Saturday, May 31, 2008

Das Doopsgezinde Domine

I have been called many things in my life, but never a Doopsgezinde domine. Probably the second largest group after Germans here are Dutch. I am accustomed to people not knowing what a Mennonite is when I tell them I am a Mennonite pastor. But I have discovered that if I use the Dutch word for Mennonite, Doopsgezinde (in Dutch "baptism-minded") then they know what I mean, though they may not know much about Doopsgezinde.

I have enjoyed learning to know the Dutch here. Jill and I have good Dutch friends in California with whom we lived on my last sabbatical. There is a couple here where the wife is very friendly and the husband comes across as kind of gruff, though inside he is actually very soft. This is not the first time I have met a Dutch couple like that. She is the one who called me das Doopsgezinde domine, which would be Dutch for the Mennonite pastor.

Many of the people in the adult sector of Taize are either at least a decade older than me, that is over 50, or a decade younger. Taize puts you in the adult section when you turn 30. I was pleased that for my supper clean up duty, I was put with younger people. I have had many good conversations. They ask very honest questions and are very open. One young man talked to me about how love of enemies led him into the Dutch army reserves as an engineer, where he can work at rebuilding. I am thankful for such conversations.
The picture shows the town of Taize on its hill. I am just about to climb the hill on my bike. I will have a few more things to say about Taize I am sure, but today I leave for Basel. This has been a week full of grace and peace.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

International and interdenominational

A central aspect of community life at Taize is that all Christians are welcome to worship here. I guess many Christians would say that about their worship, but at Taize they make several overtures to include Christians of various traditions and nationalities. The most obvious thing they do is that their worship is in many languages. We sing in Latin about as much as any language, which is seen as a kind of neutral European language. But the most predominant vernacular languages are French, English, and German.

It appears that Taize has worked more specifically with the Orthodox in recent years and so we have also sung in Russian a few times. I think another time we sang in Polish, which is also east, though it is Catholic. Earlier I mentioned Brother Roger, the founder of Taize, being Catholic and Reformed. I think that would describe the brothers also, meaning that some are Catholic and some are Protestant.

And so this is the most international interdenominational gathering I have ever attended. It is also not dominated by Americans, which since I spend most of my time in the USA is also a change.

The times in between worship are also opportunities to build community. Of course language is a major barrier, though it is amazing what you can communicate by knowing a word or three and some hand gestures. I had a great conversation in Spanish with some Spaniards who are Carmelite sisters in the Dominican Republic. I of course told them we had a student at our church who grew up in the Dominican.

I also had a sustained conversation with a German woman who did not speak much English. As I mentioned German is the most common language here, though half of them speak great English. She was very patient with me and I appreciated that she took the time to talk to me. We learned a little about each other and our churches and nations. This is one of the reasons learning German is important to me, it enables me to converse with people who are different from myself.

Coming from the USA, where the important language besides English is Spanish, it is strange how little Spanish is spoken here. So far I have met only a handful of Spanish speakers.

Our Bible study time also has this aspect of Pentecost language experience. We are taught by a German speaker probably because so many Germans are here. So first he teaches in German, then he translates his words into French for the small contingent of French speakers while a volunteer translates his words into English. Then while he is speaking again in German, one of the Spaniards translates from the English translation into Spanish for her Spanish companions. Talk about a holy confusion, but in fact it mostly works as long as you are willing to pay attention.

So this is a unique way of experiencing in a real way the presence of God amidst all peoples.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A pilgrimage of trust

Taize describes itself as a pilgrimage of trust on the earth. It is a community of brothers who live in celibacy and simplicity and worship. They allow others to join them for a few days or weeks in this pilgrimage, and the young people flock here, although this week before the major holidays it is still subdued. Taize invites us all to be bearers of peace and trust.

