I take a deep breath and begin to write something which I have put off for a very long time- a subject that I dared not approach. Either it was embarrassment or fear of offending friends I love that kept me so long from touching the keys to write this. Perhaps I needed time to evaluate what I actually believed and valued.
How many of us that have grown up in Anabaptist Mennonite homes have not been ashamed at some time or another of the way we had to live? All the disadvantages seem to be highlighted in our minds. The way our parents kept us from doing the things that everyone else could do, the way our church made us dress differently than our peers, and the way people gawked at the coverings or veilings on our head. As girls, we just wanted to let the world know how beautiful we could be if we just had the chance to appear like everyone else. It did not seem quite fair that the guys could pretty well pass through the world unnoticed. They had girls chasing after them- because an unanabaptist female knows the value of a good ole’ boy, but we had guys laughing at our weirdness. As guys, there was a lot of excitement of which we could have no part. Maybe some of you will not admit to it, but I will because I had these feelings quite often. I mean even the name Mennonite is weird!
It was not until I started to figure out and learn why I lived this way that I started to actually rejoice in my differences. When we only do what we do because of family or church, we view the Anabaptist faith as bondage; when we do what we do because we believe it, we find the Anabaptist faith liberating.
I write this not to stir debate. I am not one who enjoys arguing and trying to cram the way I believe down people’s throats. Instead, I want this to be a refreshing blog that inspires instead of angers and encourages each person to find out what they really believe. I write this after years of my own wrestlings and observing of friends and family’s struggles.
Why are so many people leaving the values they were brought up in? I think there are quite a few reasons. Let me know if I miss something. 1. They have sifted through their beliefs and discarded the ones that seem not to apply to the Christian today. 2. They are tired of being different and would rather be a Christian without the extra tags. 3. It is easier to find a girlfriend/boyfriend or husband/wife outside of the “Mennonite” circle. 4. They have seen ones who stand by every Anabaptist exterior principle but live the crummiest of lives internally.
To properly understand everything, let’s go back in history to a very long time ago. The things we are talking about are a part of a bigger realm than of what we are aware. Many people proudly tell you about the veterans in their lineage, ones who fought for the freedom of their country; I proudly tell you about the veterans in our lineage, ones who fought for the freedom of their faith. We typically think of Mennonites/Anabaptists as dull, conservative, and boring, but I beg to differ. The men that started us off were cannonballs. They were determined, brave, bold, daring…they looked death in the face and laughed. I wish we could have met these people. We live our life and rarely include our faith; they lived their faith and rarely included life.
When I was eight years old, I asked for The Martyr’s Mirror as a Christmas gift. You are probably wondering what was wrong with me; don’t worry I still haven’t figured it out. I know, most eight-year old girls ask for American Girl dolls, frilly dresses, or ponies, but I asked for a book of stories about tortured people. I did get the book, and I poured over that big huge book soaking in all the vast horrors that happened to my forefathers and mothers. What continually astounded me was the level of commitment that these people had. At eight years old I tried to imagine the pain of tongue screws, tearing racks, ravaging lions, and scorching stakes; at twenty-three years old I still wonder if I could stand strong to Jesus while undergoing such agonizing, blood-curdling nightmares.
Ladies and Gentlemen, these were real people! They were dying because they believed in a personal relationship with Jesus, they were being banished from home because of reading the Bible, they were scorned by friends because of living out Biblical principles. Kind of makes me feel cowardly when I am ashamed to look like a Christian just because I will be different. “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.”- Luke 9:26
So are these things that Mennonites have done for hundreds of years really necessary? If you believe in John 3:16 and Genesis 1, why would you discard other portions of the Bible? Although the Christian life would be a lot easier if we could pick and choose, I never read in the Bible that there was that option. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, every single word of it. The most amazing thing about the Bible is that even though it has been around for generation after generation, it still is current for our day. It still deals with issues of alcohol, adultery, homosexuality. It still speaks of nonresistance, head-covering, and modesty. Oops, I think I need to bandage my toes; God has a habit of stepping on them pretty hard sometimes.
So what about all these pathetic Mennonites? They sit in church Sunday after Sunday as righteous as you please, but are manipulating their customers on Monday, viewing porn on Tuesday, spending money on their beautiful house on Wednesday, gossipping in a devastating way on Thursday, running the cops on Friday, and counting pennies on Saturday. Yup, if that’s the hypocritical way Mennonites live, I don’t want to be part of it. Hold on just a second, I’m a cafe-loving, sold-out-for-Jesus, adopt-the-orphans, radical-type of Christian that hates the deadness within our churches, but those listless people aren’t the standard of what Mennonite is. Don’t judge the Anabaptist values on people that are using the Mennonite garb only as a cover for their heinous lifestyles. Just because you grew up by the Dead Sea, doesn’t mean that all water is salty and undrinkable. Somewhere a river of clear, refreshing waters flows, even if you can not see it. Perhaps the problem with the Mennonites today is that they too have never met the radical martyrs that fought hard for Jesus. If there was a way to combine heart, soul, and energy with value and principles, the combination would be more powerful than anyone can imagine. Perhaps that is why Satan keeps the value and principle churches wrapped up in only exterior godliness, and the heart, soul, and energy churches wrapped up in only interior godliness. Without exterior there is no ground; without interior there is no seed. The blossoms that grew from our forefathers’ lives took place because they planted the seed within the ground.
Now plays in some of my past observations of ones who have abandoned the principles that make up the Anabaptist faith. I start to believe more and more that we are protected by our “restricting” lifestyle. Not protected in the sense that Mennonites will never face accidents, hospitals, illness, rape, or destitution; but protected in the sense of our being kept in the Father’s arms. Maybe I just imagine these things, but why is it that when someone leaves the Anabaptist principles, soon all other Biblical principles start to disappear as well, even though this person still a Christian? These liberated believers end up having babies before marriage and using addictive substances that slowly destroy their bodies. The guys marry girls that have no clue how to cook a meal or raise a family. The girls marry guys that exploit them and are with every other woman in the neighborhood. No, I’m not saying that being able to run a household makes you a perfect man or woman, but it sures makes things flow a lot more smoothly for you and your children. And no, I’m not saying that being a Mennonite is the highest and truest form of godliness; but I am saying that being a Mennonite protects you from other vices that will try to pull you away from your goal. Life is simple- it consists of two things. Things that draw you closer to God, or things that pull you away. We are all trudging through this swamp of life. The biblical principles are our water, flashlights, mosquito netting, and high-water boots. Yeah, they may look funny and be an extra baggage, but take those away, and you become subject to malaria, quicksand, and dehydration. Make it through the swamp, and you reach Heaven. Die in the swamp, and your journey ends. It’s just that simple….
It’s all about how you protect yourself in the swamp.