Monday, September 20, 2010

: The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians (Ephrata, 1749.)Drowning, the Third Baptism

They call it the Bloody Book, Theatre of Torture that Bush and Cheney got water torture from. If you want to make a Mennonite sing, Respighi, [listen here, while you read] his Lauda per la Nativitá½° del Signore, reechoes: Segnor tu sei desceso de cielo en terra (Lord, you have descended from Heaven to earth), that is in this body: vestito en carne humana, that is, wrapped in human flesh.

One understands Christmas, Messiah, Four Quartets, stables and cattle, but how understand the world of affliction that blazes so bright one forgets to live, where flesh, ashen at a knock at the door, beds the night in straw? We live in peace and safety the same way present day Mennonites take the thousand pages of their martyrdoms day by day, for granted, but without the blood. That was the threat that was. Something happened those nights to Mennonites. Take Christmas Eve. They couldn't get to the theater, I mean our equivalent of theirs, were up by the fire roasting, quilting, repairing tools. In the first Mennonite theater, incarnate, clad in human dress, a Mennonite was asked to separate from the world. "Free yourself from the world!" There was a rehearsal in rituals and rules of Mennonite theater that they concocted  to set them apart in plain dress, wearing wooden knives, a foolishness of action in rhetoric, but to them God had made foolish the wisdom of the world.

As a metaphor this theater shamed Aristotle's tragedy that merely wanted to rouse pity and purge fear to perpetuate the state. The Mennonite was in desperate conflict with the state that put him to death. While the populace in Athens was getting theatrically pacified and cleansed of contradiction, making society safe, in Bern the theatrical mirror saw Mennonites crucified, burned and drowned. But murder can be countermanded when peasants overcome, so European states began more subtleties in their subversion. They discovered pride, whose insistence does not arouse the noble. Seduction works, we all know that, and if not we learn it from Mennonites old and new. That was the pride that the Franconia rules were intended to prevent in the wearing of hats, but it was also of shed blood with a witness against the mirror and all its good.

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung.

American Mennonites escaped the fire to reproduce a book of tortures read in their centuries of peace. Bloody Theatre or Martyr’s Mirror was translated from Dutch to German, (Märtyrer Spiegel, Ephrata, 1748-9) to English. Two centuries of horror behind, ten American generations ahead, Mennonites still ask today, “could you forfeit your life.” Whether we have the courage to sacrifice ourselves one cannot know, failing opportunity, so they could not know what they would do. Hostage to their martyrs, denied the peace of freedom the martyrs had died to collect, “could you forfeit your life as he did” was asked again and again.

Bloody Theater rehearsed the persecutions of previous centuries by contrasting the “gay performances” of “Grecian theaters” with martyrs’ deaths. Not cheery, not “merry," "comedies,” these entertainments, were “valleys of death where nothing will be seen…,” yet “the soul will nevertheless rejoice” (6). This tantamount of horror follows the theater motif, “O that Satan would show himself, as he really is, and that the world, too, might come forth without disguise or mask” (10). We should all run from our seats.

It is masquerade worthy of renaissance shrines and anti-shrines, the House of Fame, The Bower of Bliss. In the play the leading lady, this world's mistress, with “Satan appears to be a prince or king and the world a noble princess or queen." Free yourself from the world! A Queen whose hands can ne'er be clean, and the court's lesser figures, “servants and servant-maids, who follow them as pages and maids of honor, appear as cavaliers and ladies, reveling in joy and delight” (10). This is starkly opposite the prophecy of latter day where Yahshua "should be the first that should rise from the dead" (Acts 26.23) and the least shall be as David and David shall be as the angel of the Lord. Only the bloody then are undeceived. You want to run up and ask a Mennonite how Christmas got all tied up with the crucifix.

Little child of Jesse's lineage coming, as seers of old have sung?

