Nancy: I had heard about this book, but never read it when it came out. When someone in our MAMs Book Club Springfield chose it, I was glad I finally would get around to reading it, because I identify with the Mennonites. In my 20s I met several Mennonites while working with the United Methodist campus ministry in Ames, Iowa. Together we founded the Iowa Peace Network. Later, when I moved to San Antonio I joined a Mennonite church. I chose them for their teachings on nonviolence. I very much enjoyed their focus on church as primary, alternative community, and their tradition of simple living.
So when I first read Janzen’s book, I felt appalled that she would diss one of my favorite denominations. As a “non-ethnic” Mennonite, I could never achieve insider status. I could still engage in the “Mennonite Game” where you begin naming and finding other Mennonites acquaintances you hold in common, but I always knew I would never really be one of them. This made me very sad, until I read Rhoda’s inside look. Now I realize there are advantages to being a Mennonite convert! I didn’t suffer some of the indignities she experienced, yet I still could call myself Mennonite.
The audacity of this woman though, I continued to think, as I read on. How could she? My beloved Mennonites — with such strong women and hard-working, kind men? Were they really as ridiculous and as human as all of that?
But soon I began laughing with her, as I observed the canvas she paints of the shadow side of my people, with great wit. What a wonderful writer! Each sentence brims with creative prose. Not hard to see she’s also a poet and English teacher.
Being an insider always seems to create a tendency to question the idiocyncracies of a given system. And within each faith tradition, passing the torch to younger generations is often a difficult process. Many times the flame goes out, as it may look very distorted to the young.
But as much as she decries her given tradition, I was especially taken with the great love she held for her bipolar, gay husband. She treated him reverently and seemed genuinely concerned for him. I could see her Mennonite upbringing shining through in her actions. Mennonites (and Christians) at their best are unconditional lovers, and I found her this way as she teaches me us how to love.
I’m looking forward to reading her next book where she rediscovers her faith and Mr. Right… Does this Church Make Me Look Fat?