Trust has become the theme of my week, perhaps it will become the theme of my sabbatical. I have arrived on a continent where I do not know anyone. And so I must trust in others. Sometimes it is easy to trust, such as the people at the information window at the Gare de Lyon. Other times I am not sure how much to trust, such as the gypsy at the Gare de Lyon who provided me much needed assistance but from whom I eventually needed to separate so that I could make some decisions and get some information on my own. There was also the woman who gave me a ride to O'Hare in Chicago. Ultimately I was late but I did make it here.

Finally here at Taize I am making some friends amidst all these strangers. We are assigned Bible study groups and since I was assigned an English speaking one I have met some English and Americans with whom I have had good conversations. I was explaining the American presidential political process to the Britons and they found it very complicated, which it is.

I was also assigned a work group and there I met a Swiss woman who lives in Bern. That eventually led to an attempt at conversation with some Germans who didn't know much English, something that hasn't happened much. German is the most common language spoken at Taize this week, but many Germans speak English very well.

It is good to have some people that you feel like you know a little bit and can trust.

In the worship I realize that the ultimate question of trust is with God. Do I trust in God's care for me and for God's world? How do I continue to trust in the face of disappointment? How do I find the capacity to trust again someone who was not trustworthy about something? Trust is perhaps a discipline, a discipline I hope to cultivate here. If I can find the capacity to fully trust God even when things are not going my way, then I am on the road to maturity.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Singing in Taize

Finally I made it to Taize. I gave them my laptop to keep in a secure location. But they have clunky internet machines with awful keyboards that I can use for 2 euros for 30 minutes, or about $3. So I may send occasional dispatches from here.

There is something about travelling in a foreign country where I have only a rudimentary understanding of the language, that has heightened my sense of dependence on God. Getting onto the train was one of those experiences. I walked along the train until I spotted what looked like second class. I got on the first car, unloaded my luggage, and sat in the first available empty seat. A few minutes later a French woman began to explain something to me but she didn't know any English. Finally I asked, "Reserve?" And I realized we had assigned reserved seats. Fortunately my reserved seat was across the aisle and one row over, otherwise I would have needed to lug all my luggage in the narrow aisles to who knows how many cars away.

As I was reading a book in the train, which is what most people were doing--that or sleeping, I remembered that a week earlier when my brothers or parents would talk about what they would be doing in a week, I would say, "Sorry I can't be there, but next Sunday I will be on a train through the French countryside." So I decided I had better look out the window and enjoy. And the French countryside is beautiful. Undulating hills are green with many crops other than corn. And almost all the cows are white. Homes are old stonework. There are many straight lines, but they do not have the square quilt pattern of northern Indiana. Of course, corn and square fields are fine, but also vive la difference.

As I arrived at Taize I was nervous about what would happen here. What was it that I was looking for? How did I intend to experience God here in a way that I could not anywhere else?

The first worship answered my questions. It was a beautiful and uplifting experience. When we hosted Roman Catholic priest Brian Daley as our preacher, I tried to explain the worship to him in language that would make sense to him. So I told him, "Mennonites sing our liturgy." Liturgy is from the Greek word for "work of the people." Catholics are happy to recite creeds and litanies with the spoken word. But Mennonites complain that it seems like they don't really mean it when they have to read a litany. However if you set those same words to music, they will sing almost anything with meaning, although Rich occasionally will point out bad theology in a hymn we just sang.

At Taize also the liturgy is sung. There were also Scripture readings and a few prayers spoken by the brothers. But it was mostly sung in two or four-part harmonies. As you sing the repetitive phrases it is as if time is standing still, that you are taking part in the unending praise of eternity. I stayed for 1 1/2 hours, but didn't realize how late it was. It was good.

Monday, May 26, 2008

To Taize

I have my train ticket to Taize and so leave for there this morning. I doubt that I will have internet access there, so you may not hear from me for awhile.

Taize is a community of religious people, founded by Brother Roger, who was Swiss Reformed. But according to Rich Meyer, he also was accepted into the Roman Catholic fold without having to renounce his Swiss Reformed identity. So he was both Roman Catholic and Protestant. He did not convert, but accepted the authority of the pope. It is the only such case that I have heard of.