All they had to do was conform. They refused to conform, but without bloody hands. The "nonresistant doctrine" forbade all taking of life or resisting evil at all. Jesus' commands were literal, "give to him that asks of thee," "turn the cheek," and Paul, “resist not evil but overcome with good.” Their friends had to explain in the American Revolution that they just didn’t know any better, "their present blindness to their own essential interest proceeds from an unhappy bias in their education, and not from a disaffection to the present Government" (J. C. Wenger. History of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 61). Mennonite-disdained violence against enemies, neighbors and the world in all its sorrows in Philadelphia was the background and context of their life.

Just Say No to Goberment

The thing about this "unhappy bias" was that it was against the worldly constant of self defense, revenge and resistance. Mennonites would swear no oath, not even go against the oaths sworn by their fathers to the British king. They would not renounce the British government in 1777, not because they loved the British, but because Jesus had said, "swear not at all," and because they feared being “forsworn.” Such literalists held their grandfathers' promise to the previous King George as binding on themselves. How can you not love such intransigency?

[Part of this oath was, "We do swear or solemnly declare, that we deny all obedience to the Pope of Rome; and further swear or solemnly declare that no Prince or Person whatsoever hath any Right or Title to the Crown of Great Britain but his Majesty George the Second and his lawful Issue."] This non conformity was always an old world view, an anti-intellectualism run amok. Hostage to the time and fearing the torture their Bloody Book would produce, friends and neighbors had to keep repeating, "their present blindness... unhappy bias [taking Jesus literally] is not a disaffection to the present Government" (Wenger, 61). American government mostly blinked an eye.

It came, a blossom bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

If government blinked, their own bishops did not, for though they were against swearing and war, and favored loyalty to the British Crown (their apriori oath of loyalty before), Mennonite Bishop Christian Funk, supported the Pennsylvania government because he thought its constitution gave freedom of worship and promised to exempt from arms and the oath. He supported a war tax to the American government. So in 1778 Funk was deposed. We can all ask who is our enemy and never know who is in the mirror as our friend.

Two important issues raised by Ruth's Funk's Mennonite oaths are:

1) why did the bishops excommunicate Funk on their own authority but asked the people to reinstate him?

2) What do we make of the principle raised by Funk's dilemma that if a man is right in his vision but impolitic in its expression he is wrong?

3) What of the opposite postulate, that the man is wrong because he is wrong? (John L. Ruth. Maintaining the Right Fellowship. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1984, 153-55)
Chamberlain! Bingo! Of no. 1, is not this what they charge Socrates, but at least they don't call him by his first name! that he alienated the elders by his lack of consideration (of their feelings) and Jesus failed to defend the status quo? SURELY! Mennonites continually raise and illustrate social debate. Should the individual in the right give over truth to merge with the group (that is wrong)? Too insistent upon the truth, the world called it.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind.

The Franconia Rules of 1933

The storms of this Mennonite Theatrical glee were still alive in 1933. The Rules of the Franconia Conference of  Mennonites were still making fun of the sensitive and powerful majority world, poking sticks of incense at evangelicals and Sunday golfers. We do not have to dig deep to find these spiritual goads, for roses have thorns and spiritual Mennonites mud.

Consider how "this conference feels the necessity of urging the leaders of the church" to "not speculate on unfulfilled prophecy such as the doctrine of the Millennium" (Wenger 431). In the hundred years since Darby there has hardly been talk of anything else in the evangelical Church but the millennium. The millennium! The tribulation! An old Mennonite turned Baptist once asked, "do you still at least believe in the tribulation?" The answer must be, "I'm bleeding aren't I!" The difference about the tribulation for the Mennonites was they had been and sought to be in it while the rest hid out to escape. Non-conformists.

Take another Franconia discipline, "we as a conference, protest against the evils of the radio… condemn…the heretical doctrines on the air." You think such a proposition is against thought control, mind control to control masses, the "powers of the air," what blue states convinced themselves of. That it includes electrosmog and micro hearing effects, but it goes deeper. Mennonites prophetic think violence on TV affects the rate of high school murders and that children contract vibes from peers like virus. Free yourself from the world! Just what can't you foist on a Mennonite? Vibes in the air? Don't go to the mall.

With Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.

