The Drunken Menno has recently moved. You can wander among the archives here if you like but you'll find the party over at slklassen.com. C'mon by.
Hi there. Thanks for dropping by the old site.
The Drunken Menno has recently moved. You can wander among the archives here if you like but you'll find the party over at slklassen.com. C'mon by.
Today marks the auspicious occasion of my 20th blog post. Yes, congratulations to me! In a moment, we'll have a drink to celebrate. Fuck it - it's a special occasion, let's shake things up a bit and begin with the drink. No cocktail this week -- just open a bottle of your favorite bubbly and find someone to drink it with you. You might want a nice piece of Napoleon cake to go with this or, if you are of Swiss Mennonite heritage, maybe a slice of shoo-fly pie. Or, just whatever you like to eat when you are celebrating something really great.
Let's begin by raising a glass to the internet. Sure, there are some awful things that happen out there in the wild wild web but there's also a lot that's a whole lot of fun. Here are a few things I've noticed over the last few months of observing, commenting and linking to Mennonites on the internet.
1. GAMEO still rules the Mennoweb. Back about the time the good folks at wikipedia were all glassy-eyed about everyone working harmoniously together to edit everyone else's work for the greater good, the few web-savvy Mennonites out there already knew better and set up something that looks and feels like a wiki but isn't. Good on them. The look hasn't been updated since 1996 but you can count on the content. And I'm pretty sure that, had they set up a Mennonite Wikipedia instead, we'd have 22 splinter versions of GAMEO by now.
2. Facebook vs Twitter: Mennonites prefer Facebook to Twitter (yes, so does just about everyone else). I already knew there were a lot of Mennonites on Facebook but I was surprised at how small the Twitter community appears to be. Admittedly, some might be hiding and avoiding talking about Menno-like stuff so I don't recognize them as Mennos. Mennonite institutions seem to be working on that assumption because just about every Mennonite institution that is not opposed to the use of technology has a Twitter account and uses it to announce news and headlines to the Twittersphere. That's right, to the hidden Mennonites who might be on Twitter and care. I pretty much quit Facebook over a year ago but if you want to follow the Drunken Menno that way, you can "like" the linked Facebook page and then I will periodically interrupt the stream of pictures of your friends' vacations and babies with pithy commentary and cocktail recipes. You're welcome.
3. Sports, Food and Furniture: A casual wander through the internet leaves one with the impression that we are a very athletic people who eat a lot and spend our time making furniture. I knew about the latter two before Twitter but only recently discovered our athleticism. Search Twitter for "Mennonite" and you will need to find a way to filter out all the scores from the Mennonite high school and college volleyball teams. Unless, of course, that's what you were looking for.
4. Bloggers and aggregators: The vast majority of Mennonite bloggers appear to be earnest young people blogging about faith and life. Many of these are easily found in the Mennonerds superblog. A number of the bloggers are pastors or students of Divinity and the blog posts often come off as mini-sermons. Nothing wrong with that. If they're too tame for you, you can always hop on over to Young Anabaptist Radicals, where the discussion is just as earnest but a bit more impassioned and possibly more controversial. Another place to find sermonettes is the Mennonite World Review which pulls together news and blog entries from around the web. The Social Mennonite does this as well. It is way more inclusive; I've been in there, right alongside things like the recent dancing monkey video which either represents a commentary on Mennonite culture too obscure for my poor brain to fathom or a flaw in the aggregating algorithms used by paper.li. Other Mennonite bloggers talk about food, childhood memories and DIY. There remains only one Mennonite cocktail blog.
5. The Shirley Showalter Effect. On regular weeks, about a dozen people pop over to my blog and presumably read what I have scribbled here. When Shirley Showalter tweets or shares my blog on fb, 2-3 hundred people pop over. It's a little overwhelming. I mean, I didn't set up enough chairs. When I started, I imagined that readership just stays steady or grows incrementally. But social media is choppier than that. I have 30 some followers on Twitter and less than 200 friends on Facebook (see above); Shirley Showalter has over 2,000 Twitter followers and more than 1,500 Facebook friends. When I post something, people who already know me know to ignore it; when Shirley Showalter posts something, people who don't already know me discover me -- for better or worse. That's the power of weak ties. I've never met Shirley Showalter. I think she discovered me from a retweet of the "10 ways Mennonites are like Hipsters" post. This remains my most popular post, I think because Mennonites erroneously believe it is a compliment to be called a hipster. My personal fave is World History from a Mennonite Perspective. So far. Anyway, thanks Shirley! If you're ever in town, I'll buy you a drink.
