Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Mennonite / NeoCalvinist Drinking Game - An Idea Whose Time Has Come!

“There are only two things I can't stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other peoples' cultures - and the Dutch!” Michael Caine, as Nigel Powers

Like most lapsed Mennonites, when I was on the cusp of lapsing I volunteered with a Mennonite relief agency internationally recognized for doing an astounding number of good deeds at home and abroad, despite an infrastructure that defies analysis or comprehension. There were several orientation retreats I had to attend, which I sometimes remember nostalgically. They were folksy affairs, often laden with the sort of pop-psychology-speak that makes the modern Mennonite so worthy of ridicule ("I think I hear you say we need to be careful not to forget the special needs of individuals, while we're visioning for the whole community. I would affirm you in that. Maybe you could give more leadership to that"*). Despite, or possibly even because of this, a surprising amount of creative activity took place — most of which would qualify for respectability as religious folk art. And, always, the singing was to die for.

The last such event I attended was held in the middle of winter, at a secluded camp in Ontario. We were sharing the premises with a Dutch Reform congregation that was also "on retreat." For those who don't know, Mennonites and the Dutch Reform have quite a bit in common, beginning with their gene pool.** Thanks to geography, Mennonites and the Dutch Reform share ideological origins as well: in the heat of the Reformation, an impassioned branch of heretics cooked up the nettlesome scheme of Anabaptism: reserving the act of baptism for people who consciously choose to be baptized. Suddenly Luther and the Catholic Church had something they could agree on - these people needed to be hunted down and made an example of in that charming, medieval fashion so popular at the time.

We parted ways, however, on the issue of church and state. The Dutch Reform adhere to a Calvinist perspective, seeking public office and embracing the responsibilities of the sword; the Mennonites ... well, these days it depends on who you talk to, but if you enlist in any organization that calls itself "Mennonite," you work with a mandate that adheres to pacifism. Consequently, even though these dueling Dutch ideologues frequently share geographic location and building facilities, the time eventually comes when the groups retreat to their respective corners, lower their voices, cock a thumb at the other corner and say, "You know what those guys actually believe, don't you?"

At this retreat, the only building we shared was the dining hall — Reform sat at the right side of the hall, Mennonites to the left. Early in the week, one of the Mennonites (a bearded, goofy-looking guy I'll call "Herb") came late to dinner. He got his tray of food while we were all chowing down, then walked over to the right side of the hall. He wore his habitual, goofy grin and looked from face to face, searching for someone familiar. Nothing but scowls. Eventually, someone from our side piped up: "Herb? Over here." To which a Reform voice added, "Yeah, you're not one of us!"

That got a laugh from everyone. And it was funny, even if it reads as harsh. It's just so hard to believe that we — the Dutch, of all people! — can be so severe and uncompromising.

For the last month or two I’ve lurked among my Dutch siblings in the on-line halls of Neo-Calvinism. The only conclusion I’ve reached is that I’m still in existential disagreement with them (I’ll show you who’s “not one of us!”); given that perspective, any attempt I might make to summarize Neo-Calvinism would be worthy of their contempt. I’ll say this, however: the further I follow NeoCal reciprocal links, the more I feel like I’ve just beamed myself into the Borg Collective — what with the humming, and the sparking, and the responsive-reading-type-of-thing. The energy they expend fleshing out their ideas can be both awesome and unsettling, depending on your point of view as an outsider.

The curious can see and judge for themselves, here and here. In the meantime, I wonder if Mennonites and NeoCals could collaborate on a drinking game? Every time a NeoCal says "Kuyper" or “Dooyeweerd” take a sip; if you hear “We ignore Dooyeweerd at our own peril!” — DRAIN THE BOTTLE! Reciprocally, if a Mennonite talks about “the Story we find ourselves in,” or “peace and justice concerns,” lob the empty bottle at the speaker's head. This just might be the beginning of a miraculously renewed relationship...

"Uh-oh! Someone's gonna Kuyper their Dooyeweerd!"

*Mennospeak appropriated from The Mennonite Starter Kit, by Craig Haas and Steve Nolt.

**A woefully arrogant assumption on my part, considering African Mennonites now outnumber their Western progenitors by quite a margin. Still, I'm trying to make a point, and in the grand scheme of things,
we all share the same gene pool — right?


Scott said...

Looks like I've got some 'link-following' to do, since very little of this made sense to me! It's not your writing (loved the 'charming, medievil fashion' quip) but merely not I'm not as well read on these matters as I'd like. Now, however, I've simply got to know what "Kuyper" or “Dooyeweerd” mean!

Whisky Prajer said...

Surf the links at your own risk. Let's just say, they won't improve your Scrabble game!

Gideon Strauss said...

Heh-heh! I like that game. Mind you, many of us neocalvinists also speak of "story" a lot these days. Could be a Hauerwassian influence, I suppose ...

Whisky Prajer said...

"Hauerwaas"?! Three sips!

Derek Melleby said...

Thank you for this… It was very helpful, given I have no Dutch ancestors. Well, Pennsylvania Dutch… but they're actually German!

Two years ago I had the idea to write a master's thesis (which I never did) that was going to attempt to synthesize Neo-Calvinism and Anabaptism with a focus on "the importance of place:" Neo-Cals high view and emphasis on the doctrine of creation and Anabaptists practice of simple living and community. This is a great (and civil, and edifying, and good spirited) conversation that my Anabaptist friends and I have often.

In fact, at least one Neo-Cal friend of mine (with all the Dutch background and everything) is now attending an Anabaptist church. I have considered doing the same given (1) my frustration with much of the "God and country talk" and (2) the majority of Anabaptist churches in my area that have settled for a "least common denominator" evangelicalism where most of the congregation doesn't know what Anabaptism is, aren't pacifists, and would probably leave the church if they knew that the denomination believed it. (Of course, this is happening everywhere, and I'm not trying to sound harsh or critical.)

I'm a big fan of Hauerwas and Yoder (and others in this "camp"), I'm working with a student who is writing a senior thesis on Biblical pacifism, and I tend to look for ways in which people agree rather than disagree… Its helps me to understand and love people better… I think.

Rob VG-R said...

Hey, my senior thesis at Goshen College, a Mennonite school, is trying to synthesize Neocalvinism and Anabaptism! Well, kind of ... I'm mainly trying to allow each tradition to compliment the other. I think the Mennonite peace position (ducking to avoid bottle) is an important challenge to the frightening "God and country" stuff Derek mentioned, which seems to have quite a strong foothold in Calvinist circles. And I think the Neocalvinist work in the area of cultural engagement (another buzzword worthy of a drink) would benefit Mennonite ... um ... activities (the last bottle hurt too much).

Anyway ... game on!

Whisky Prajer said...

DM - that's quite the synthesis you're proposing! An entirely worthy effort, especially if your focus allows you to discuss these aspects with these Dutch friends of yours, while keeping a cool and comfortable temperature in the room.

R VG-R - sounds like you and DM are on the same page (DM seems to be better at ducking bottles, however)! Thanks for dropping by, and all the best to both of you as you "facilitate the faith dialogue" (glug, glug, *splutter* glug...).