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Disillusioned


R. S. Martin
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I just can't get past the feeling that I really do have to tell my story. That's because my story is so different from the regular stories and anything and everything I say reflects it. I was born into a horse and buggy (Old Order) Mennonite community that believed education beyond Grade 8 automatically leads away from God. When I was taken out of school at the end of Grade 8, that is when my life stopped. I lived for the day when I was old enough to teach at our church operated schools. Age 18 or 19 was considered young enough but appropriate to start one's teaching career. The time came and went. Nobody wanted to hire me to teach in their school. No explanation. I was desperately unhappy all the time.

 

Somewhere along the line I started reading self-esteem books. In those books I was introduced to the idea that perhaps not everything that had happened to me in life was entirely my fault. That started my self-exploration. Eventually I discovered Myers-Briggs. Eventually I found a local group that met once a month. That introduced me to the wider world. I developeved important relationships with people in that group, one of which remains to this day more than ten years later.

 

One day around the age of forty the thought came to me as though from outside my own head: You will never get their approval.

 

I knew that meant my family and the larger community.

 

Soon after that: You've given God enough time to prove himself.

 

I had also exhausted the community's remedies for happiness. Things led from one thing to another and eventually I resolved to find happiness at all costs. That was a major life decision because I could expect to get excommunicated when and if it was discovered what I was up to. I had been a fully dedicated member of the church in excellent good standing. I was extremely careful not ever to skimp on any letter of the law. In a community where every detail of waking life from birth to death is legislated, that was more or less a significant accomplishment. The Bible and the preachers and the folk wisdom all promised that full surrender to God brought the peace of God.

 

Since I had dedicated my life to a full surrender since at least the age of fourteen if not earlier, it seemed that by age forty God would have had enough time to see that I was sincere. But peace was not mine to be had at any price. I had desperately sought to find out WHY nobody would hire me to teach. I had done all within my mental and emotional powers to be content. I consciously turned off my mind day in and day out. No matter how hard I tried to suppress my mind, I could never feel peaceful and happy. I complained that my mind was too big for working with my hands as I was supposed to do. Nobody cared. If anything, I was made to feel condemned for being unable to be happy "with my God-ordained lot."

 

It was never exactly clear to me how the community's prejudices translated into "God's ordained will" for me. As I mentioned above, I tried taking university courses. I did it secretly for fourteen months. I told all my profs and health professionals not ever to tell anyone remotely connected with my people that I was in school. They all kept mum. It did occur to me that there was something very seriously wrong when I had to trust stranger to keep mum about the most important things in my life but there was no way I could ever disclose. So great was my fear that I did not even tell all of my family at first.

 

Eventually I did come "out of the closet" voluntarily. All hell broke lose. There was a "calm before the storm" for a week or so. I struggled on a daily, hourly basis to feel good about myself and life. One day I came home feeling reasonably balanced and good about life. I put my horse away and came into the house. One of my sisters and I were living together at the time and she supported me every step of the way. She saw that school made such a big difference in my level of happiness that our relationship improved.

 

When I entered the house she told me that the deacon had been there to talk with me. That slammed fear into my entire being on a level I had never experienced before. My heart beat so wildly that I had to lie down. I expected the bed to shake from the beating but it didn't. My sister offered to take over my regular evening chores around the place so I could go visit the deacon at home. I had worked it through with new friends at school that if ever I had to choose between my people and my education, my education would go on.

 

I had also resolved that if it came to an ultimatum i.e. Either you stop your education or you are no longer a member, I would quietly withdraw from the church. I had decided what church I would go to if that happened. These two items I had resolved before ever applying to university. Yes, I got accepted on probation without high school on the strength of a correspondence course I had taken a few years earlier in creative writing. I did so well in school, winning a prize for best first year paper in my third semester, that moving to full time status was a seamless transition.

 

My resolution to quietly withdraw from the church if I received an ultimatum was based on observation of what happened when people left the church. Some fought long and loud battles for their rights and they always lost. One couple about my age just withdrew. That seemed to me like the Christ-like way to do things. I had also noticed that if a person kicked up too much fuss over something the community didn't like, in other words if the boundaries were challenged to severely, new rules were put in place.

 

Because education was my ticket out of an impossible situation, not on my life was I going to lock the door for someone behind me. There was no existing rule against higher education; it was an unspoken rule. Not having to openly violate an existing church rule had been crucial in my ability to find the necessary strength to buck tradition and do it.

 

For my visit to the deacon I collected all my text books from the social work courses I had taken so far to show that we were taught nothing that conflicted with the Bible. Everything we were taught fitted in with the Sermon on the Mount. He didn't even look at the books. He was a very gentle, easy-going man. I had asked him for advice before enrolling the first time and he did not say no. Now on that visit his wife charged me for not asking anyone's advice. Incidentally, seeking advice of older or wiser people in the community was consider the only decent way to make unusual life decisions.