But what about the further Franconian theatric of "flowers and other decorations are to be omitted at all funerals held in our meetinghouses, and members are not to clothe their dead in black."

Not clothe your dead in black throws the whole school of death in a hat.  It upsets the notion that “He's just gone to a better place! We wish him well! " Say no nasty Black about the afterlife, even if preachers wear it here it is to renounce the world. Just one thing though, stop pretending the guy didn't die in his sin. Flowers aren't going to change it. None but the Rose the Mennonite sings. The flowers are there to convince cousins in the pew that they will have a fragrant not a flagrant end? When flowers fade it pictures the conflict of the world.

To show God's love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

Mennonites contradicted the flesh done up in the mortician's dress, flying in the face of custom: "dress him in black and paint his face so he looks good. He’s just off for a interview down the road." Franconians say, he's dead, now judged. Dress him up in white or red. White for sins forgiven, translucent in Christ's robe, or red for sins he carries to his bed.

Inner Adornment, Symbolic Dress

The sharpish venture of Mr. Wm. Blake into the post-modern psyche suggests he clearly saw how the "mind-forged manacles," protocols of black, bind the present while those of the primitive past are set free. Mennonites want to liberate from the "foolishness," of banking, "stylish automobiles," "bankruptcy law," "voting," public office, just about every shibboleth each election makes cool: Consume! Consume! Consumption democracy in the name of conforming individuals. They got the "plain people," over there in trouble with snaps and zippers and buttons and bows.

The unvarnished Mennonite was not much on style. Fashion, so rejected, took it hard. Plain dressers are bad for business, but the Mennonite is not solely to blame for boring the world. The Proverb said, sound judgment is "an ornament to grace your neck" (3.22) so dress in that, and the Fisherman was guilty too, who sought beauty not of "braided hair, gold jewelry and fine clothes," but a "gentle and quiet spirit" (I Peter, 3. 3-4). Dress up "with good deeds" (I Tim. 2.10). A deacon is not measured by his banking prowess but how he will "manage his children and household" (I Tim. 3.12). Mennonites sound like and dress like Orthodox Jews whose best adornment is the tefillin: "tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads" (Deut. 6.8). A sign on the hand and a symbol on the head, embodied in phylacteries symbolized the literal exaltation of the Name and the Word of Yahweh upon the person. Don't they belong together, Franconia and Torah? Symbolic dress stimulates spiritualness, ages that at one time appreciated the new Millenial London, Paris, Rome now wear t shirts of Metallica.

Vestito en carne humana!

"Maybe it's not the Mennonite we should blame for dramatizing this, but the Bible." World Empire is much against the Bible, substitutes for it Web bound cocooned desire. "It's a good thing there are so many different versions, we can be comfortable and not have to surrender to the Order of Christ," says the Internet army: "There's truth and room for all you can be. There is no one right way."

This argument still says, "well if this country wasn't free, then where would Mennonites be?” The answer is, back in the old country dead, no doubt. But when they wheel you out to disciple yourself to this edge, there is more to it than heaven and earth. There is the Sovereignty of God. Ouch. There is the predestination of the Elect. No! There is Providence. Oh! Take Mennonites for what they're worth, truth in opposition to the world, and not for what they're not worth, founding the fourth world empire. Free yourself from the world.

Don’t affiliate with chorales says Franconia. The horror! Or theater recitals (a little disingenuous) . Never! Or academies. Set an example of abstinence, not drain the dregs of the cup. Their Confession in its absurdity to the modern contrasts nicely with those current school codes for children: "Please don't OD in public.
"Please don't commit suicide at home. Please don't blow up your high school or take ecstasy and drive, but you may prolong your adolescence into your 50's. We did!"

Mennonites think skeletal resistance, life as art, for Mennonite theater is the theater of the heart. The actors took off no caps. There was no stage. The audience changed. Or not. There was no show. The show went on. It was living.

Hypocrisy In The Camp

Old Mennonites doubled down when it came to the charge of children that they are hypocrites. It isn't hypocrisy that "vitamins are valueless" until we hear about vitamin D. These are counted as sincere vs. the hypocrisies there: "Believe in evolution until we tell you it is superseded by the transhuman, then believe as told, if science is wrong it is just more right."

