Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Amish and Mennonite weekend

Since my sabbatical has been over for four months, I have not done much with this blog, and at the moment I do not have any grand plans for continuing to maintain it on a regular basis, though who knows what the future will bring.

But I do have one update, and that is that I am planning at weekend at our congregation, Benton Mennonite Church, on the connections and disconnections between Amish and Mennonites. It is called "Amish and Mennonites: Common origins, divergent paths," and it will take place on Saturday - Sunday, January 24 - 25, 2009.

Steve Nolt and John Roth, professors of history at Goshen College, have agreed to come and speak both on Saturday morning and Sunday morning. On Saturday afternoon I will be joined by an Amish historian to discuss Amish and Mennonites today and on Sunday afternoon I will report on my trip to the congregation and anyone who is interested. You might consider it a short version of this blog.

The only cost for the weekend is that if you want the Amish-cooked meal on Saturday, you need to pay $15 unless you are a member of Benton Mennonite Church. The community is welcome to attend any of the events. Full information about the weekend is at our web site, or go directly to the brochure and registration.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On comparing Europe and America

Recently a family member asked me if I thought America was the best place to live, and I said no. So they asked why I didn't leave. This seemed strange to me. Why would I leave just because I didn't necessarily think it was the best place to live? After all, I'm not all that interested in finding the best place to live and then living there. I was born and raised here, and it is a good place to live, even a great place to live. And I love it.

This conversation rang in my ears as I traversed Europe and wondered about how my ancestors decided to leave the Old World and come to the New. This has made a huge difference in who I am today, what language I speak, and even how I think. I wondered how I would like living in Europe. It seemed to me that I could enjoy living there. Of course just to be completely open, I have yet to travel somewhere where I could not imagine living, whether in Central or South America, Canada, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Utah. There are so many beautiful and interesting places on this planet. Okay, I must admit that I am way of a place as urban as New York City, though I have heard there are nice parks.

Mark Twain travelled to Europe in his time. In those days there were many people who were fawning over the Old World, and how it was superior to the US. Twain of course didn't take to such nonsense. He was very critical of Europe. He thought the food was horrible. But the prices were cheap, and so at one point when he was in financial trouble he lived in Europe to help make ends meet.

My how times have changed. Today it is the opposite, in my opinion. Living in Europe is very expensive, with the weak dollar this summer making it more difficult. But the food was fantastic. Europeans are not as good at fast food as Amerians, and in fact they seem to preserve the idea that meals should be slow and social affairs. But overall they are good at making good solid food. Americans are more willing to allow taste to suffer for the sake of convenience, and even, I would say, for the sake of appearance. The Red Delicious apple should be called the Red Atrocious. It is a beautiful apple that travels well but it tastes like wet sawdust.

Switzerland was a place where you could take public transportation almost anywhere. Even the most remote Anabaptist cave was within about an hour's walk from the closest bus or train. I love taking the train, and so there is a lot to love about Switzerland. I enjoy toy electric trains but I also love real trains. And of course the mountains in Switzerland are beautiful. But when I stayed with a Swiss family they had photos of the American plains so that they could remember the wide open spaces of America.

So while there is much to love about Europe, I find myself happy to be back home. There is much to love about America. The wide open spaces, the open society, the friendliness, the creativity, and the willingness to help each other out. The land is wide and beautiful, wild and varied.

A theme of Swiss Mennonites was Psalm 24: The Earth is the Lord's. It was their way of saying that God is the owner of the land and not their oppressive overlords. I think of it as a way of resisting immigration out of Switzerland. But it is also a way of affirming that the earth is the Lord's, and that God is found throughout the planet. This allows us to take seriously stewardship of the land wherever we are found. It means that as Christians the whole earth is a place where we can find a home. And in fact Christians are found throughout the world. I hope that my time in another country can help to foster more understanding between nations.

This is likely my final blog, at least for now. I am thankful for the time I had away and I am thankful now to be back home, in Elkhart County, Indiana, this part of the earth where my family was planted some 160 years ago. It is an interesting place, and a place where you can find beauty, if you are looking for it. The earth is the Lord's indeed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Just how Swiss are Mennonites?

In my last blog I suggested that one way some Mennonites who were part of the Amish Mennonite tradition might still carry the Amish tradition with them is through their approach to discussion. I thought that some show a high ability to constructively dialogue and others have a tendency to avoid discussion altogether, preferring to just leave the relationship to working through it.

Now I want to look at a similar question for that part of the Mennonite church in America that comes from Switzerland, which is probably the majority of American Mennonites, though a slim majority today. Something that was unexpected to me as I learned a little about Switzerland during my 5 weeks there, is just how Swiss many Mennonites continue to behave. We no longer carry the language, nor many of the foods or specific traditions. But a number of aspects of Mennonite identity and behavior are national characteristics of the Swiss.

Here is the symbol of the Swiss nation, such as it is, the national assembly of the Swiss Confederation in Berne.

Now I do not want to suggest that Mennonites are simply Swiss. After all, there are some ways in which Anabaptists broke decisively with Swiss national culture, and of course quite a number of Mennonites were expelled from Switzerland for these differences.

I want to mention two obvious differences here at the beginning. The first is that one German word for Swiss, along with Schweizer, is eidgenossischer. What this word means literally is "oath comrades." This goes back to the oath ceremony of the three original Swiss cantons where they committed to helping each other gain independence from the Habsburg family of Austria. So taking an oath is part of the identity of the Swiss, and now these Anabaptists say that Jesus tells us to refuse oaths. That is not a way to win friends in Switzerland.

The second difference grows from the first. Part of taking that oath was a commitment to defend one another. This may seem strange to modern Americans, who perhaps think of the Swiss as the people who never fight in wars, but at the time of the Reformation the Swiss had a reputation as some of the most ruthless warriors of Europe. They were known for two things. First was their "take no prisoners" approach. We use this word carelessly, but it means that the Swiss would kill their enemies rather than imprison them. This was cheaper, but more ruthless. Secondly, they would keep the spoils of war. After all, their opponents were dead. This means that if you were fighting the Swiss the cost of losing was much higher than an opponent who was willing to imprison you once they had defeated you.

In the 1470s, some 50 years before the Reformation, the Swiss and their allies defeated the much larger forces of Charles the Bold of Burgundy and his forces. So their military prowess was well respected. So Swiss mercenaries were hired throughout Europe. It became so prevalent and the Swiss became so concerned about it that eventually the practice was outlawed. The one exception is that the Pope can still hire Swiss mercenaries, and so there are the famous Swiss Guards in Vatican City. I presume that the guards come from the cantons that remained Roman Catholic.

So now, in what ways do I think American Mennonites carry Swiss ways with them? Of course this is first of all seen in our family names, what we sometimes call "Mennonite" names. But they are really Swiss names. One of the strange things about being in Switzerland was having almost all the names sound familiar.

What got me started on this theme was reading Margaret Oertig-Davidson's book, More than Chocolate: understanding Swiss culture, which she wrote to help expatriates in Switzerland know how to get along there. I opened the book to a section on decision-making, and how if newcomers aren't careful, they may discover that the Swiss made a decision without saying it out loud. There is a kind of consensual decision-making that avoids outright conflict. As I read this, how I wished that someone had written such a guide from my Mennonite congregation, so that people could understand how we make decisions.

Supposedly our congregation follows Roberts Rules of Order. However we almost never vote on something until we are confident that everyone supports it. There is no idea that once you have the majority of the group behind your proposal that you can move forward with it. You must first respond to every concern voiced. And if you can't get consensus, or at least near consensus, then the decision is not made.

There is in Switzerland much more of a communal sense, that everyone is in it together. Many decisions are made by a vote of all the people. The country is ruled by a Federal Council, a group of seven equal-ranking people. Each one takes a turns being president of the council for a year. This emphasis on consensus, democracy, and communalism has a positive and negative side. When the Swiss fail, it is because they did not do something soon enough. In political systems where power is given to a few, both great success and great failure is possible.

One joke says that Albert Einstein said that if there is nuclear war he wants to live in Switzerland, because it takes 20 years for anything in Europe to land in Switzerland. The person who told me this joke went on to say that when the Swiss adapt a new technology, they then do it very well.