Have you finished off that bottle yet? I'll have another cocktail recipe for next week. Good thing I didn't give up drinking (or social media) for Lent. Cheers!
In addition to the four seasons that everyone knows about, and the two liturgical seasons that are known to Christians of many stripes, Mennonites every now and then declare a Season of Discernment. While there are clear temporal limitations to the more commonplace seasons, a season of discernment isn't like that. The congregation in which I am a member declared a season of discernment about twelve years ago and as far as I can tell, it's still going. No Energizer Bunny needed.
None of this means that we are particularly discerning in our food, drink or fashion choices. Do not be mistaken into thinking that a people who devote themselves to discernment are, therefore, discerning. The term comes from Romans 12:2 in reference to understanding God's will. Of course, we could use any number of other terms that various other translators have preferred -- to determine, to find out, to understand -- but "A Season of Coming to Understand" just doesn't have such a ring to it, and "A Season of Determination" sounds downright scary.
Our practice of discernment is premised on a belief that the Holy Spirit is present in the community of believers. It goes back to Anabaptist days if you read the historical record selectively. When everyone in the community of believers agrees, it is easy enough to believe that the Holy Spirit is with the community but it's a bit trickier when our discerning takes us off in a million different directions. Or even two different directions. Few Mennonites are comfortable with the idea of a Holy Spirit that can simultaneously speak completely opposing positions. In recent years, Seasons of Discernment have had some relation to questions of sexual behaviour or misbehaviour, though you wouldn't always know it from the titles of the season. And since we don't seem to be able to agree on these issues, we just keep discerning, and discerning, and discerning. At present, Mennonite Church Canada is calling on all congregations to discern what to do about our previous discerning not having brought about consensus.
To mark a Season of Discernment, we spend some time getting together and mulling over the issue. We might get into small groups and talk about the issue; we might have special meetings and educational sessions. If we agree after all of this mulling, we come to a decision, duly record it in minutes or Church by-laws and consider the discernment process a success. After so much time and effort, you'd think that the end of a season of discernment might deserve a real celebration, with glasses clinking and backs being slapped. Maybe even a display of fireworks. Sadly, no. Typically, we are all so tired of the whole issue by the time we finish (if we finish), we just quietly slink off to the relief that comes of solitude after too much time in community.
But, not to fear. You can count on the Drunken Menno to rush to the aid of weary (and thirsty) discerners everywhere. You may already have noticed that a key activity in the discerning process involves mulling. Happily, the British perfected the mulling of wine a long time ago. With only slight variations, we can Menno-ify this and make it the perfect drink for a long, cold season of discernment.
4 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 1/2 cup water
1 1/2tblsp whole cloves
13 sticks of cinnamon
2 tblsp nutmeg
3 cups pure, unsweetened cranberry juice
1 handful of cranberries
6 bottles of a fruit forward red wine (Cabernet Franc, Gamay or Cabernet Sauvignon for example)
Mix sugar, syrup, water and spices in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 3-5 minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy. Add cranberries and cranberry juice and bring back to boiling. Add 6 bottles of red wine.
Alternately, you can make up a batch of the syrup and store it in the fridge indefinitely. This way, you can mix it with the wine cup by cup as the need presents itself. There's no guaranteeing that this will actually produce enough discerned wine to last a full 12-year season but it may help you forget the passing time.
The Mennonite Church is a Peace Church. In various times, and in various contexts, Mennonites have had to consider what this meant. Sometimes, it has been really an extension of the separation of the Church and the state with Mennonites simply refusing to be part of the polity. This is at its most extreme. There are times when I see the appeal of this stance, and I also want to wash my hands of the government that runs the country in which I live. An uncle of mine wrote in his memoirs that, when asked whether he identified as a Canadian or a Mexican, he shook his head and said he was a Mennonite. Mennonite isn't a nationality. You cannot be a citizen of the Mennonation; we have no passports and no trade agreements with other nations. We have, from time to time, negotiated treaties or agreements with the governments around us when we needed exemptions from war. Often that amounted to paying the governments some form of tribute in return for our freedom of conscience. But that doesn't amount to nationhood. Which, as far as I am concerned, is just as well. Because nationhood all too often just leads to war.
My family has not lived separate from civil society for several generations and, my uncle's protestations notwithstanding, we are citizens of nation states and carry their passports. We mostly even vote in elections. We discuss politics, send our children to public school (sometimes), write letters to our MPs, and sign petitions. Some of us attend rallies and support lobbying efforts. There are even some Mennonite Members of Parliament, though none I am particularly proud of. The point is: most of us in Canada have given up thinking of ourselves as anything but part of the Canadian civil society. Instead of standing apart from the nation, we have stepped in and shouldered at least some of our civic responsibility. This doesn't mean we have to be patriots.
