Yesterday I participated in the Bechtel Panel at Conrad Grebel University College on Mennonites in the Media. The organizers asked us to talk about what it is like to be a creator of Mennonite content on the media today, to comment on our audience and challenges etc. Several of the other participants followed their instructions more diligently. The full panel was filmed and it will be online here. In the meantime, here’s the text of my 10-minute talk.
My topic is making Schputt of Mennonites
I do recognize that there are people who might not find making fun of Mennonites to be an enjoyable or respectable activity – some of you in the audience might be the sort who shook your finger at your children and told them “No Schputting.”
Well, here I am. Trying to make the case for Making Schputt of Mennonites. We can all imagine the arguments against making schputt: it could be profaning the sacred; it might mean that some people’s feelings get hurt; and the kicker – it might give the outside world the wrong impression of us and thus diminish our evangelical potential.
I don’t hold much stock in the concern for profaning the sacred. That may just reflect my personal irreverence or have broader theological underpinnings. But as I only have 10 minutes, I can’t go into a long disputation on the theology of schputting. I will say that in my case, profaning the sacred means putting things together like the words “drunken” and “Mennonite”; and writing rambling discussions on Mennonite stuff matched with cocktail recipes.
Which – yes, is what I write. My corner of the internet has me taking on the persona of a Disaffected Mennonite who writes and tweets about Mennonite stuff. And provides Mennonite-themed cocktail recipes. I call myself the Drunken Menno on Twitter and my blog is The Drunken Menno Blog. I’m not usually drunk when I write or tweet but I do let my inhibitions down a bit.
This tweet I think encapsulates some of the humour in my irreverence. Those of you here last night might appreciate this as representing the dilemma of the assimilated Mennonite confronting the legacy of martyrdom.
But I recognize that not everyone will find this funny.
I just want to pause here for a moment and say that if there are any in the audience who are offended at the notion of a Mennonite cocktail blog or someone calling herself The Drunken Mennonite, I suggest that you avert your eyes from the screen, quickly stop up your ears and spend the rest of my time talking imagining yourself singing 606. Don’t actually sing it – that would be disruptive – but it would be more pleasant for all of us if you gave the appearance of enjoying yourself.
Ok – now that all my family members have their fingers in their ears, let’s get back to my argument with the imaginary people saying no to making schputt of Mennonites. You’ll remember that the second argument was that I might hurt people’s feelings. I actually try not to, and mostly avoid mocking real, living and identifiable individuals. I stick to institutions, historical figures, archetypes, general trends, the content of writings, and myself. Which actually gives me plenty of material.
That probably doesn’t mean I never ruffle anyone’s feathers. But I do think that the name of the blog should serve as fair warning to anyone expecting nothing but glowing reports of Mennonite perfection. I assume that the easily offended will not appreciate the humour of a project titled The Drunken Mennonite and will stay away from my little piece of the internet. And for the most part, I think they have.
Certainly, the stats on number of people who regularly read my blog suggests that I still have a pretty niche audience.
When I started writing, I didn’t really imagine that my audience would be people so embedded in the Mennonite world that they show up to public lectures at Conrad Grebel University. I imagined my audience as people on the fringes of the Mennonite universe. I do have a number of readers and Twitter followers who fit that description but I have also found that some of my readers were less “fringe” than I expected. Maybe that’s because everyone feels a bit on the fringes from time to time. Or maybe I’m just not as edgy as I thought. I do know that some of my readers still feel a bit subversive when they log onto The Drunken Mennonite site or follow me on Twitter. (especially the pastors)
I hope they enjoy that little frisson of rebellion.
I initially thought the blog might also be fun for those non-Mennonites out there who are just curious about Mennonite-ness.
That didn’t work.
Except on rare occasions, my audience is almost entirely Mennonite. Non-Mennonites who love us don’t read me lest I tarnish their image of us with my drunkenness (which is really what I’m calling irreverence), and those that hate us are uninterested in hearing about our Mennonite-ness. Which should really put to rest the third objection to publicly schputting about Mennonites – that non-Mennonites reading my blog or tweets might get the so-called wrong impression of us.
Because THEY’RE not reading me.
But I don’t think that’s just about non-Mennonites. I think we want the world to see us as peacemaking-hard working-harmonizing-Mennonite relief sale attending-Good Christians-willing to die for our faith because that’s how we want to see ourselves. We don’t really want to see ourselves as a bickering people, as a people really very sensitive to what outsiders think of us, as a people with a past as messy as any other people’s, as a people who aren’t always good to each other.
Even though it’s so much funnier.
In the way that the lives and efforts of all ordinary flawed people are funny.
Anyway – you can usually count on the official Mennonite sources to turn the world away from seeing our flaws.
Nobody needs me for that.
But I’m afraid that none of this is really convincing anyone of how much fun it is to make schputt of Mennonites. So I want to close with just a couple of tweets that I hope will do a better job. My blog is long form and it’s really just me speaking. And usually I pick a topic and then ramble on about it. I hope you’ll take a look. Mennonite Twitter, on the other hand, is a community and a conversation. That makes it particularly fun. The tweets I’m showing are my own but you should know that they are embedded in larger conversations.
I like this one because I got to bring together something current and fairly funny with our history of breaking into schisms. Mennonite twitter in general had a certain amount of fun with Herald Press sending out an internet survey that asked us to rank hymnbook textures.
What I love about this is that we don’t really know whether Herald Press was in on the joke – themselves really playing something of a prank on us by including the question on texture or whether they were really just feeling themselves in a culture that demands internet consultation on everything. I could ask them, but I prefer not knowing.
A lot of my tweets are inside jokes that only fellow Mennonites appreciate – and often only a subset of Mennonites. I included this tweet on the assumption that we wouldn’t get through yesterday’s talk without at least one mention of Dirk Willems. Really, there is no limit to the number of Dirk Willems jokes that the internet can hold. I made this one because it was National Dog Day and on that day, a lot of people were posting pictures of their dogs with some cute or clever saying.
Now you could say that inside jokes just work to exclude people who aren’t in the know. But Twitter is just full of things like this – everybody is an outsider and an insider there.
One of the most enjoyable parts of Mennonite Twitter happens when we have a hashtag game. We did one last Christmas that was Make a Christmas Movie Mennonite and quite a number of people jumped in and altered the name of a Christmas Movie to make it reflect something Mennonite. And that ranged from puns on ethnic Mennonite names to Church jokes. I’ve posted here one from another hashtag game which wasn’t quite as successful but it was still fun.
I used one here that riffs on my own ethnic background but one of the fun things about this game is that as others chime in, we get variations from different ethnic traditions and variations within religious culture.
Which is neat. Because I know that we don’t all have zwieback. But if we try hard enough, I believe that we can all have fun.
I was gravely disappointed that there were no cocktails served at the Bechtel Lecture or panel discussion. The college did, however, serve up an orange fizzy punch and so I have based this cocktail on that. Just improved it by switching in the spicy ginger beer for a bland ginger ale, and adding rum.
- 1 1/5 oz dark rum
- 1 oz orange juice
- 1 oz ginger beer
Stir the rum and orange juice with ice. Pour into a little plastic cup with ice. Drink.