Dealing with My Menno-shame

A while ago I was interviewed by our local newspaper, The Carillon. It was an article about this very website, Mennotoba, and I said some stuff that didn’t make sense.

As soon as Andrew opened the paper, he burst out laughing. Like, TEARS of laughter. “I can’t believe you said that!”

What was this hilarious thing that I said?

“Koop rhymes with poop.”

Ugh. I KNOW.

This infantile statement had been a result of my effort to articulate just what it was about my Mennonite-ness that I found so embarrassing as a kid.

And… I clearly failed.

I mean, it made no sense for me to be ashamed of being Mennonite! Back then, almost everyone around here was Mennonite, too. So, was I ashamed of my heritage, OR had I just been an awkward frumpy farm-kid, looking for something easy to blame?

I definitely had a general lack of savviness back then (sooooo much different from now, *read sarcasm*), and I’d been pretty disconnected from every Mennonite community that I’d been surrounded by — both local villages and towns, and my own extended family. It was all just out of reach. I think this disconnect may have been due to regional isolation, which could explain my fascination with the ancient village model.

So, I may have mislabeled this. Perhaps it wasn’t a sense of shame at all, but rather, a sense of longing to actually be a part of some kind of community.

It’s quite likely that those who came before me, who wanted nothing more than to divorce themselves from this restrictive religion, had many vivid, specific reasons for wanting to get the heck outta dodge. But honestly, I hadn’t experienced any of this personally — perhaps this also was a result of the aforementioned disconnect.

While I was certainly raised in the midst of my family’s historic Mennonite culture, I had not been raised in the Mennonite religion, not really. We attended church, but it was FEBC, a conference which had eagerly removed the word Mennonite from its conference name, and enthusiastically embraced the notion of war. None of that “peace church” nonsense for them! I’d say it more closely aligned with American Evangelicalism than Anabaptism or the Mennonites, in particular. Therefore, in spite of regularly attending a church that was chock-full of Mennonite last names, accents, and food, I never knew a single thing about Altesters, segregated genders, or German worship services. (Or, um, peace.)

So, I’m trying to suss out the source of my supposed Mennonite-shame. Perhaps there was a latent essence of Menno-shame left scattered about the farmyard as my father’s siblings shook off their culture, embracing fresh identities in Mennonite-free regions. Had I somehow picked up on this and made it my own, without really ever considering just what it was that I was so embarrassed about?

Maybe that’s what held me back from really learning more about my family’s history and culture, back when I had a father and grandparents that I could actually ask. And maybe that’s why now I’m suddenly so curious to uncover just what it was that I’d missed all these years.

And, just for the record, I’ve fallen in love with my maiden name. It was a huge part of my identity throughout my formative years, and I’ve long since moved past embarrassment, to a place of real pride in my Koop heritage.

(How very un-Mennonite of me.)