almost impossible to separate Mennonite-ness from the other big concepts in the conversation about our shared past -- small-town/rural life, farming, the landscape of our childhoods, the influence of churches, the dynamic of small-town schools -- since we grew up in areas that were populated exclusively by Mennonites, it's all sort of one ball of wax. Anyway, Lorne gets a huge kick out of hearing me go off about this stuff after we've had a couple of beers, and we ought to have these issues dealt with by 2030 or so.
As often happens in life, when you get kinda interested in something, all kinds of related stuff starts popping up. A couple of weeks ago I made the discovery that an online friend in Asia also has Mennonite roots, and I really got into a couple of posts from Lesa (more Altona connections): her review of a complicated kindness and some of her thoughts on creativity, both with due attention to Mennonite influences (and obstacles) from her upbringing.
Lorne knows one guy named Aiden Enns who has been a sort of rogue Menno, retaining his faith but pushing it in directions that ring true for me. He started the excellent Buy Nothing Christmas movement and did a stint as the managing editor of Adbusters, one of the most thought-provoking and transformative magazines of the past decade. Now he's started geez magazine in Winnipeg. While the religious angle isn't my thing, reading through some of the articles makes me think that there are certain non-faith values with roots in Mennonite culture -- anti-consumerism, pacifism, social justice, community, helping those in need, strong family ties -- that have shaped what matters to me. I'm glad to see that MCC has retained some of those values in their organization as well. These values are certainly not unique to Mennonites, but they have stuck with me even after the food, language, songs and faith have been mostly lost.
Editor Will Braun had a couple of short articles that caught my eye: one about new-school Mennos, listing all kinds of characteristics of younger, progressive Mennonites that I felt affinity with, and his quick review of the classic More With Less Cookbook, which just re-emerged on our counter when I went downstairs for a cookie. I also enjoyed Aiden's Upwardly Mobile Mennonite Blues.
So, will I be joining a Mennonite church or starting Low German lessons any time soon? Nah, I'm thinking this reflection isn't much about doing, but it's part of understanding more about being.