 

I did not know how to respond to her charge. He cleared his throat and said, "She did ask us." I am grateful to this day for his gentleness and honesty. I was not given an ultimatum. Had it depended on the wife, I think there would have been one early on. But he was the ordained official and she was but his wife. (Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I am not a feminist.) When I left, he went outside with me. I asked him (away from his wife) what I should do when Communion time rolled round. It was August. The community had Communion services twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. It started in September. He said to continue as I was doing and if I didn't hear anything I should take communion. Communion is allowed only for members in good standing.

 

I was really at a loss what to do because I had expected an ultimatum and there was none. I did get the confession that the community disapproved very strongly. I guess there must have been a lot of talk behind my back because I had heard none of it. That was on a Friday evening. From then until early Sunday morning I was in deep contemplation about whether to leave or not to leave. By Sunday morning it was clear to me that I should leave. Yes, I was praying. It was the only way I knew to deal with such major life-altering issues. I had no idea if God existed. With my intellect I denied God. With my heart I depended on God.

 

Around 8:00 that Sunday morning I called a neighbour who attended the church I wanted to try. She and her husband were not going to church that day but they promised to take me along the following Sunday. After hanging up I was suddenly flooded with an overwhelming sense of peace and joy and liberty. It was the typical new birth experience. Yet it happened precisely at the moment when I had turned my back on God, church, parents, and all that was holy.

 

People here will argue that I was simply exchanging one church for another. Not so. It is true that I hung around churches for a number of years after that momentuous day. But in my mind I had left the church. These churches were considered by my people as worldly churches, barely worthy the name Christian. They were mainstream Mennonite but my people barely acknowledged them as relations.

 

That my own church, the church into which I had been born and to which I had given my life energies had dismissed me so easily had a profound impact on my being at the deepest level. Never ever again would mere mortals receive the level of veneration I had all my life given the ministry of the Old Order Mennonite Church. I felt no accountability to humans anymore. I stood before God.

 

To cut this long story somewhat shorter, I went through a number of mainstream Mennonite churches and never found a place where I fit in. I alway clashed with leadership early on. I could not tolerate their conversations about how to practice separation from the world. In my mind, they were the world. I told them this. I was always told I had a good point. But after some time I saw that this was just a nice thing to say to hush me up.

 

I have not been to church in a long time. Maybe three or four years since I went regularly. I still struggle with the loss of community. I feel like it is imperative to be part of a church community. Yet when Sunday morning rolls around I never have the energy to go. Even before I had left the Old Order Mennonites I had gone to church only very sporadically. About once a month or every six weeks. It started with poor health. I just didn't tell people that my health had improved. On Sunday mornings I would feel ill, which was a good excuse not to go to church.

 

I began to notice that my condition invariably improved about five minutes after services started (according to the kitchen clock), when it was too late to go to church. I understood the implications--it was psychosomatic beyond a shadow of a doubt. But I could not find the energy to go to church. I went often enough to keep people off my back. When they found out that I had been going to night school they told me to my face that it was not ill health that prevented me from going to church. I didn't even argue the point. Plans were in place by then to leave the church and nothing they said could change that decision.

 

That is the story of the actual leaving against which much of my present thinking is based. On the theological side of things, the church simply made a big mistake when it taught that "the world" was such a horrible place with people who were totally deficient morally and emotionally. It was so easly proven that the church was simply wrong. I learned via life stories in Guidepost Magazine and people in face to face relationships. Even so, I was amazed beyond belief to find that the first professing agnostic I learned to know (he was my prof for sociology of religion) was every bit as intelligent and moral and conscientious as any Christian I had ever encountered.

 

Back to the belief that education leads away from God. Had it not been for the Christian influences I encountered in my education, I would have left Christianity far sooner. In my case, education severely impeded my walk away from God. I don't know if God exists or not. I am for experiential religion, a mystic. I definitely have experiences in which it seems there is an invisible presence outside of myself. But that might be nothing but neurological events.

 

A major problem I've had with Christianity since the first time I heard the story as a child was the idea that Jesus' death opened heaven's gates so we could get to heaven. That is what I was taught. I made no sense whatsoever. At the age of seventeen when I was a candidate for baptism and had to assent to all the "I believes" I had to do some serious brain-twising. I was not in an emotional position where bucking tradition was a viable option. This forced me to lie about my beliefs. I confessed that I was a sinner and that Jesus was my saviour on the trust that with more time (when I got older) I would understand these things. The adults were always saying we would not understand everything now; more understanding would come later. By the time I was forty it seemed like I was old enough to know these things. They still made no sense. Nor would anyone explain more than spout Bible verses.

 

Maybe this is enough for now. Haven't even touched on the pain, the rage, the disillusionment.

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Hi Ruby,

 

Thank you for posting your story. I look forward to reading more.

 

What is the difference between Amish and Old Order Mennonite? I mistakenly thought they were the same.

 

Taph

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Hi Ruby,

 

Thank you for posting your story. I look forward to reading more.

 

What is the difference between Amish and Old Order Mennonite? I mistakenly thought they were the same.

 

Taph

 

Outward appearance: some difference in dress and for men in hair style

 

theology: Amish are more into shunning excommunicated members

 

church: Amish have services in homes; Mennonites have special building for services.

 

There are many different branches of Mennonites and also of Amish. What I tried to describe here is the differences between Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish. I'd be tempted to say the difference is slightly greater than between Canadians and Americans.