Mennonite separation from the world was so great that their field of contradiction was even greater. Viewed as failures at the Gates of the Commandment, the higher you climb the farther you fall, but a long fall urges sympathy for the underdog, so then you're back up. Fall from a standard of worldliness and your children won't hold you in contempt. What  are they gonna do, tell you you were worldly! Get angry, be foolish, smoke to death, go to concerts (if you must!) disagree with neighbors, show your prejudice. You don’t measure up to TV morals or the news, let alone PBS. But if you believe you should sacrifice your life and fail from that then all the suckers for the high ideal hold you fail as you succeed. If you simply want to please the world you cannot be said to fail. In the religion of social position one size fits all. But faith falls on pebbles and hard rocks.

Oh flower!

Maybe the small "c" in contradiction proves Mennonites are not Adepts. It's just that some contradiction is honorable, some not. It's hard to meet a pretentious Mennonite. Maybe that’s a sign their ideas are working. Mennonites wrote 4 books in 150 years. Not long on theology, they consider eternal security speculative, the millennium debatable, but believe in spiritual community, mutual submittedness, the small group over the large. You might call it Mennonite mythology that opposes a culture which says "do what you will is the whole of the law." Free yourself from the world. There is a cloven dimple on the chin of doubt. Why are you doing it? The flesh, the sin nature throw up the hands, shrug the shoulders. Are you sure you couldn't do more? Or less? Preparation for heaven laments a failure of the could, but there is no shirking of the would, language that gives psychology a holler.

In Bunyan's tale, Christian on the road to God is distracted by the world, by Vanity Fair, flesh, its weakness. This unsubtle moral came to Puritan land. Hawthorne's preacher, Dimmsdale, preached the sin he was most guilty of. We go from that to repeating that "public moralists practice the secret sin they most condemn."  William Bennett, the living moralist, is addicted to gambling. Guys and prostitutes in Sunday sermons practiced that on Saturday night. Public morals are protective covering. Right again. Right is wrong! That's why they say the devil has twisted rhetorical triumphs. Arguments with this devil go on forever. It always is what if?

Consider thy do-gooders where all men are created equal in the blurb. Speak to immigrants when they cut your lawn, says Colin Powell, but flame against offenses in newspaper codes. Could Jesus talk to them? Blake? Socrates? Put to death nonconformists with the Mennonite. Well, Blake escaped.
Moralists of England, moralists of France,
 how you disrobe your hierophants. 
Leaving only those who kill for peace, lie for truth, and stand up for the fundamentalist liberals of earth.

But let us go back to yesteryear, to that era long ago.

Freedom of Conscience

Part of the purpose of Mennonites as precursors of Gandhi and King was to understand the oppressor, not a Christian’s favorite thought. Apostle Paul echoes the judges who put them all to death. In his own words to Agrippa, “I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them [like the judges above and below]. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them” (Acts 26.9-11). He shall see what great things he must suffer for my name.

The Mennonites were blamed for corrupting the State Church like early Christians were of corrupting Saul’s synagogue. Keep reading that sentence. On the other hand the keepers of the state strike you with the pious, as related in the death of Hans Van Overdam, 1550: “we were all betrayed by a Judas...who seemed to be one of the most pious of all the brethren that were there, so successfully could he practice his deception” (Theatre, 487). Watch out for the pious of protective covering. These must always be the greatest offenders, like Saul, Dimmsdale.

The second principle of subversion is dialectic: “...they imprudently allowed themselves to be drawn into disputations with the false prophets, though they had been sufficiently warned...for it is not given to everyone to dispute...when these poor lambs engaged in controversy, they became perplexed in their consciences.” Finally, “the poor, ruined lambs were released from prison and recanted everything...” (Theater, 487).

Mennonites were asked to kneel at Caesar's hand and call him good. They were asked to conform, believe. When you start giving your life to what you are supposed to conform to, where do you stop? Will you die to wear a beard? Will you die to be sprinkled, immersed? To publicly confront authors? To speak a certain language? Where does freedom not force its quest? Into symbolic speech and beyond!