The book also talks about the importance of rules in social control in Switzerland. People are comfortable with the idea of following set rules of bevavior that must be followed. There is also a willingness for people to intervene and make sure the rules are followed, when a foreigner may think that it is better to just mind your own business.

The scholar Albert Debrunner thinks that this idea that the rules should be enforced by the people comes from the Reformed tradition in Switzerland. In Geneva John Calvin laid down strict rules of conduct and the elders went from house to house to make sure the rules were obeyed. Oertig-Davidson says: "Zwingliism and Calvinism were both characterised by communitarianism, in which it is not the priest who decides, but the whole group." (118)

The Swiss are also wary of self promotion. This kind of individualism goes against the communalism of the people. I find this attitude among Mennonites as well, where people compete to be the humblest rather than the best.

The book also describes the independence of the Swiss. They are not quick to ask for help, believing that they can handle things on their own. This is also part of the Swiss Mennonites in America. My dad was a pastor in a Mennonite congregation where most of the people were not from traditional Swiss families. He said it was a lot more work because people would ask for help from the pastor when they felt they needed it. In more traditional congregations you had to find out from other people when something was wrong.

A similar aspect of this is that Oertig-Davidson describes the Swiss as a coconut culture. By that she means that the shell on the outside is hard; it is difficult to get to know people. But once you are in the inside it is soft. She calls British and American culture peach cultures, soft on the outside. They are people who easily learn to know new people and very quickly start calling people friends.

My sense is that Mennonites are very American in this behavior. I am more of a peach than a coconut. But I would also guess that my Swiss heritage has influenced me in the coconut direction so that I am more coconut than many Americans.

And of course while the Swiss are not pacifist in theory, they are for all practical purposes pacifist. The last war they fought was in 1847. They are known as a place of peace in Europe.

These are just a couple of things I have noticed. I could mention more but I think I give the idea.

Now I do not want to say by all this that Mennonites behave like the Swiss. We are American in many ways. But I think there is something about our Swiss heritage that means we are more communal and less individualistic.

I also do not mean to suggest by this that this means that these aspects of Mennonite behavior are cultural rather than religious. They are both, since religion is always enacted in culture.

And finally, I do not mean by this that I think Mennonites must find ways to un-Swissify ourselves, making sure that we are somehow without culture so that we can welcome people of other cultures. There is no such thing as a cultureless person. And there is no reason to think that it is better to be simply American rather than Swiss American. In fact I think we will be much better at welcoming people of other cultures if we have a healthy and positive sense about our own culture, not so positive that it is chauvinistic. But it is also important to not be so negative about our cultural heritage that we denigrate it.

Church Discipline as Loving Dialogue

I want to write a few concluding blogs where I reflect on the bigger questions that have been at the back of my mind during my sabbatical. The first of these is church discipline, the issue that divides Mennonites from Amish. The Amish, in theory, practice a strict shunning, or complete social avoidance of those banned from communion. Mennonites, in theory, just forbid the banned from communion.

I say in theory about both groups because in my experience neither group is uniform in this practice. Participating in the Mennonite Church for 41 years, I have never seen someone banned from communion, though I do know that people have sometimes not participated when they felt they could not.

The father of one of my high school friends was a Mennonite who had been banned for leaving the Amish. Shunning in their family consisted of not eating at the same table. But otherwise they treated him normally. When I recently spoke to an Amish bishop in Shipshewana, he spoke about the shunning of his son. It sounded like the actual shunning consisted of the fact that they could not pass the common serving bowl directly to his son. They had to set it on the table before he could pick it up. To me this seemed like a way to follow the letter of shunning without the spirit of it. This is a long way from what I understand Jacob Ammann to have meant when he spoke of complete social avoidance of those banned.

One of the surprises of my time in Switzerland was learning that what the Anabaptists called persecution the Swiss Reformed called church discipline. They were attempting to correct the Anabaptists, making sure they attended "real" church, which is to say the Reformed church. The Swiss Reformed were famous for their strictness. One of the instruments of Anabaptist persecution were the Chorgerichts, or church councils. The pastor would gather with congregational leaders after the sermon and they would discuss who in the congregation was not behaving properly. So whether the sin was fornication, stealing, or being rebaptized, they dealt with it.

These are some of the instruments of church discipline in the Swiss Reformed Church in Berne. This is the Kafigturm, one of the prison towers in Berne that held Anabaptist and other prisoners.

And this is the Blutturm, or Blood tower, one of the notorious torture chambers used against Anabaptists and others.

So while it may be that the emphasis on church discipline has a lot to do with the Reformed roots of Anabaptism, the methods of disciplines adopted by Anabaptists were very different. The practice of shunning, which seems unconscionable to so many moderns, was in fact a very peaceful type of church discipline compared to drownings, beheadings, burnings, imprisonment, confiscation of property and family, and forced exile. Anabaptists refused to use state power for the church's purposes, and for that matter refused even to participate in the state's use of coercion against its citizens.

It may seem strange that the Swiss Anabaptists, who had avoided any divisions for their 170 years of existence, should divide on a small distinction between shunning and banning. Of course I write as someone who is part of the group who did not see any reason for the division. Why did Ammann insist on such strictness, we wonder?

Of course Ammann was not the first to insist on this strictness. He found support for his ideas in the Dordrecht Confession of Faith, a confession from the Dutch Anabaptists. Menno Simons, from whom Mennonites take our name, actually agreed with Ammann more than with his Swiss Anabaptist opponents. In fact, Menno Simons also shunned the entire Swiss Anabaptist church, as Ammannn did 150 years later. In that sense the Amish are more Mennonite than many Mennonites.

But not the Swiss. Unlike their brothers and sisters who migrated to France, Germany, and America, the Swiss did not take the name Mennonite and they did not adopt the Dordrecht Confession of Faith as their authoritative confession. Though they did continue to use it.

There is a collection of Anabaptist writings called "Golden Apples in Silver Bowls," that seems to come from the Palatinate but has Swiss connections. It contains several martyr testimonies, prayers and instructions on their use, and the Dordrecht Confession, though it softens the language in certain places in more of a Swiss direction.

It also has one of the most open statements about church discipline I have seen in Mennonite writings. The anonymous editor says: "If there were someone who had a thievish, adulterous, murderous faith, which would give him liberty in his faith to steal, murder, commit adultery, and similiar abominations: him or her I dare, out of fear of God, neither defend nor condemn, neither judge nor damn, outside the guidelines of my Lord's Word (the New Covenant). If such a person can support his faith on the basis of divine speech, I will let him work it out and carry the burden himself, even if my own feelings are contrariwise."

When I first wrote the above paragraph, I was going to say that this statement was a statement against church discipline. But I realized that I was wrong to say it that way. This is a statement about church discipline, and it even supports church discipline, but it is someone who has withdrawn all coercion from their use of discipline. The writer will only allow themself to use speech against this person who is so wrong about their faith. They have renounced not only sword and fire, but also social avoidance and even banning, all coercion. But what they have not renounced is their tongue. They will speak to the person and expect the person to speak to them to defend what they believe and do.

As I think about my own views of church discipline, I am sympathetic with the anonymous editor. When I was in a congregation that had a young member join the military, which for Amish and Mennonites is sin, I neither ignored it nor did we ban him from communion. Instead I spoke to the young man hearing why he wanted to do this, and I of course tried to dissuade him. And then with his foreknowledge I spoke to the congregation letting them know that we disagreed with his decision but we were not revoking his membership.

As I already wrote, I have yet to see someone be banned from communion in a Mennonite congregation. At times someone has been asked to step back from teaching or other forms of leadership because of divorce or military service, two forms of broken relationships.

So I find myself in the Hans Riest camp of the Amish - Swiss Brethren split of 1693. But I still have some hesitation. And the first hesitation has to do with this question of speaking to one another. What I admire about Jacob Ammann is that he was outspoken about his areas of conflict. He didn't hide his concerns for the sake of unity. He thought they should be dealt with openly and honestly. That is much better than simply ignoring sin or pretending like it isn't happening.

