Building on the Gospel Foundation: The Mennonites of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and Washington County, Maryland, 1730-1970. By Edsel Burdge Jr. and Samuel L. Horst. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2004. Pp. 928. $49.99, U.S.; $69.99, Can.
Even in the nineteenth century, as the larger Mennonite Church was moving toward greater accommodations with what its more conservative members thought of as “the world,” the Washington-Franklin Conference remained known for its overall conservativeness. Geographically removed from the more liberal (or liberalizing) trends that affected Mennonitism in Lancaster County, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the Midwest, the Washington-Franklin Mennonites (living in the vicinity of Hagerstown, Md. and Chambersburg, Pa.) remained remarkably unified in their vision of the faith well into the twentieth century.
Clocking in at 712 pages of text and photographs and some 2,264 dense, richly detailed footnotes, Edsel Burdge and Samuel Horst’s history surely stands as a monument, both to the historical presence of Mennonites in the upper Cumberland Valley and to the larger cause of American-Mennonite scholarship. No Mennonite community or conference has received more sustained or rigorous attention. The scholarship is meticulous, even breathtaking. The prose is lucid and clear throughout. Although the level of detail often threatens to overwhelm the governing narrative, the authors have done an admirable job at marshalling their data and organizing the text. In sum, this book represents a major contribution to Mennonite scholarship and will prove essential to any public or private library specializing in Mennonite or Anabaptist history.
The first Mennonite families entered the Cumberland Valley in 1738. Burdge and Horst’s narrative offers a local version of the larger, familiar Mennonite story: colonial patterns of immigration and settlement; the “German Awakening” and the Revolutionary War; slow growth through the first half of the nineteenth century; and the trials associated with the Civil War and World Wars I and II. Burdge and Horst do a particularly good job of delineating the various controversies and innovations that altered the “old foundation” of Mennonite faith between the 1870s and the 1930s: English-language preaching, new systems of governance and power, conflicts of personality and style, Sunday schools, revival meetings, missions and, finally, the proliferation of interchurch and intrachurch boards, projects and activities that by 1930 had come to define the institutional polity of the mainline Mennonite Church.
One aspect of Washington-Franklin’s history that has stood out to other historians is that during the controversies of the late nineteenth century this was one of the few (Old) Mennonite conferences not to produce an Old Order movement. Burdge and Horst do not make much of this fact: they are more interested in how local polity and church politics kept the conference together than in comparing Washington-Franklin’s path with that of, say, the Lancaster, Franconia or Ohio Conference Mennonites. In general, they argue, the Washington-Franklin Mennonites were cautious and slow when it came to “change.” Church members across the conference were more or less evenly divided between more “aggressive” and more traditional views, which somehow tended more toward balance than open conflict. At the same time, even the most progressive advocates of Sunday school and revivalism were more cautious, and more theologically conservative, than their progressive counterparts elsewhere. The result was a blend of approaches and styles that the authors, following Mennonite theologian Daniel Kauffman, label “aggresso-conservativism.” It was this syncretic stance that helped to bind individuals and congregations of diverse practices and tendencies into a longstanding communing body. With the exception of a small group that affiliated with the Reformed Mennonite denomination in 1825, and in spite of various differences between congregations, Mennonites in the Cumberland Valley remained in one conference-one communion-from their origins up until 1938.
The broad outlines of the conserving and acculturating trends within the Mennonite Church during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries are well known. With the exception of the relatively late date at which the conference’s unity was breached, the Washington-Franklin story is not that different. Burdge and Horst have provided future Mennonite historians with an invaluable reference tool in detailing how particular issues-from dispensational premillenialism to missions to dress patterns and radio-were handled, or not handled, in local congregations and in conference meetings during the critical decades between 1910 and 1970.
In some ways, the most interesting strand among the many Burdge and Horst present is a digression from the conservative vs. liberal Mennonite mainline narrative. While the Reformed Mennonites never achieved a major presence in the valley-counting four meetinghouses and some 200 members at their zenith-they did provide an alternative interpretation of what the “Gospel foundation” might mean. Burdge and Horst’s attention to this little-studied branch of the Mennonite family is nuanced, even sympathetic.
What is missing, perhaps, are similarly brief, but nuanced, accounts of the other groups of Anabaptist origin with whom Mennonite lives and churches overlapped. Various sects of Dunkers (German Baptists, River Brethren, et al.) also established communities in the upper Cumberland region at an early date. Dunkers were often neighbors of Mennonites, and their approaches to a nonconformed Anabaptist faith in Christ cross-pollinated. Burdge and Horst do mention these other groups at appropriate moments (when their goals or activities intersected with those of Mennonites, especially during the colonial period and in wartime). It would have been useful for the authors to have spoken a bit more about how these other Anabaptist groups weathered the challenges of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for comparison’s sake. On the other hand, it could be argued that both the Dunkers and the United Brethren represent separate, perhaps even essentially non-Mennonite strands of the Anabaptist story, and as such require their own historians and their own volumes.
Could one have really asked for more? Well, no. One could perhaps have asked for less. Any local study, in any field of history, risks sacrificing particularity for general application, or vice versa. Burdge and Horst were undoubtedly aware of this: the authors make consistently good use of chapter headings and subheadings, and at key points along the way the text provides interpretive moments that encourage the reader to make sense of the detailed narrative. But for every moment of interpretive clarity, there is another quotation, another table, another particular that demands attention: the names of all twenty-one donors to the repair fund at Clear Spring meetinghouse on July 8, 1870, say, or all thirty-nine young men who worked in the Civilian Public Service corps during and immediately after World War II (each listed with the name of his home congregation and the precise dates of his service, with the men who served from the then-independent Cedar Grove congregation and the Reformed Mennonites delicately set off from their conference brethren). While this level of detail may be of interest to local historians or blood kin, it often expands Burdge and Horst’s narrative to and past the point where the particularities of their story overwhelm the broader outlines, and more general interest, of their subject.
What, then, was the “foundation” Washington-Franklin Mennonites attempted to build upon? Was it the “Gospel foundation” of this volume’s title, or was it the “old foundation” mentioned repeatedly (by both the authors and period sources) through the central portion of the book? The church vs. culture dualism of Anabaptist piety is not a new theme, either in the literature or in the lives of the saints. But with the richness of Burdge and Horst’s sources, and the obvious nuance of their perspective, I couldn’t help wishing, as I closed the book, that the authors had explored this dualism more explicitly. In some chapters, the two foundations seem to merge, as if superimposed perfectly upon one another; in others, they seem distinct, even far apart. A more thorough examination of how, for instance, the language issue of the late nineteenth century set the “Gospel foundation” at odds with the “old foundation” of an interlocking faith-culture would have prepared the reader to better understand both “liberal” and “conservative” positions in later debates. The chapters dealing with acculturation and fragmentation in the conference after 1938 are detailed, and provide a clear view of the issues and personalities involved: but it would have been even more useful, perhaps, had the authors attempted to anchor these developments in changing conceptions of what a Christian church is or should be, rather than in the local particularities of division.
Ultimately, what makes Building on the Gospel Foundation stand out is not just the authors’ exhaustive research, or the historical conservativeness of the Washington-Franklin Mennonites: after all, by 1970 the area boasted just as many approaches to lifestyle and faith as did larger, and traditionally more progressive, Anabaptist neighborhoods elsewhere in Virginia, Pennsylvania or the Midwest. It would have been very easy for Burdge and Horst to give shorter shrift to the process by which this patchwork prevailed, or for them to have fallen into the pattern of progressive triumphalism that has afflicted so much contemporary Mennonite scholarship. By treating the debates of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in sensitive depth, however, they honor the seriousness of those debates, and therefore also the seriousness of the men and women on all sides who were seeking their way forward, in Christ, in a changing world. And by maintaining a focus on both “conservative” and “liberal” trends and congregations during the twentieth century, Burdge and Horst tacitly recognize that no single group has yet managed a monopoly on what it means to “be,” or worship as, a Mennonite. If, in presenting this trove of detail, they have not foregrounded these important contributions to the literature of Mennonites in America, the authors can perhaps be forgiven. As their nineteenth-century forebears would surely have agreed, it is in the particularities of the Christian life, and of the human heart, that the faith is or is not kept.
University of Iowa G. C. WALDREP III
Russia’s Lost Reformation: Peasants, Millennialism, and Radical Sects in Southern Russia and Ukraine, 1830-1917. By Sergei I. Zhuk. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2004. Pp. 457. $60.
