Why You Think Pennsylvanians Are Stuck-Up (and Why You’re Wrong)

I love how you clicked on this link almost like, “What obnoxious thing is she going to say next?”

You know as well as I do that conservative Mennonites who are not from Lancaster (and even some who are) think that Lancaster Mennonites are snobby and stuck-up. I have finally figured out why this stereotype exists! (It is for unjustifiably unfair reasons, I might add.)

One of my favorite things is to talk about cultural differences, and since I’ve had the privilege of living in four distinct Mennonite communities across the United States as an adult, I consider myself a bit of an authority on the subject. In the past eleven months, I’ve had plenty of time to test this theory of “stuck-up” Mennonites.

I recently moved to Ephrata, Pennsylvania, quite leery of the Lancaster County location of my new home.

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However, you’ll be disappointed to know that on the “Culture Shock” timeline, I’ve moved past the Honeymoon stage (in which I gush about Amish produce stands, discount grocery stores, and modest clothing stores) and the Negotiation stage (in which the Transition shock behaviors of anger, homesickness, irritability, and withdrawal promote snarky posts about dating & marriage rituals, along with more serious critiques of the community-wide “saving face” phenomenon and its effects on spirituality). Currently, I’m in the Adaptation stage, where I’m developing positive attitudes about Lancaster culture and learning what to expect in social situations. But I’m a long way off from Adaptation. Because seriously, I’ve never even been to “the cabin.” For one thing, I have to write this post “awhile.” Haha.

So why do people think that Pennsylvanians are stuck-up? This is my theory—they don’t introduce themselves to newcomers.

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In fact, I was talking to a friend who just moved to Lancaster County, and this was her first impression: “Do you notice that people don’t introduce themselves to you here?”

“Yes!” I agreed. “It’s strange!”

We talked about experiences at weddings, work, and church.

Me: “Sometimes I get the odd sense that people here don’t like me! But I realize that (1) those people have never talked to me, and (2) they haven’t introduced themselves to me. And I ask myself, why not?”

 

Interestingly, I kept finding myself in new situations where I was surrounded by strangers, and no one introduced themselves! I visited a new church once, was ignored, introduced myself to a woman whose eyes were downcast, then scurried out the door in awkward shame. As I settled into the church visiting cycle, I grew weary of approaching strangers and explaining that I just moved to Lancaster County. At work, a friend struggled to connect with co-workers who seemed to care little about her “transplanting” story. (Another very common thread is people living in Lancaster their entire lives. Unimaginable to me, the hyperactive state-switcher. Similarly, the story of my endless moving, to communities where I know absolutely no one, is unimaginable to Lancaster locals, often met by blank stares.) On one occasion, I had to schedule a meeting with a woman I saw nearly every day, and I was convinced that she disliked me because she had never introduced herself to me.

After a while, it started to become a joke, where my friend and I delivered the next new story of failing to be introduced at a social function. Once I attended a banquet where I sat at a table with old and new acquaintances. I was the last one to arrive, and as I sat down with my appetizer, I waited to be introduced to the Lancaster residents who I hadn’t yet met. The introduction never came. In fact, no one acknowledged my presence at the table for a full fifteen minutes!

Now before you label this post as another dig at Lancaster County, let me be clear. I do not think that the people in each of these instances were snobby, stuck-up, rude, unkind, or unfeeling, nor do I think that you should judge my expectation to be introduced as unrealistic. In truth, I found the woman who had never introduced herself to be a sweet and gentle person the very day I met with her! And the time of being “ignored” at the banquet table ended up being a night where I received some very kind encouragement from new friends.

These experiences instead clarify that cultural differences exist among geographically diverse Mennonite communities, specifically in relation to initial socialization. The behavior from both cultures makes perfect sense, but viewed from the other culture is off-putting. Both I (the Midwesterner) and Lancaster Mennonites were acting according to our respective cultures, which obviously have vastly different expectations regarding the behavior toward strangers.

In the Midwest, it’s expected to introduce yourself to a newcomer. A “proper” way to do this might even be to play the Mennonite game.

