Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ancestors: Menno Simons

The story of the Mennonites is an interesting one. It began with a man named Menno Simons. He is probably not really one of your ancestors, but he did start the church that took his name. Annie's ancestors, the Schroeders and the Schmidts, and some others were believers and that had a lot to do with where and how they lived. So I'm going to start with a little history of Menno, and work out from there. The story is way too big for one post.

Menno was born in 1496. He lived in the Netherlands in an area called Freisland. He became a priest in the Catholic Church in 1515 or 1516 - which would make him 19 or 20. I also have him becoming a priest in 1524. So I am guessing that he might have started his studies at 19 or so, and been ordained at 24 or so.

The Netherlands, at this time was torn by wars and lawlessness. The Hapsburgs, the Duke of Guelders, and the Duke of Saxony-Meissen were all fighting for power and control, and the people were caught in the middle. There is way too much history for this short post, but suffice it to say that war was pretty personal in those days, and that when the people were caught between the armies that they suffered greatly. No matter who eventually won the war, they always lost.

I'm going to quote from Wikipedia about Menno's exposure to the Anabaptist's, and his eventual rejection of Catholicism:

"Menno's first knowledge of the concept of "re baptism", which he said "sounded very strange to me", came in 1531. This came through the means of hearing of the beheading of Sicke FreerksSnijder at Leeuwarden for being "rebaptized". A renewed search of the scriptures left MennoSimons believing that infant baptism is not in the Bible. He discussed the issue with his pastor, searched the Church Fathers, and read the works of Martin Luther and Heinrich Bullinger. While still pondering the issue, he was transferred to Witmarsum. Here he came into direct contact with Anabaptists, preaching and practicing believer's baptism. Later, some of the M√ľnsterite disciples came there as well. While he regarded them as misled and fanatical, he was drawn to their zeal and their view on the Bible, the Church, and discipleship. When his brother Pieter was among a group of Anabaptists killed near Bolsward in 1535, Menno experienced a spiritual and mental crisis. He said he "prayed to God with sighs and tears that He would give to me, a sorrowing sinner, the gift of His grace, create within me a clean heart, and graciously through the merits of the crimson blood of Christ, he would graciously forgive my unclean walk and unprofitable life…"[5] "

It is hard to imagine how very different it was to live back in the 1500's - or even the 1800's. Now it is hardly a matter to raise an eyebrow if a Lutheran marries a Baptist, or if a Mennoite marries a Methodist. I guess eyebrows are still raised if one of them marries a Mormon, but that is a post for another day. When I was growing up in the early and mid 60's, there was still a lot of strong feelings about Missouri Synod Lutherans marrying an American Synod Lutheran. You still sent Christmas cards etc, but you had to watch those American Synod guys - they were pretty liberal. I say all of this not to poke fun (too much) but to try to illustrate that changing from being a Catholic Priest to being and Anabaptist was not just changing religion, it was like changing species. Yes, Bill decided to become a Romulan. Or maybe a Vulcan.... Klingon? Chimpanzee? You left your family and friends behind. It was Chava eloping with the christian Fyedka in 'Fiddler on the Roof'. It was hope and heartbreak rolled up together. Bittersweet.

Leaving the Catholic Church was leaving the mother ship. It was leaving not only the predominant faith, but the Church that stood behind kings, the Church who had many Popes that were in reality powerful kings in their own right. You were leaving a church that didn't like quitters, and might well ask pointed questions, and pull off your arms if they didn't like the answer. Leaving the Catholic Church pretty much consigned you to hell on earth in many ways, if not hell eternally. So it wasn't something that was done on a whim, or without thought.

Annie's family belonged the the Alexanderwohl congregation of the Mennonite Church. This congregation is remarkable in that it's roots can be traced back to the mid 1550's. It started in Flanders, in the Netherlands and moved many times. Each time a move was made care was taken that none were left behind. When the different branches of my family moved, first from Germany to Russia, and then from Russia to America, they moved as family units. When the families in the Alexanderwohl Church moved, they all moved, or all that wanted to go.

Well it is late now, and I'm about ready for bed. A lot of the early history of the Church is kind of sketchy. Most early histories are a little sparse with the details. That very lack of detail seems to call to me, whether the story is in the Scriptures, or in an old family history. So very much of the story can be lost by not having the details, and not taking the time to try to imagine what really was happening. Let me quote briefly from 'The Story of Alesanderwohl' by David C. Wedel:

"The origin of the Alesanderwohl congregation takes us to Flanders, a province in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century. During the years 1556 to 1565 hundreds of these Flemish people fled the northern provinces of the Netherlands because of the severe persecution and settled with many others around Amsterdam. During the first half of the seventeenth centurey, 1600 to 1650, and even before, many of these people migrated to West Prussia. They settled in the Danzig area, between the Vistual and the Nogat rivers.