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Hello, Ruby

 

Welcome to the ex-christian community.

 

When you said you had been old order mennonite, that brought back memories. As a young child I grew up in a rural area that had a thriving mennonite community, but they drove cars. In the 1950's you could always tell a mennonite car. It was solid black, with black tires, and all the chrome painted over in black. Nothing shiny whatsoever, for that was considered "worldly". My sympathies for the struggle you had, wanting to teach school so badly, yet semi-shunned only because of your love for learning. Very sad. That church community wasted so much that you were ready to offer them.

 

Now you're on the path to reason and self-fulfillment, and all my best wishes for you. Please continue to participate in these forums. Your thoughts will be welcomed.

 

"Since the earliest days the church, as an organization, has thrown itself violently against every effort to liberate the body and mind of man." (H L Mencken)

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Hi Ruby,

 

That has to have been a very difficult path.

 

When I was living in Waterloo, I often wondered just what the horse-and-buggy mennonites made of the rest of us.

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Hey, Ruby! :wave:

 

Wow - you have come out of one of the toughest mindsets to ensnare people! I was involved in a Mennonite/charismatic church in the Lancaster PA area, and those people are brainwashed from birth. Congratulations on breaking out of that crazy world!

 

I know it's very tough for apostates in your position, leaving an extremist group like old-order Mennonites: the cult does a fine job making you emotionally & socially dependent, which is an excellent tool for control. I've known people who were shunned completely by their own families just for switching churches, never mind expressing doubts about god!

 

It can be tough finding your way out of all that brainwashing and conditioning, but it sounds like you're on the right path! Glad you made it here - keep it up! :woohoo:

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Hi Ruby,

 

That has to have been a very difficult path.

 

When I was living in Waterloo, I often wondered just what the horse-and-buggy mennonites made of the rest of us.

 

Are you talking about Waterloo, Ontario? About an hour and a half west of Toronto (where I see you're living now)? I am in Waterloo. The University of Waterloo is where I went with my horse and buggy the first while. I'd come in from Elmira, tie up at Conestoga Mall, and go the rest of the way by bus. I know quite well what the horse and buggy Mennonites "make of the rest of" the world. They ignore it. They think they're so much better that "the rest of you" don't deserve to be acknowledged as people.

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Hey, Ruby! :wave:

 

Wow - you have come out of one of the toughest mindsets to ensnare people! I was involved in a Mennonite/charismatic church in the Lancaster PA area, and those people are brainwashed from birth. Congratulations on breaking out of that crazy world!

 

I know it's very tough for apostates in your position, leaving an extremist group like old-order Mennonites: the cult does a fine job making you emotionally & socially dependent, which is an excellent tool for control. I've known people who were shunned completely by their own families just for switching churches, never mind expressing doubts about god!

 

It can be tough finding your way out of all that brainwashing and conditioning, but it sounds like you're on the right path! Glad you made it here - keep it up! :woohoo:

 

Thank you. It's funny--I mean, it's not in the psyche books--but I cannot be brainwashed. I can be made emotionally and socially dependent and I still struggle with these issues now that I'm out. But brainwashing just doesn't work with me. I question absolutely every last thing I'm told unless it makes sense and I already understand it. The burning question of my life has been: How could Jesus' death help us get to heaven?

 

I wasn't allowed to ask it and I didn't say it out loud. But I was an avid church-goer and Bible reader for a long time because I was sure the answer was out there. It HAD to be! It's just that I'm too stupid to see it. That much I knew. Everybody talked about it as though it were self-evident. Common sense told me people wouldn't say it so confidently if they didn't understand it.

 

We always had church services on Good Friday. It was perhaps one of the best-attended services of the entire year. One Good Friday things came to a head for me. I NEEDED an answer to that question like I needed nothing else in the world. Obediently I went to church. But as I was sitting in church and everybody was singing pity poor Jesus songs something inside of me revolted. None of the humans around me knew it but if God and Jesus are as all-knowing as they are supposed to be, they sure found out.

 

It was a spiritual crisis and I could not go on without an answer of some kind or other. It was either find an answer of throw Christianity out the window. Being emotionally and socially dependent, this was not an option. I struggled with the question two or three days. Bit by bit things came together in my head. I know now that what I pieced together was the Christos Victor theory. But it was a totally new insight for me and allowed me to live with Christianity for another batch of years.

 

When I left the Old Order Mennonite (OOM) church and went to a modern Mennonite church I still needed an answer to that question. I needed to have it confirmed in order to know it was correct. I met with the pastor and a female elder. They would not answer my question, but they made me tell what "answer" I had found. After I had carefully explained, the pastor said very solemnly, "The Bible does not specifically say so."

 

I was crushed. I wanted an answer. But he refused to give me one. He promised to preach about it in July. July was perhaps three or four months in the future. I did not understand this behaviour. It violated everything Jesus taught so far as I was concerned. But I was still too dependent to take any action other than wait out the prescribed time. I made sure to be in church for that sermon. He talked about four atonement theories. But he did NOT answer my one life-long burning question.