There is danger however when different members sacrifice in varying degrees and if all are made to feel that the greatest must obtain for the least. You could go to death as much from tyranny of your own group as from the oppressor. Cannot the group confront the dominant force without your death? When it becomes dominant, will your group do what was done to them? Some Mennonites symbolically shunned offenders. Some sent a death certificate to the parents of a member who gave the local elder some offense.

After the fact of their tortures the question for American Mennonites was whether they too would leave their “flesh on the posts” of the “strait gates” (Theatre, 6) over issues of how to worship God. The reference to the strait gate means narrow, “strait is the gate and narrow is the way.”

Moral Confidence

Oh flower!

Not only Mennonites face the quandary of courage and choice. Psychiatrist Robert Coles found a parallel in Bonhoeffer’s resistance to the Nazis. He was executed before war’s end. Asked “what would you do under such circumstances, under Hitler, if you were there, back then,” Coles replied, “by the time that question had been put to the class, not one of us was able to answer with any moral confidence.” (Coles, 198-99).

Free yourself from the world? Coles cites his teacher Niebuhr that there is only a “potential disparity” between psychiatry and religion, counseling that “stresses of social adjustment” and religions like Mennonites diametrically oppose social accommodation. But there is a polar disparity between psychiatry and total committment. Counseling stresses adjustment. Normality means avoid conflict, anxiety, depression, not to continue“the essential ‘madness’… that won’t settle for the rewards of social conformity.” Social conformity, promotion, tenure, couldn’t counsel Bonhoeffer out, so he was martyred like Mennonites, who were always social heroes.

Another problem of Accommodating Ethics occurs when Coles and his physicians confront malnutrition in Mississippi to be in turn rejected by Washington bureaucrats. RFK tells them that the real problem is the anger and pride inside themselves. Yes Kennedy was a Mennonite. They think malnutrition is an object. "Why can’t the government see it? We’ve done all we can." But the problem is inside them.

It's the same with Bonhoeffer. Niebhur says. “we looked up to him as if he’d been sent to inspire us" ( 201), but they didn't go back to Germany. As Crito does with Socrates, they urge his escape. Martyr and hero find themselves in an accident of time with a fixed purpose. Fixed purpose!  The Mennonite martyrs don’t give in. Why not, they could have lived? "The difficulty my friends, is not to avoid death, but to avoid unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death" (Mennonite Socrates). When the audience far and wide, Niebuhr, Coles, Crito, Mennonite congregations of the new world, sees the problem outside focused by another, they are the problem.

The extracted conscience portrayed in homily and false dilemma caused Mennonites to mourn their weakness, claim they couldn't chose. What would you do? What would you do? The answer is either to die or betray and be left with the endless guilt of words. The weakest ethical offenders make the greatest moral defenders, the greatest adulterers. It is why the flesh beds the night in straw. But look, who is that beside?

O Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.

The Life Within

How does it get there, the life within? They don’t say. Commonplace in small deeds, unnoticed acts, choices, hard stands in the attitude. I’m no hero. High flying words, advanced degrees plagued with their fears that they are not good enough. So don’t be good. Profiteer your doubt. It is always a curse to be ever observing conscience outside and not in life.

There Are No Liberal Martyrs

What makes an intellectual anyway but doubt and information? If it comes to debate about liberal righteousness the response is ad hominum. "What have you done," a liberal asks as if heroism were PR and you cannot see in the human face all of its acts. Controversy between the inner and the outer smacks of those pietists of the soul, who do not fit the Social Adjustment Franchise@Assassinating Pietists, that is, Albrecht Ritschl (History of Pietism, 1880-86), “so overpowering and far-reaching that today, outside the small circle of specialists, pietism is still generally associated with anti-intellectualism, hyper-individualism, and holy-group separatism… (Heiko A. Oberman, preface in Johann Arndt, True Chrisitanity, NY: Paulist Press, 1979, xii). This “antagonism was continued by the Protestant dialectical theologians of this century, chief among whom was Karl Barth” (Peter Erb in Arndt, op cit, 1). In the end you can be a martyr if you just give up and surrender.