Of course on the down side, Ammann was very quick to move to shunning someone, so that very quickly Reist and others found themselves silenced by Ammann. Some years later Ammann renounced his hasty decision making, realizing that he had not adequately worked with the people that he shunned. He asked for forgiveness from Reist and his other opponents. Ammann did not renounce his conviction about shunning, but about the way he did it.

So what did Reist and others do? Nothing. In fact Jacob Gut in a letter recommends to his fellow Swiss Brethren that they do nothing. So now the Mennonite faction was using silence against the Amish faction, though in a behind the back way. That is, Gut was writing to those in his faction, rather than dealing directly with his opponents.

In that way I admire the honesty of the Amish, the way that they admit that there is disunity and sin when that is what there is. The practice of shunning is a way of taking the rupture seriously and hoping to resolve it by taking it seriously. There is the possibilityof reconciliation in this method which is impossible using Jacob Gut's form of behind the back silence.

In my introductory blog I mentioned the story of the Amish Mennonites, a group of Amish who in the 1860s began to move away from the conservative Amish, who eventually became known as Old Order Amish. Clinton Township, Indiana, where my family has lived since the 1840s, about 5 miles from my home, was one of the sources of this split. I wondered whether these Amish Mennonites, who by the early decades of the 1900s had merged with the Mennonites and simply dropped Amish, were in any way Amish. Is there something about their Amish history that remained with them, or was it completely gone?

As I came to the end of my sabbatical I felt like I had found nothing Amish about these Amish Mennonites, until I kept thinking about this issue of mutual dialogue. In the face of the intensity of the Amish commitment to church discipline and shunning, I think people adopted several ways of working with it.

One thing to say is that they were not like American Mennonites, many of whom, at least those from Swiss background, adopted hierarchical relationships foreign to their Swiss origins--they developed bishops who had charge of a whole district of congregations and who held ultimate authority on questions of banning, communion and baptism.

Contrariwise, the Amish developed no such hierarchy. The Amish have bishops, but bishop for them is the word we would use for senior pastor. A bishop has charge of one district, what we call a congregation, and because a district must fit into each home, since they have no church buildings, it never grows beyond 40 families. All districts are about the same size. And if you look at what the Bible says about bishops there is no sense that they must be a leaders of more than one congregation. That is tradition that developed after the Bible was written.

It is my impression that people who are Amish or come from Amish background have adapted in another way to this intense scrutiny of their lives. They either find the conversation needed to make these decisions too difficult, and so they are silent about any disagreement, or they become very articulate, and are quite able to discuss disagreements and concerns.

In general I have seen the majority of Amish background people as wary of conflict. Recently our congregation saw several Amish background people leave because of a worship innovation. When did they tell us about their concerns? After they started attending other congregations. They had moved in the direction of needing to be in unity or needing to leave. There was less middle ground for them.

But I noticed this tendency towards silence within my own life last year at the San Jose Mennonite Church USA convention. Silence popped up in unexpected ways. First, I met with a childhood friend who in adulthood became openly gay. He is one of a number of friends who have done this. From my perspective I am comfortable with their decision and I can understand why they do it. They have found themselvs to be homosexually inclined and they are open about that. So when I met my friend I wanted to show that even though I am a Mennonite pastor, a denomination that condemns all homosexual practice, that I would not let that get in the way of our friendship. We had a very nice lunch together. He asked me about my family and work, and I asked him about his work. It was only afterwards that I realized that we never talked about his homosexuality. I did not ask him if he had a boyfriend or ask anything that might clarify his family situation. In that sense I realized that I had practiced silence on this question that I worried might divide us.

I had a similar incident a couple of days later when in San Francisco we met with someone who had volunteered with Christian Peacemaker Teams and had been a member of First Mennonite Church in San Francisco. At some point in the conversation he said, "Now, don't freak out or anything, but I converted to Islam." From my perspective we did not freak out since we did not yell at him or ask him why he did such a terrible thing. What did we do? We didn't say a word about it. We just went on talking as if he had said nothing about it. I decided later, as I reflected upon it, that we had freaked out. By not saying a word, we had exercised a form of silencing, a form of silencing that is perhaps friendlier than the Amish practice of shunning, but also probably also less redemptive, because it is not honest about our perspectives.

And so I think of John Howard Yoder, the well-known Mennonite theologian, and his relatives. His sister's family is in the congregation where I pastor and and in another congregation where I am overseer. They are articulate and more comfortable with conflict than most people I know. And I think this training partly comes from the culture of the Oak Grove Amish Mennonite Church, where John Howard Yoder and his sister Mary Ellen Meyer grew up. This is an Amish congregation that eventually was no longer a member of the Mennonite conference because it was so congregational that it did not learn to work with the Mennonite hierarchy like some other Amish congregations did. In my mind this ability to talk about disagreements within the congregation rather than relying on hierarchical authority would seem like one result of the intensity of Amish discipline.

So these are like two poles in responding to Amish discipline. For some people it means keeping silent until you just can't stand it anymore, and then leaving or being shunned. And for others it means learning the ability to talk through disputes in a way that keeps people together. You need to learn the art of loving dialogue. In my mind, then, John Howard Yoder's ability to dialogue both with his own traditon and the wider Christian tradition is an outgrowth of the Amish commitment to deal with sin and disagreement in a way that is open and redemptive.

My other concern about being soft on church discipline grows out of William Cavanaugh's book, "Torture and Eucharist," where he describes the failure of the Roman Catholic Church in Chile to adequately confront Pinochet and the military as they tortured the body of Christ in that country. Eventually the church began to gain a voice in opposition to Pinochet and certainly it played a role in his ultimate downfall. But throughout this time the church continued to give communion to those who tortured. Within my group of mainline Protestant pastors who read the book with me, there was not much sympathy with the idea of banning from communion. For my part I started to think that maybe there are sins that reach the height of banning. This is what Cavanaugh was promoting in his book.

When a group wrote a resolution against conferences disciplining congregations for having gay members, I found myself sympathetic with the concern though disappointed with the wording. I am not against conference or congregational discipline when it is understood in the way that the Golden Apples in Silver Bowls editor describes it. I would envision sustained dialogue on disagreements, a dialogue that may last for decades, but that continues to be loving and based on Matthew 18. The dialogue itself is a form of discipline and it is necessary. What I am very hesitant to do is ban either individuals or congregations who come to have different convictions from the main body of believers. I would choose to let the word of God dwell within those with other perspectives until it comes to bear fruit in their, and our, lives. So speaking the truth in love is becoming increasingly important to me, and at the same time one of the hardest things for me to learn to do.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Finally coming to the end of the sabbatical

In a couple of day my sabbatical comes to an end and I will be back to my duties as co-pastor at Benton Mennonite Church. I have had a great time these past months, but I also look forward to working for a living again.

My time back home in Indiana these past several weeks have also been good. We got home on a Saturday night. I went to the College Mennonite Church since it is close by. It reminded me of the Weierhof because it is also an older congregation where the announcements focus on who had died and who is sick and in the hospital. I also saw some good friends and had a great visit with their Sunday School class. The sermon was by a guest who is biking across the USA with his family. It was a message encouraging us to have hope and courage in life.

Then after these few days at home unpacking we left again for five days of travel to and from Texas. We only spent one day in Texas for my niece Julianne's wedding. She is my last Texan niece to marry. We had a nice time with my brother Randy and his family. We got to see his new house and some of the art he is collecting. The boys had a lot of fun in the pool, and in this case the boys includes me the dad.

Then I was home for about a week, with one night of camping with Jacob at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The campground was full on a Thursday night, with only walk-in sites available. I have never seen it so full during the week. The beach was fantastic the next day.

Then I left for the Hermitage in Three Rivers, Michigan. I have had a sabbatical in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Each time I have spent a week at the Hermitage. I used to stay in the St. Joseph barn in one of the rooms or apartments. But now I ask to stay in the Hut the whole time. The Hut is in the middle of the woods of about 40 acres. It's about a ten minute walk from the barn where the meals and showers are found. There is a thermos of water rather than running water, a pit toilet, oil lamps, and a wood stove should you need any heat. A difference this year was there is a fire circle outside, which I lit the one night. It really does allow you to be away from it all.