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Blanket statement: I might suggest that Midwesterners may also be “used to” newcomers more than Lancaster County residents. That is, many Midwestern Mennonites live in smaller Anabaptist communities than the sprawling, teeming Mennonite metropolis of Lancaster County. Therefore, the arrival of newcomers is more clearly felt. In our small Midwestern towns (excluding Holmes County), we’re very aware of who belongs and who is new. And in my experience, people have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and tell me their name.

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It seems that in Lancaster, this is not a cultural expectation, and I’ve had some Lancaster locals help me on this one. For one thing, the sheer number of Mennonites is dizzying. There’s no way to tell who is “new to town,” or simply from the congregation down the street. There’s no need to wave hello to the Mennonite you saw in Walmart because of COURSE you don’t know them. Why would you smile and wave hello?

Another phenomenon unique to Lancaster that’s quite unlike most other Mennonite communities is that people here aren’t friends with people from their own churches. They’re friends with their “group.” Your “group” is whatever family and friends you’ve acquired over the years who have similar interests and/or worldviews as you. (I would contend that this is quite unlike other Mennonite communities. For many of us, our friendships are found inside our local congregations.) However, if you’re from Lancaster, and there’s a newcomer at your church, you may assume that they’re from the County, they’re simply church shopping, and they’re content with their own friends and family outside the church. You therefore feel no need to introduce yourself right away. This has been confirmed to me by more than several locals.

(Southerners, feel free to lend your perspective about what is expected for newcomers in your communities.)

To be sure, people in Lancaster are very busy and have a LOT of friends. One woman who moved here from a rural Midwestern community confided in me, “When I asked someone to go out for coffee, she said, ‘Well let me check my planner first.’ I laughed at her! Why would she need to check her planner just for coffee?! But I get it now. People are so busy. Some women are booked three months out. And so I have the planner now. I have all of it,” she sighed.

You can see, then, why the stereotype of “stuck-up” Lancaster Mennonites exist. The amount of friends and social engagements can get overwhelming, so people aren’t quick to “lend” themselves in this way. But for newcomers, this can feel like snobbery. I wonder, though, if newcomers are selling themselves short by not acknowledging the cultural differences of the realities of living in a large Mennonite community. The lady from the rural Midwest didn’t do this, but instead learned to adapt.

To put a stop to the stereotype, people on both sides need to understand that if you demand that people treat you according to your own cultural expectations, two things may occur:

(1) If you are a non-local, you may not only start agreeing with false stereotypes, but you may also become quite lonely. A few suggestions: stop being bitter about the need to explain that you are a new-comer. Be willing to introduce yourself again, and again, and again. It won’t be long before you’ll buy your own planner (probably at Target, where you’ll ignore a Mennonite woman one aisle over).

(2) If you are a Lancaster local, you may be bothered by the stereotype of snobbery. A suggestion: it may benefit you to visit a small Mennonite community sometime. It also might do you some good to go out of your way to introduce yourself to a Mennonite stranger the next time you see one in church, at Bible study, or even (gasp) at Walmart! You might just meet a new friend, the kind that doesn’t care about planners, and is refreshingly un-busy!

And to those of you who still think I hate Lancaster, I’ll say this: despite the lack of introductions in general in Lancaster County, I’d like to give a shout-out to my local congregation for the outpouring of support I’ve received since moving here, including but not limited to:

  1. Delivering and unloading FOR FREE a piece of furniture I bought
  2. Lending me the “nice” family vehicle, three times, FOR FREE when mine was in the shop
  3. Visiting me when I was sick (bringing me food, cleaning my apartment, and giving me a back rub!)
  4. Dinner invitations, and asking how I’m really doing
  5. A sweet gift and card on Valentine’s Day
  6. A plant on Mother’s Day.

You know who you are. Thank you.

Obviously, Pennsylvanians aren’t snobby. They’re warm and caring just like everybody else. The fact is that we just greet each other differently. So stop stereotyping. And go introduce yourself.

