I claim to be "genetically Mennonite." Of course, since Mennonites are a religious group, not a racial/ethnic group, the claim is oxymoronic. Nevertheless, I mean it seriously as well as tongue-in-cheek. It does turn out, I think, that all Loewens in the world, at least all I have ever met, are of Mennonite origin. Add anything -- "Loewenberg," "Loewenstein" -- and it's Jewish. Subtract -- "Loewe," "Lowe" -- and it's likely Jewish but not always. But "Loewen," ironically meaning "lions," is usually Mennonite.
Mennonites are followers of the Protestant minister Menno Simons, who lived in Holland 1496-1561. Mennonites were the first group in the Western World to come out against slavery and against war. Particularly that last stand -- against military service -- has caused them centuries of hardship and grief.
"Old Order Mennonites" are also called Amish, and they famously forbear modern technology. Most "regular" Mennonites look like everyone else. "My" Mennonites, in Mountain Lake, MN, were good farmers, among the first to electrify. Besides, my dad stopped being a Mennonite and a believer when he was about 24. I was born when he was 39. So I was definitely "regular." Indeed, I grew up Presbyterian, since that church was closest to my house, and since Mom was a Christian.
Nevertheless, my sister and I recently talked with each other about these matters, and we agreed that some Mennonite values seeped into our upbringing. We both seem to favor the underdog, for example. We both have worked for social justice. We are not impressed by mansions or BMWs. Today I am happy to choose my Mennonite heritage, if not religiously, well, then, as a statement of my values.
In particular, on the last page of the coffee-table book, In the Fullness of Time: 150 Years of Mennonite Sojourn in Russia, by Walter Quiring and Helen Bartel (3rd edition, 1974), are nine lines. Perhaps they are by Menno Simons; I have asked Mennonite scholars but they do not know. They sum up Mennonite values for me. I am particularly taken with the two words "we hope." What a modest claim! We hope that the good and the mild will have the power. Surely they ought to!
Whose is the Earth?
Whose is the Earth? The toiler's.
Who rules the earth? The wise one.
Who has the might? Only the good,
we hope, and mild. Vengeance and fury
devour themselves. The peaceful
abide and save. Only the wisest
shall be our guide. The chain
does men no honour and even less the sword.
At the end of my life, I publish these lines thinking that they may come to be meaningful to you. You can claim them just as well as I can! You don't have to be genetically Mennonite to do so! Remember, genetically Mennonite is a contradiction anyway. You don't even have to attend a Mennonite church. (I go Unitarian. But that's another story.) "The chain does men no honor and even less the sword."
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