My Modern Mennonite Neighbors

Posted on January 30, 2013

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The cooperative I moved into when I got married recently is exclusively Mennonite (w my wife being the one exception). They are not the Mennonites from PA or rural Ohio, similar to the Amish, in which the women wear doilies on their heads and the men wear suspenders and sprout long beards. She had told me they were “modern” and very eco-concious when we were getting to know each other. When I came to visit her, the ones I met were very polite and cordial. After we were married, they were all friendly and chatty. The only distinctive thing I knew about Mennonites before all this was their opposition to war and public oaths. Seeing some anti-war bumper stickers in the parking lot confirmed my rudimentary knowledge of the denomination. I’m very anti-war myself but suspect the owner placed those bumper stickers there before 2008; this IS Seattle after all!

 I’ve come to know that my neighbors are not conservative in the evangelical, Christian sense. Their former pastor was a woman who sold her co-op to an openly homosexual man who claims to have AIDS. The co-op has a monthly meeting and my wife is the secretary. She used to send me emails  during the meetings because they tended towards the tedious and repetitive (most of the residents are older and retired or semi-retired). The residents take turns hosting monthly meetings and the only one I’ve attended thus far, was one we hosted. It was boring and I just watched a basketball game while they went over the agenda….no wait, I did take the minutes. The man who says his AIDS has left him incapacitated sent a representative, his former boyfriend, to fill everyone in on his state. This “friend” went into great, gossipy detail about Bob’s private affairs and laughed often at his reality (heavy medication which causes him to sleep for extended periods and keeps him homebound). I kept glaring at my wife (and she at me) but the nice, clueless Mennonites gave him their full attention…. for 45 minutes! When that meeting finally ended, I vowed to never attend another unless absolutely necessary (only one member of a household need be present). We’ll see.

Last Friday night while half asleep, I thought I heard a commotion coming from the street in front of our bedroom. When I got up that day, I noticed a dumpy white van parked in front of our building. There was a guy in it, moving around like a beaver (clutter peered through the windows ). I didn’t give it much thought but during dinner, our neighbor Marvin dropped by to fill us in on the situation. It turns out the guy in the van is mostly homeless and has a long history w the Mennonite church. He uses their soup kitchen and shelter but often threatens the staff  when angry, going so far as to say he’ll shoot them! Marvin told us he has known this guy a long time and to just avoid walking by the van. He wasn’t sure why the tow truck dropped it off where it did, other than it couldn’t stay in the shelter’s lot any longer. The next day, Marvin told us the police took him in for a psychiatric evaluation. The van stayed parked on the street. I asked him at that point, whether threatening female members of his church w death was grounds for dissolving the relationship, and he simply said he hoped the guy would never act on his words. He also said they never “give up on anybody.”

The man in the van was back three days later, tinkering with his truck and throwing plywood into the middle of the street (I watched this from the balcony). The Mennonite’s concept of charity is very different from my experience in Reformed denominations. We would not tolerate threatening behavior, particularly when it’s directed towards women. God commands mercy and we are to love it, but we are also called to wisdom and discernment. Our church budgets have limits, so the dispensation of money must come with strings; a contractual obligation. If a person shows no interest in the Gospel and/or no fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8), then they should seek help elsewhere. The government would be the most obvious choice.  

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