Springtime in Quebec, Part 2

Last time I ended by discussing language politics in French-speaking Québec, so I thought it would be appropriate to start with a few visual representations of those politics, in Quèbec’s Old City.

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Here is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the first Anglican church in Québec. In 1804, the Brits were sure to build its spire just a few feet higher than the neighboring Catholic Notre-Dame de Québec. French Quebecers: “We can take a hint.”

Holy Trinity held Easter services in both English and French, but Notre-Dame de Québec’s services were entirely in French. Deciding between the two, we decided “when in Rome”… and found ourselves at a French-speaking Holy Saturday evening service. (I took my English Bible along for some hard-core liturgical sword drills.) The service was exactly what I hoped it would be—lowly lit, contemplative, bathed in music and a few bells, and filled with joy.

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Il n’est pas ici, car il est ressuscité, comme il l’avait dit!

Obviously, the French component made it quite the adventure as I’m already non-Catholic and therefore unfamiliar with service traditions, but my friends as I managed to participate somewhat, following along in the readings. The only really awkward moment was when we got to what was called the échange de la paix (exchanging of the peace). Immediately, I remembered that in some conservative Anglican traditions, this is equivalent to the holy kiss (is it for the Catholics??!!), so when the French-speaking young woman in front of me turned around and leaned toward me, I visibly started, unsure if this complete stranger would be kissing or hugging me!

(She shook my hand.)

Another French/English side-by-side pair in Old City are two prominent libraries, the Maison de la Littérature, and the Morrin Centre. (Can ya guess which one is for books printed in English?) Our tour guide explained, though, that the beauty of these two side-by-side libraries is that it represents how the two languages can coexist alongside each other.

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An old sofa in the Morrin Center featured this adorable sign: Ce divan est probablement plus vieux que votre grand-mère. S.V.P. vous asseoir aussi dèlicatement que vous le feriez sur ses genoux.

“This sofa is probably older than your grandmother. Please sit down gently, as you would on her knees.”

The afternoon we visited, I spent time reading devotional poetry by John Donne and found this gem in his Holy Sonnets.

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Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.
What! is it she which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which, robbed and tore,
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self-truth, and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?
Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travel we to seek, and then make love?
Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,
Who is most true and pleasing to thee then
When she is embraced and open to most men.

Welcome, by the way, to Old City, the part of Québec City that’s voted one of the “Most Romantic Cities” world-wide.

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First, you have the Chateau Frontenac, which is described as the most photographed hotel in the world. We were told that you have to take at LEAST thirty-five pictures of this hotel. I did my best.

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This romantic city also delights in its food. I enjoyed Cochon Dingue’s (The Crazy Pig’s) French onion soup, and another time I had a duck terrine starter, salmon tartare (for the first time!), and a lovely little complimentary dessert.

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One morning, I tried a delicious crepe made of asparagus, prosciutto, and brie, topped with a side of local maple syrup. (Quèbec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup!) Don’t get me started talking about poutine, eggs benedict, macaroons, and croissants. (I obviously ended Lent in gastro-heaven.)

Also home to the talented Cirque du Soleil, we found this sculpture + poem welcoming us to the city.

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“To you,
Coming from here or elsewhere,
Day or night
Summer or winter
Welcome.”

Hee hee, our tour guide told us, “We have only two seasons, summer and winter. And summer is the nicest week of the year.” While we were blessed with gorgeous sunny days during our short visit, we certainly felt winter’s chill in the shade of stone in the afternoons and in the St. Lawrence River’s mist during our ferry ride.

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If I had to summarize my trip in one sentence, I would write, “You should go.”

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But if you want something a little more poetical, I’d probably whisper something about

“Europe’s old city,
cigarette smoke and cologne on cold cobblestones,
boots and mittens on marble stone,
bright sun on blue skies and dirty snow,
marathoners running,
church bells and waterfalls laughing,
St. Lawrence River mist,
and French accents on chocolate croissants, spicy peppers, and cooked fish.”

