So you think you know what a Mennonite is? Well, I'll tell you what I think you think one is and while I'm at it, I'll correct you. If you think we run around in black hats and beards and have a black suit on as a professional holy uniform with our wives walking behind a step or three and all wearing long skirts to hide a barnyard shuffle, with something over their hair and smiling superiorly, you are wrong.
Or if you think that we have more than one wife, or ever had, for that matter, then I can tell you that you are wrong again. We have all hands full with one wife each.
If you think, we Mennonites walk around preaching joy but scowling two by two and wanting to sell you some pamphlets of things happening just around the next corner of time, then I can tell you we have nothing not to do with such modern cults and their 144,000 numerals, either. Nosiree.
"So what are we," you ask?
We are to the New Testament what the Jews are to the Old, plain and simple. We are almost as old as time itself by now and when we told the Pope where to go, we also abolished the doctrine of confession because we have very little, if anything, to reveal. We know how to behave ourselves and if not, other Mennonites will shove us back into our traces of respectability by taking another good look at us, or we at them, and then we will expose them to another round of disapproval by speaking all manner of stuff about each other. That helps.
Just like I said, we are like the Jews of the New Testament. We do not only think we are right about that, we know we are. And if you think you recognize most Jews just by their names like Blumenstein, Herzog, Bernstein and Weinstock, then we can match such nomenclaturing too. If any Reimer, Friesen, Wiebe or Thiessen tells you he is not a Mennonite, then either we won't have him anymore, or he or she is simply a liar.
Not only that, but if you speak to Mennonite experts they can more than likely tell you family characteristics that run through the lineage. Friesens, for instance, are very numerous; Epps are studious; Wiebes are devious and proud of their modesty; Thiessens are argumentative and bull-headed (at least so say some ministers), and high in intelligence (our father told me that), and all are careful with the dollar. The other thing we all are is from the world but not of the world.
Don't forget this one, okay.? Oh yes, there is another thing about some Friesens I know and that is that they make a virtue out of ignorance and would rather go to Belize or Madagascar than go to higher schools.
And just because there are Mennonites who think they are better than the others doesn't mean they are wrong for thinking like that.
If you ever encounter a Quiring, then you will soon assume that they are almost as average as ordinary Christians. They are the only, but also the biggest, foxes of our familial den. And about such a one, I will tell you a story. But I will only tell it to people in Russia where they have recently invented freedom of the press. Over here I would not tell anything much about this Quiring because Mrs. Dyck said it was a sin to write stories. To tell them is another matter, and if and when a story really has to be told, she would prefer that such things be left to her.
One of these Quirings, Cornelius, came to Canada after the war and he was amazing to watch. The first year he had only a hammer, and the next year he was a supervisor, always building and constructing and fashioning and "developing" as they call it here. Growth and progress are very holy cows in the Mennonite pasture, and we have managed it so that we never do it at the expense of others or of nature. Anyone who can master it is held in high esteem, sometimes overnight.
Whenever anyone ever as much as questions this Cornelius, he immediately sends his men to repair a little this or that in or by the church and then everyone is convinced that God still has his very own emissaries.
Within three years of arriving here, Cornelius Quiring considered it prost to speak Low German. Even prior to that, he was campaigning against the admission to Canada of Displaced Persons from Europe, or D. P.'s as they are called around here.
Last autumn Cornelius Quiring caused quite a stir in the community. He said that he, the M. B. (M. B. stands for Mennonite Brethren; they are to Mennonitism what the Jesuits are to Catholics and the Rothschilds to the Jews. At the other end of the scale, Mennonites can dish up some astonishing samples, like the ones who know that the earth is as flat as their singing, but, then, so can the Catholics with their Solar Templers and the Jews with their Roseanne Barrs) was prepared to settle for second best and join the local church in Grünthal "- as for me and my house -" he said, but only on the condition it would initiate a more ambitious missionary programme, in keeping with Divine Decree.
This missionary programme was barely in place when Quiring up and left for Winnipeg in response to the Lord's calling. It is from this more central station that Quiring now operates. People say that he imports only able-bodied Low German speaking Mennonites from Paraguay and gives them all the construction jobs and work they need. He pays their way here and remembers them in daily prayer, but they have to promise in writing that they will work for him, and him only, for at least three years.
So Cornelius became first rich and then wealthy and wore sharper-toed shoes all the time. Then Cornelius was soon often in Toronto. His reputation rose quickly to that of an Ältesta or bishop back home in Russia. First he was in Toronto on big business once a month and then every two weeks and so on. His wife Mathilde was beaming with pride that she had it so good and that all the other sisters in church slightly envied her husband and her riches. But then they quickly knew better and helped Mathilde praise and thank the Lord for blessings, not riches.
In Russia people might not have allowed such things but we heard that Quiring sometimes gives a lot of money to the church. Such givings work here and everyone says, `Cornelius Quiring has Rettersinn' which means he has been blessed with a sense for salvation. People know that the Lord giveth to Cornelius so mission work can grow and multiply.
As with some others dating back to biblical times, Cornelius Quiring had arrived at some silly notions - progressive they call them here - and had gradually incubated them, and as the Apostle Paul once said of such `Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it.' For a good while now, Cornelius Quiring had not only gone to Toronto on business but bigger business, still, even took him to Las Vegas. But these roundabouts are known only to him and to me; he tells me these things like a brag-confession, thinking that I would never say a thing to anyone. Even if I did "no one would ever believe you," so said Quiring, because "your headquarters are not really in The House of the Lord, I heard say." There and then he had me and we both you knew it. My credibility was not blue chip.
On his fourth visit there, he met a woman. Again, maybe. To maintain a good appearance, Cornelius entered her name as his wife in the hotel registry. That stroke of courage immediately reduced his sin by one half, for, after all, had he not had the courage to claim this woman as his wife? And who is to say that she would not even be saved by him, the Lord willing, before the cock would crow three times?
Whether or not the rest of the story is true, I don't really know because there is a part of me that says it can't be true, so I will repeat only what I remember and what I can't keep to myself any longer.
This American lady put something into Cornelius's drink and it knocked him out. A Mickey Finn they call it in such circles.
When he awoke at 5:30 the next morning, Cornelius noticed three things: that he had a wild headache, that the woman-wife was no longer around and that his billfold was empty. Then he fled, without noticing that she had also stripped the entire room of everything stripable. Security, "damn them" Cornelius told someone when he came home, had not failed to notice.
Back in Winnipeg, Mathilde was waiting outside by the porch close to the three-car garage of their villa for a ride to church, that fair Sunday morning, by the deacon, Jasch Block, when the police beat Jasch to pick her up. At least twelve of the neighbours saw her being led to the police car for questioning regarding stolen property from the hotel "Grande Mirage" in Las Vegas.