Sergei Zhuk’s aim in this book is to reveal what he considers the lost, forgotten and suppressed history of Russian sectarian movements in southern Russia and Ukraine during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These movements, he suggests, constituted a “radical reformation” in Russian Orthodox Christianity. Drawing extensively on archival material in Russia and Ukraine, Zhuk traces the origins and evolution of a variety of sectarian outbreaks and their contribution to what he calls “radical evangelical culture.” Zhuk notes that while the new sects had their roots in “popular Orthodoxy,” they were also part of “one international Christian movement” and cannot be considered without reference to this broader context. To this end he examines comparative material on other Christian movements in Europe and North America. Finally, he considers a wide range of theoretical approaches, drawn mainly from anthropology and sociology, to explain religious practices, peasant societies and other social and cultural aspects of the movements.
Zhuk argues that Russian peasants, mainly from Central Russia, moved to frontier regions of Ukraine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries bringing with them a variety of religious traditions outside of official Orthodoxy. These included dissident sects such as the Khlysty, Skoptsy, Molokans, Dukhobors and others. In the frontier regions these religious traditions and practices were given new life and new form. Zhuk documents periodic outbreaks of these older traditions and new movements led by both male and female prophets. The practices of some groups included fasting, dietary rules and also sexual abstinence, which sometimes involved castration. Zhuk places these various movements under a single heading of Shalaputs-a term that referred to those who had taken the wrong path to a sinful way of life. Under the influence of pietist and other evangelical ideas mainly derived from neighboring German-speaking colonists also settled in this frontier region, some members of these older Russian religious traditions and other peasants were introduced to new religious ideas and practices. The most important movement to emerge was the Stundists with their more Protestant beliefs, alien to Orthodoxy but also life transforming. In the opinion of the authorities and others these movements were a potential threat to the political structure.
Zhuk’s book is important to Mennonite studies through the links he draws between these religious movements and neighboring Mennonite colonists. It has long been known that Mennonites, particularly members of the Mennonite Brethren Church, which itself emerged in a Russian context, played an important part in the formation and development of the Stundists. Zhuk adds intriguing new material on Mennonite/Russian and Ukrainian peasant interactions and the transfer of religious ideas and practices at earlier periods and in a broader context of religious turmoil. While he draws on Mennonite sources to construct his account he also makes extensive use of police interviews, investigations by the Orthodox clergy and the work of later researchers. Much of this material is new and original. However, in his use of these sources, Zhuk reveals certain methodological weaknesses.
Zhuk does not seem to have read widely in the existing Mennonite literature on Mennonite religious movements and their connections with Russia/Ukrainian peasant movements. For instance, he produces a rather bowdlerized account of the form and extent of Mennonite reactions to pietistic ideas in the 1820s (156-157). In his account of the influences of the early members of what would become the Mennonite Brethren Church he draws on Russian and Mennonite sources but fails to reconcile them. The important leader Johann Claassen becomes J. Klassen. Other important actors have their names transliterated from Russian sources but Zhuk fails to connect these to the German spellings of the persons concerned. For instance, the person whose name he transliterates as Jacob Reiner is Jacob Reimer; Jacob Gibert is most likely Heinrich Hbert; and the “German teacher” Grigory Vilam in the colony (i.e., village) of Liebenau who evangelized among peasants is in fact Gerhard Wieler (112). Later in the text, using Mennonite sources, some of these names are spelled correctly, but Zhuk does not appear to realize he is dealing with the same people. Vilam/Wieler reappears as Willer (157, 159, 191). The place in Molochna where Mennonite Brethren met in conference with Stundo-Baptists in 1882 is described as the “German colony of Rickenau” (237); it should be the Mennonite village of Rckenau, an important Mennonite Brethren center in the Molochna.
These might appear minor errors if the Mennonites were not so important in his study. There are numerous sources available in English, German and Russian on Mennonites and on these events (some of which he notes), a reading of which could have prevented these confusions. As the book is based on a doctoral thesis from Johns Hopkins University, Zhuk had easy access to these sources. Instead, he relies too much on an account of Jacob P. Bekker, first published in an English translation in 1973. Unfortunately this is one of the least reliable sources on the movement. Bekker left the Mennonite Brethren after being involved in some of its wilder early excesses and emigrated to the United States. His account is highly partisan and selective in its use of sources, and no scholarly edition of the original text is available for study.
The problem stems not just from a failure to consult and integrate different sources, but also from a lack of attention to detail. This is most apparent in Zhuk’s use of terms. Mennonites become Anabaptists, a term they did not use to identify themselves at this time in Russia. While generally Zhuk appears to differentiate between German and Mennonite colonists, as did Russian officials before the Great Reforms, in places Mennonites appear as Mennonites and in others as Germans. Liebenau first appears as a German colony (110), then as a Mennonite settlement (112) and finally as a Lutheran colony (169). This problem with attention to detail and use of language, however, is not restricted to Mennonite issues.
Although the term “Shalaput” is found in contemporary Russian sources, Zhuk has adopted it to cover a variety of groups in a manner that one suspects is not entirely appropriate. When Zhuk writes that it “is noteworthy that all participants in the Shalaput movement . . . denied the name of Shalaputs, which was coined by the Orthodox clergy and police” (137), and that it had essentially negative connotations, then one begins to doubt its value as a meaningful category. Such doubts are increased when he uses the term to talk about a Shalaput movement, referring both to general communities of believers and to a specific sect. While Zhuk is on safer ground with the category Stundist, one suspects that not all the religious movements he describes in rich detail can so easily be classified as such.
There is also a rather loose use of theoretical terms with insufficient attention to their intellectual significance. These include constant references to the “Protestant Ethic,” derived from Max Weber, an ethic that apparently Mennonites and many of the Russian sects possessed. But there is no critical engagement with this idea, which remains highly problematic and is still open to considerable academic debate. Zhuk makes no reference to this issue.
There are other examples of uncritical usage of terms. One involves the regular use of the term “radical,” which appears in different contexts but with a variety of meanings. Among these are numerous references to the Radical Reformation in Western Europe and to Anabaptism. Zhuk claims there are parallels between the religious movements in Russia and the earlier Reformation but he often associates this with rural peasant movements. Here Zhuk’s ideas appear to reflect a continued influence of Marxist and Soviet scholarship in spite of his extensive use of Western scholarship. The sense of “radical” in the works of George H. Williams, which Zhuk quotes, refers less to popular social movements and more to attempts to return to the roots (radix) of Christianity.
In his analysis of the Russian/Ukrainian religious movements Zhuk could have made good use of the idea of the radical being an attempt to return to roots. A search for fundamentals and basics informed the earlier Reformation and apparently the Russian “reformations” he describes. Both movements involved an empowerment of individuals and groups, especially through access to reading the Bible in the vernacular, and a challenge to the existing churches and the encrustation of centuries of clerical power and practice. In both circumstances the believers, armed with the Word, met their maker face-to-face, unmediated by rituals and priests. One major difference between Zhuk’s groups and those in Reformation Europe, however, is that while the Russian and Ukrainian peasants could often read, their literacy skills did not extend to producing an extensive written corpus of religious literature. To understand the beliefs of the new movements Zhuk is heavily dependent on reports written by the police and by members of the Orthodox clergy unfriendly to the new believers. These have obvious biases not fully explored by Zhuk.
My critical comments should not be taken as a dismissal Zhuk’s book. The material he supplies on a bewildering number of diverse religious movements, many of which were interconnected in time and space, is based on pioneering research. For Mennonites many of the sources he identifies would be new and suggest the need for a serious reconsideration of Mennonite interactions with their Russian and Ukrainian neighbors. The close connection of Molochna Mennonites with the inhabitants of the large extended village of Tokmak just north of their own northern settlements (112) warrants further research. And while Zhuk presents the influence of Mennonite (and other German-speaking colonists) on the local peasantry as mainly a one way process, the outbreak of joyful dancing among the Mennonites’ Molokan neighbors (the Pryguny movement) suggests that the emergence of the Mennonite Jumpers (Huepfer) in the early Mennonite Brethren movement might repay careful contextualization. Finally the linkage between increasing anti-German sentiments in late Imperial Russia and the view that the Stundists followed German ways obviously informed internal Mennonite debates on the wisdom of open evangelization among members of the Orthodox Church, even after freedom of religious belief had been granted after 1905.