Springtime in Quebec, Part 1

Ever wanted to visit Europe but didn’t have the cash for a plane ticket? Quebec is the spot for you! Shasta’s Fog visited this charming French-speaking province for spring break this year, so I wanted to share some trip highlights for anyone needing a beautiful getaway on THIS side of the pond.

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How is Quebec still so French, you may ask? To be honest, it’s kind of the Americans fault.

Quebec City was founded in 1608 by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, and while France’s presence continued in Quebec for 150 years, in 1759, France ceded its control of North American possessions to Great Britain after a few battles and the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Quebecois were not exactly ecstatic about their new rulers, and Great Britain became a little nervous about this due to the unrest in its southern colonies (hello, rebellious American colonies!). Great Britain was afraid that unhappy French Quebecers would start up a rebellion and join the Americans, so they supplied the “Quebec Act” to pacify all French-speaking Canadian subjects—recognizing and promoting French language and French culture, allowing them to keep French civil law, and offering freedom of religion (allowing them to remain Catholic). Shockingly, England was saying, “Yes, BE CATHOLIC, ye Quebecers. Be French. Be ANYthing except American!” And Quebec was happy, and stayed ish-French. And a good thing too because now we Americans can go on vacation and eat croissants and macaroons, and enjoy rich French heritage without crossing that annoyingly large ocean.

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Our first stop was Montréal, and we visited the Notre-Dame Basilica, decorated in the Gothic Revival style in the 1880s. Fun fact: Celine Dion (native to Quebec) got married here.

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My friends and I had terribly much fun dashing into as many bakeries as possible. This one called the Crew Collective is a co-working space housed in the 1920s headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada. (Little bit of gold Art Deco for the win.) Eggcellent Americano and croissant. Or as the French say, “Ameri-ken-oh.”

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We were also sure to visit the Maison Christian Faure Patisserie, where the “Best Pastry Chef in the World” hosts curious travelers. I ate an éclair for breakfast. I do not even apologize.

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PC: @lorida.burk

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Besides the city’s amazing architecture, I also enjoyed fun street style, though most of the time, I was too slow on the draw with my camera.

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Girl, work it.
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’90s was big.
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“Today in microfashion…”
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And a Satan suit, for good measure. (??)

When I got home, my mother asked me, “But what did you eat BESIDES pastries?”

…I admit I had to think for a bit.
Obviously, poutine, since Quebec is famous for it. At Montreal’s famous La Banquise, I had the original—fries, covered in cheese curds and gravy!

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You know you’re in Canada when there are outdoor heaters for patio seating.

Another Quebecian delight we discovered was dipped ice cream cones. I’ve never had a dipped cone where the chocolate is so thick and so flavorful!

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We lodged well in two Airbnbs, one night in Montreal and three nights in Quebec City. Recommend!

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NW view from our 9th floor apartment in Montreal.
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NE view: old + new

One thing that worried me was the language barrier, especially since we had heard about how strong the French language politics are in Quebec.

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Marc-André J Fortier’s “The English Pug and the French Poodle,” featuring a woman dressed in the French-designer Coco Chanel, lifting her nose in disdain toward a Canadian bank, representing the influence of the English.

But a very nice waitress at Creperie Bretonne Ty-Breiz allayed our fears. Unbothered by our Nutella crepe instagramming and delighted giggles, she acknowledged that food is art, and in her French accent, said it is “the art of making friends.” She told us that Quebecers know English, and they’ll use it with you. She said, “Maybe a few won’t speak English, but they are 5%, and they are stubborn.” Three hours away in Quebec City, our tour guide Sam from afreetourofquebec.com told us the same thing. “In Old City, they’ll speak English to you! They know English. Outside of the city, they’ll speak the English that they know,” he smiled. His wry statement indicated that while many Quebecers are willing to use English, their English skills are not all the same.

But we found it to be true that Quebecois used English. Most restaurant servers and shop owners easily switched to French-accented English, and the only awkwardness that occurred was our own fault, when we failed to produce a polite French “Bonjour” greeting, or awkwardly stared at rattled French, rather than announcing, “Désolé, je ne parle pas François.”