 

I tried talking with the elder about the meaning of Jesus, or a Saviour. One day she just told me point blank, that "this is what we believe here." What nobody told me, but I figured it out a few years later, was that they were responding to current theological issues. I didn't know that. I was speaking out of a lifetime of burning unanswered questions. I was very clear about where I was coming from.

 

I'll continue in the next post.

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A huge problem for me was the doctrine of sin. I don't remember hearing the term "original sin." My mother taught me that babies and children under the age of accountability were innocent. It was never clear to me how anybody could determine such a subjective issue in another person, even your own child. But somehow or other the church managed to do that. Sixteen was too young. Twenty was too old. You had to fit in between there somewhere. Of one thing I was very much aware at the time when I was in the class for baptism. If it were not tradition and the normal expectation I wouldn't do it. I did not feel convicted in the least. I just assumed the adults were correct when they said we were all sinful and needed saving. I assumed they were correct when they said, "You won't understand everything now but when you get older you will understand much more." I assumed they were correct when they promised that "You will learn much" in the baptism class.

 

Oh the bitter, bitter disappointment when the preachers said not one single new thing that I didn't already know! It was soul-breakingly bitter. I had to profess beliefs that made no sense to me. I had to say "I believe" to stuff that I'd heard all my life and never understood. I had no choice. I've met people who say they haven't been to church since they were twelve or thirteen. How I've wished I had that option. But I didn't. My mother was my conscience. She had me totally and completely in her control, body, mind and spirit. I dared not think or feel anything of which she disapproved. There were things she didn't know about so she couldn't disapprove. That was my sanctuary.

 

Equal to the doctrine of sin was the "we are better than the world" doctrine. In their words: We are to be in the world but not of it. I've read references to this teaching in other places on this site so I won't repeat it here. It has occurred to me that this was the church's biggest mistake. They should not have preached something that was so easily provable. For example, they preached and indoctrinated that certain categories of people were outside the parameters of grace. Not their words--they'd be horrified to have me say it this way, but this was the impression they left. Some of those categories were: divorcees, professional dancers and actors or actresses, professional sports, anybody in government office, people with higher education (except for doctors and lawyers and the police--those apparently existed for the sole purpose of making the world inhabitable for Our People). Catholics, of course, weren't much good either.

 

I learned via personal encounter and faith stories in Guidepost magazine that this teaching was false. People outside of the accepted parameters were every bit as sincere about their faith as was my own mother. If I accepted the good faith of my own mother I had to accept their's. I worked for several years as noon hour supervisor at a public school for K-5. I was so delighted to find that these people were not as bad as we had always believed. I was sure the entire community would welcome the good news if I waited for the right moment to break it.

 

One of the terms I learned while working there was "values." One day I talked about my new-found discoveries to one of my younger sisters. To prove my point, I said, "They have the same values we do." "What values have they got?" she scoffed. I may have tested the waters with one or two other people but the resistence I met with was so overt and so total that I realized they were not ready.

 

When I entered university I anticipated to finally learn what people believe who don't believe in God. That, too, was a lifelong question of mine. I knew I could count on learning that because I knew there weren't any Christians in university. I knew that because that is what the church said. A favourite story the preacher like to repeat is about a seminary prof who held out the Bible and told his students: The answers to this life's problem are no longer in this book. Thsu, I knew beyond a doubt that the university was one place where I was guarranteed to find people who didn't believe in God.

 

To my huge disappointment, the people in my first class talked about God as though God were real. I had to rethink my faith. If these thoroughly worldly people believed in God, then who was I an OOM wearing a cape dress and head-covering not to believe in God? I realize now how twisted that thinking was, but I was still automatically thinking in terms of OOM are better than totally "worldly" people and I was OOM. I had to be a "light to the world," a "good example." So I see that I was brainwashed to some extent, too. On the other hand, I think it has been found that all cultures and societies are ethnocentric. Thus, perhaps it does not count as brain-washing.

 

A few years later I took a course in sociology of religion. The first thing the prof told us was that he is agnostic. I had never heard the word but I understood that it was just a fancy term for "don't believe in God." Finally--at long long last--I got to see an unbeliever in the flesh. Finally I would get to see if unbelievers were as bad as the church said. BTW, I had left the OOM church by that time and didn't put a great deal of stock in the modern church's teachings about "the world" because so very obviously they *were* part and parcel of "the world." Their pastors were university educated, which supposedly meant they were cut off from understanding in the spirit, which was the only real understanding available to humans.

 

From this prof I heard the first straight statements about religion I had ever heard. It shed so much light on the issue just knowing that "it's all inthe feelings." That's what he said. Inside of me things clicked into place. Mom was forever saying, "We just KNOW God exists." If I pushed the matter, she would say things like, "Well look at all the wondrous creation out there, the whole of nature!" Then there was also the song my younger siblings learned in school: God is real...to me all heaven knows. And I can tell you why. His hand created all the stars that light the heavens. His tender touch brought forth the beauty of the rose...." I saw absolutely no logical or scientific evidence (I believe in God and I can tell you why) in the entire song. I felt deeply betrayed. But this prof repeated: It's *all* in the feelings."