Meals at the Hermitage are usually in silence, but two things made that not happen as much this time. The first is that the one night a reporter came because he was doing an article on the confluence of three prayer centers all connected together in this same area, Gilchrist, St. Gregory's Abbey, an Episcopilian Benedictine monastery, and the Hermitage. It seemed like the polite thing to do was talk to him to help him write his story. And then there were two festivals at the Hermitage, a Blackberry Jam day where people come and pick wild blackberries and then make jam, and then the Feast of the Transfiguration, a day of worship and retreat. I did not participate in these events, I was too busy with my own form of work there.

What did I do at the Hermitage, people will ask me. I prayed, I was silent, I journaled, I read, I reflected, I walked and ran the trails, I visited with other guests, I met with David Wenger for two spiritual direction sessions, I rode my bike. The Hermitage has morning prayer every morning, with communion on Wednesday. Personally I also read the morning and evening prayers from the Anabaptist prayer book, Take Our Moments and Our Days. The book I read was Anabaptist Baptism, the classic written by Rollin Armour. I can't believe I've waited this long to learn this about what makes Anabaptists Anabaptist, baptism. I also began reading Joan Chittister's Wisdome Distilled from the Daily, based on the rule of Benedict. At Lowry's bookstore in Three Rivers I found the final three Ursula LeGuin books for the Earthsea Trilogy (which eventually became four books!) for only $6 total. I love that place. And finally on Sunday I went to St. Gregory's Abbey for their worship and communion service. It appears to be Anglo-Catholic in orientation, with much ceremony, which makes sense since it is Benedictine. But the Abbot preached a rowsing sermon with a very accepting attitude towards the Spirit bringing change to our world. It was quite the juxtaposition.

For me the Hermitage is a place to get away from words long enough to listen for God's still small voice in the quiet. I came away again with a better sense of God's call for me and with a reminder of God's love and generosity. I so appreciate their ministry there and want to find ways to connect with them more between sabbaticals. But as long as I have children coming home from school at 2:30 it will not be so easy. Part of my Hermitage practice the last two times has been to ride my bike there. It is part of making my time there apart from my busy life here. It is about 40 miles to get there and it takes about 3 1/2 hours with a couple of rests on the way. So I came back this past Sunday and then left immediately with Isaiah for a one-night campout at Indiana Dunes and again we had a nice day at the beach. It was colder than the time with Jacob, but there were waves which made for some good body surfing. Unfortunately we forgot to bring the boogie boards.

Now this final week I am doing some final cleaning around the house. I also hope to have a couple of final blogs where I reflect on some overall themes from my travels. I also agreed to talk at my family reunion on Saturday about the Kaufman ancestors.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Finally up the Eiffel Tower

On our final day in Paris we finally went up the Eiffel Tower. We arrived first thing in the morning and discovered that the lines were already long. But fortunately, since no one was up in the tower yet, the lines moved quickly as people moved up into the three levels. We took one elevator to the second platform. I took the above photo of the upper part of the tower from there.

Then we took another elevator to the very top. The following several photos are from our vantage point at the top. Up there also Gustave Eiffel, the man who engineered the tower, had a small apartment where he hosted dignitaries. They have wax figures of Eiffel and his daughter hosting Thomas Edison, one of the more famous of his visitors.

This is a view of the Arc d'Triomphe in the middle. I like the way it shows the many white buildings which make up Paris, and the various curves of the streets. The Eiffel Tower stands along in Paris as its tallest building. You do not see huge skyscraper downtown buildings like you do in American cities, though there are a few clusters of tall buildings here and there. Paris is not beautiful for its tall office buildings, but for its art and diverse architecture.

This photo is for nostalgia purposes only. In the middle is the Pantheon, a beautiful church building that was turned into a homage to great people of France after the revolution. In the crypt, or what we would call the basement, are buried people such as Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and Voltaire. Interestingly, Rousseau is also buried there, even though he was Swiss, though French Swiss.

Our apartment was just to the right of the Pantheon, about 4 blocks away. This is also the location of the Sorbonne, the university in Paris. If I had been thinking about it properly, I would have taken a photo of the university, since it is there that the young Conrad Grebel, founder of the Anabaptists, studied until he quit in disgust with his teacher. Click on Conrad's name to read my earlier blog of his exploits here. This area where our apartment is found is called the Latin Quarter since earlier higher education was always carried out in the Latin language. In fact Conrad would write to his Swiss brother-in-law/former teacher Vadian in Latin rather than German.

After our exploits at the Eiffel Tower in the morning we tried to take it easier in the afternoon; we knew we were going to be travelling for a long time on Saturday, from Paris to Goshen. Jacob, Isaiah, and I went to the park across the street from our apartment, called Jardin d'Luxembourg. It was a beautiful park with many amusements for kids, although you had to pay for every single one of them, even to use the playground. Since I was coming down to my last Euros and did not want to withdraw more money just so they could play on the swings, we ended up renting sailboats for the huge fountain. This was terrific fun. When I saw how fast the boats would travel I assumed that they had some kind of motor, but in fact they really were powered simply by the wind. The kids had sticks to push the boats in the direction they wanted. While we were there a film crew was working on a scene of a couple kissing on a bench at the fountain's side. I didn't recognize the couple, probably French actors. Although interesting it was a little annoying since they tried to keep shewing away anyone who got close to get their boats.

Finally, we decided to eat at a restaurant for our last evening. We had mostly been making our own food and eating the wonderful croissants, bread, and cheese of Paris. We of course had to try escargot, snails. I thought they might be one of the huge creatures I had seen at times in Europe, but they were medium-sized snails much like the ones in the US, though a little bigger than the typical snail. Jacob and I were the ones willing to order them, but then ironically everyone tried one and liked them, except for Jacob. They tasted good, though not like chicken. Nor were they chewing like clams or oysters.
That is how we spent our last day in Paris. It was both more exciting and more relaxing. A wonderful time was had by all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Science of Paris

The two museums we went to on our third day were the Science and Industry Institute and the Orsay Museum, an art museum with works from about 1848 to 1914. I also managed to get to the Notre Dame cathedral. The rest of the family was too tired to join me.

We went to the Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie partly because any time we visit a city we like to see the science institute. I guess that's just the sort of people we are. The French aren't necessarily known as scientists as much as artists. But they of course also have many great scientific achievements.

One of the attractions to the science institute was a special exhibit called "Sex: What's the big deal?" It is an exhibit especially for children to learn about sexuality at an age-appropriate level. Some parents are jealous about sex education, wanting to make sure they are the only ones who teach their children about sex. I, on the other hand, am happy to get all the help I can get. It is hard to teach about sexuality. Jacob, Noah, and I went to the sexuality exhibit while Jill and Isaiah saw other interesesting things. The exhibit was well done, I thought.

In the afternoon while the others rested I enjoyed going to Notre Dame, the famous cathedral. For all its astounding beauty, I noticed all the gargoyles on the upper outer walls. I guess these ugly creatures are there to scare away evil spirits. If so, the architects of Notre Dame were especially worried about evil spirits. The gargoyles almost dominate the sculpture in places.

What impressed me again about this cathedral was that, like the Worms Cathedral, it had a chapel dedicated to Joseph which included a sculpture of Joseph with the child Jesus. And again like the Worms Cathedral, it had an emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus. There is a large wall around the choir in the front of the cathedral. And all the sculptures on the south side act out scenes from Easter, including the resurrection itself and then various resurrection appearances. On the north side is the birth and Palm Sunday. This is an emphasis on the resurrection that I have never encountered in architecture or art. Of course there is in the center of the choir, really the focal point of the cathedral, the Pieta sculpture, Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. So that the cross and suffering is still the focus, which I think is good as well. The cross and resurrection need to be held together.

The family went to the Musee d'Orsay together in the evening, since it is opened late on Thursday evening. It is filled with beautiful paintings and a few sculptures. If you like Impressionism then this is the place for you. It is filled with paintings by Monet and Van Gogh. It also has a lot of Manet and Degas. My favorite was the Van Gogh room. It included "Starry Night," but I was especially happy to see "Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles," which the Electric Brew has used as the basis of its bathroom in Goshen.