It is hoped, therefore, that this study will help to open the way for further research and cooperation between Russian, Ukrainian and Mennonite scholars. Zhuk’s involvement in the 2004 Molochna Conference in Ukraine is perhaps a sign of the opening of a wider dialogue.
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand JAMES URRY
A Complicated Kindness. By Miriam Toews. New York: Counterpoint. 2004. Pp. 246. $32.50, Can.; $23, U.S.
After Swing Low, the moving account of her father’s life and death, Miriam Toews, with A Complicated Kindness, returns to fiction, a genre in which she has had previous experience and success. With this novel, she chalks up more of both.
A Complicated Kindness makes clear that Canadian Mennonite writers continue to be preoccupied with the shortcomings of the Mennonite Church and community, a theme introduced by Rudy Wiebe in Peace Shall Destroy Many (1962). This year David Elias, another Manitoba Mennonite, has launched Sunday Afternoon, also a novel exposing hypocrisy in a southern Manitoba town. Though some will say there’s been enough of mirror-gazing by Mennonites, the steady buzz around Toews’s book indicates the public’s willingness to look longer at the reflection, no doubt gauging how clear or distorted it is.
This story is narrated by 16-year-old Nomi Nikkel who lives with her father in East Village, a town from which both her mother and older sister have made their escape. From the start, Nomi’s sassy adolescent voice grabs the reader’s attention and won’t let it go. It is through this voice that Toews satirizes the fictional town controlled by a tyrannical church leader whom Nomi calls “the Mouth.” A few pages into the story Nomi describes her community this way: “. . . there’s no room for in between. You’re in or you’re out” (10). The rigidity she refers to has caused the departure of Trudie and Tash.
Nomi is clearly not “in,” though she was at one time. At school-she’s in grade twelve-attitude and precocity, not to mention unfinished assignments, get her in trouble. At home she and her hapless father prepare meals according to the alphabet. Between school and home, Nomi wanders the streets of East Village, visits her friend Lydia in the hospital, or hangs out at the pits or on Suicide Hill smoking joints, listening to car radios and generally being bored in the company of other adolescents. Here she meets her boyfriend Travis who throughout this narrative nudges her inexorably towards sex.
Ray, Nomi’s teacher-father, always wearing suit and tie, sits on a yellow plastic chair after school watching the road. At night he takes to the highway in his car, driving for hours as aimlessly as his daughter strolls the streets. Sometimes he organizes garbage on the hill. Or sells off their furniture. Ray’s overwhelming bewilderment, illustrated over and over, threatens to render him one-dimensional.
Not much happens, as far as plot goes. The action is mostly inside Nomi’s active brain from where a nonstop, witty commentary recaps for the reader her life before and after half her family left, three years ago. Nomi, who isn’t one-dimensional, has a mind crammed with trivia, a mix of information and misinformation about a wide range of subjects from the Mouth to popular music to Menno Simons, whom she blames for the town’s severity and silence. She imagines the founder of the sect “a delusional patient . . . in an institution [s]huffling off to Group, hoarding his meds” (6). It bothers her that she “belong[s] within the frightful fresco of this man’s dreams” (6).
Nomi broods over a probable future spent butchering and eviscerating chickens in the local plant where inhabitants of East Village find employment while they wait for death. Or the rapture. (The museum’s fake tourist village is another venue where they may do this). Alongside this dreary possibility, Nomi harbors a dream of escaping to New York’s East Village.
The novel’s satire of conservative Mennonitism is severe; there is little good in a church that practices shunning, none in its pastor, and the town is painted as a bleak dead-end. Balancing this grim picture is the humor generated by Nomi’s perceptiveness and tendency to exaggerate, her lively language and her stubborn hope. Her voice never loses momentum, never misses a beat as it propels this novel forward, provides it with both humor and heartbreak. With Nomi on board, Toews can get away (almost’) with stereotypes like the deadly Mouth. In the first part of the novel, it seems Nomi’s firmly fixed views and her muddled knowledge provide an ironic parallel to the pastor’s rigidity and dogmatism.
Besides being a clever satire, A Complicated Kindness also belongs in the coming-of-age genre. Following in the tradition of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, it presents a credible and troubling picture of the contradictions-aspiration and aimlessness, doubt and hope, insecurity and rebellion-evident in adolescents endowed with curiosity, awakening sexuality and developing minds. I’m curious what percentage of the novel’s many readers are teenagers, and whether high schools will include it in their reading lists.
At the end of the novel, the complications hinted at in the title are painfully clear to the reader. Nomi’s situation, though changing, is not resolved. More abandoned than ever she makes key statements pertaining to the novel’s theme and its (the author’s’) ultimate concern. Wrestling with the reasons Trudie and Tash left town, she states her credo: “Love is everything. It is the greatest of these.” What Nomi believes, and practices-in her attention to Lydia, to Sheridan, another teenager with an excommunicated parent, and to other outsiders-stands in sharp contrast to the church’s dogmatism and the heretic lovelessness inherent in its practice of shunning. Nomi’s faith in love and her awareness of the importance of story give her hope that “we have a chance at redemption” (245).
Nomi Nikkel, who earlier in the novel acknowledged a “complicated kindness” in East Village, may, in some fictional future, echo what Miriam Toews said in an interview: “The people I love most in this world are Mennonite . . . and I appreciate all the beautiful aspects of the faith-pacifism, community, selflessness and pure, authentic Christian love . . . .” (Winnipeg Free Press, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2004).
Winnipeg, Man. SARAH KLASSEN
Letters on Toleration: Dutch Aid to Persecuted Swiss and Palatine Mennonites 1615-1699. By Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs. Rockport, Maine: Picton Press. 2004. Pp. 489. With CD-ROM of transcriptions. $69.50.
When Thieleman van Bracht, the master Dutch Mennonite historian and martyrologist, wrote his Martyrs Mirror in 1660, much of the book was the record of the centuries-long Roman Catholic persecutions of “true Christians”-until he came to the seventeenth century. Catholic-perpetrated executions of Anabaptists in the Netherlands ceased after 1597. At this point van Bracht’s story changed, and in the last pages of the book he reported considerably on the new anti-Anabaptist persecutors of the seventeenth century, namely, the Protestants of Switzerland. The “most mischief” appeared in the Protestant areas of Zurich and Berne and was “caused by such as called themselves Reformed.” Dutch Mennonites, now enjoying many freedoms, made great efforts to bring relief to their Swiss Mennonite brothers and sisters. The rise of Protestant (Reformed) persecutions and the Dutch Mennonite relief operations gave a rather surprising ending to van Bracht’s history of martyrdom. This episode of history is much clarified by the work of Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs in his new book, Letters on Toleration.
Drawing on the rich resources of the Mennonite archives at the Gemeente Archief (municipal archive) of the city of Amsterdam, as well as materials from Switzerland and elsewhere, Bangs has collected, transcribed, translated and edited 251 documents dealing with the Swiss and Palatine persecutions and the Dutch Mennonite responses to them. An accompanying CD-ROM contains the transcriptions in the original languages (Dutch, German, Swiss-German, Latin and French). An introductory essay places the documents in context. Anyone who has worked in the Mennonite archives using the de Hoop Scheffer inventory, or more recent guides, has noted the vast amounts of material on these relief topics, but until now these records have not received proper attention.
These archival materials, although related by topic, are varied. They include reports, laws, letters, financial statements and listings of names. The materials can be read on a variety of levels. Bangs has three primary themes: (1) how Dutch Mennonites organized to meet the persecution crises of Switzerland and the Palatinate through organizations like the Mennonite Committee for Foreign Needs; (2) the religious, political and social reasons for the repression of the Swiss Mennonites (and the far better condition of Dutch Mennonites); and (3) the rise of religious toleration in Europe, and the Mennonite role in this development. There are many other possible themes in these documents for the discerning reader.
In the larger context of the seventeenth century, including the Thirty Years’ War, Dutch politics, the wars of Louis XIV and the efforts of the Swiss Republic to maintain its fragile independence, Mennonites were tiny pawns. Big intellectual and social movements were also in progress, such as the beginnings of the Enlightenment, the rise of the middle classes (including Dutch Mennonites) and the publications of Rene Descartes, Sir Isaac Newton and John Locke. Where did Mennonites fit into this history? Often wishing only to be left alone-to be the “quiet in the land”-Mennonites were engulfed by wars and political juggernauts. Deemed undesirable citizens by Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire (especially in the Palatinate), they were harshly repressed, dispossessed and expelled; some even suffered death.