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This is my taste of Montreal! Stop by later this week for “Springtime in Québec, Part 2” to hear about our time in Québec City!

How to (Properly) Celebrate Easter

Since I posted about Lent two weeks ago, some of you have been asking how else we can commemorate Easter, the Christian celebration of the Resurrection. I mentioned that it is my personal agenda to increase all hype around the Easter holiday because it is excruciatingly under-celebrated in Christian circles, even though it happens to be our most important holiday! Here are a few ideas for thoughtful celebration.

1. Do a 40-day fast. (Lent, obviously.)
Tradition states that Lent is normally a time for prayer, repentance of sins, mortifying the flesh, and self-denial. Putting oneself in this state better prepares the believer to receive the Easter message with joy. (Note that Lent is actually 46 days long from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Therefore, if you choose to practice the Episcopalian way, you do not fast on the six Sundays because each Sunday is recognized as a celebration of the Resurrection.) I cannot recommend this practice enough. One learns so much about oneself. Regular, regimented discipline is simply life-giving. Denying yourself a simple pleasure or a selfish pursuit for 40 days is the basic idea.

2. If you can, read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church during the 40-day Lenten period.
It is quite possible that your life will change, but that is just a risk you’ll have to take. In the book, Wright doesn’t so much present new topics as he reminds us what we’ve always known according to the Bible, but have sometimes let contemporary society drown out. What happens, for example, after you die? There is a bodily resurrection, and Wright explains why this is so important and how that changes how we live here on Earth. Wright’s explanation of the meaning of the Resurrection (both to the early church and the pagan society at the time) is thorough and fascinating. He also explains its import for us today living on earth life. In some ways, it’s as if Wright notices that Christians seem to miss the LIVING ON EARTH part. Perhaps he is perplexed by separatist Christians jamming fingers in their ears, determined they’re “not listening” to the world, seeking only to “endure” this life until they get to the real one, heaven. Wright complicates this, determined to explore the mystery of “Why are we here?” and he does so by “rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.” By the end of the book, one begins seriously examining the notion of God’s intention to redeem all creation back to Himself and, against all odds, His inviting us to join Him in that work. Certainly, it’s a book best read around Easter time.

3. Listen to Handel’s Messiah in its entirety.
(If you are lucky, see if you can perform it with a local choir!) I will never forget my freshman year of college in which I practiced the choral selections of Handel’s work all winter long before performing alongside classmates, a community choir, and Wichita soloists in a spring-time performance. Handel set music to entirely Scriptural texts, and his grasp of the Christian message is profound, demonstrated through his text-painting. My connection to this work means that every time I read John 1:29, Isaiah 53:4-5, Matthew 27:43, I Corinthians 15:21, 55, and Revelations 5:12, my Bible comes alive with orchestral strains.

4. Commemorate Palm Sunday.
If you’re like me, you’ll notice that not all churches make a big to-do of this one, but I think we can do better. As a child, our church had a children’s choir, and the director somehow managed to coax all of us to brightly sing, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna to the son of David! Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna! This is Jesus!” Part of the performance which I especially enjoyed was that each child was given a real live palm branch to wave. (Growing up in Ohio, this was probably the closest I ever got to the Middle East.) I remembering handling my branch with great care as I waved it triumphantly in our little march down the center church aisle.

5. This may seem superficial, but decorate your house with touches of spring.
Put away that fuzzy winter-colored blanket and those dark red placements. Set out fresh flowers. Buy tulips, harvest forsythia, and note the new buds on the trees out front. Color hard-boiled eggs with the kids. Eat Peeps, chocolate bunnies, and those peanut butter eggs (unless you gave up sweets for Lent, that is!). These are obviously silly little seasonal things, but they remind us (especially the younger ones of us) that something special is happening, that time is passing, and that this time, as it were, has something to do with new life.