Orsay was a place of great beauty. It was once a train station like only the French would design, with such grandeur and beauty. But it eventually became too small for modern trains and so became an art museum. Compared to the Louvre, the themes were much less religious. And so the turn towards the modern age, and away from Christianity. But there were also a number of religious paintings as well.
After Orsay we crossed the Seine River and went to the Tuileries Garden and found some great playground equipment and also some cotton candy like we haven't seen before.

Art of Paris

On our second full day in Paris we visited two museums, the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages and the Louvre. We purchased a two-day museum pass to enable us to visit multiple museums in one day. But we discovered that two is about the family limit, though I could easily go to three, I think.

Our day began with the Musee National du Moyen Age at Cluny. There we discovered some beautiful artwork, and of course lots of armor and medieval weapons. With Jacob and Isaiah's interest in the Middle Ages, we knew we would need to go here, plus it was within easy walking distance of our apartment.

A surprise find was the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, a beautiful series of tapestries, one for each sense, and then finally a sixth sense, that of love. They are housed together in a room and they are the kind of thing where you can just sit and look at them for a long time. Each tapestry includes a lion, a lady, and a unicorn. There is a way in which the sixth tapestry represents the lady transcending the five senses and saying that there is something more to life than what you can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. Harry Potter fans may be interested in knowing that the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry can be seen in the Gryffindor common room in the movies.

We rested a little while back in the apartment before going to the famous Louvre Museum. The thing to say about this museum of fine art is that it is astonishingly huge. I think it was once a palace of the kings of France, and for that matter probably much of the artwork belonged to them as well. But after the revolution it was nationalized and shared with the public. It goes on and on, and it includes a wide array of sculptures as well as paintings. The pieces go to about 1850.

We wanted to make sure that we saw the great masterpieces. We did not bring a camera because I think there are usually plenty of examples of the artwork accessible on the web. I don't see any reason to photograph it again, with me in front of it. But if you follow the Louvre's the Masterpieces of the Louvre Trail, you will see some of what we saw. We did not see all of these and of course we saw many more. We did see the Louvre's famous ladies, the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory of Samathrace. Because we went on Wednesday evening, when the museum is open late, we didn't have problems with long lines, and this in mid-July. We didn't even have to wait to see the Mona Lisa. There was a crowd, but within a few minutes we were at the front. The thing to say about the Mona Lisa is that it is small, and they don't let you get that close. Apparently it has been attacked by acid and one time was knifed. That explains why they search you before you enter the museum. Still it was great to see.

I perhaps enjoyed the most the The Wedding Feast at Cana, number three in the masterpieces trail. It shows the moment when the water is turned to wine and there is something about the way Jesus is portrayed, knowing that he is now revealed and there is no turning back from this path. It is a moment of enlightenment and recognition for Jesus. There is a resoluteness and serenity to it, but also a sense of crossing a threshold. This is it.

There are many, many religious paintings at the Louvre, especially since it focuses on earlier art. What surprised me is how often seeing these paintings led me and the boys to religious discussions. They wanted to know what these images portrayed, and it led to many serious discussions about Bible stories and religious issues. I hadn't expected that from a museum in Paris. I was also surprised at what they didn't know and realized that I need to work harder on helping them to know the Bible and its stories.

Monumental Paris

We stayed in Paris for five nights, or what comes to 4 full days. Our first experience in Paris was not so good. We arrived by train from Mainz, Germany. I was disappointed that the boys never got to ride a French high-speed train. However, I discovered that the German trains went a lot faster in France than in Germany. So we still went really fast, but it was not like I remember my first train ride in France, where you seemed to fly across the countryside. But the disappointment was that upon our arrival at the Gare de L'Est in Paris, we found people not all that friendly and, as was expected, not all that helpful in any language other than French. When we couldn't find a taxi willing to haul 5 people, we finally decided to try the subway, though we had been warned repeatedly about pickpockets, especially when you carry your luggage around and so are obviously tourists. We never had any trouble with pickpockets and we bought a 5-day pass to the subway system. It was very expensive compared to what we were used to in Switzerland, where children under 18 are generally free and transportation passes gave access to museums. At least in Paris children under 18 were generally free in museums.

We came to our apartment on Boulevard St. Michel in the Latin Quarter, named that because the university is there, and at an earlier time education was in Latin. We took a small lift to the fifth floor and then had to walk the final set of steps up to a kind of loft, with slanted ceilings. It was a cozy and fun place that we found through Vacation in Paris, a New Jersey-based organization. One of the great things is we paid in US dollars long before the dollar plummeted to the Euro even more, so it was a reliable price. The apartment was great, with internet access, free telephone even to the US, and a clothes and dish washer. But best of all we could see the Eiffel Tower and Hotel des Invalides from our window, and the Jardin du Luxembourg, a big park, was just across the street.

On our first night out we found a crepe place, Le Fondeil, which offered us a tasty but inexpensive meal. And we also met some friendly Parisians. The staff there was very friendly and made great crepes. They were not the first friendly Parisians we met. When Jill couldn't figure out how to get through one of the barriers in the subway, someone showed her and welcomed her to Paris.

I may say more about this later, but Paris is much more like the US than Switzerland. It is a place where you need to be on your guard, not sure you can trust people. Switzerland is a culture of trust, where you assume people can be trusted. France and the US are not. For example, during my entire month in Basel, Switzerland, I was never asked to show a ticket on the trams. They just assumed that if you were on the tram it was because you had paid. Now when I went on longer train rides sometimes a conductor asked for a ticket and sometimes not. But in Paris they had elaborate barriers, like in Atlanta or other large American cities, to make sure you had a ticket in order to get through. Of course some people would cut through anyway. To have open trams is a much more convenient way to travel than to have barriers.

Perhaps the big difference is between large cities and smaller communities. Switzerland has no city over a million people, with even Zurich having less than a million in its total urban area. The big Swiss cities have about 150,000 in the city, or a little larger than South Bend, and Zurich has about 300,000.

In any case, for our first full day in Paris we decided to go to the must-see Parisian monument, the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately the lines were exceedingly long for each of the four routes, so after taking a few pictures that you can see here, we went to the Arc d'Triomphe. This is on the famous and beautiful Champs Elysees, which was in the news recently because the Tour de France always ends there. Unfortunately we missed the end of the Tour de France by one week.

The Arc d'Triomphe is in the middle of a huge traffic circle, or roundabout, where 12 streets come together. That's right, twelve. Fortunately there is a pedestrian tunnel under the roundabout so that you can safely get into the middle. The tomb of the unknown soldier is in the middle of the arch, and we saw the changing of the guard. They have two guards with modern weaponry and two with more traditional and showy weapons, also two men and two women. I was interested in how there were also two flags billowing under the arch, a French flag and the European Union flag. I wonder now whether that is always the case or whether it is happening now because France currently holds the European Union presidency. They also illuminated the Eiffel Tower in blue with a circle of stars on it. I know that is only happening now because of the EU presidency.

In this way France is also like the US, it seems to me. In both places there is great national pride. Displays of patriotism are quite common. This Arc d'Triomphe is commemorating the triumphs of Napoleon's armies, as they subdued much of Europe for France. In that sense what Germany did in World War II was just following the lead of France 150 years earlier. Of course the major difference is that France introduced religious freedom and democracy wherever it conquered whereas the Germans brought tyranny and extermination of Jews and other peoples considered undesirable. Mennonites in Switzerland first gained religious freedom in the days of the Helvetic Republic established through Napoleon.

Paris is a wealthy city with amazing architecture and sculptures and other artwork. To me it is important to remember that much of this beauty came from the concentration of wealth in the hands of the tyrannical kings of France with their absolute power. And then came the revolution with its great promise, only to have Napoleon become emperor and make France even wealthier through his conquering of much of Europe. I saw the painting "Napoleon crossing the Alps," (The more realistic one by Delaroche, not the romanticized one by David.) and it meant something different to me because I had been in the Alps and I thought of those conquered by his armies.

In many ways the US is in the position that France was 200 years ago, the world's superpower. Of course there are many differences, with the US not trying to conquer the whole world, just those places that block our plans.

