How Julia Kasdorf changed my life
By Daniel Shank Cruz

In March of the year I turned 19, Julia Kasdorf came to Goshen College for a few days to speak in convocation, do a poetry reading at the Electric Brew and give a lecture on Harold S. Bender and Marilyn Monroe. Being a fan of Julia’s, I went to the convocation (witty and much more interesting than most other GC convos) and the reading at the Brew with some friends. The Brew was absolutely packed for the reading. There must have been close to 300 people in attendance. My friends and I got there about five minutes before the reading was supposed to start, and the only space we could find to sit was right up against the microphone where Julia would be reading. Any time we wanted we could have smacked her on the leg if we hadn’t liked what she was saying. But of course we didn’t do that because the reading was excellent and highly enjoyable and we went home raving about how awesome Julia’s poetry was and how we wished she would have read for another hour.
With the awesome reading at the Brew fresh in my mind, I decided to go to Julia’s lecture that Saturday night even though it sounded rather boring and I didn’t know who H.S. Bender was and didn’t really care about what he had to do with Marilyn Monroe. But I didn’t have anything else to do and I was hoping for a chance to buy one of Julia’s books, so I went. The lecture took place in Newcomer Center 17 and was, relatively speaking, also packed. About 100 people were there including all of the Goshen heavyweights (J. Lawrence Burkholder, Theron Schlabach, J.R. Burkholder, C.J. Dyck), though I didn’t know at the time who any of them were. There were surprisingly few students in attendance, which made me feel rather self-conscious, but the mixture of students and nonstudents gave the atmosphere an electric, communal feel.
I had first encountered Julia Kasdorf a little less than a year earlier during my senior year of high school when my academic adviser and good friend Pete Dula invited her to come and give a poetry reading one evening at Lancaster Mennonite High School. I decided to go to the reading because one of my teachers offered to give some extra credit for attending, and I also didn’t want to disappoint Pete by not being there since he’s the kind of guy who is so cool you hate to disappoint him because to do so would be like telling your mom you were running off to join the Hare Krishnas and wouldn’t be home for Christmas. Once Julia began reading I was profusely glad that I had chosen to come; her poetry was powerful and spoke of mysterious things that provoked a subtle aching in my young Mennonite soul. Afterwards copies of Eve’s Striptease were on sale for only $10 and I thought about buying one but my Mennonite bargain-hunting instincts failed to kick in so I didn’t buy one because I was going to college in the fall and needed to be frugal.
A few weeks later, Pete, myself, and 17 other LMH students, many of them good friends of mine, took a four-day trip to a Cistercian monastery in Massachusetts as a part of LMH’s minicourse program. We spent a lot of time interacting with the monks, learning about their lives at the monastery, how they had felt God’s call to become monks, why they worshipped the way they did (they held seven worship services per day, the first at 3:15 in the morning and the last at 7:30 in the evening) and why they believed separation from the world was a legitimate Christian lifestyle. Most of us disagreed with the monks’ seclusion from the world because we thought it directly contradicted the Great Commission, and, besides that, we were all young and idealistic and not yet jaded by college and the real world and we wanted to go out and make a difference for Christ, which was something that we didn’t think the monks were doing. But we found the monks to be immeasurably cool, nonetheless, because of their amazing sense of community and down-to-earth nature.
While we were at the monastery we stayed in a roomy, sun-lit guesthouse, a wonderful place to hang out with one another when we weren’t with the monks. We talked together about the future and what we wanted to do with our lives, and we talked about theology and what it meant to be a Christian, and we stayed up to all hours of the night trying to bake edible cookies for the monks and one night the guys had a contest to see who had the hairiest butt. We also read out loud to each other from Pete’s copy of Eve’s Striptease. I remember trying to read “Sinning” out loud because I thought I was cool and it wouldn’t faze me to say [an expletive] but when I said it I began laughing and couldn’t stop. The others thought this was quite funny. We had a good four days together, learning about community and being silly with one another.
I know that I was not thinking about these memories at all the night Julia gave her lecture on Bender and Monroe, but in hindsight I wonder if in some subconscious way they helped to shape what I experienced that night. Julia’s lecture dealt with the acculturation of Mennonites, which she illustrated by talking about the connection between Bender and Monroe: both died in 1962, and Bender is alleged to have reported Monroe’s death to the Mennonite World Conference which was held in Kitchener, Ontario, that year (I remember being quite angry with Theron Schlabach when during the question and answer time after the lecture he asserted that this “fact” was most likely not historically accurate). As she began the lecture everything was quite normal; I paid attention and it was rather interesting and even humorous at times. But as Julia continued to speak about the Mennonite world and how it was changing, my body started to tingle and I felt as though she was speaking directly to me. I cannot fully put into words how I felt. I was scared, I wanted to cry, I wanted to rip my teeth out, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew something profound was happening, that I was being given a new identity as a Mennonite, though I did not yet know what that identity was. Suddenly 475 years of history were being placed on my shoulders like a huge mountain and I was being called to carry it.
After Julia finished the lecture there was a question and answer period which was interesting but nothing in comparison to the magic of the lecture since it had left me dazed and numb. Afterwards copies of Bender’s biography by Al Keim were on sale for $18 instead of the usual $24, and this time my Mennonite instincts did not fail me; I bought a copy and began to discover my new identity.
Over the next two years I began to study the history of Mennonites and to look for my place within the Mennonite tradition. I got acquainted with some of the Goshen heavyweights and learned from them. I embraced my Swiss-German Mennonite ethnicity. Then in January of my third year of college Julia came back to Goshen to do another reading at the Brew. She also visited my Mennonite Literature class. We asked her questions about being a Mennonite poet and in the course of the conversation Julia asked if people thought “Kasdorf” was a Mennonite name. And then, after no one answered in the affirmative, she did something I will treasure forever. She misunderstood the spelling of my last name but in reality she named me in a most appropriate way. She said, “Kasdorf isn’t a Mennonite name, it’s Mennonite Brethren. But ‘Kruse,’ now that’s a Mennonite name.”

Daniel Cruz, born in Bronx, N.Y., is the son of Jesus and Miriam (Shank) Cruz of Lancaster, Pa.; he considers Goshen to be his home. A 1998 graduate of Lancaster Mennonite High School, Cruz is a Bible and religion major and Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies minor, involved in the Mennonitica Club and a Bible study group. He is a member of College Mennonite Church.

Return to June Bulletin contents
Commencement rites by Rachel Lapp
“Fling yourself…but, darling, don’t drop!” by President Shirley H. Showalter
Senior profiles: Ryan Kolb, Andrea Troyer, Joel Jimenez, Lora Nafziger, Greg Stahly, Melody Bennett, Deana Landis, Alicia Montoya and Rachel Glick
Mennonite by choice by Joni S. Sancken ’98
A lifetime in family business: What I’ve learned by Leonard Geiser ’57 with Rachel Lapp
Allon H. Lefever by Ryan Miller

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