Dutch Mennonites, who fared much better, saw a need to help their suffering co-religionists. Many of the documents detail the workings of the relief committees and the raising of funds. Not willing to rely on these efforts alone, Dutch Mennonites lobbied the political authorities of their cities and provinces for political help. A good number of the documents are copies of letters from these governmental bodies to Switzerland and Germany requesting (even demanding) better treatment of Mennonites and restitution of their confiscated goods. This array of correspondences on behalf of Mennonites is quite amazing, and it includes pro-Mennonite letters in favor of toleration from the magistrates of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the States of Holland, the Estates General of the Republic, William of Orange (King William III of England), and many well-known intellectuals and churchmen (Hoornbeek, Voetius, Comenius and John Durie, to name a few), a campaign skillfully orchestrated by Mennonites who knew their way around the corridors of power. Eventually, these efforts succeeded in gaining better conditions for the oppressed Mennonites.
The story of the Dutch relief program leads to Bangs’s next theme: how Mennonites related to their governments and societies (bad relations in Switzerland and good relations in the Netherlands). Several of the documents spell out the Swiss reasons for repression. Three were particularly noted: Mennonite nonsupport of governments, their refusal to take the civic oath and their nonresistance stand, in which they “roundly reject protecting and defending the dear fatherland in case of need” (from a Berne Ordinance of 1695, p. 411). In contrast, Dutch Mennonites, after going through the fires of the sixteenth-century inquisition, found a comfortable place in Dutch republican society, so much so that the magistrates could easily commend them as very good citizens. According to William III, they were citizens who contributed much to support “the burdens of state and the country where they dwell, to which they make themselves very useful through their alertness and labor” (1694, p. 390). The reports of Dutch Mennonite civic involvement are very interesting indeed.
Bangs’s third theme, the advance of toleration, provides the title of the book, Letters on Toleration. The seventeenth century, corresponding with the coming of the Enlightenment, gave rise to liberal political and intellectual theories that valued toleration and condemned dogmatism. Dutch Mennonites shared in this spread of liberal thinking. The printed documents show that the Dutch government and Mennonites all saw toleration as the way of the future. The Mennonite movement for liberation was strengthened by the pro-toleration writings of the time, namely by Philipp van Zesen, Philippus van Limborch and John Locke, and, among Mennonites themselves, by the publications of Pieter Jansz Twisck and Galenus Abrahamsz de Haan.
This rich collection of documents contain much more. Some of the documents include lists of names that will be useful for genealogical study. The Mennonite letters contain material on churches, theology and Mennonite ideas. Bangs did not go far in developing these topics and specifically stated that his is not a “faith history.” He shows little patience with seventeenth-century Dutch Doopsgezinde (Mennonite) theological arguments or their factionalism (referred to as “doctrinal bickering,” p. 15). The archives have much more to offer, in quantity and interpretation, especially from the standpoint of Mennonite faith and practice.. Bangs intends to bring out several more volumes of related material.
Bangs in his preface points to a parallel project, headed by James Lowry, which is also at work on this Swiss-Dutch Mennonite material, but with more of a religious, inspirational emphasis. So there are more publications, with a variety of interpretations, to anticipate.
Bangs brings high scholarly qualifications to this book. He is skillful in the Dutch language, having lived in the Netherlands for a long time, and is the author of several books. He directs the Pilgrim Fathers Museum in Leiden, of which he is also founder. I have always found his translation and historical work to be excellent. This book fills a gap in Dutch and Mennonite studies and many readers will find it interesting and worthwhile.
Bethel College, North Newton, Kan. KEITH L. SPRUNGER
Anabaptist Ways of Knowing: A Conversation About Tradition-based Critical Education. By Sara Wenger Shenk. Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House; Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2003. Pp. 211. $21.95, U.S.; $34.95, Can.
If Mennonites are to survive as a distinctive Christian community, then they will need to do better than write and teach good theology. They will instead need to rediscover how to pass on social and cultural practices that carry the good news of the Gospel as they understand it. Put simply, they must remember how to embody the faith they affirm. So argues Sara Wenger Shenk in a book that persuasively examines the significance of lived understanding and personal experience in knowledge transmission for the families and schools of the church. Working with data from a survey of one Mennonite congregation in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area, Shenk claims that Mennonite families are less inclined than they once were to have regular family worship, eat meals together, pray at bedtime, use Scripture in daily conversation, discuss being separate from the world, emphasize simplicity of attire and lifestyle, or make Sunday a day of rest. She is convinced that the loss of such practices undermines the capacity of the church to extend its demanding witness across generations, especially as Mennonites leave behind ethnic isolation and cultural exclusivity.
In order to develop a proposal that seeks to counteract the decline of distinctive practices, Shenk establishes a conversation among several leading contemporary social theorists, philosophers and theologians who have concerned themselves with the relationship between bodily practices and experienced knowledge. From Paul Connerton’s work on social memory is gleaned the insight that the most important convictions of any culture are transmitted more through bodily ritual than through rational exchange. From feminist Rebecca Chopp is gained the recognition of the close relationship between such bodily rituals or “embodied practices” and the particular life experiences of women and thus the privileged role of women in contributing to a “lived” theology and a transformative church. From philosopher Michael Polanyi’s work is gathered a persuasive critique of the autonomy of scientific objectivity and critical tools for rooting empirical judgments in aesthetic and moral contexts. From theologian Nancey Murphy is derived a “Radical Reformation” perspective that privileges a holistic web of knowledge based in communities of discernment and interdisciplinary exchange whose primary ethical stance is one of vulnerability, power-renunciation and nonviolence. In the use of such sources, Shenk clearly embraces the postmodern critique of scientific reason and Enlightenment rationality as a significant opportunity for the church to recover its own authority in shaping the truth-constituting practices of its members and of its educational institutions.
Drawing on MacIntyre’s definition of tradition as “an historically extended, socially embodied argument,” and reformulating the classical Greek paideia from the original concern to train obedient citizens of the state, Shenk seeks to construct an Anabaptist educational theory that nurtures “citizens of God’s kingdom” who are members of an alternative community. Shenk agrees with MacIntyre that “our salvation lies in our traditions,” and with Aristotle that “moral goodness is formed by training in habit.” While seeking to draw strength from tradition, however, Shenk also acknowledges the need to cultivate a “lively critique” of the tradition, so she advocates for a model of education that is both “tradition-based” and “critical.” Her recognition of the need for critique is drawn partly from Anabaptist convictions that Jesus provides a model for living that tends to challenge conventional assumptions about virtue and culture. For Shenk, the “lively critique” she advocates is typically framed in cognitive terms or phrases such as “critical inquiry” or “internal critique” or “reformulation” or “examination.” This is because she relies on the Platonic version of paideia that assumes that the truths to be embodied are “ideals” that educational and ecclesial practices seek to approximate. In this philosophical model, a student or disciple examines the ideal in order to reform one’s own practices in order to more closely embody the ideal. Shenk largely accepts the integration of this Platonic model by church fathers with the teaching of Christianity, even though she recognizes the appropriation of Christian paideia to the Constantinian synthesis.
This equation of critique with cognition and of tradition with embodiment seems to encourage a fundamentally conservative understanding of social practices and rituals rather than the radical upending of tradition and convention that is associated with early Anabaptist persuasion. Such an equation leads to some questions. Can Anabaptist faith be adequately contained within the Christian paideia model of education and valorization of tradition stressed by MacIntyre? Is Anabaptist discipleship an approximation of a philosophical ideal or the following of a historical person? Did the Anabaptists perhaps exceed the paidiea model by demonstrating that it was possible to in fact live a critique, to embody the subversion of an enslaving tradition? Is Anabaptism best understood as an alternative tradition or a counter-traditional tradition? Can the radical living potential of the Gospel best be unleashed by taking it forward to the academy of Plato or by returning it to the bosom of Abraham from which it first emerged? Should the Gospel perhaps be understood first of all in Jewish terms and only secondarily in terms of the Greeks?
