Miller: Good to be different

Jan 29, 2018 by

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There are blonde jokes, lawyer jokes and Polish jokes. And then there are Mennonite jokes. As a Mennonite, and a plain Mennonite at that, I like the Mennonite jokes best. It is the perverse nature of humanity to laugh at ourselves. Self-ridicule brings a proud sort of shamed kinship, ridicule from others’ solidarity.

Lucinda J. Miller

Miller

Here’s my favorite: What is a Mennonite dilemma? Free beer.

And this one: Walmart was taken out by a tornado the other night. Four Mennonite women were left homeless.

The upshot is obvious: Mennonites are cheap. We are shamed by this but admit its partial truth. If you are not a Mennonite, you might still love a good deal, but you don’t stick out so much.

Here’s another joke featuring another laughed-about Mennonite trait:

Q: How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Change?

True that. My dad tells the story of a meeting he attended: a statewide, plain-people affair. The subject of change, with its comparative values and cautions, was discussed, and a bearded Amish man drawled his staunch input from his seat: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”

This is typical of the plain people. What other people do you know who sport virtually the same hairstyles they did 200 years ago? Conservative Mennonites fear change because they fear the eroding of their scriptural values.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. There is security in being part of a community of people stretched across the country who believe and practice very much like you, people you can depend on not to change much and who stick together like gooey caramel. Those who leave the Mennonites lose something of their roots, a certain solidarity that stabilizes and grounds.

Besides Mennonite jokes, there are Mennonite comments. If you are plain, you know these. “I love your Mennonite cooking.” (I actually don’t cook much, but thanks.) “Do you drive?” “I love how you people sing.” “Do you have electricity?” “Are you Amish?”

The most original I’ve heard was from a whisk­ered old farmer who asked, jovially, “Is that a beekeeper’s hat on your head?” I chuckled politely — it seemed like the right thing to do — and did not reply.

For the most part, I have learned to take Mennonite comments in stride: to expect them, to accept them, even to use them. I become interesting as a Mennonite in a way I would not be as a generic American.

People talk to me. They ask questions. They want to hear what I have to say. I have grown to expect this. I think I would miss it if it was taken away.

Individuality is important to all people. They express it with tattoos and eyebrow piercings and mohawks. A few of them express it with old-fashioned dresses and funny little caps.

I have found there is value in being different. It makes you very aware of who you are and what you would die for and the footprint you leave in the world.

I used to feel shy and self-conscious, walking around Walmart with my dress and my beekeeper’s hat. Not anymore. Not since I’ve learned the dress and the hat stand for something of immense value in a world of change and insecurity. I walk with confidence and am glad to be who I am. If someone asks, “Are you Amish?” I smile and say, “No, I’m Mennonite.”

Lucinda J. Miller lives with her thoroughly Mennonite family in Rusk County, Wis. She is the author of a memoir, Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite, and blogs at lucindajmiller.com.


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