Taize is mostly meant for young people, but they allow a few older folks like me to be around as well. Worship is central to their life. So this is a week of spiritual retreat for me. You can learn about Taize at

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Continued delays but at least in Paris

So, since I was late in getting to Paris, that has now led to more delays. My flight to Paris arrived just in time to miss the last train to Macon that would take me to the bus to Taize. So after speaking to the ticket agent at Gare de Lyon I decided to spend the night in Paris.

I have since learned that I probably could have taken a taxi to Taize from Macon. I guess I'm not a fan of taxis and so I didn't even think about it.

As I arrived at Gare de Lyon a street beggar helped me for awhile. He got me some information and a phone card. When I realized I didn't have the phone number to call Taize, where I was supposed to spend the night, he gave me a hanky, apparently to cry. In some ways I did feel like crying.

But the ticket agent got me tickets to go to Taize tomorrow and I had a pleasant evening in Paris. The hotel is attached to the train station.

I am wondering about all the luggage I brought, and whether hauling my bike is going to be worthwhile. As I trudged through Chicago looking for the blue line, I thought of the many portages I managed with canoes and a heavy backpack in the boundary waters of northern Minnesota. This certainly is not worse than that. But it is a lot of work for the arms.

In general I have been stubborn about letting others carry my bags, but I think I will accept help now. And I was very happy to discover carts at the airport and train station. Again, in the past I have been too stubborn to use them, but now I think it's going to be an essential part of my travels.

The surprise of the day is that my flight was routed through London and so I spent a few hours in her majesty's United Kingdom. I wasn't sure what to do with the time, or what products I should buy there that are difficult to purchase elsewhere. If I had known I was going to be there I would have asked my British friends for advise.

The English Channel really didn't take that long to cross on an airplane. On the shuttle drive from Charles de Gaulle airport to Gare de Lyon I was impressed with how much Paris didn't seem that different from the USA, of course this was from the perspective of a freeway. Now that I'm in the city I have seen some of the differences. This is a very pedestrian friendly area. I ate at a small faster food place but I have to say that the food was terrific. The salmon tasted good. All the ingredients seemed fresh and carefully put togehter. I had an appetizer of a cheese with herbs mixed in. Bon appetit!

Delayed on first day of trip

The first day of my trip to Europe was eventful for the simple reason that I was late for my flight. by 12 minutes. Apparently American Airlines will not allow you to check in if you arrive less than 40 minutes before an international flight.

Why I arrived late is an interesting story in itself. I came to Chicago by the South Shore Railroad with plans to walk 3 blocks over to the Metra Blue Line. When I got to the station that I had just visited in the Spring, it was under construction. I asked someone how you got to the Blue Line now. He started to answer me but he didn’t know what he was talking about, and finally admitted it when I questioned him further.

Then I saw a woman who looked like she was comfortable in the area. She also didn’t know the location of the Blue Line, but she did offer me a ride to O’Hare Airport. She was headed that way anyway. I was surprised by this extraordinary kindness and trust from a stranger in Chicago. I thought through the risks and thought it would be worth it. She had one errand to run and then we would be on our way. It was a surprising encounter, I a Mennonite pastor and she turned out to be someone who worked in the adult toy industry. Her specialty is leather corsets but she also is expanding into other areas that I will not mention. We actually had a good conversation. She had to drop off a leather corset at a gay convention.

Unfortunately in our travels to O’Hare we took a wrong turn a time or two. Once at the airport the skycap told us to go to Iberia rather than American Airlines. I’m not sure why, but since my original ticket was for Iberia it made sense to me. At Iberia they told me to go back to American. Unfortunately we had just passed American on the one-way street. So we had to go around the airport again. But we accidentally took the arrivals rather than departures lane and then we had to go outside the airport area again and turn around. Finally we got to the right place and the kiosk refused to issue me a ticket because I was 12 minutes late.