Shenk seems to reach for answers to such questions toward the end of her book as she emphasizes the practical nature of Anabaptist convictions: “Rather than truth being regarded as a disembodied concept, it is more helpful, particularly from an Anabaptist perspective, to think of truth as deriving from the concrete practices of daily life.” For Shenk, the church, the family and the school provide mutually reinforcing contexts for cultivating Christian practices such as obedience to Scriptures, proclaiming God’s reign, fidelity in marriage, communal moral discernment and service to others. Such practices need to be routinized and made part of the furniture of daily life in Shenk’s model. For many church members and educational leaders, the last chapter entitled “Weaving a Theory of Education from the Conversational Strands” will prove the most useful in imagining ways to renew the faithful practices of the church and its institutions. In this chapter Shenk provides concrete examples of the sort of communal and institutional habits that she believes can revitalize the church and strengthen its core convictions. Most helpful in the present church climate that has increasingly used confessions of faith as boundary-enforcing texts, is Shenk’s construal of corporate confessional statements as resources for embodied discipleship alongside Scripture and faith stories found in texts like the Martyrs Mirror. One hopes that the images Shenk provides of mutually-reinforcing relational networks involving families, churches and schools can finally replace the stubbornly hierarchical, territorial and antagonistic models of denominational accountability that still survive in Mennonite church structures. One also wishes for an index to an otherwise attractive and accessible book.
It is not clear to this reviewer whether the appeal to classical paideia strengthens or detracts from Shenk’s generally persuasive appeal to the church to recover its commitment to embodied discipleship. Shenk writes for the declining percentage of Mennonites who have largely acculturated to North American habits and practices. She does not consider whether the thriving Old Order and conservative groups of Mennonites could teach their worldly cousins anything about embodied faith that might have been missed by the ancient Greeks and early church fathers. At the other end of the spectrum, Shenk gives no attention to the radical potential being unleashed in Mennonite congregations, particularly in urban areas, that have focused much of their life on peace and justice advocacy as well as other forms of social protest and public witness. Her primary orienting point instead seems to be the decline of a fairly specific model of embodied Christian community-the “old” Mennonite church of her childhood, circa the 1950’s. Yet, her book raises for this reviewer a fairly pointed question that is at least implied in Shenk’s lament for the loss of ancient ways and habits: What sort of theological conviction or embodied knowledge is being passed on to the next generation of Mennonite youth when they are encouraged to stand with their hands raised in the air, eyes closed, and to croon amidst the deafening accompaniment of a praise band as if to their most recent adolescent love obsession: “You are my God”?
Bluffton University GERALD BIESECKER-MAST
The Sound of Sheer Silence and the Killing State: The Death Penalty and the Bible. By Millard Lind. Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House. 2004. Pp. 188. $18.95, U.S.; $27.95, Can.
“In lieu of my memoirs, this book is a summation of a lifetime.” So Millard Lind opens the preface to his latest work, The Sound of Sheer Silence and the Killing State: The Death Penalty and the Bible, which is the most recent volume in the Studies in Peace and Scripture Series sponsored by the Institute of Mennonite Studies. Lind, a retired seminary professor and classic Old Testament scholar, is well known for his earlier books Yahweh is a Warrior (1980) and Monotheism, Power, Justice (1990). In the present book, Lind gathers together insights from a life of teaching, research and writing on “the law and the prophets” and brings those insights to bear on the contemporary questions of retributive justice and state-sanctioned violence.
In the primary argument of the book, Lind retraces the story of God’s covenant law revealed, reassessed and fulfilled through three mountain theophanies and three prophets-Moses and Elijah on Sinai/Horeb, and Jesus on the mount in Galilee, respectively. (The book title refers to Yahweh’s revelation on Horeb to Elijah-not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in “a sound of sheer silence.”) Overall, this is a journey from law as retribution to law as covenant love. While retracing this story, Lind effectively reveals the essential dynamic tension between constitutional principle and legal practice that emerges at Sinai with Moses-the tension between Yahweh’s redemptive grace and steadfast love by which the covenant community is constituted (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. . .”), and the practice of retributive violence sanctioned by the lex talionis (“life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. . .”). This tension results both from the revolutionary character of Yahweh’s constitutional principles-sovereign rule exercised through love and grace, in contrast with the imperial power politics of the Ancient Near East based upon violence and domination-and from the fact that Israel’s legal practice adopted unredeemed patterns of justice from its contemporaries.
Yet, the Covenant Preamble declares, Yahweh’s redemption, not the imperial system of retribution, is to be the model and motivation for Israel’s practice of justice. This Nachfolge Jahweh motif is evident especially in legislation concerning treatment of foreigners (“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt”). Hence the ongoing tension between principle and practice, and hence the vocation of the prophets: the prophet stands in tension between Yahweh’s constitutional principles and the nation’s legal practice, calling the people to conform practice to the pattern of justice revealed in Yahweh’s redemptive grace and steadfast love. Again and again, Yahweh and his prophets surpass retribution in favor of redemption: Yahweh’s Decalogue warns of punishment to “the third and fourth generation of those who reject me,” but promises “steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments”; Isaiah announces redemption to the exiles and an end to retribution; Yahweh calls Cyrus to liberate the exiles from captivity by force, but anoints the Suffering Servant to show his people and all nations the way of truth and justice; Hosea persistently calls Gomer/Israel back into faithfulness rather than announcing an end to covenant relationship; Jesus reminds the unforgiving elders that all stand guilty at the bar of the law, but releases the condemned woman to a life free of sin.
The lex talionis illustrates both the vocation of the prophet and the dynamic covenant tension between the constitutional principle of redemptive grace and the legal practice of retributive violence. It appears first within the case law of the Covenant Code, limiting retaliation (only one life for a life) even while sanctioning it (Exodus 21). Ezekiel then qualifies it: retribution is to be set aside under certain “mitigating circumstances”-the life of the repentant murderer is to be spared (Ezekiel 18). Finally, Jesus rejects retribution altogether: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you. . .” (Matthew 5).
The U.S. Supreme Court recently rescinded execution of juvenile offenders as “unconstitutional.” Lind uses the “American experience in capital punishment . . . a contemporary referent from which to ask the question about state killing in the Bible. . . . Because . . . on this issue the ancient Israelites were where America is today” (24). He draws the American practice of retributive justice via the death penalty into tension with the principles, not of the U.S. constitution, but of God’s covenant law.
Here is what I find especially compelling in Lind’s argument. He uncovers the universal intention of Yahweh’s covenant law revealed through the prophets-from the Covenant Preamble at Sinai, to Amos’s judgment upon the war crimes of the nations, to Isaiah’s vision of international peace under Yahweh’s rule, to the Suffering Servant’s mission as “light to the nations,” to Jesus’ exhortation to be “salt and light.” Yahweh’s redemptive justice and steadfast love, modeled faithfully by the covenant community, is to be the way for all nations. Lind thus shifts the premise of contemporary critique-from calling American legal practice to fulfill its own constitutional principles (e.g., the Bill of Rights prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments”), to drawing it into direct tension with the constitutional principles of the church-i.e., God’s covenant law fulfilled in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Eclipsing both “two kingdom” and “middle axiom” models of Christian witness to the state, Lind sounds a clear call to the church: “the disciple community is to challenge, qualify, and bring into tension the law of the old humanity, a humanity which still knows law only as power politics and retribution” (136). That is, we are summoned to prophetic protest of the killing state with “the sound of sheer silence.”
The distillation of many fruitful years of patient, careful study of the Scriptures, Lind’s book rewards patient, careful study, especially when read alongside the relevant biblical texts. All who read it with profit would owe Lind a debt of gratitude for his life’s work. This book is a demanding read, however. I would thus recommend the book for serious study groups in the congregation or for advanced seminar classes in the college or seminary, but I think it is unsuitable for casual readers lacking at least some substantial preparation in biblical studies. Likewise, while Lind’s book makes an insightful and stimulating contribution to the church’s thinking about the Bible and the death penalty, it is not an introduction or overview of that question. It would, however, serve well as a follow-up to the recent book by the late Gardner Hanks, Capital Punishment and the Bible (Herald Press, 2002). For any reader, I suggest the following reading strategy: To grasp the thread of argument running throughout the book (“from Moses to Elijah to Jesus”), begin and end with the introduction (24-30), followed by the three clear and helpful summary sections placed at key junctures in the argument-at the end of chapter 1 (61-62), after chapters 2 and 3 (pp. 111-113), and chapter 5 (133-136).
Elkhart, Ind. DARRIN W. SNYDER BELOUSEK
Becoming a National Church: A History of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. By Adolf Ens. Winnipeg: CMU Press. 2004. Pp. 258.