 

I did an unofficial and unannounced case study on him. I obseved everything I could about him to see what an unbeliever in the flesh is really like. First and foremost, I was puzzled and astounded and simply non-plussed. This man was brilliant! I'd seen quite a few profs by that time and he was the most brilliant I'd yet seen. He asked the same kind of questions I did. It was wonderful finding a person so like myself. BUT what about all those sermons about spiritual understanding being the only truly edifying wisdom? I remember a preacher who had all of six grades of education thundering, "We are not an unlearned people!" He meant that we have spiritual wisdom--a wisdom that far out-stripped the best university education in the entire world, hands down. Thus, I was of the impression that nobody outside Christianity could possibly be quite as smart as anyone inside. This prof shattered that myth in a matter of weeks.

 

The next myth he shattered was the one about unbelievers being totally selfish and immoral. Self-denial was preached and thundered over the pulpit almost every time the church doors were open. In between times it was hammered into my brain by parents, teachers, adults, anyone and everyone. When my younger siblings grew up they, too, admonished me on the matter. One day when I was at this prof's office he got a phone call. Someone wanted him to do a late night radio talk show about his pet speciality. I heard him tell the other person that he had committed himself to do all he can to educate the world about this but the timing was a problem. His wife went to bed early and having him talking from their home on a late night show would disturb her sleep.

 

Two points:

 

1. he cared about his wife

2. he was willing to sacrifice sleep in his commitment to his mission.

 

This man, apparently, regardless of religious belief or lack thereof, was a conscientious and moral person. He was self-sacrificial to-boot. I took one or two more courses with him. Later I took a course with a prof who professed up front to being an atheist. What impressed me about these two profs was that, not only were they conscientious, selfless, moral and very intelligent, they were also every bit as happy and far more honest with their own feelings than the vast majority of Christians I knew. Since I knew only this tiny handful of unbelievers, that is saying a LOT.

 

Not a single item remained to prove to me that all the sermons the church preached in thundering messages across that pulpit about the evils of "the world" were totally false. Happiness, morality, and intelligence were every bit as evident in unbelievers as in Christians.

 

I have since then found that unbelievers can also be every bit as nasty as Christians but that is another story. It's a very recent discovery and one I am not totally reconciled with at this point.

 

 

I found this forum through a friend, email contact. He searched the web for ex-Mennonites and found a post of a member here who also came out of an OOM community.

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Hi Ruby,

 

That has to have been a very difficult path.

 

When I was living in Waterloo, I often wondered just what the horse-and-buggy mennonites made of the rest of us.

 

Are you talking about Waterloo, Ontario? About an hour and a half west of Toronto (where I see you're living now)? I am in Waterloo. The University of Waterloo is where I went with my horse and buggy the first while. I'd come in from Elmira, tie up at Conestoga Mall, and go the rest of the way by bus. I know quite well what the horse and buggy Mennonites "make of the rest of" the world. They ignore it. They think they're so much better that "the rest of you" don't deserve to be acknowledged as people.

 

I guess the rest of us were good enough to buy jam and vegetables from them, but nothing more.

 

Yes, I studied at the University of Waterloo for a few years, then lived in Kitchener for a bit. I still go up to Waterloo from time to time.

 

I sometimes wondered about the kids, if any of them had dreams they wanted to reconcile with life as Mennonites.

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I sometimes wondered about the kids, if any of them had dreams they wanted to reconcile with life as Mennonites.

 

I've met up with a few who said they always knew they wouldn't stay OOM. Very few actually leave Mennonitism altogether. Even fewer leave Christianity. That is my observation. My own life plan had been to remain OOM all my life. I love the culture, the language, the way of life.

 

One actually has quite a bit of control over one's destiny. Unemployment is unknown. So is homelessness. No one is without food or clothes. The young, the sick, and the elderly are cared for in their homes.

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Hi Ruby,

 

Your story is quite touching. I like it very much because, when I came to Canada about 15 years ago, I went to a Mennonite Brethren church, where I met several former "old way" mennonites.

 

Your story helps me understand them better. The "old way" life style seems opressive and primitive. I now know all that my friends had to go through just to become "normal" evangelicals.

 

I wish I could sit with you for a couple of days. I would ask you enough questions to make you dizzy.

 

Take care!

 

P.S. Have you been to Steinbach, Manitoba? They have an interesting Mennonite museum. And the best borsch I've ever had.

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Hi Ruby,

 

Your story is quite touching. I like it very much because, when I came to Canada about 15 years ago, I went to a Mennonite Brethren church, where I met several former "old way" mennonites.

 

Your story helps me understand them better. The "old way" life style seems opressive and primitive. I now know all that my friends had to go through just to become "normal" evangelicals.

 

I wish I could sit with you for a couple of days. I would ask you enough questions to make you dizzy.

 

Take care!

 

P.S. Have you been to Steinbach, Manitoba? They have an interesting Mennonite museum. And the best borsch I've ever had.

 

 

No, I've never been to Steinbach but I've heard of it and I think some of the Russian Mennonites I know came from there. I might be wrong but I think both the Steinbach and Mennonite Brethren are Russian Mennonites. I'm Swiss Mennonite. The Swiss and Russian Mennonites have a very different histories but it is possible that leaving is just as complicated and difficult for them.