6. Attend a Good Friday service.
Better yet, organize and perform a Good Friday service for your church. In the moving around that I’ve done, I’ve been hard-pressed to find Anabaptist churches that hold these special Friday evening services. Yet as a child, the Good Friday service was an important part of my Easter experience. Many times our church included drama in the service, a simple acting out of narrated Scripture. No, it wasn’t Sight & Sound quality. We understood that Mr. Hoover wasn’t actually Jesus, and they actually weren’t nailing his hand into the cross (but those real-life carpenters dressed as soldiers sure made it look like it!) But as 10-year-olds, we were struck by the “beatings” Jesus received. We asked, “Did they really do that to Jesus?” We sang the hymns “Lead Me to Calvary,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and the spiritual “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” (but never the last verse on Good Friday!). I heard of one church that ends their Good Friday service with dimmed lights and a solemn tone, and church-goers leave quietly in order that they can contemplate the solemnity of the crucifixion.

7. If you’re the brave, curious type, attend a liturgical service.
Have you ever visited a Greek Orthodox church? Twice I’ve attended a Greek Orthodox church for Easter services, and let me tell you, it is a party! When I lived in Kansas, my friend’s brother dragged us along to this Greek Orthodox Easter service that began at 11:00 p.m. the eve of Easter. When we entered the St. George Cathedral, the lights were low, and the service began, with all the a cappella music in a minor key. Around midnight, we began an outdoor candlelit procession around the perimeter of the church, led by a priest. As we arrived back to the front of the church, the priest knocked on the large wooden doors, quoting from Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!” A voice from within quoted back, “Who is this King of glory?” The priest replied, “The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!” The voice responded, “Who is he, this King of glory?” The priest: “The Lord Almighty—he is the King of glory!” We were now inside the church, early on Easter morning. The lights shone brightly, and ancient texts were now being sung in a major key. The service lasted for several more hours, after which we were ushered into a lively fellowship hall where Greek food, wine, and conviviality flowed freely. I fondly remember this experience, and I’ve attended other Orthodox services since then. (Or rather, I’ve tried to. There was that one year that my friends and I showed up the eve of Easter at 11:00 p.m. at St. Andrew Greek Orthodox in South Bend, IN, only to discover that the Orthodox church is on an entirely different calendar, and their Easter service wasn’t for another week!) This year, I will be attending Catholic services at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec!

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8. Attend a sunrise service.
(Though, perhaps, not recommended the same year that you choose to stay up all night going to church and making Greek Orthodox friends. But it’s totally possible!) As a young girl, and even today, nothing is more exciting than waking up at the crack of dawn, carefully donning a new Easter dress, and creeping out at dark to silently watch the sun rise above the trees and quietly consider the meaning of the Resurrection. If your church does not offer a sunrise service, CREATE YOUR OWN. It is not that hard to find some friends, read some Scripture, and sing a few hymns. I remember one Kansas Easter tip-toeing in tiny dressy flats over frozen mud-clods in a barren field to a spread of blankets where sleepy Mennonite youth girls welcomed me with a steaming mug of chai as the sun wavered through low clouds. Scripture, songs, and cold sun.

9. Eat an Easter breakfast with friends.
Preferably at church, right after your sunrise service. It’s wonderful. In fact, Jesus and the disciples ate together on the beach after the Resurrection (see John 21).

10. Last but not least, wear new clothes.
I distinctly remember my grandma sending us new dresses every Easter. (Three of us sisters got the exact same one, mind you.) Nothing was more exciting than wearing that fresh new dress and donning white sandals for the first time of the season (even though it was always entirely too cold!) I don’t intend to recommend a materialistic embodiment of an inner celebration, but it does make sense that if we are ever to look our best, it should probably be on the most important Christian holiday, when we celebrate a physical, bodily resurrection of our Lord. And since it is the Resurrection that allows us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as it were, I think that there would be nothing wrong in polishing up those leather shoes, ironing a crisp cotton shirt, busting out those pastel florals, and receiving this holiday (that is, holy day) with pure joy.

Now let’s go celebrate!

Nicaragua: An Oral Photograph

I didn’t take a picture of bike taxis or red motorcycles, Nicas riding double, triple, or of tanned faces staring out of full, dusty buses.