This is not to say tests don’t exist for the masses of their racist thoughts and crucifixion of their depressing lives without faith in the sacrifice of their children. Sacrifice to Moloch, who wants to be a moral hero? Everyone. Who doubts their commitment? Everyone. You’ve got to find it in the belly not the brain.

The “defenseless” took much of their inspiration from the early church: “even the Roman bishops, in the first three hundred years, were mostly all martyred”(Theater, 357). The point is that “true Christians have never persecuted the innocent, but were always persecuted themselves” (357). For the modern era, this raised a question for Mennonites as to whether they were true Christians, not because they had attained the inner state of Arndt’s union, but because they had been persecuted enough. Outer trumps inner again. Of old they were persecuted by institutions that no longer exist, “because they did not obey the mother holy church and the decree of the Emperor” (357- 58). When church and empire were survived by free will and democracy the defenseless had a hard time coping.

Shunning

True Christians never persecuted the innocent; “the holy apostle commands no greater punishment for heretics, than to shun...Tit. 3:10” (Theatre, 359). New world Mennonites shunned their own nonconformists, either heretics of doctrine or of the flesh taken in the world. It is hard to get a list of offenses. One might do as mindset directed, punishment mediated as the group would, men treated differently from women of course, according to the sin.

Heresy was not the original edict for which shunning occurred; it was style of life. It might come from wearing the bonnet, driving a car, or sleeping with the choir director. The motive for such rigors derives from “former times, in the times of the cross, when men could assemble only under peril of their lives...” (Theatre, 361). Then, “heavenly riches were sought above all things; for earthly possessions were altogether insecure.” But in a time of peace, failing persecution, “simplicity is changed into pomp and ostentation. Possessions have increased but in the soul there is leaness” (361), which sums up a large part of Mennonite schism, that the world had overtaken Christian in his race. Without persecution to stir his ardor he was subverted by his possessions. John Herr inspired his Reformed Mennonites with calumnies of their brothers’ worldliness.

True Man, yet very God, from sin and death now save us.

Persecute Yourself

Free yourself from the world sounds a little strange. With inner and outer so opposed how could it be other? Depression is caused by suppressed anger. “For, though outward persecutions now and then cease, yet every Christian is called to sufferings and conflicts...each must live, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; each must suffer in the flesh, that he may cease from sin.” (361).

The understanding is that when the outer world suffers, the inner is at peace, but when the outer is peaceful the inner suffers. There was one way out of this,“if you then find, that the time of freedom has given liberty and room to your lusts, persecute yourself, crucify and put yourself to death, and offer up soul and body to God.” (361).

The whole argument of Bloody Theater is that without persecution Christian falls away. But how long can you persecute yourself? Inner hair shirts and psychological flagellations call to repentance and self doubt. These applications of mind-body dualism become a theology of depression, for what better or more accessible way is there to persecute yourself than to accuse yourself  that you are unworthy, guilty, weak, don’t measure up? Others beside Mennonites do this. What could be their motive?

It can also be a theology for oppressing others. If you don’t measure up how could they? Little is said of that reading of the Gospel that absorbs mind and body in one new man, that is, of the one who doesn’t persecute himself but renews the mind.

Mennonites were caught in a warp when there was no persecution by church and state in the new world. Without persecution where was the motive for “words and colloquies in edifying instructions, and awakenings toward godliness?” When the outward persecutions cease, “examine...whether...you have not lent your tongue to please frivolous, worldly men with vain and useless talk...whether you did not defame your neighbor’s good name...by lying and deceit ministered to avarice” (361-62).

This reads like the confession of every church teaching repeated in the pulpit: “Many, when they could not use the world, turned of necessity to God, as their nearest refuge; but as soon as a little breathing time set in, they again began to lean towards the world; the parents became rich, the children luxurious and wanton; the world caressed them, and in course of time they became respected and lifted up; the reproach of the cross was relinquished, and the honor of this world stepped into its place.” (Theater, 362). So 16th century religion menopaused to the present.