 

 

You can ask me questions on here or via pm if you like. Unless you live in the Kitchener-Waterloo area and have a car actually sitting together might not be possible.

 

Ruby

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Hi Ruby,

 

That's an interesting story. I can *totally* identify with the self-brainwashing. I did a lot of it in the few months before my deconversion. Honesty feels pretty darn nice, doesn't it? :)

 

Hope to see more of your posts around here. I think your unique experience with the Old Order Mennonites could prove for some interesting discussions on this forum.

 

Hope you enjoy your stay here. :)

 

Rosa

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Hi, RubySera! You have had quite a path to tread! You are a strong individual for coming through it. I live not far away from an Amish/Mennonite community, and I'm also a decendant of Swiss Anabaptists. So I know some things about that faith, and a lot of what you've shared is not a surprise to me. My great-grandfather was a Dunkard Brethern, if you have ever heard of that church group. Kind of similar to the Mennonites; he never got a car (once they were invented!), dressed in the Amish/Mennonite style, and had a long beard. We have some photos of him. It's interesting, as far as finding out about my family history, but I am sure glad I was not born into it!

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Welcome to EXC, RubySera!

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I sometimes wondered about the kids, if any of them had dreams they wanted to reconcile with life as Mennonites.

 

I've met up with a few who said they always knew they wouldn't stay OOM. Very few actually leave Mennonitism altogether. Even fewer leave Christianity. That is my observation. My own life plan had been to remain OOM all my life. I love the culture, the language, the way of life.

 

One actually has quite a bit of control over one's destiny. Unemployment is unknown. So is homelessness. No one is without food or clothes. The young, the sick, and the elderly are cared for in their homes.

 

I really don't know much about the life (it's hard to from the outside). What kind of freedom and control over one's destiny is there in the life, and what freedom isn't there? There's always social pressure to conform, though some places it seems stronger. I would guess it's strong, from what you have said and what I've heard elsewhere. Is it?

 

I can see a lot of appeal in the old order lifestyle as I understand it. There is a lot about the modern world I wish I could leave behind, from malls to movie stars, and a sense of community would be more than nice. I left my last job partially because of the pressure to work so many hours a week with people I didn't see outside work for the benefit of a company, and I'm now working with my in-laws. There's definitely something to be said for working with your family and community, as well as for for a less individualistic society.

 

But I've always had wanderlust, and a great curiosity about other people and they way they live. I couldn't imagine not seeing thes things as interesting. I've also always been drawn to technical ideas, as puzzles to solve, and to mechanical things. I've been drawn to learning as much as I can about many things.

 

I remember how my mother wanted to be a doctor, and the closest acceptable path for a woman (at that time, in that place) was to be a nurse who should leave the profession if she married. She always thought she should have been able to do the work that she really had a passion for, and she told me this many times. It colours how I see things, and I often wonder about other abandoned small dreams like hers.

 

But I go on and on more than I should now.

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I really don't know much about the life (it's hard to from the outside). What kind of freedom and control over one's destiny is there in the life, and what freedom isn't there? There's always social pressure to conform, though some places it seems stronger. I would guess it's strong, from what you have said and what I've heard elsewhere. Is it?

 

I can see a lot of appeal in the old order lifestyle as I understand it. There is a lot about the modern world I wish I could leave behind, from malls to movie stars, and a sense of community would be more than nice. I left my last job partially because of the pressure to work so many hours a week with people I didn't see outside work for the benefit of a company, and I'm now working with my in-laws. There's definitely something to be said for working with your family and community, as well as for for a less individualistic society.

 

But I've always had wanderlust, and a great curiosity about other people and they way they live. I couldn't imagine not seeing thes things as interesting. I've also always been drawn to technical ideas, as puzzles to solve, and to mechanical things. I've been drawn to learning as much as I can about many things.

 

I remember how my mother wanted to be a doctor, and the closest acceptable path for a woman (at that time, in that place) was to be a nurse who should leave the profession if she married. She always thought she should have been able to do the work that she really had a passion for, and she told me this many times. It colours how I see things, and I often wonder about other abandoned small dreams like hers.

 

But I go on and on more than I should now.

 

 

Hi Carolyn, yes the social pressure to conform is huge. Not just for its own sake, but it is given religious sanction, too. So if you want to try out a new pattern for a dress or head-covering you might well get accused of being too proud to be content with the old traditional pattern. The difference is so tiny that an outsider would never ever notice. But the accusation could carry major consequences. If the bishop's wife had been eyeing you for ten years to get you into trouble (nobody is ever this honest with their feelings so it would be put in religious language) it could be major. You would be approached about the topic. If you did not demonstrate sufficient humility and submit to this godly woman's spiritual advice, well, it might be very ugly not only for you in your lifetime but for posterity.