I asked Mennonite missionary in Paris, Neal Blough about the way that France and America seem to have a love-hate relationship. He said he thought it was because both places think they are the light of the world, and both are wrong. I think he was referring to the Enlightenment which occured mostly in France and had a huge influence on the American revolutionaries. Both places also had a revolution in the late 1700s based on "liberty and justice for all" in America, and "liberty, equality, and fraternity" in France. Both countries see it as our duty to share the light of liberty with all the world, with force if we have to!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


So on Sunday we rode through the German countryside until we came to Worms, pronounced verms. This is the place where the new reformer Martin Luther was called to defend his ideas about the church and the faith. He was condemned at this Diet of Worms, but he was able to find several rulers who were willing to defy the Holy Roman Emperor and defend him. According to tradition he said, "Here I stand, I can do no other." So at Worms we visited the Martin Luther monument that included several forerunners of the Reformation such as John Hus and Peter Waldo, two of the rulers who defended Luther, and several other statues.
Worms is still the home of an impressive cathedral, which is where Luther appeared. To me it appears to still be Roman Catholic. Northern Germany is mostly Protestant and Bavaria in southern Germany is solidly Roman Catholic. As I mentioned several rulers defended Luther against Emperor Charles V. In the Peace of Augsburg (1555) they enunciated the principle cuius regio, eius religio, "whose region, his religion." The ruled would follow the religion of the local prince or ruler. And so in this area of Germany it was a patchwork of Catholic and Lutheran rulers, not monolithic one or the other like in other regions. Not until after the Thirty Years War, a century later (1648), which paved the way for Mennonites to come to this region, did Calvinists become included in this pact between Catholics and Lutherans. And of course Anabaptists never were officially included, though they might be grudgingly tolerated here or there. Not until after the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s were Mennonites and Amish granted freedom of religion along with all people. But of course Napoleon made an exception when it came to conscientious objection to war. That was just too dangerous.
Two things impressed me about the Worms Cathedral. The first is that the Joseph chapel included Joseph holding the baby Jesus, something I have not seen often. Usually it is Mary holding Jesus. The second is that there was a large sculpture depicting the resurrection of Jesus. Again, most churches focus on the cross, not the resurrection. While both are important, I think the resurrection needs more emphasis, as long as it is in the right way.
Worms also had dragons all over the place. There were these more modern ones that Jacob is beside, but it is clear that dragons were a symbol of the city long before, in various old fountains and other places. We also found our first Subway in Europe at Worms. Here I mean Subway the restaurant, the boys favorite restaurant. So we ate there.
Worms is where we returned to the Rhine River after our day's absence. We biked about 10 km up to Ibersheim, where we stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast on Menno-Simons-Strasse. As you might guess, they turned out to be a Mennonite family. The farmhouse was in the middle of the village. But the Ellenbergers explained to me that that is how it is done in that area. The farmers have their farms in town and then their fields are spread out in the area around the town. So they own and work fields here and there outside of town.
The home was large and gorgeous. The Mennonites there have been prosperous. The hospitality was very warm. When Noah came down for breakfast in the morning, Isaiah welcomed him with the words "Welcome to breakfast paradise." There was bread, cheese, meat, eggs, yoghurt, fruit, and good things to drink. It was beautifully arranged.
The night before Traude, the wife, took us to the local Mennonite church, pictured above. The local Protestants, known as Evangelicals in German, also worship there, with each congregation taking turns, a Mennonite service one Sunday and then Evangelical the next.
Of interest in this church was that on each of two walls were memorials to the soldiers who died in the two world wars. The sign for World War I used lofty language of dying for the Fatherland and quoted the verse, "No one has greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." The sign first listed the Mennonites who died and then the Evangelicals who died. The sign for World War II was plainer. It simply acknowledged who died in the war and didn't interpret what their deaths meant. Again it began with the Mennonites and ended with the Evangelicals. I of course asked Traude about the memorials and she said that there is sometimes discussion about whether they are appropriate, because of Mennonite peace convictions.
The Ellenbergers said we were the first American Mennonites to stay there. I hope we are not the last. It is a great place to stay. They do not appear to speak English. All of our conversation was in German, although Werner said a few things in English. Their daughter lived in the US for a little while and they stayed in Lancaster County. Much like our experience at Weierhof, they hosted us graciously and freely, saying that they wanted to return the hospitality that they had experienced in America.
On Monday we left early because our train for Paris left at about 12:30 and we had 40 km to go. We were a little nervous but made it in good time.

Biking in Germany

I tried to upload a great video by Jacob of biking through a field near Weierhof from his perspective. But at the moment I can't get it to work.
But in any case I wanted to say a few things about biking in Germany. We rented two tandems from die Radgeber in Mainz, Germany. It's a play on words. Ratgeber is an advice giver, but with the change of one letter it is a wheel giver, or bike giver. They are great folks.
I also had my folding bike. You can get a view of this strange bike where Noah is popping a wheelie, something I would have condemned if I had seen it happening. But it gives you a good view of this bike where the handlebars and seat come down and then the body folds in half, making a much smaller thing to carry around.
The second photo is of the lovely scenery near Weierhof. It actually does look a lot like a hilly Kansas. There were many wheat fields in the area. My sense is that the vineyards predominate closer to the river. We biked for about four days along the river and one day, Sunday, from Weierhof to Worms, in the countryside. Along a river you don't have great variations in altitude, but in the countryside we had some big climbs before it mostly started going downhill.
Rheinhessen, this smaller area within the Palatinate, has excellent guides for biking and well-marked trails. They take you on public roads, dedicated bike paths, and farm roads, or roads where only local farm traffic is allowed. At each intersection there are well-marked signs telling you which direction to go to reach your destination.
This system works fairly well, but we still got lost a couple of times a day. It only takes one poorly-marked intersection to get lost. You look around for awhile, ask a passerby if you see someone, and then try a direction hoping to see the bike signs again.
The third photo is of my tandem bicycle that we rented. I sit in the back with a regular seat and can steer the whole thing from there. The second person sits in the front in a recumbent position. Unlike most tandems, they can choose whether or not to pedal. Jacob and Isaiah loved to sit in the front where you had a clear view of the scenery. Since I was sitting higher I also could see clearly. It was also easy to talk to each other, with our heads close together. My only complaint was that the adjustable handlebar was too adjustable, and would switch from one position to another when I didn't want it to. People would look at us and smile. It was a bike they hadn't seen before, but it is made by Hase Bikes in Germany.
On our shortest day we biked about 25-30 km and the longest was about 45 km. That is a range of about 15 to 25 miles. We had fun times and of course challenging times. I am glad we had tandems for the younger two. But it did get long at times for all of us. But the nicest thing was at the end when Jacob told me that the next time we go on a bike ride, he would like his own bike. The next time...

