“So…are you still Mennonite?”
That’s a question I am asked almost as often as I reveal the truth of my roots and it is coming to me with a new frequency since the August launch of my book When The Roll Is Called a Pyonder: Tales From A Mennonite Childhood.
I can see that I am going to have to come up with an answer.
For most Mennonites where I come from, the fact you even have to ask would be the answer in and of itself. My light is evidently under a bushel and we all know what that means. Or at least Mennonites do.
But my last name is Zimmerman and I have a Mennonite pedigree that doesn’t stop, including surnames like Brubaker, Neff, Martin and Horning. I went to junior high at Manheim Christian Day School, high school at Lancaster Mennonite High School and college at Goshen College. When I was thirteen years old I was baptized on my knees by the bishop and for several successive years, pinned a round white doily to the top of my head every time I went to church or grandma’s house to symbolize my submission before God and men. And I was proud of it. I can sing 606 without the book and I know all three verses of “Heart With Loving Heart United,” the soprano line and the alto. I make pork and knepp on New Year’s Day like Grandma Brubaker did wearing an apron with blue rick-rack that Grandma Zimmerman wore over her cape dress. I wash my kitchen floor on my hands and knees with a bucket and a rag and my fail-proof recipe for pie crust comes from the Erisman Mennonite Church’s cookbook. So of course I’m Mennonite.
But I moved far away for a long time and I’ve fallen in love with dancing: salsa and merengue. Can you remain a Mennonite after you learn to move like that? I spent so many sunny years in a bikini on a surf board that I have lost all ability to feel the shame prescribed for immodesty. So I don’t know. Now what?
I consider myself a pacifist and like to believe I am non-violent. I believe in being nice to everybody; does that count? Military vehicles and anyone dressed in military clothing scare the crap out of me—I can’t help it. I’m down with the priesthood of believers and concur that the significance of infant baptism appears to be lost on the infants. So obviously I’m a Mennonite, right?
But I haven’t been a member of a Mennonite church in twenty years. I haven’t been a member of any church in twenty years. I’ve barely entered a church in the last twenty years until I recently started unfaithfully attending a United Methodist church. Why? My town doesn’t have a Mennonite church. Oh, you mean why have I gone back to church at all? I don’t really know. I just got in the mood. Is that my age showing?
I’ve been married twice (divorce, not widowed), both times to men who had never heard of Mennonites and didn’t believe I was serious until they saw with their own eyes. I’ve broken all of the 10 commandments except for the one about killing and I only feel repentant in a handful of instances. The fact that I would even make a statement like that—what does that make me?
I don’t pray before meals or before bed or at any other specific time of day. I pray spontaneously—almost accidentally—as if I have an invisible friend inside my head. I don’t read my Bible, really. When the mood strikes, I like Ecclesiastes and Matthew and Ester. But I know Psalm 23, Psalm 139, the Lord’s Prayer, I can almost recite Luke’s version of the Christmas Story from the King James Version and at one time during my teenaged years I committed to word-for-word memory the first 11 chapters of the Book of Acts. Does that mean anything?
I don’t think I believe in the traditional heaven and hell. I’m not sure what to make of the Holy Trinity, to tell the truth, because I suspect the church got poor Jesus all wrong as his toes were disappearing into the clouds.
Can you be a Mennonite if you question whether or not Christianity is a crock? If I say I am Mennonite, do I ruin the meaning of the word? If I say I am not Mennonite, does my blood laugh out loud in my veins? Is being Mennonite about espousing The Mennonite Confession of Faith? If you can start being one by espousing it, do you stop being one if you take issue? Even if you obediently wore skirts and dresses throughout the entire 4 years of high school? What about if you have a private moment of glee every time the clock says 6:06?
So tell me yourself: am I still Mennonite? In one word you will define both of us.