Have you ever read a description of your own church as perceived by people from similar groups in different locations? One person on MennoDiscuss (MD) described Kansas Beachys as "their own breed." That's not all. The same person said that when he grows up, he wants to be just like David L. Miller. He insisted that he was serious. I'm sure my 86-year-old dad would be surprised by this adulation.
The trigger for all the comments in the "Beachy Music" thread (under the more general "Music" topic" was a locally-produced youtube music video with a "Small-Town Beachy Man" title. It was an attempt to parodize an Alan Jackson song.
People who saw the video assumed they were seeing local Beachys in the performance--which wasn't actually the case. No one I saw in the video is a member of a local Beachy church. Most of them attend a BMA church, and are from one family, and a few of the non-musicians in the video were young men from other states who were Choice Books volunteers here for a period of time. Most of the comments on the thread were made in 2012. The fact that I didn't see them till now tells you that I'm not an overly faithful MD follower, and perhaps that I wasn't overly smitten with the original video, or that I felt compelled to hear people's reaction to it.
The randomness of the selected comments below will reveal that I didn't take the time to organize them very well. I did lift them in the order in which they appeared, but great swaths of text were omitted. The original document went on for eight MennoDiscuss pages. I picked out what spoke directly about Beachys or Kansas Beachys or other bits that interested me. People can choose their MD identities, and I know the actual identities of only a few of the people who posted. Please excuse the variation in the fonts--a hazard of cutting and pasting text.
Here are some of the comments:
Peregrino: I had no idea Beachys anywhere used instruments.
ernie: . . . more and more Beachys are allowing instruments.
Valerie: I have a good friend who's Beachy (formerly, Old Order Amish) and he told me some months ago, that there was music the youth were getting into that was causing quite a stir and possibly leading to a split. . . . I sent it to my eastern orthdox friend who used to be an Amish school teacher (sent to a few friends, actually) and he was kind of upset about it feeling like Beachy's were going the way of the world if this is the example of their direction-guess there will be lots of viewpoints on it.
Hillperson: Beachy's are more varied than most denominations.
While most keep a very conservative front they really are quite opened minded.
anabaptistenigma: Ernie, I really don't know what you are referring to or how you are comparing this, but I have found this community an interesting study of an Amish micro-cosym that is relatively new, maybe 120 years old, deal with the challenges of modernity. Some of what makes it unique is it's relative isolation from other large Amish Mennonite communities. I have spoken of some of my observations on other threads. I would find your thoughts on it interesting if not on this thread, but maybe another, or better yet, in person sometime.
justme: . . . not to mention, i need to go back to kansas. i watched the car on the flat sand/gravel road, and it's official. i need to make a trip to kansas.
ernie: We choose our diversions and our recreation. Our choices are not neutral. They say something about our values and our affections. Go ask Donald Kraybill.
PeterG: Not at all surprising. Those Kansas Beachys are their own breed, in a generally good way. I mean, when I get old I want to be just like David L. Miller, if ya know what I mean. (Sorry about the inside joke. Read any issue of the Calvary Messenger if you want to get it. And I honestly do want to be like DLM when I grow up.)
ernie: (This comment followed a request for ernie to explain an earlier comment.) OK. I will try to summarize the conservative Anabaptist viewpoint. (In many ways this viewpoint expresses my own but in some ways it does not.)
Until recently, traditional Anabaptists have not viewed the words/phrases "band", "drum set", "plain coat", "head covering", "country music", "public performances", "luck", "staged drama", "conversations that gravitate toward pretty girls", "long hair on men", "comedy", "public amusement/entertainment", "printed shirts", and "pride" as neutral topics. They would have thought of these words/phrases as having religious/spiritual connotations. In their minds, some of these words/phrases are expressions of the religions of this world. The others are terms reserved for the people of God. The majority of traditional Anabaptists (including a large portion of Beachy ministers) still view these words/phrases as 'non-neutral'. So when someone who is familiar with this religious culture, mixes the two together for fun/humor/sport, the majority of conservative Anabaptist view such demonstrations as stabbing the heart of the two-kingdom concept that Anabaptists have lived and died for through the centuries. I found it amusing because of the creativity and the insight into both cultures. I found it disgusting and saddening because I believe God created these young folks with talent and resources that he intended for them to use for purposes other than this. I'm also sad because I know that if they don't see the discrepancies in what they are doing, they will raise a generation that will see the discrepancies... and I think most of us know what such generations do whenever they are handed a convoluted package of values pulled from various religions.
(The one introducing the above video is our son Shane. I thought one of the youtube comments was pretty funny. Someone was sure these people weren't "real" Amish because one of the guys was obviously Asian.)
ofLI: While I get Ernie's point, and he made it well, of all the things to be concerned about regarding the state of nonconformity in the Beachy and Moderate churches, I would rank this one rather low.