 

My guess/observation is that these "family feud" items probably develop out of existing family feuds. It is commonly known which families never get along. I've heard of a case where one minister felt another minister's ordination was not conducted properly and this prejudice was carried into the third generation. This can be problematic if a grandchild of one of these families decides this fight is ridiculous or unscriptural and wants to marry a grandchild of the other family. Imagine what happens when children are born to such a couple. Life could be very complicated.

 

I have also noticed that some grudges are not held onto forever. It seems to me that a person has three opportunities in life to set his or her reputation: 1. elementary school 2. coming out of school and joining the group of young people (this is an official rite of passage at age 14/15/16) 3. coming of age at 21. In my observation, it takes something major to change one's reputation after the age of 21. This is based in part on the stories of people's reputations, and how they acquired them, with which I grew up. I managed to do this when I ceased to put up with major prejudices against me that kept me from enjoying life.

 

Getting a university education and leaving the church so I could get this education with reasonably little hassle, did it for me. As I had known it would. That is why it was perhaps the most weigthy decision I have ever made. A barely passable reputation was totally ruined, as I had known would be the case. The rewards, however, have been worth the price many times over.

 

Another example: One of my great-grandfathers was apparently a wierdo in the extreme. These stories were apparently still circulating as folk tales fifty years after his death. I heard very little of it but I understand some of my siblings were not so lucky. Hey, maybe I didn't steal my weirdness. :)

 

So anyway, you've got family reputations that must be maintained at all costs. All of this is just part of the social conditioning you grow up with. No special training required. If you're as dense as I was, you will barely notice that you're not living up to a special reputation. My dad was a weirdo, too, and I just took right after him. He cared little for reputations and reputations were more or less the undoing of me. My mother cared for them pretty much as much as she cared for food. Dad's parents cared, too, a lot.

 

None of my relatives were ever ordained to the ministry. Ordination happens via nomination and the drawing of lots as described in one of the first chapters of Acts. However, an old preacher lived in the neighbourhood and many of his grandchildren were my school mates. One day when we were all adolescents, I heard one of these say to a cousin by way of admonition, "Remember, your grampa's a preacher." Apparently, being the grandchild of a preacher had extra expectations attached, a special reputation had to be maintained.

 

I have sometimes heard about the burden of being a minister's child but I never understood the reason. As I remember this case I can see what was referred to. A minister could be backmouthed for not keeping his own children in line. If he couldn't control his own wife and children, how could he expect to control the rest of the church. If his children were exemplary, he could be faulted for not knowing what it's like raising a rebellious child.

 

These things would happen when the minister was required by churchly duties to admonish an erring member. I never heard the stories first-hand. The stories just floated around the community and became part and parcel of somebody's reputation. Not all deep and dark secrets survived the first generation, but some did and probably continue to do so. I'm not there anymore to hear the stories so I'm out of the loop. That is one thing I miss. I learned sociology by observing trends in families across generations. By piecing together the stories that floated around the community and adding observations of my own lifetime, over a period of forty years I saw three generations. That was one of the more interesting things I did while sitting in church. I'd observe all the styles people dressed their babies and little children. That said much about a family's informal position in the community.

 

I'm reading your post again. You mention the curses of an individualistic society. The opposite extreme is very oppressive, in my experience. Having to live up to a certain reputation can be brutal and debilitating if you haven't got the natural inclination to do so. Or if your natural talents lie elsewhere as mine and my father's did. Being granted acceptance and respect for who I am as a person was a new and foreign experience when I was first taking courses. It took me more than a year to trust it.

 

I think, though, that most people have a more positive experience of family life than I did. It's so complicated that I don't really know what was going on in my family. It appears that I was the family's scapegoat and never allowed to want or need anything.

 

I don't know if this answers all your questions but it's a start. I think I'll leave it at this for now and await your response.

 

Ruby

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Piprus, I just read your note. Thank you. I think I know which Mennonite group you're talking about though I can't be sure because 1. it was before my time, and 2. I've never been to the US. Thanks, everyone for your replies. I think I'm going to like this community.

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Hi Carolyn, yes the social pressure to conform is huge. Not just for its own sake, but it is given religious sanction, too. So if you want to try out a new pattern for a dress or head-covering you might well get accused of being too proud to be content with the old traditional pattern. The difference is so tiny that an outsider would never ever notice. But the accusation could carry major consequences. If the bishop's wife had been eyeing you for ten years to get you into trouble (nobody is ever this honest with their feelings so it would be put in religious language) it could be major. You would be approached about the topic. If you did not demonstrate sufficient humility and submit to this godly woman's spiritual advice, well, it might be very ugly not only for you in your lifetime but for posterity.

 

My guess/observation is that these "family feud" items probably develop out of existing family feuds. It is commonly known which families never get along. I've heard of a case where one minister felt another minister's ordination was not conducted properly and this prejudice was carried into the third generation. This can be problematic if a grandchild of one of these families decides this fight is ridiculous or unscriptural and wants to marry a grandchild of the other family. Imagine what happens when children are born to such a couple. Life could be very complicated.

 

I have also noticed that some grudges are not held onto forever. It seems to me that a person has three opportunities in life to set his or her reputation: 1. elementary school 2. coming out of school and joining the group of young people (this is an official rite of passage at age 14/15/16) 3. coming of age at 21. In my observation, it takes something major to change one's reputation after the age of 21. This is based in part on the stories of people's reputations, and how they acquired them, with which I grew up. I managed to do this when I ceased to put up with major prejudices against me that kept me from enjoying life.