 The breathing time included before its end these dictims of secondary and tertiary response to separation from the world:

"All our lives we had lived in a constant struggle over issues involving the use of chain
saws, neck ties, oil stoves, drains in bathtubs, the number of pleats in women's
veilings, chrome cupboard-door handles, lawn chairs, white figure skates, flush
toilets, unpainted barns and painted implement sheds, roofs on silos, hydraulic
cylinders, motors on grain binders, contact lenses. . . .Peter Hoover III, Mennonite


In broader context however the martyrs of all denominations and names played a formative role in the freedoms of civilization breaking the yoke of Church and Empire. Some would say that all freedoms stem from this while the Anabaptists might say that modern freedoms are themselves a persecution.

Two Wrong Paths

There are then two ways to go if you can’t be godly and prosper, or be persecuted and betray; how can you live? It’s like what Socrates tried to teach, rein in extravagances to achieve self-government, or everyone's late favorite Chaung Tzu, "free yourself from the world."

The psychologists of the world that Mennonites disdain have raised a question as to whether Mennonites harbor a death wish by making people murder them. The world is so filled with loathing psychiatrists will help you they persecute yourself. If only the stubborn would let go of that fixed idea we could let them live in peace. That we might let them live at all is the catch, for by what right is this rule except tyranny? Only by the rule of onformity. On similar grounds I. F. Stone charges Socrates for what he argues is a deliberate aggravation of his judges, the jury of 500. Socrates early and late practiced theater against the world. He says, "me you have killed because you wanted to escape the accuser and not to give an account of your lives" (Jowett).

That is the point, the world will do anything to anybody to avoid facing itself. The It-Self here is the operative word. In Mennonite terms the unclean garments the It-Self wears are just opposite the garments of the Lamb. Socrates wants a man to do nothing common or mean when in danger, nor to use any cowardly way of escaping death, even in war, so he refuses escape and all the petty escapes of his sentence urged upon him.

In much the same way the old world took Mennonites to death and prison. The new world was more happy but still had consequences, for this is how the lawless think: you could steal their cow and they won't prevent it! "What do you say about going over and getting some corn?" It was thought you could do just anything to Mennonites. Pacifism encourages lawlessness. Of the French and Indian War Wenger says "there is no evidence that Mennonites used self-defense in any attack made upon them" (58). For the evil-doer the only danger was their inability to calculate who among the Mennonites were truly devout (thus nonresistant). The cry of the devout, "vengeance is mine, I will repay" echoed with "because he loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue him." But human contradiction is as great a force as piety. There is danger to a thief who comes upon a lapsed Mennonite and gets a beating. You can't always tell whether it was Harvey or Philip Mack coming down the road.

What is the inward nature of the Mennonite today, the defenseless Christian in name? When Funk began his crusade to bring them into the American Revolution brothers and sisters were able to abstract their desire not to kill into not to pay war tax into not swear allegiance. The heart of legalism abstracts issues from specific to general. Not to work on the Sabbath then means not to heal. Not to kill or do harm means not to support those who do. Colonial Mennonites couldn’t swear the oath any more than Huckabee believes in evolution. Why should either? Pledge allegiance or pay the tax, but reservations occurred. Be at peace before communion is an example. Men apologize to the church, shed tears, confess in public adiscourtesy to their wives they haven’t yet told them about! Sham suggests doubt.

The Adverse Party as the Advocate

Pick on Mennonites? The defenseless? No. No more than Israel you idiot. I will revenge, I will repay. So let us see the higher good and rejoice in the happy fall to earth that is our own. Consider righteousness with an anti-Petrarchan view, as late Elizabethans did. Beauty is not meant to magnify contradiction, but to “show the adverse party as the advocate,” as Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXXV designs. Mennonites are as deep conflicted as any “clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun / And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.” The ideal cloys. The only problem with Roger Clemens' false innocence is Marion Jones'. We must turn it upon its head to see what's really true. Good humor is more tolerant than law. Maybe it is the only true love, realistic clay about which not much is said, does not need to hide the ill, indeed confesses aplenty, to urge “no more be grieved at that which thou hast done.” No more be grieved that is the sum.