I would think a better place to start to address the inconsistency in nonconformity, would be among the culture of fine houses and furniture, second houses, wintering in Florida, and immaculate lawns, a culture of secrecy around moral failure, and a rather strong dedication to the notion of private property, and a lot of political maneuvering, in church leadership and power.
Hopenafuture: . . . I think the sentences I quoted above are EXACTLY the source of the issue you are seeing. OfLI pointed out some places where two kingdom theology has NOT been carried out well. . . .
PaulJD: . . . .recognized those KS dirt roads, realized they were Reno county . . . from that co-existing Kansas environment(I really appreciate that coexisting environment, and the friendliness of those folks)
Ragpicker: First time I saw Beachy youth break out the guitars was in the same area these youth came from. (He says later that this occurred 15 years ago. Just for the record, either his memory or his math skills fail him, or he was seeing things that were not allowed in the Beachy churches at that time.)
ernie: I hear you CB, but the Apostle Paul seems to think that those who take pleasure in a thing are no different from those who are actually doing the thing.
Not all Beachy's are OK with this way of having fun. This means that there is a fundamental gulf forming between those who see this as innocent fun with no further implications, and those who see this as having significant implications.
PaulJD: Seems to me the Center people are fairly friendly towards computers and musical instruments. And I actually agree with that. As long as they are used responsibly. That really goes for just about anything. Where the problem is is my view of responsible is different than the next persons. I don't like the modern singers, and I see hollywood and nashville in a very negative light, so it seems very "worldly" to me when people copy their style(or even listen to their music, or watch their movies). As far as musical instruments in and of itself, I think it is extrabiblical to make rules A) against using them or B) against listening to them being used, say, in this way
ernie: This is interesting because 35 years ago, Kansas Beachy's would have been considered on the conservative end of the spectrum from what I understand. (I use the word conservative here in a good sense in that overall they would have had good teaching, good morals, etc besides having conservative practices.)
Today (except for one congregation) Beachy's in Reno County are allowed to be on the progressive edge of things if they want.
anabaptistenigma: Yes, well, here is the irony of Reno County 35 years ago. Not one of the children of either bishop in the Beachy churches at that time are still in the Beachy church. The retention rate of children of any of the other ministers isn't terribly good either.
But, what is interesting, is that the entire generation who left the Amish church at around roughly the same time, the Beachys and conservatives (our church) have, for the most part, not retained their children in the churches they chose. I think it's probably pretty significant why Kansas Beachy churches might be considered progressive. My question is, what causes this? I don't know the answer, except I'm pretty sure it is not simply a wholesale apostasy as some people want to make it out to be.
PaulJD: Very interesting. Where are all these people going? Away from church all together? To a Baptist church?, or?
Have any of them ever went back Amish or New order(more conservative)?
Hillperson: If it's a reflection of anything [speaking here of the recording] it's a reflection of the type of music they listen to. Now before you think Beachy's are slipping with the type of music they listen to let me tell you that when I was in the youth group, twenty years ago, lots of kids were into CCM (contemporary Chrisian music) and some of it was quite heavy music. These kids parent's probably were some of those youth. I wouldn't say it's gotten worse in the last twenty years.
Knight-light: . . . I don't think young people merely reflect what they listen to. They chose what to listen to, and they chose so for some reason, and they don't just blindly follow the non-menno example. . . . I think, from what I have read recently on MD, that some NMBs are attracted to conservative mennoism because they think it's stable, it's separate from american culture, it's biblical, and it's Christian. The reality is the culture is in flux, there is a lot of mix (no matter HOW separate some folks think they are), and parts of it are not biblical or Christian. for NMBs, it's jumping from the frying pan into the fire. (NMB=non-Mennonite background)
(Knight-light also gave quite a thorough critique of the video content by comparing it to the song they were attempting to parodize. In one comment, he said that he felt the attempt lacked intellectual discipline.)
reflectthelight: This thread just really hit on some key points for me. I think a large part of my growing up (in my early adult life) came from understanding a little more how much of our denomination is cultural and how much is spiritual. I'm still working on growing up. Personally, I'm still working on the comment about the beachys being good at being conservative AND open-minded. Sounds great, but can end up being painful rather than the blessing intended imho.
If you're still reading, I applaud your persistence.
The music Beachys listen to/enjoy/create does not go unnoticed by others. Here, it's largely inside the Mennonite community, but some who commented on MD are not now members of Mennonite churches, and others did not grow up Mennonite. To some of them, the official position and the reality look discordant. I sometimes think so myself.
In general, I like the idea of being both conservative in practice and open-minded in my stance toward new ideas and toward others. I do identify, however, with the fact that this can sometimes be a painful stance.
We'll never be able to "parse" perfectly what our practice is made up of, because faith and culture both reside in us so deeply that it's not always easy to claw them into separate piles for close inspection. I do believe we must continue to make the effort. Being disdainful of culture, however, can be very unwise, since we're not usually as smart as we think we are in evaluating the true worth of a "thing."