I didn’t take a picture of clay roof tiles, bright pink walls, turquoise paint, sky blue everything, pottery-colored walls, emerald, yellow, brown ones too.

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I didn’t take a picture of animal flesh, hanging in market, the dark stalls under roofs, to protect in rainy season, narrow aisles, of a man spinning his knife-sharpening wheel, sparks flying into the soft cotton of his shirt, under the hanging canastas, piñatas, effigies.

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I didn’t take a picture of ladies’ beautiful,manicured feet, nor my culturally-inappropriate dirty ones.

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I didn’t take a picture of stepping through dimly-lit hallways into melon-colored rooms where exhausted mamas clutched tiny newborns, and baby bundles and Antorches that we gave them, and glowing fathers, lying with women on single beds, five families in one clinic room, murmuring gracias.

I didn’t take a picture of córdobas, gym-sacks, mochilas, and back-packs.

I didn’t take a picture of the Nica lady, who daily paraded by the front gate, head laden, nasal voice selling comidas.

I didn’t take a picture of tiny, heaped, road-side fires, small ash heaps sending smoke into my nostrils.

I didn’t take a picture of roosters crowing, of lavender sunrises, of reading Scripture early on quiet hammocks.

I didn’t take a picture of dumping Nicaraguan coffee into a pot, cement countertops, drying dishes with rags, of setting out fresh bananas, slicing papaya and scooping out the moist black seeds and tasting fruity flesh, of sweat rolling down my back and legs at 9:00 a.m.

I didn’t take a picture of tacos, Ricardo chicken, chilaquiles, hamburguesas, or Fresca. Of water in a bag, jello in a bag, rice in a bag, plantains sold by a girl in Central, topped with cabbage and dressing, so sweet.

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I didn’t take a picture of a Catholic funeral we barged through at Catedral, the confused old Nicaraguan woman muttering to us about a boat in the street, the girls flocking into world’s most beautiful McDonalds, and me not buying any because WAIT. Are the missionaries buying ice cream?

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I didn’t take a picture of the ugly Santa pictures, curiously covering holes on the back of the bald bus, wind whipping our hair to Latin rhythms, beats.

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I didn’t take a picture of boarding a 12 passenger van forty times, of policía with batons, of homeless people sleeping on cement, of a well-dressed woman on a motorcycle.

I didn’t take a picture of gringo tourists, sun-tanned legs embarrassingly naked, of an americano scoffing, and my pride at her acculturation.

I didn’t take a picture of a university man in crisp khakis and a beret reciting love poetry to my friends and me in Central.

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I didn’t take a picture of the English-speaking man on top of Catedral, who was surprised to find that Mennonites live in León.

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I didn’t take a picture of the jewelry vendor in the shade under the flowering yellow tree in Central, the only time I tried to barter, him laughing at me, because it’s real turquoise, doesn’t even scratch with a pliers. Doscientos, por favor.

I didn’t take a picture of Nicaraguan children singing Spanish hymns, of girls teaching me “Choco-choco-la-la” hand games, of playing kickball in the street with a small ball, of six o-clock sunsets.

I didn’t take a picture of William and me exchanging verses, in line at four-square, the kind I played in grade school, when I made a boy cry. Jehová es mi pastor, nada me faltará, Mas Jehová Dios llamó el hombre, y le dijo, ¿Dónde estás tú?

I didn’t take a picture of the Nicaraguan man whose bicycle screeched to a halt and our soccer ball rolled right up to his front tire, resulting in a glare.

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I didn’t take a picture of Yolanda, Yessenia, Selena, Karina, Julio, Omar, y David.

I didn’t take a picture of missionary men, preaching in Spanish, of missionary mothers and their flocks, their quiet tables, of their cares behind kind eyes, of south-facing blue kitchens, opened to little courtyards and plants, just like the one from Prada to Nada.

I didn’t take a picture of chickens, a small Nebraskan boy clutching his chicken, like his father must have clutched wheat, nor his sandy smile.

I didn’t take a picture of Moron, the missionary cat, nor Pip.