When I was a child in the 70s and an adolescent in the 80s, Canada was not at war. Every year, we acknowledged Remembrance Day in our schools with talk of the horrors of WWI, the looming likelihood of nuclear war, and petitions for disarmament. In Church, we celebrated the conscientious objectors among us, the Vietnam draft dodgers, and the young people who went off to march in protests. In my Mennonite high school, we watched If You Love this Planet in chapel and discussed The Day After in English class. Recognizing the link between patriotic fervour and war, among ourselves, we disputed things like whether we ought to stand for the national anthem, or wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. We used to be able to discuss these things.
By the time my kids were in school in the 2000s, Remembrance Day had shifted. The world wars became about honour and freedom -- the horrors of the trenches and of Hiroshima disappearing from mention, replaced with a new devotion to a pretty version of history that pretended that sacrifices were needed and willingly made all for the greater good. As if WWI was about freedom, and WWII a measure to prevent the Holocaust. We all must know that, if we had only opened our doors to refugees, we would have saved the lives of far more of the Holocaust's victims than we did by going to war. Remembrance Day ought to be a day of collective guilt and shame, when we recognize as a people that we have failed so often to resolve our conflicts without bloodshed, that we have let ourselves be ruled by outrage instead of compassion, and by shortsighted fear. We have forgotten the important things and bandy about Lest We Forget without any sense of irony. For almost a century, we remembered the end of WWI with a pledge to at least try for "Never Again.". Now, we don't even try. Instead, we pretend that war is worth it. Remembrance Day? Hardly. Pretendance Day, more like it.
But I remain a pacifist. It feels futile, especially at this time of the year, when my neighbours are busy ascribing nobility to meaningless deaths and acts of aggression. But I will make myself a cocktail to make the despair a little more palatable. A pacifist. It's a nice little drink, with no lies or pretense -- just rum, brandy, lemon and the honesty of raspberry. This is a drink for Remembrance Day. It doesn't taste of war; it tastes of the hope for peace.
1 oz white rum (fair trade if you have it)
1 oz fine brandy
1 oz of raspberry syrup*
a squeeze or two of a lemon
*Raspberry syrup: cook about a lb of raspberries with a bit of water. Strain, discarding the pulp and holding onto the liquid. Return to heat and add 3/4 cup sugar to taste. Boil and cook down a bit, until syrupy.
The first thing you should know is that there are actually no traditional Mennonite Cocktails. Given the Mennonite stereotypes out there, I'm betting this isn't much of a surprise to anyone.
Still, it's worth noting. We don't lack in Bibles of Mennonite cookery that celebrate the various branches of Mennonite ethnicity. Mennonites of Swiss-American extraction can look with pride to Food that Really Schmecks; those of us descended from Mennonites once living in lands now owned by Ukraine look to The Mennonite Treasury of Recipes; And all of us post-1960s Mennos have a well-worn copy of the More with Less Cookbook somewhere on our shelves. None of these tomes, however, have a cocktail section. I know - I've checked.
This is not, as is commonly supposed, because Mennonites are opposed to drinking. We trace our roots back to the sixteenth-century Anabaptists whose leaders, it is true, did speak out from time to time against alcohol, drunkenness and innkeepers who, according to one leader, were "unchaste, ungodly and decadent" (and he meant that as a bad thing) because of their involvement with drink. Still, there's a lot of evidence that the run of the mill Anabaptists and early Mennonites didn't take this stricture all that seriously. Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a number of Mennonites operated breweries and distilleries and most drank moderately, while preachers spoke only against drunkenness and excess. Even when the temperance movement first reared its head in North America, the Mennonites in Canada at least resisted it, forbidding their members from joining this non-Menno associations which judged those who drank even moderately. By the twentieth century, however, this battle was lost and most of the Mennonite congregations in North America made abstinence the norm and alcohol deviant. Not that it was ever universally gone.
At any rate, drinking is having something of a Renaissance in Mennonite circles. Ok, maybe not a Renaissance. A Reformation? No, not that either. But a lot of Mennonites now have the occasional glass of wine, a cocktail on special occasions, and frequent those public drinking establishments so disparaged by our sixteenth-century antecedents.
I am Mennonite. I drink. I'm not a theologian and I'm not a mixologist but I have found, through experience, that theology is better with alcohol and alcohol better with - no, never mind.