Weierhof, a German Mennonite center

24 hours after we left our apartment in Paris, we arrived safely back home in Indiana. Of course it was a day of waiting about as much as we traveled. But perhaps more details on this past Saturday after I tell about our last week in Europe.
A week before, on Saturday July 13, we were still biking through the Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate in English) region of Germany. Our first two nights were focused on staying in castles along the Rhine River, and the final two days we focused on two Mennonite communities. So on Saturday night we stayed at the home of Ernst Neff in Weierhof. If I was more of a journalist and less of a pastor I would have some great photos of this small community that is almost completely Mennonite. But I was more focused on visiting with people and so the one picture is the back of Ernst's barn and home.
I have written more extensively about Swiss Anabaptists migrating to Alsace in search of greater tolerance for their religious faith. This is because Alsace played such an important role for the Amish division. Jacob Ammann settled in Alsace for awhile and this became the geographic center of the Amish. But the Palatinate also played a role in the Amish division, what I would call a mediator role as they tried to get the Alsatians and Swiss to agree. Of course all these Mennonites were of Swiss origin and so had a common tradition and understanding. But now they were taking that in different directions.
The Palatinate became a new immigration location for the Swiss after the 30 Years War depopulated the area. The local lords were willing to invite even Anabaptists to come and farm in their communities.
Weierhof's significance is more recent than all that, though. One of the most important Mennonite leaders of the 20th century, Christian Neff, was pastor of Weierhof. Why was he important? He is best known for two things. The first is that he was the originator of Mennonite World Conference. Under his leadership the first Mennonite World Conference was held in Basel, Switzerland, where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet, in 1925. The second is that he was one of the originators of the Mennonitisches Lexicon, a Mennonite encyclopedia and the inspiration for the English-language Mennonite Encyclopedia that came some years later. In fact you can read about Christian Neff in the online child of the Mennonite Encyclopedia (grandchild of the Mennonitisches Lexicon?) the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
I asked our host Ernst about his grandfather Christian, saying that he must have been an interesting man. When Ernst replied, "People tell me he was interesting," his daughter Christina explained that if you are a 12-year-old boy, having a grandfather who spends most of his time writing in his study is not all that interesting.
We had a wonderful time with Ernst and Christina. Ernst was a retired farmer and long-time widower. He spoke good English and told great stories. They were wonderful hosts. Our simple meal of bread, meat, and cheese lasted from about 7 to 10. At one point they offered us Mennonite organic wine, Schoenhals was the label and Dornfelder was the variety. That led to two stories.
First I told a story. When I was gathering information about Rhineland-Palatinate for our travels I contacted the local tourism center and said I was interested in Mennonite history. So the tourism center sent me information about the Daetwyl winery, since the Detweilers are Mennonites. I read the English-language brochure and was surprised to read there that their Swiss ancestors immigrated to Germany because they were attracted to the wine-growing possibilities there. I had always thought that it was persecution that led Mennonites to the region, not wine. Christina commented that perhaps mentioning persecution was not very good marketing, and I commented that perhaps both intolerance in Switzerland and economic opportunity in Germany led to the migrations.
Then they told a story about Christian Neff. Neff was one of the first people in the area who had a car. But he employed a driver to chauffer him around. He used a stopwatch to time how long he drove him and he would encourage him to drive faster if things were going too slowly. One afternoon he was hosting C. P. Krehbiel or some other American Mennonite leader. Neff was showing him all the varities of vineyards in the region and Krehbiel commented that how much nicer it would be if all that area had been planted in wheat. According to the story, Neff said, the tour ends now and promptly brought Krehbiel back home.
But I was most intrigued with the stories that Ernst told about his own interesting life. The Weierhof sponsored a school for many years, but in the 1930s as the Nazis were coming into power the school became a public school. And eventually this former Mennonite school became one of the elite Nazi schools for educating future leaders of the party. Apparently Ernst attended this school because he lived across the road from it, not because he had party potential. But that meant that after the war the school was closed down and the community sent away while Americans occupied the school and community. When they returned a few months later, they discovered that all their war memorabilia were gone. Weierhof was then occupied by the French and then again the American military had a base there until the 1990s when the end of the Cold War brought the end of many American military bases. Ernst remembers a time when huge missiles were hauled on trucks into the base. He thought they might be nuclear warheads.
Ernst himself never faced the military draft because he was about 14 when the war ended. At that point, because they were so desperate for warriors, the Germany army was drafting 15-year-olds for the military.
The school was allowed to be re-opened, again by the Mennonites, and it was considered a very good school. It still operates today, though its church connection is not as strong, it is still influenced by the many Mennonites that continue to give leadership to it.
Weierhof today continues to be associated with the military and Mennonites. Whenever I would talk to local Germans about visiting Weierhof they would wonder if I was connected with the military. Clearly most Americans they meet are. But then I would say no, I am a Mennonite, and that would make sense to them too. Weierhof is where you find Mennonites, after all.
Weierhof is also the home of the German Mennonite Archives, which were started after World War II when the Danzig area Mennonite congregations disappeared and they needed to find a place to keep all their records. Gary Waltner is a South Dakotan who came to Weierhof many years before through MCC's PAX and married a local girl and stayed. He is the one who found us a place to stay and also helped us to bike from the Kircheim-bolanden train station to Weierhof.
When we arrived on Saturday we got there just in time for a community tea, and the women very kindly extended tea time a few minutes so that we could have some cake and coffee or tea. On Sunday we attended the Weierhof congregation. Unfortunately their regular pastor Andrea Lange was not there. It was an older congregation, at least that Sunday, where the announcements focused on deaths. Ernst introduced us and we were not the only North Americans visiting that Sunday. We met some wonderful people there.
I again noticed all the connections across the ocean. But I am also concerned that those connections are becoming thinner. Mostly historians are staying connected, but not church leaders. And there does not seem to be as many young people crossing the ocean for longer than a couple of weeks or months. For example Ernst's daughter Christina attended Bethel College and married an American. That kind of thing seems to be rarer.
But even with that concern, I was again impressed with the sense of connection we had with one another. We belong to a common family and follow a common lord with in many ways a common understanding, or at least common enough.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Paris with a bang

I'm sorry I haven't been blogging well in Paris. I guess you could say the days are just filled. There is a lot to see and my legs are very tired, as is the rest of me by the end of each day.
I have a few more things to write about our days in Germany and then what we saw in Paris. But I wanted to write to let you know that we are coming home tomorrow. It will be good to be home. It will be strange for me as well; it has been 2 months since I have been in the USA.
Here are a few photos from our first day in Paris. The first is the view of the Eiffel Tower and Hotel des Invalides from the window of our little loft apartment in Paris. We missed the 4th of July fireworks but the national day in France is July 14th, Bastille Day. So at 10:30 pm this fireworks show started that we could see from our window. What a grand way to start our time.
And now it is coming to an end. My sabbatical is still another 4 weeks or so long, so I will be filling in more details from the trip when I arrive back home in Indiana.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bacharach and Burg Stahleck

This was our most pleasant day of biking along the river. We did have rain off and on for maybe half of the days of biking, but it was never so heavy that we really needed to put on our rain coats. We biked north a little bit to catch a ferry across the Rhine. There are no bridges across the Rhine between Koblenz and Mainz, a distance of about 95 kilometers, or 57 miles.
Then we came to the town of St. Goar, famous for its large Rheinfalls castle. We found a pleasant street cafe to eat at. Then we headed to Bacharach. We arrived early and stayed overnight in a castle again, the one in the first photo. This is Burg Stahleck and it is a youth hostel. It is in great condition. The outside looks very much like a castle but the inside is just like any modern youth hostel.
A word of warning though. If you are biking along the Rhine and then staying overnight in castles, it is helpful to know that castles are usually built upon bluffs many meters above the Rhine. We had a huge hill to walk up to get to the castle.
I continue to search for ice cream flavors that I cannot find in America. Here in Bacharach, which is named after the Roman god Bacchus, the god of revelry and wine, they had a Riesling flavored ice cream and another called Waldmeister. Riesling is one of the wines that is made along the Rhine, and waldmeister is an herb called Woodruff in English, which doesn't really help me. Both tasted good.
It was nice to be able to relax a bit more on this second day after a long day before. We had a pleasant time, except for my difficulty in getting money. But fortunately the youth hostel took our debit card.

The Rhine River

After four nights in the Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, we are now in Paris where we have an internet connection again. Before I tell you about Paris I will tell you abour our four days in Germany. In some ways it is not surprising that we had no internet connection in Germany. We found the area where we were, at least, to be more of a rural area without all the connections you might find in other places. In that sense it reminded me of Indiana. We panicked at one point because Castle Liebenstein where we stayed one night did not accept credit or debit cards. So we gave them all our cash and then found it very difficult, actually impossible, to find a restaurant that did accept our cards. The worse point was when we bought some things at a drugstore, including snacks, only to discover that they did not accept our particular credit card. They did accept one that looked a lot like it but was actually different. We were wondering if we could eat and sleep. But fortunately the next castle where we stayed, Burg Stahleck, did accept our card.
We rode our bikes for five days, picking them up in Mainz on Thursday and then taking the train to Koblenz, from where we rode to Schloss Liebenstein. Unfortunately we got lost. I assumed that as long as we had a river on our right, we were on the right track. Unfortunately there is another river in that area, the Lahn River, and we ended up going down it. It was getting late by the time we figured this out and fortunately we could again take a train to get to our destination. Schloss Liebenstein is the castle on the right of the first picture, and it part of the "enemy brothers" with Schloss Sterrenburg on the left.
Jacob and Isaiah loved being in the castle. Jacob called the gift shop paradise. He was so excited that he couldn't stay out of there.
While the first photo is of the castle from the Rhine, the second is of the Rhine from the castle. We had a beautiful view of the river and fortunately were able to take a taxi up to the bluff overlooking the river.
While these first couple of days in Germany were focused on the beauty of the Rhine and experiencing its many castles, we also have an Amish Mennonite reason to be here as well. The Rhine River was the passageway for Amish and Mennonites out of Switzerland and into other parts of the world, whether it was first of all Alsace, France, not so far away, or a little farther down the river into the Palatinate, Germany, or down to the end of the river at Rotterdam, Holland, where they could depend on their siblings in the faith, the Dutch Mennonites, to help them settle in Holland, which a few did, or to find a way to America, which is what most did. So the ancestors of most Mennonites of Swiss background passed through here at some point.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


From a remote farm near Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines we drove about an hour to Strasbourg, what some call the capital of Europe, because the European Parliament meets here. We are still in the Alsace. The first photo is from Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and the second is from Strasbourg. So while one is a village and the other is a metropolis, both have a similar half-timbered Alsatian building style.