Then I waited in a long line at American where she told me I would probably need to pay a penalty. She also said that no more flights were available until the next day. Then she said that since Iberia originally had issued the ticket, I had to go back to them. I went back and discovered that their desk was closed until 1 pm the next day. I was in despair, not knowing what would happen to me. I prayed, acknowledging that my fate was in God’s hands.

Eventually I heard a ticket agent in the back and I called to her. She came forward and she remembered that I was the pastor from Indiana, since she had called me the day before about whether I was willing to switch to American Airlines from Iberia. She had seemed very nice and that impression was affirmed by this experience. She went to the back and worked on my situation. She found a flight for me through London to Paris, going from American to British Airways.

So now I lugged my oversized (my bicycle) and heavy luggage (too many books) another time to American at the other end of the lobby. There the ticket agent said that the Iberia agent had not properly changed the ticket. But she worked for some time and called several people and finally validated my ticket. As she worked on this, she went from being kind of angry to confiding to me about how difficult it is to work at American Airlines right now. She doesn’t know if she will have a job in a few months. It sounds very difficult. She checked me in and did not charge me for the oversized or overweight luggage. I was very grateful.

So I will be arriving in Paris, God willing, Sunday afternoon rather than Sunday morning. Hopefully I can still get a train to Taize, or at least find a good place to spend the night if I cannot.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


As a child I remember watching Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? One of the questions was something like "Which group did Mennonites come from?" The options included Quakers and Amish. The answer was the Amish, but the show had it wrong. Mennonites didn't come from the Amish, it is the other way around. The Amish broke from the Mennonites in 1693. Perhaps the producers assumed that liberals would break from conservatives, but in many cases conservatives decide they no longer want contact with the more liberal elements.

There is a lot of information and misinformation out there about Mennonites and Amish. I grew up in a Mennonite home and today am a Mennonite pastor. Three of my grandparents grew up in Old Order Amish homes, but all of them left the Amish for the Mennonites when they were baptized as young adults.

I have wondered about the Amish background in my family. What difference, if any, does it make in the way I express my Christian faith today as a Mennonite? Many Mennonites are aware that the Amish divided from us centuries ago. Much fewer realize that about a century ago there was a significant merger of Amish and Mennonites. These more liberal Amish started calling themselves Amish Mennonites, began to meet in meeting houses rather homes, and formed area conferences like the Mennonites. Eventually most of these Amish Mennonite conferences merged with Mennonite ones, and they dropped the word Amish from their name, so Clinton Frame Amish Mennonite Church became Clinton Frame Mennonite Church. The awareness of this Amish heritage disappeared along with the name. My mother was baptized at Clinton Frame, but had no idea it was once Amish.

In this blog I explore the ways Amish and Mennonites have connected and disconnected through the centuries. That is why I have called this blog Amish Mennonite, not because I claim to be Amish Mennonite. Some groups still use that name, but I am not a part of them. I am a Mennonite interested in the Amish.
On the one hand the Amish are the most conservative part of the family tree. But on the other you have Amish like the Stuckey Amish (now merged with the Central District Conference of the Mennonite Church USA) who were very lenient about discipline, especially not wanting conference to ever tell congregations what they should do. Or there is Oak Grove (Amish) Mennonite Church, where the preeminent Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder was raised. So I am curious about whether there is something that binds the Old Order with the progressives. What part of the Amish heritage might still be at work among these more progressive elements?
This mostly going to be a travelogue. I will include personal details but also history, geography, theology, and genealogy. I may eventually include an annotated bibliography, but at the moment I will say that the book to read on the Amish is A History of the Amish (Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books, 2003 (revised)), by Steve Nolt, a history classmate of mine at Goshen College years ago.
Thanks for stopping by my blog and reading what I have to say. This is my first attempt at this so I hope technical issues are not a problem. Peace.