.... They were promised religious freedom and were welcomed because of their farming abilities. They built beautiful farms, planted orchards , established roads and water canals and their Holland windmills beautified the countryside."

There now, wasn't that easy. in just a few paragraphs we have them easily leaving the faith of their fathers, pulling up stakes and moving to Amsterdam, then West Prussia - this is several hundred miles, and all by wagon. They we have them building houses, farms, road, and canals, and planting orchards, and having beautiful farms. There is nothing wrong with recording all this, but I hope that you will take a little time and think what it takes to plant a garden, yet alone an orchard. How much work is it to spade a garden, how much work to 'establish a canal'. Yikes. They were a hard working, faithful, pious people. I'm sure they had their faults and foibles, but people you can look to for an example of how to live, and what can be accomplished by persistence, consistency, and working together for a common end. People you can be proud to have in your family tree.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Scripture Guys - Pioneers

Sometimes when I am reading the scriptures, I find myself so relaxed.....that I wake up with an embarrassed start. But sometimes, and not often, they seem to open up, and I can almost drop into a scene. Today Brother Alstrom caught me coming up for air, and called on me. I had heard him speaking, asking a question and when he called on me, all that I could do is to answer with a stupid 'what?'. For me there is no quick thinking at such a time. I told him that I had been reading ahead, and he had me read some more, which was kind. I suppose he could have had me write on the board or stay after class or something.

What got my attention was in D&C 136, where the Saints are being instructed about going west.
  • They were going to be organized in companies of 100, 50, and 10 with captains of each, and under the direction of the Twelve. So far so good, but think about that for a few minutes. As I looked around our class, I thought, and I apologize for this mean spirited and spiteful thought, but I thought Yikes! I don't know if there are very many that I would want to follow on a camp out, yet alone a trek across the Continent. Yes, I know I am a sinful, faithless judger, but what I'm trying to say here is that many of them must have had the same kind of feelings, but they had a great amount of faith, and went forward with it.
  • Verse 7:" ......then choose out a sufficient number of able-bodied and expert men, to take teams, seeds, and farming utensils, to go as pioneers to prepare for putting in spring crops." No Walmarts, no Safeway.... no nothing. Send out some able guys and have them build instant farms and get a crop in so that there is something to eat. Also, if you are one of the able guys - yikes! Not only do you have to go clear across the country with a wagon, but as soon as you get there, start clearing land and plowing up the sage and greasewood ASAP and get that wheat in the ground. And while you are at it, start digging ditches and diverting water to water those crops. Everything ultimately depends on the Lord, but as one of the 'able-bodied men', I would think that a lot would rest on them as well. Also, these guys came from a place there it rained all the time. Irrigation would have to be pretty new to them. An amazing story tucked into a verse.
  • Verse 8: "Let each company abear an equal proportion, according to the dividend of their property, in taking the poor, the bwidows, the cfatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army, that the cries of the widow and the dfatherless come not up into the ears of the Lord against this people." Don't forget that most of the able bodied men had gone into the Army, and were marching to Mexico. Quite few more were being sent on ahead to clear, dig, plant and prepare. And still they made sure that the widows and fatherless had someone looking out for them. Home teaching on steroids
Well, there is a lot more there. Section 136 is so condensed - it's like an outline that could be fleshed out to make a book. It was a hard time to be alive, and I think this might have been hard doctrine, and hard council to accept. But they did, most of them anyway. And they crossed the prairies, and the mountains and made the desert bloom like a rose.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Fundemental View on Health Care

I follow a lot of blogs whose main topic is economics. A new comer to my Google Reader is 'The Fundamental View'. Written by a Canadian, I have found this blog gives a different view than we get from our national news sources, and is often the provider of interesting information. I wanted to share this posting with you all, not on my other blogs, but just on the old vanilla blog.

You might want to read this article. It has a bias that I find a lot more believable the the bias that I hear on our news. Health care is a complicated and tricky business and is like an elephant - you need to know if you are talking about the ear, or the tail, or the trunk, or the leg.... elephants have a lot of parts, and you have to know what part you are talking about. It is way too much for me to go into - it might be too much for my poor old brain even to comprehend. But this I believe: An willing heart will find a way, and an unwilling heart will find an excuse.

That is what I hear mostly, excuses. Excuses as to why it is too expensive to provide health care to the people of this country. Excuses as to how crucial it is/was to bail out the banks and then compensate the bankers obscenely. Excuses as to why we went to war in Iraq. (which has cost more than 3 Trillion Dollars (Joseph Stiglitz)), but we have thousands of kids that can't get their teeth fixed because that would be too expensive.

I'm sorry, but as they say in the South, 'That dog won't hunt.' As Big Dan Teage said as he smacked Delmar in the face, 'It's all about the money, boys'. It's not the care that is so expensive, it is how we deliver it. People have become powerful and rich using this health care model, and they don't want to change it. Read the article. I thought there was some food for thought in it.