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?