Water Torture

In Switzerland, some who carried wooden knives in their belts to show their contempt of murder, were  dragged behind the boats of Lake Geneva. Much in the way of torture and oppression was practiced against them, especially as noted in the Mirror where Mennonites and Anabaptists were tortured for their views on communion. It was like the theatre of Rome informed the martyrs’ trials.One of the favorite traditions of torture in Zurich and Geneva was drowning in a bag. This precursor of the American water boarding of its terror suspects has never seemed to receive its due, especially since it was the widespread and central technique used in the Spanish Inquisition. Why did opponents of this in the Bush years not trumpet the Inquisition connection? Of course nowadays drowning has been give up for drones. To a Protestant people that should have sealed its condemnation. "In the toca, or water torture, the accused was tied down on a rack, his mouth forced open, and a toca, or linen cloth, pushed down his throat. Water was then dripped onto the cloth to simulate the sensation of drowning" (Robert Hughes, Goya, 59).

In their “kindness” the authorities of that time coaxed a general confession first, conducted in the leniency of their compassion to surrender up of one’s Mennonite fellows and parents. One example among many, a “Miss Elizabeth,” for whose sacrifice only one cure can occur, in a first arraignment was accused of being a teacher. Beadles found a Latin Testament. The horror! When asked to take an oath she replied that “we ought not to swear” quoting and liberally believing that same testament of the words of Jesus that centuries later her family believed. Nor would she identify this family or her friends. She said the phrase “holy sacrament” did not appear in the Testament. She failed the test of infant salvation through baptism too. Off with her head! She failed the exam of Papal ordinance general.

A second audience was required to show her the severe arm. She was reexamined in a chamber: “but as she would not voluntarily confess, he applied the thumbscrews to her thumbs and forefingers, so that the blood squirted out at the nails.” This earnest catechism of confession further despised, examiners “applied the screws to her shins.” This called for her to elicit associates’ identity more than admit any particular "crime." Oh she was hard hearted. And since “they obtained not one word from her detrimental to her brethren in the Lord, or to any other person,” along came the spider and sat down beside her and she was “drowned in a bag.” Although she was held from January 15 until her execution on March 27, 1549 (Theatre, 482-83), this was her last offense.

                                          In a world owned by bullies you want to knock down,
from  militancy everywhere in the wars
to the cry of justice for the weak against the five kings Joshua found
hiding in a cave-don't stop! Pursue your enemies-
when he summoned the commanders of Israel- 
put your feet on the necks of these kings,
to the cry of the blood of martyrs before the throne,  
vengeance is mine, I will repay,
to Elizabeth's husband, pacifist Marvin,
who broke the head of a burglar with a door
one night in their home at age of 85, but repented!
It's easy to like Mennonites.


"All our lives we had lived in a constant struggle over issues involving the use of chain
saws, neck ties, oil stoves, drains in bathtubs, the number of pleats in women's
veilings, chrome cupboard-door handles, lawn chairs, white figure skates, flush
toilets, unpainted barns and painted implement sheds, roofs on silos, hydraulic
cylinders, motors on grain binders, contact lenses. . . ." PeterHoover III, Mennonite

Works
The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians. Thieleman J. van Braght, tr. from the Dutch edition Of 1660 by Joseph F. Sohm. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1964. Thanks to the Paradise Valley Mennonite Church for the loan of this book.

Robert Coles. Lives of Moral Leadership. NY: Random House, 2000.
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press. 1966.
I.F. Stone. The Trial of Socrates. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1988.
J. C. Wenger. History of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference.  Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1985.

Some Reading:
The physical book
Escape From the Bloody Theatre: The M. Stories. Magdalene Redekop.
Stick Up! [or, "Mennonites and Muslims] AE Reiff, elimae, April 2007.
Jacobo Timerman. Prisoner without a name, Cell without a number. 1981.