Category Archives: Documentary Updates

Being Mennonite Teaser

To help everyone understand a bit about where this documentary is headed, I've created this very quick, no-budget teaser. While it does not represent the quality I am striving for since many images are low resolution often from internet public domain sites, it does hint at the kind of stories I hope to tell. The Mennonite story is varied, full of inconsistencies and paradoxes. Many Mennonites at this moment in history are rather ambivalent as to the value of being Mennonite. Others are trying to recapture what they see as a lost sense of Mennonite identity. Still others find themselves asking how they can square a strong sense of Mennonite identity with contemporary life. This teaser misses the powerful role that American culture has played in Mennonite faith and life, a central thesis of the documentary. It misses it because it requires substantial funds to access many of the images that will be required to tell that story. Still, I hope this short clip will inspire the viewer to want more!

And yes, we are now coming to the end of the research phase and will begin putting together the necessary elements to move into production in 2018. So we'll begin a search for substantial funding!

Being Mennonite in America

A title needs to be instantly engaging, offer a good hint as to the content and tease the reader into actually committing to viewing the film. A People Apart tended towards the cliché, enforcing the public stereotype of Mennonites. We needed something more contemporary, something that offers a more nuanced message as to the Mennonite…
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Mennonite Identity

Mennonite identity is a funny thing. Mennonites themselves are often not quite sure what to make of it.

For the conservative branches of the group, identity is grounded in an array of external visual factors. The cut of a woman’s dress, the shape and cut of her prayer covering, the type of hat a man wears in public, the mode of transportation used when going to church, the type of agricultural equipment used to work the land are all highly visual external identifiers. Since these identifiers are often at first glance rather similar to Amish identity symbols, the public perceives a visual cacophony that makes individual differences indistinguishable. Mennonite identity becomes synonymous with Amish identity. While this may not matter to the general public, it drives Mennonites crazy.

When a Mennonite group gives up its visual identifiers, what is left to identify a Mennonite as unique from any other common faith group in America? How does this lack of visual identity inform a Mennonite’s own self-identity when in public? For the most part, progressive branches of the faith flee from external identifiers, choosing instead to blend in, to acculturate, to become identified as much with the broader society as they are with their own roots. It’s intentional, a part of the difference in the basic theology of the two groups. But in the progressive groups identifying that which makes one a Mennonite becomes much more nebulous.

Once visual identifiers are thrust aside the pull toward full integration into America’s social and religious landscape becomes almost irresistible. It becomes more and more difficult to lay a finger on that which makes a person a Mennonite other than the name of the building in which he or she worships.
One practice that continues to draw attention from onlookers is the ease with which rank and file Mennonites slip into complex four part harmonies during worship services. Most Mennonites still receive their musical chops by parodying their elders in the church pews. A few join church choirs where the skill becomes more finely honed.

In this post, I’m displaying a short video clip of the traditional Harmonia Sacra singings that form the backbone of four part harmonies in the Mennonite world.

Effect of WWI War Bonds on Mennonite Communities

World War I proved a watershed era for Mennonites for two reasons. One, Secretary of War Newton Baker’s requirement that all conscientious objectors report to military camps where they were ‘encouraged’ to enlist caused many Mennonites to put on the military uniform, mostly to serve as non-combatants but frequently as full military inductees. Doing so…
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