Strasbourg is an interesting place for Amish and Mennonites both historically and today. In history this is one of the cities that was fairly tolerant of Anabaptists. In the early days of the Reformation, the reformers in Strasbourg were very open to Anabaptist ideas. In fact Strasbourg tolerated both Catholics and Reformed, so maybe Anabaptists too? Michael Sattler came here to discuss believers baptism with Capito and Bucer. Melchior Hofmann also came here to preach his apocalyptic ideas that Strasbourg was the New Jerusalem. Capito was saddened when Catholics executed Sattler. But eventually Strasbourg imprisoned Hofmann. The only Anabaptists ever executed in Strasbourg were those who committed some other wrong, like the one who was a bigamist with a "holy sister" as a new wife. It was said that what other cities would execute an Anabaptist for, in Strasbourg they would beat you with rods.

Later Pilgram Marpeck came to Strasbourg and worked as a city engineer. John Calvin was in Strasbourg for a little while and met his wife there. She had been an Anabaptist.

Strasbourg was a location where Anabaptists could meet from many places. Dutch and Swiss would meet to discuss Christ's incarnation and discipline. At Strasbourg the Anabaptists were able to agree to certain issues of church order.

This became significant for the Amish as a source of the Ordnung, or church order. They draw up guidelines for membership and they could look back to the conferences at Strasbourg to say that Anabaptists had always gathered to discern together their church order.

The towers and bridge in the photo are significant in two ways. The first is that these were prison towers and so Melchior Hofmann may have been imprisoned in one of them. The second is that it was near the long bridge here, perhaps in an inn, where the first of these Strasbourg conferences was held.
For Mennonites the significance of these conferences is to see in them some tradition for general conferences like Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, Mennonite Church USA assemblies, and Mennonite World Conference assemblies. And in fact the other significance to Strasbourg is that the headquarters of Mennonite World Conference is here. Our family briefly met executive secretary Larry Miller, his wife Eleanor, and his secretary. Larry grew up in Goshen but has lived in France for over 30 years. They were very gracious in hosting us.

Attempts at reconciliation

On Tuesday we left Switzerland. It is the first time I am out of that country for 5 ½ weeks and it does feel strange. We are far away from the Swiss trains, from any trains for that matter. My plan had been to never rent a car during our time in Europe, to stick with railroads and bicycles. I prefer both of those modes of transportation to cars anyway, so it was no sacrifice. It also seemed like an appropriate way to honor my Amish heritage as I also explored that heritage in Europe. But ironically enough, as we decided to visit the location where the Amish once flourished, and where Jacob Ammann led his followers, we needed to rent a car. The owner of the Ferme-Auberge, or farmhouse inn, said that the bus just didn’t get that close. And we are indeed in a very remote location, near Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines.

We climbed through the Jura Mountains to get here, going by Glaserberg in search of some early Kaufman farms. We were able to find an old Rich farm, and a town that had Kaufmans in it, but unfortunately we missed a number of farms as well. In any case the Jura Mountians were again beautiful and I was happy to be in them. At some point we crossed the Swiss-French border.

After passing many small towns with closed restaurants we finally found a cozy restaurant that was open. We struggled in this new country with the French language. We know very little French and the French are as bad as British and Americans, perhaps worse, when it comes to learning other languages. All three of these nations expect others to learn their language, so why should they have to learn anyone else's? But the waitress was very patient and kind and with what German, French, and English we knew we managed to order a good meal.

Very quickly we moved from mountains to a wide plain. I was surprised just how flat this section of the Alsace is. Included on this plain was a small town called Ohnenheim. It was in the mill of Ohnenheim pictured above that in 1660 Anabaptist gathered to sign the Dordrecht Confession. And some 3 decades later, in 1694, another important meeting was called, somewhat related to the first. Because part of the Dordrecht confession that was accepted included the idea of shunning those excommunicated.

Palatine Mennonites were trying to effect a reconciliation between the Swiss and the Alsatian Anabaptists, or more properly the Amish and the Reist factions of the Anabaptists. Some of the Amish were still in the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. The Palatinate in Germany had been another location, along with the Alsace in today's France, that had tolerated Swiss Anabaptists. So all these folks were connected with Switzerland, but now they were in different locations.

The Palatines found themselves somewhat caught in the middle. They were accustomed to thinking of themselves as siblings in the faith and so the idea that the Alsatians had excommunicated the Swiss was very troubling. There was no idea of national autonomy. All believers were connected with one another and needed to be reconciled with each other.

So in 1694 Palatine Mennnonites called for reconciliation at this mill in Ohnenheim, Alsace. Reist admitted he was negligent in church discipline and in teaching that the true-hearted were saved, the Palatines rejected the shunning of the excommunicated, saying it goes too far. However Ammann would not drop shunning. For him that was unthinkable.

In fact some years later Ammann and his followers did ask for forgiveness for their wrongs. He admitted that he was too hasty in excommunicating Reist and his followers. He called for reconcliation. However he also continued to believe that shunning was essential and so would not reconcile unless they admitted that shunning was necessary. So again there was no reconciliation. According to some manuscripts my ancestor Isaac Kaufmann was one of the signers of this letter asking for forgiveness.

Here the the Palatines and Swiss were united in greeting Ammann's plea for forgiveness with silence. They did nothing. Jacob Gut of the Palatinate wrote that he thought silence was the best response to Ammann.

So there is an interesting, in my opinion, use of silence on both sides of this disagreement. Recall that the schism first started when Reist in practice silenced Ammann by ignoring him. He didn't come to a general conference because he was too busy farming. And then decades later again Ammann's attempts at reconciliation are greeted with silence, or what we might even call shunning.

I am a Mennonite and so in that sense I am more sympathetic with those who rejected shunning. But on this I sympathize with Ammann. The Swiss were saying they don't believe in shunning and yet in practice were shunning Ammann. I prefer Ammann's shunning to theirs. For Ammann the shunning is open and it has the goal of reconciliation. The Reist practice of shunning is veiled. Because it is done in what we today would call a passive-aggressive way, there is no way for the silenced one to achieve reconciliation. Because the other party does not openly admit that they are silencing the person, there is really no hope of reconciliation.

We are just outside Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, or what was also known as Markirch in German. This is the town where Ammann moved after he left Switzerland. This is a small town that is in the next mountain range, the Vosges. It is nestled in a valley in the mountains and it again, like Erlenbach im Simmental where Ammann was born, gives one the sense of being protected and secluded from the wider world. Amman was there for decades, my wandering ancestor Isaac Kaufmann was there for a little while.

I also have a photo of one of the many castles we saw in this region of Alsace. This is a reminder of Alsace's location as the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire, or what became Germany. It changed hands many times and there are so many castles, one supposes, because people had a great need to protect themselves from the many wars that raged across this land.

This is also a reminder that the Amish were able to live in this area because the local lords permitted it. I have not yet verified whether this was the castle of the lords of Rappolstein, but they are the ones who tolerated the Anabaptists.