This book celebrates the history of a Mennonite conference. It tells the story of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada (C.M.C.), which was founded in 1902 and then refashioned and expanded into Mennonite Church Canada in 1999. Adolph Ens traces this history with diligence, presenting a detailed and thoughtful narrative. The book notes major church conferences, leaders of the day, crucial policy changes and watershed by-laws. It describes boards and budgets, resolutions and committees, and memberships and terms of reference. As an institutional biography it seems that not much has been left unsaid. Its very comprehensiveness acts like a requiem mass, a celebration of a good life, a good conference no longer in existence.
There is much to celebrate. A short century took two small prairie Canadian Gemeinden and turned them into a “full-fledged Canadian church” (xi). The fact that this volume is one of three commissioned by the C.M.C.’s Heritage Committee-the other two are biographies of male leaders, David Toews and J. J. Thiessen-is significant. As in any biography there are lists of accomplishments and the mundane is given significance. No great revival or searing schism gave birth to the C.M.C. Rather it was an organizational imperative, that is, “how to minister . . . to the scattered . . . Mennonite communities . . . in the relatively new settlements” of the Canadian west (10). At the first joint meeting of the Russian-Bergthaler of Manitoba and the Prussian-Rosenorter of Saskatchewan in 1903, delegates heard Heinrich H. Ewert laud “the value of the larger church associations beyond the local Gemeinde” (18). At every turn the dual purpose of “unity” and “communion” shaped churchly concerns (20). The C.M.C. newspaper, Der Mitarbeiter, was launched to “create a sense of fellowship among the scattered members” (29). And the thirtieth anniversary of C.M.C. in 1931 revisited the imperative of “belonging together” and “nurturing scattered groups” (55). By its fiftieth anniversary in 1952 the conference had grown from an initial 800 members in two Gemeinden in two provinces to 15,000 in sixty-eight congregations in four provinces.
The changes noted in this book, however, are more than a record of institutional growth. They are also social and cultural in nature. By the end of the last century a rural, ethnically homogenous, patriarchally-run church had been altered fundamentally. Early attempts to “dispel . . . prejudices among neighbors of Mennonite communities” (56) eventually led to interethnic memberships; Dutch and Swiss names appeared on church rosters, as did names such as “Yamaski, Olson and Yang” (217). Women had edged their way onto the national stage and the book devotes a dozen pages to this struggle. Concerns that the youth were ill affected by the increasingly militarized and secular Canadian society brought camps, a youth magazine, pamphlets on peace and Bible colleges. A witness to the wider world had begun propelled initially by evangelistic missions in the 1940s and then expanded in the 1960s in a politicized witness to the state on matters such as capital punishment and military spending.
If at first glance the book is a confident record of institutional achievement amidst social change, a closer reading reveals another theme. Conflict undergirded the church’s history and Ens addresses this problem candidly. The sharp differences between the Bergthaler and Rosenorters is described in full, including the mid-twentieth century tug of war within the two subconferences on issues of congregational autonomy. Bishop Johann Enns’s 1944 divisive admiration of Hans Denck’s universalism is fully analyzed. Attention is given to the conflict between urban and rural churches, including the compelling nostalgia of city dwellers for rural security. The transition from German to English in the 1960s brought “strained” relations and “festering discontent” among some churches (103). Alienated youth in the same decade confronted elders at annual conferences, and church leaders responded with heart-wrenching and prophetic denunciation. Even seemingly innocuous changes in leadership structure led to a bit of hand-wringing: the end of bishoprics, it was said, came with congregational polity and a vacuous faith, and even the arrival of the “salaried pastor model” brought an “inherent tension” (201). As the conference became more complex, it also lost members; conservative congregations found a refuge from the debate on homosexuality in groups such as the Associated Gospel churches. This church history understands that conflict is a central dynamic of church life.
It is easy to criticize a book with appeals for it to be something that the author did not intend it to be. This book is not meant to be about church life, about orthopraxis, about the view from the pew. And yet the “teasers” that Ens throws out often beg for elaboration. Who are these confident and stylishly dressed Herbert baptismal candidates whose photo appears on page 31? What was the cultural significance in having this “conference of scattered frontier communities” overtake a Gemeinde of a close-knit community? What was the context that led to a discussion paper on “family breakdown” as early as 1937 and how did it relate to similar questions in 1956 and 1967 (54, 117)? What was the occasion for the 1927 discussion of “receiving members who had been baptized as infants” only (56)? What did David Toews think during his last conference in 1940 when he chose the song “Ach mein Herr Jesu, wenn ich dich nicht htte” (63)? What environmental imagination followed the transition from grain farming in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, to fruit raising in British Columbia and Ontario (80)? A history of the lived religious life of C.M.C. people awaits another day, but the church records described here will be a fine starting place for that kind of history.
This is a first-rate institutional biography. It heralds a century of dynamic interchange and creative thinking among C.M.C. leaders. In the end it is clear that if the book is a requiem mass, it is not one played at a funeral. Rather, it celebrates an institutional genius that the architects of this volume must clearly hope also will undergird the new Mennonite Church Canada at the beginning of another century.
University of Winnipeg ROYDEN LOEWEN
Shipshewana: An Indiana Amish Community. Dorothy O. Pratt. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press/Quarry Books. 2004. 209 pp. $29.95.
The Old Order Amish horse and buggy and barn raising are cultural icons, and both images appear on the front cover of Dorothy Pratt’s cultural history of Shipshewana. The Amish came to LaGrange County, Indiana, in 1841 after an unsuccessful attempt to find suitable farmland in Iowa, part of the lore of both communities. Pratt, a historian, utilized interviews, newspaper accounts and local records to trace local Amish history and cultural adjustments to American history.
Compared with the long list of local studies of Amish communities, Pratt’s Shipshewana does more than usual in situating the Amish story within the larger narrative of conventional American history, and she does less with placing the Indiana Amish within the larger Amish story itself. American frontier settlement, nineteenth-century agricultural shifts from diverse subsistence to market-oriented monocropping, rural school consolidation, two world wars and the Great Depression, and the post-World War II American empire and welfare state are the events and concepts that organize the book. The Amish in northern Indiana responded in various ways-resistance, accommodation, acceptance-based on an identity of difference from these mainstream social and political developments.
The information gathered by Pratt is excellent, though her theoretical analysis is limited to the rhetoric of boundary maintenance, inadequate to reflect upon the complexities of Amish life in Indiana during the past century and a half. World War I was a watershed era for many immigrant communities. Pratt effectively used local newspapers to examine county and statewide responses to the Amish refusal to serve in the military during the war. The state of Indiana established Liberty Bond quotas for each county, but in the first drive, LaGrange County raised only $70,350 of the required $214,000. Local citizens resented picking up the slack for the “slacker” church members who avoided purchasing bonds to support the national war effort. Yellow paint, mob actions and some personal violence resulted from wartime hysteria. Following a compromise, which allowed funds paid out by Amish and Mennonites to be used for reconstruction and relief rather than directly for the military effort, the final bond drive in LaGrange County produced $461,900, exceeding the assigned quota of $450,000.
The Amish and their neighbors found similar trial-and-error solutions for the Compulsory School Act of 1921, Ku Klux Klan activity, internal conflicts, insurance and loss of farms due to economic distress (the Amish Aid Plan in 1934), rural electrification under the New Deal and many other issues. The best research appears in chapter 7, on Amish participation in Civilian Public Service during World War II. Pratt interviewed fifteen Indiana men who served in C.P.S. camps, along with two of their wives, and successfully wove their personal stories into local and national history. Pratt deposited these oral histories in the Archives of the Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana, certainly a useful addition to source collections on C.P.S. Compared with the strong chapters on the wars and depression, the final chapter covering 1946-1975 is not as well-researched or insightful. Information about the Old Order Amish Steering Committee, responses to Social Security, microenterprises and the dangerously individualized alternative service of 1-W is available elsewhere. The main research base of the book covers 1915 to 1945, and material before and after is filled in to complete the Shipshewana organizing rubric. The final chapter is, unfortunately, quite weak. Sweeping conclusions based on ubiquitous boundary theory are shockingly simplistic. A few sentences after stating that the “Amish in LaGrange are not and have never been a fully static entity,” and that the Amish have had to make adjustments, Pratt opines,
Since they hold to the biblical injunction to be sojourners and have no abiding place on this earth, the Amish are not bound to LaGrange or even to the United States. They could leave the county or the country without bearing the imprint of LaGrange on their sense of peoplehood. They would not take American culture with them to new homes, only their Amish ways of life (156).
