I like to think that Mennonites are ideally suited to the twenty-first century because, well, we never really believed in privacy in the first place.
Which isn’t exactly true.
I’ve known all my life that the Old Order Mennonites weren’t all that keen on people from outside of their community popping up to photograph them. And my own kind of Mennonites are often ambivalent about the poets, novelists and journalists who show to the world those parts of us that we think are none of their business.
But that’s about the outside world. Privacy within the community’s another matter.
In the Mennotopia, the Church is a place of home, where we share with each other all our hopes, fears, joys and concerns, and carry each others’ burdens. It sounds wonderful. And it is. But it comes at the price of privacy; sharing is a small step from gossiping and gossip is a small step from mean.
You oughta know that, before you think of signing on.
Not that it’s consistent. I regularly run into people who assume I know far more about their lives than I do. I’m never sure if they’re disappointed or relieved to learn that I don’t. Because we can’t really tell when that happens whether it is a triumph of discretion or a failure of the caring community.
Back when the internet first showed its face at the Church door, there was a lot of anxiety about evil governments discovering our radical pacifism and coming after us. And about child predators. Like the rest of the world, we fooled ourselves into believing that child predators were more likely to be found on the Web than in our pews.
We weren’t thinking, then, about the commercial side of things and the way that, rather than baring ourselves open to the world by engaging with the web, we’d just be asking Herald Press to chase us around the internet with their ads. I’m pretty sure Google thinks I’m a better Mennonite than I really am, but once they figure that out, I expect I’ll start seeing ads for support groups for Ex-Mennos with Issues or treatises on the pros and cons of community.
In the meantime, I’ll just be hanging out and sipping from the common cup. Sharing a glass of wine doesn’t happen nearly as often in the Mennolands as sharing the details of each others’ lives. But it should. Even the ritualized sharing of communion is hardly ever a literal common cup. Congregations that once did that get frightened from it every flu season.
So I’ll be drinking from a figurative common cup in the literal privacy of my home. As we are moving into the chilly months, I have switched to the medium and full-bodied red wines that provide the heft of community social support with the bitter tannins of lost privacy.