 

Getting a university education and leaving the church so I could get this education with reasonably little hassle, did it for me. As I had known it would. That is why it was perhaps the most weigthy decision I have ever made. A barely passable reputation was totally ruined, as I had known would be the case. The rewards, however, have been worth the price many times over.

 

Another example: One of my great-grandfathers was apparently a wierdo in the extreme. These stories were apparently still circulating as folk tales fifty years after his death. I heard very little of it but I understand some of my siblings were not so lucky. Hey, maybe I didn't steal my weirdness. :)

 

So anyway, you've got family reputations that must be maintained at all costs. All of this is just part of the social conditioning you grow up with. No special training required. If you're as dense as I was, you will barely notice that you're not living up to a special reputation. My dad was a weirdo, too, and I just took right after him. He cared little for reputations and reputations were more or less the undoing of me. My mother cared for them pretty much as much as she cared for food. Dad's parents cared, too, a lot.

 

None of my relatives were ever ordained to the ministry. Ordination happens via nomination and the drawing of lots as described in one of the first chapters of Acts. However, an old preacher lived in the neighbourhood and many of his grandchildren were my school mates. One day when we were all adolescents, I heard one of these say to a cousin by way of admonition, "Remember, your grampa's a preacher." Apparently, being the grandchild of a preacher had extra expectations attached, a special reputation had to be maintained.

 

I have sometimes heard about the burden of being a minister's child but I never understood the reason. As I remember this case I can see what was referred to. A minister could be backmouthed for not keeping his own children in line. If he couldn't control his own wife and children, how could he expect to control the rest of the church. If his children were exemplary, he could be faulted for not knowing what it's like raising a rebellious child.

 

These things would happen when the minister was required by churchly duties to admonish an erring member. I never heard the stories first-hand. The stories just floated around the community and became part and parcel of somebody's reputation. Not all deep and dark secrets survived the first generation, but some did and probably continue to do so. I'm not there anymore to hear the stories so I'm out of the loop. That is one thing I miss. I learned sociology by observing trends in families across generations. By piecing together the stories that floated around the community and adding observations of my own lifetime, over a period of forty years I saw three generations. That was one of the more interesting things I did while sitting in church. I'd observe all the styles people dressed their babies and little children. That said much about a family's informal position in the community.

 

I'm reading your post again. You mention the curses of an individualistic society. The opposite extreme is very oppressive, in my experience. Having to live up to a certain reputation can be brutal and debilitating if you haven't got the natural inclination to do so. Or if your natural talents lie elsewhere as mine and my father's did. Being granted acceptance and respect for who I am as a person was a new and foreign experience when I was first taking courses. It took me more than a year to trust it.

 

I think, though, that most people have a more positive experience of family life than I did. It's so complicated that I don't really know what was going on in my family. It appears that I was the family's scapegoat and never allowed to want or need anything.

 

I don't know if this answers all your questions but it's a start. I think I'll leave it at this for now and await your response.

 

Ruby

 

 

Hi again Ruby,

 

First, thanks for giving me a bit more of a window into your life, and I hope I'm not pestering you with too many questions. I'd offer to answer yours in return, but I've had a relatively uninteresting life so far.

 

Strangely, some of what you write about the pressure to conform sounds like a more extreme version of why my in-laws came to Canada. They told me that choosing to do something different was viewed as denigrating what everyone else did. They also told me about a common certainty that everything about life there was better than elsewhere, leading to people in general having no desire to learn about or visit other places. I wonder if it's something common to homogenous and less individualistic communities in general?

 

What you say about establishing a reputation by the time you reach 21 and become an adult seems very harsh, almost as much so as continuing family feuds over generations. In a life of so many years, having one's reputation set based on what one does primarily before they're a fully reasoning adult seems to ignore the possibilities for change, and almost to discourage it. People do seem to life up or down to their reputations.

 

It seems strange to me, coming from a family that over the last few generations has grabbed as much education as possible and wanted more, that your reputation was ruined by studying at university (You said you were studying social work, I think? That's an interesting choice, coming from a community where I doubt that would be welcome). It sounds as if seeking knowlege is generally discouraged. Is that the case? It also sounds as if there's pressure to keep a lot of things the same, not just the level of technology. It seems to me like that would be hard to do. It's also an attitude I have trouble getting my head around, as I was one of those children who would take things apart and try to do things different ways.

 

Regards,

Carolyn

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Hi Carolyn,

 

Yes, it sounds like you're getting the picture. I suspect you could write just as interesting an account of your life situation if you took the approach of introducing your society, culture, and worldview to a person who hasn't the slightest idea what it's like being born into, growing up in, and being part of your specific society. That's all I was doing--just writing a report with some examples to illustrate. It's not as though mainstream Western culture is the universal norm though for most people in Western countries it probably feels like it is.

 

Thanks for your interest and support.

 

Ruby

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Fascinating story, Ruby! Thank you for sharing.

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