The notion that Amish boundaries are so impermeable as to prevent the slightest influence from American culture is ludicrous. The assertion contradicts the information gathered by Pratt’s own assiduous research and demonstrates the danger of unreflective reliance on “boundary maintenance” as a procrustean explanation for absolutely everything about the Amish. It makes no sense for a cultural historian to claim that culture has no impact on history. Shipshewana can be read for excellent information about the Amish in Indiana, especially during both world wars and the Great Depression. However, readers should expect little help in sorting out social theories about Amish identity and cultural change.
Truman State University STEVEN D. RESCHLY
Folk Furniture of Canada’s Doukhobors, Hutterites, Mennonites and Ukranians. By John Fleming and Michael Rowan. Photographs by James A. Chambers. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press. 2004. Pp. 155. $60, Can.
This richly illustrated book features furniture from the named communities of Western Canada, from around 1870 to about 1930. By categorizing this material as “folk”-as opposed to what’-the authors merely continue to look at their evidence through the same lens as that used by most preceding Canadian publications about the material culture of distinct religious and ethnic communities, including Mennonites. (Of the half-a-dozen books published in Canada on the subject, only Lynda Musson Nykor and Patricia D. Musson, in Mennonite Furniture, the Ontario Tradition of York County (1970), refrain from the ahistorical “folk” or “country” or “decorative arts” classification.)
Most satisfying to the person interested in the interface between material culture, religion, and the social and economic organization of each of these four groups is the consistency and thoroughness with which Fleming and Rowan delineate the historical origins of each group in light of its core religious beliefs, followed by a discussion of each group’s characteristic housing patterns, and then the description and interpretation of each group’s furniture tradition. These materials are illuminated and informed by pertinent quotes from various primary sources, such as descriptions of houses and furnishings by eyewitnesses, diary entries and letters. Furthermore, this book achieves its comparative intent, guiding the reader to see the distinct visual language and uniqueness of each community represented, as well as to note commonalities between key furniture types and forms. While the Hutterite and Mennonite materials appear most closely related in that regard, the Ukrainian furnishings clearly express different stylistic sources and stand out in this book because of this community’s embrace of Russian orthodox religious imagery, in particular the icon. The key furniture types made by all groups are a range of storage pieces seminal to which is the archetypal and quintessential chest, as well as tables, benches, beds, cradles, chairs and stools. There is the solitary spoon, mirror, spinning wheel, wooden candlestick and chandelier, and the one Mennonite-made pendulum clock with a round painted iron face, the kind that this reviewer has established as having originated in the Vistula Delta in the late eighteenth century. However, there is a lack of a systematic and comprehensive review of the collections from which the materials presented here are drawn, despite the book’s comparative perspective of the Doukhobor, Hutterite, Mennonite and Ukranian approach to furnishings. Most of the furniture pieces published here are privately owned, though the collectors remain anonymous. The only public collection represented with a number of furniture pieces is the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Toronto. The authors acknowledge having received guidance from the Mennonite Heritage Center (Archives) in Winnipeg, Manitoba; the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Manitoba; the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta; the national Doukhoboar Heritage Village in Verigin, Saskatchewan; the Ukranian Pioneer Village in Dauphin, Manitoba; the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village at Edmonton, Alberta; the Doukhobor Village Museum, Castlegar, British Columbia; and the privately-run Mountain View Doukhobor Museum of the late Peter Greitchen. But no materials from these institutions seem to be published in this book.
Still, the book under review contributes to the field of Canadian visual culture studies by making privately held materials accessible for the first time. There is, however, some overlap with a number of pieces illustrated in Michael Bird’s Canadian Country Furniture (1994), in the section on the Western Provinces, which features Mennonite and Ukrainian furniture. A complete listing of public collections with Hutterite, Mennonite, Doukhobor and Ukrainian material culture objects in Canada-and the United States-would be a helpful addition in this book, as would be a map that locates the settlements of the groups discussed and the current location of their featured furniture pieces. Unfortunately the illustrations are not numbered, so it is difficult to refer to individual pieces except for the page numbers.
This book’s artful photography is distinctive. The reader’s eyes are immediately seduced by high-quality color images that cast all objects into a dramatic light, as if the photographer is willing each piece of furniture to come to life under his intense gaze, a gaze that obviously appreciates an object’s three-dimensional form, its structures, lines, textures and colors. The baroque chiaroscuro, or light/dark contrast with which each piece of furniture is brought onto center stage, seeks-and succeeds-to underscore its innate aesthetic character and thereby the aesthetic intentions of its maker as well as the aesthetic expectations and standards of its user. However, the degree to which this body of furniture is featured as “Art” removes and isolates it from its original functional household context. For example, the placement of a handmade toy-horse on top of a small round parlor table makes for an aesthetically pleasing and nostalgia-teasing image, but it is an image that does not come close to the original function of a parlor table in a Mennonite home, where such a table would have supported at best a lamp and some reading material, possibly a Bible, but not a toy. In other instances a loaf of bread, a scattering of fruit or vegetables, a ceramic bowl or pitcher filled with decorative branches similarly suggest an interpretation of use that is not supported by accompanying textual sources. The photographer’s theatrical mise-en-scene of the artifacts is all the more noticeable if compared to the noninterpretive straightforward photographic recording of over 700 furniture pieces and furnishings in Michael S. Bird’s Canadian Country Furniture, 1675-1950, cited above.
Balancing the emotional tone of the furniture photographs is the temperate objectivity with which the technical descriptions of each object are delivered. Each caption gives the object’s English name (the recording of the object’s indigenous name in the language of its maker/user would establish a more authentic link to its distinct cultural origin), the province and specific location of origin, craftsman or workshop when known, the date of manufacture (or period of use, or collection), the materials used and the dimensions. The authors also possess a good command of the specialized vocabulary necessary to address each object’s distinctive technical construction as well as its stylistic features. For the uninitiated, a glossary of such terms would be helpful.
While most of the object descriptions help the reader to appreciate its aesthetic qualities in relation to the maker’s or user’s social and religious values, one notices a tendency toward overinterpretation. For example, the authors connect the unusual and bold use of the three primary colors-red, yellow and blue-on the surface of a Hutterite cradle to a similarly abstract application of the same colors on an early modernist chair by the Dutch designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld, a proponent of the artistic avant-garde in Europe. But this happened coincidentally and not intentionally when a Hutterite woman or man in the Canadian province of Alberta spruced up a cradle-whose form reaches back to the sixteenth century and was not conceived as an avant-garde design-with commercial paints easily available at the nearest hardware store, to get ready for the new baby in the third or fourth generation since the cradle was built.
Scholarship is not entirely consistent. For example, there are no notes and no citations for the introductory chapter on “Utopian Ideology and Folk Traditions,” where the authors establish the focus of their discussion as new and different from “the many historical, political and social studies” about these immigrant groups, and different from “most published works.” So what is spelled out then is a homemade view on how design elements may be used to read the cultural character of the “folk” by reading the objects of ordinary daily life. The uninitiated reader would want to know what at least some of these publications are to which the work before us forms a response and a complement. The Mennonite chest pictured on page 80 is mistakenly said to originate in Russia even though it is well established that the particular brass hardware of this chest strongly indicates the Vistula Delta as its point of origin. On the other hand, the reader is treated to an exemplary identification of woods used in a storage chest (99) as exclusive to North America, and thus it is possible to establish the chest’s location and date of origin. One would wish that this type of material analysis would have been applied in other instances, including the chemical analysis of paints, to establish dates with greater certainty.
The authors also overreach when they claim that because all four groups-Hutterites, Mennonites, Ukrainians and Doukhobors-use benches that are said to be “intrinsically democratic and communal,” they may therefore be called “bench societies.” Rather, wooden benches that could do double duty for resting, sleeping and sitting are spatially far more economical than individual chairs and are therefore much more common in homes of modest circumstances and large families. The bench is simply the more archetypal piece of furniture than the chair, just as the chest is more archetypal than the wardrobe or the chest of drawers. It is sobering to remember that what survives does so often by historical accident and not by design.
Perhaps the most novel, if not controversial, aspect of the authors’ interpretation of their material is their exploration of the emotional and psychological value of color. They postulate that each of the four groups tends to approach color differently and that “the fewer the colours and the mixing of colours on individual pieces, the more controlling, homogeneous and prescriptive the beliefs of the group” (xvii). Thus, each group is introduced visually through one dominant color printed as backdrop for a double-spread, which also features one or two pieces of furniture that are painted in that same color. The Doukhobors, “Geometry, Flowers and Common Space,” are identified with a deep ox-blood red; the Hutterites, “Visual Anonymity, Practical Design,” with a royal blue (a lapis lazuli blue that Medieval and Renaissance artists bestowed on the robes of the Virgin Mary); the Mennonites, “Utopian Vision in Yellow and Black,” (remember the geographical focus of the book on the Western provinces of Canada) get a mustard yellow as the characteristic color; and the Ukrainians, “Peasant Baroque and a Taste for Ornament,” are introduced with an emerald green. The reader wonders: What is the evidence that would yield such a thesis? The authors do not state just what specific research or scholarly sources led to this assertion.
The book’s concluding essay, “Tradition, Adaptation and Cultural Identity,” is based on Mihaly Csikszcentmihalyi’s sensible tenet that the things we make “serve to stabilize and order the mind”-that things “stabilize our sense of who we are” (“Why we need things,” 1992). This is true for all of us at any given moment in time, “folk” or not.
All in all, this book is for those lay persons or scholars whose cultural and religious roots are expressed in the furnishings featured in its pages; it is certainly a valuable source for “pickers” and collectors; but most of all it is for those of us who wrestle with the meaning of things.
Washburn University REINHILD KAUENHOVEN JANZEN
Piano in the Vineyard. Jean Janzen. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books. 2004. Pp. 74. $9.95.
Jean Janzen’s fruitful career has established her as a poet whose spiritual art is rooted in images of the body and the places in which it dwells. Piano in the Vineyard, her sixth collection of poetry, is also concerned with earth and flesh, but presses more consistently towards a spiritual geography than her earlier collections as it explores some of life’s harshest refinements of the soul. Piano in the Vineyard is Janzen’s anatomy of melancholy. The poet who celebrated the communion of wild grapes on the tongue of her dying grandfather in her collection Snake in the Parsonage here explores the taste of unbearable sorrow and the ways in which the human heart survives by embracing it. She knows that the hand finds its way to the mouth even in the dark, but Janzen’s poems send a soft glow into the dark, suggesting that desolate spaces can be shared.
Piano in the Vineyard, like all of Janzen’s books, is artfully constructed and arranged. Divided into four sections, it begins with “Broken Places,” a series of sustained lamentations in which Janzen probes sorrows that are simultaneously intimate and global. In the poem “Two Rocks” she compares the metaphorical weight of two stones, one from the foundation of her birthplace in Saskatchewan, the other from Jerusalem. In “Tuning the Piano,” the tuner in California recalls a song he learned from Japanese schoolchildren three days after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. In “Wailing in the Shower” Janzen connects, through an aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, the ecstatic cries of a woman giving birth with the grief cries of a man who has just lost his bride. In the title poem of this section, the poet joins a Japanese friend in a hot springs in Japan, flowing from the broken place at the heart of a mountain. “We know that the mountains/ can’t heal us” Janzen begins, but the poem shows us that communion with another can ease the suffering. Together these poems join disparate places and emotional states to form a tableaux that expresses the range and reach of human communion and the possibility for sharing over wide distances-both geographic and emotional.
The second section, “The Garden,” explores the restorative cycles of nature as a corollary to both suffering and joy. The poem “Naming It: A Garden Cycle” offers us glimpses of redemption in a post-edenic landscape. Here pruning-“soul work”-is followed by images of rebirth-“green tips of figs, hard as emeralds”-as Janzen’s poems trace the months of the year. The garden cycle precedes two poems that describe the birth and early years of one of the poet’s children. In her juxtaposition of mothering and the feminine divine, Janzen doesn’t miss the opportunity to suggest the complexity of creation’s aftermath, the willful and unpredictable paths that one’s offspring may take. A bouquet of flower poems brings this section to a close. “Marigold” and “Hollyhock” honor Mary and biblical women. The last poem, “Eve’s Hair,” uses the focal point of an image from a painting by Lukas Cranach to recapitulate the themes of this section-creativity and redemption, the interpenetration of human and divine.
The final two sections of this collection, “Carving the Hollow” and “Piano in the Vineyard,” lift the reader from lamentation and pastoral meditation to the reassuring frames and structures of music and visual art, themes Janzen has visited throughout her oeuvre. The poems in “Carving the Hollow” are elegiac, focusing on family and often on the role that music played in giving their rigorous, immigrant journeys beauty and coherence. In “Learning to Sing in Parts,” one of the book’s most memorable poems, Janzen comes as close to articulating a Mennonite theology of peace and interpersonal harmony as is possible to do in a finely tuned and crafted poem. “Borrowing the Horse,” a poem about her parents’ courtship, adds one of the few lighter touches in the collection. In the final section, “Piano in the Vineyard,” Janzen turns her focus back to the present and casts a glance at the future. The opening poem of this section is based on a painting “Night Falls on the Neighborhood” by a contemporary artist, her son Peter Janzen. In contrast to “Learning to Sing in Parts”-in which the poet’s father teaches children to listen to each other, then “to hold the note against/ the others’ pitches”-the night scene is one in which “each house is a locked box,/ separate and dimmed.” But Janzen imagines a transcendent music that flows beneath the isolation of the scene, the same music that has sustained her family through the generations.
Nothing is revealed.
Only the ear pressed against
the rumble of a pillow hears
in first deep sleep the secret
of the neighborhood-that we all ride
earth’s original music,
that what binds us one to the other
is ocean toss and the rise of the mountains.
Against the backdrop of this universal music, Janzen plays the plaintive solo violin of elegies for friends, honors the silence of her musical father’s last breaths, evokes the songs of canaries and blackbirds, the compositions of Verdi, Ravel, and Chopin. But it is the piano-“this giant wooden heart with its demands, and large enough for me to enter”-that Janzen claims as her own in the title poem. We practice our whole lives to master the instrument, but “the end of striving” is “only a pause before the next movement/ which is the first and last fire. Every harvest
is rehearsal-heft of swollen grapes cut,
branch springing back, leaves flaming
over and over before our last breath.
To live in the rhythm of such outpouring, releasing
ourselves. Life and death are as light as that,
wheeling between earth and heaven, then spilling over.
Among the many pianos in this poem is a comic one-“That broken one leaning against the edge/ of the vineyard, the one on which our children/ played chopsticks, and a chicken flew out.” In person, Janzen tells a funny story about the literal piano in the vineyard that inspired this poem, and if this accomplished book leaves me with one unsatisfied craving, it would be for a bit more of the absurd humor that balances the wrenching sorrows of life. But I would not want to trade even one of the finely wrought poems in this poignant collection. Remarkable for its combination of emotional honesty and elegance, Piano in the Vineyard offers the consolations of art, inviting readers to bring their own particular sorrows into the illumination of the poems.
Goshen College ANN E. HOSTETLER
Bibliographia Sociniana: A Bibliographic Reference Tool for the Study of Dutch Socinianism and Antitrinitarianism. Compiled by Philip Knijff and Sibbe Jan Visser. Edited by Piet Visser. Hilversum, The Netherlands: Uitgeverij Verloren; Amsterdam: Doopsgezinde Historische Kring. 2004. Pp. 313. ?30.
In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the death of antitrinitarian advocate and theologian Faustus Socinus (1539-1604), the Dutch Mennonite Historical Society has produced the first complete bibliography of Socinian and related books and pamphlets that were printed in the Netherlands. In the late 1500s and early 1600s, when members of the Socinian circle were expelled from Poland, a significant number took refuge in the Netherlands, where their teachings received a cordial reception, especially among certain Remonstrants and Mennonites, and provoked negative reaction. Piet Visser’s twenty-three-page introductory essay briefly lays out the history of antitrinitarianism and its associated literature. The bibliography’s part 1 groups into five categories 819 writings from Socinian protagonists and orthodox opponents, all dating before 1800. Some 579 modern studies of Dutch Socinianism compose part 2. Also included are indices of people, printers, publishers and titles. The book’s forty illustrations include facsimiles of early title pages and author portraits.
– Noted by Steven Nolt
The Mennonite Quarterly Review