I didn’t take a picture of cows in the road on the way to Cerro Negro, bells ringing, horns in a filed line, wood loads in the carts.

I didn’t take a picture of my hand pressed into the darkened soil on Cerro Negro, and it springing back as the sulfur steam heated the earth, my skin.

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I didn’t take a picture of a scorpion I tried to kill, the ant farm in the cabinet I cleaned.

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I didn’t take a picture of narrating “El foso de los leones,” of working with a missionary to tweak the Google translated script, and his 8-year-old daughter surprising us both with her translation skills.

I didn’t take a picture of a woman sweeping her dirt in the Nicaraguan equivalent of the Projects, or her glare when I forgot my face, shocked at her neighbor’s smoky, chimney-less house, and turned, and locked eyes.

I didn’t take a picture of pulling a number at the meat counter of a grocery, ordering “cuatro pechugas con alas.”

I didn’t take a picture of painting a little boy’s sticky face who must have had a snack earlier. “El fin. Eres un gato.”

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I didn’t take a picture of a beautiful young girl, shyly hiding her smile, at her gate, waiting for the Pied Piper of Hamlin to take her to children’s church.

I didn’t take a picture of Raquel pulling a dictionary out of her gym sack to look up embutidos (means sausages).

I didn’t take a picture of houses with dirt floors.

I didn’t take a picture of León’s zoo, or spider monkeys, and the one whose hairy palm I held, fed a banana.

I didn’t take a picture of the senior girls playing the ukulele, Lancaster caramels melting in our mouths, lying on sandy beach towels.

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I didn’t take a picture of bobbing in the powerful Pacific waves, white-washed pinks, blues, and grays reflecting off the golden foam, salt water in my mouth, the sun ducking behind clouds, swimming and swimming, silence…

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I didn’t take a picture of the drunk man, tottering under the orange street light toward the line of children, seated on a cement embankment, waiting for church to begin, moved along by a missionary.

I didn’t take a picture of the Spanish social kiss, warmly given after el culto. Dios te bendiga.

I didn’t take a picture of my heart, congealing on the sidewalks, of it bubbling in the sunshine, or cooling in the Poneloya ocean, moistened by wave after wave… Of it being pried apart, and a new, fresh memory being lovingly planted, like an unsuspecting oyster, tossed on the beach, a piece of sand finding its way inside…

Who knows what pearl may grow from this beautiful, divine irritation.

My Ancestors, Singing, and Oasis Chorale

So the last three weeks have been FANTABULOUS.

I spent a weekend at a family reunion in southern Virginia. In case you don’t know, a Good family reunion consists of:

  1. Exquisite four-part hymn singing.
    How am I blessed with this heritage?

  1. Obligatory “Good” puns.
    “It’s ‘Good’ you made it.”
    “It’s a ‘Good’ reunion this year.”
    “These are my ‘Good’ relatives.”
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  1. Meticulous research and history prepared by our family historian, Evelyn Bear, who traced our family tree as far back as the 1500s to our Swiss roots THROUGH FOUR LINES (the Resslers, Goods, Brennemans, and Hubers). The Brennemans and Goods were Swiss Anabaptists who emigrated to America through Germany due to religious persecution, settling in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (of all places!), Melchior Brenneman in 1709, and 20-year-old Jacob Good on the ship Samuel in 1732. (Surprise, surprise, I now live in the land of my ancestors! Except both families moved to the Shenandoah Valley several years later.)
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Clockwise: My great-grandparents’ wedding photo (1904), their 50th wedding anniversary, my mother’s baby picture, my mother’s family in 1951, my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary.
  1. Fabulous coffee prepared on the spot by my coffee connoisseur cousin Paul Yates.
    Vanilla rosemary latte, anyone? (He creates his own rosemary syrup.)
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With my mama.
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There was also lots of niece-squishing.

I then drove north to the Shenandoah Valley to meet my favorite people, the Oasis Chorale, for our annual summer tour. This year we toured Virginia and the Carolinas and additionally recorded a second hymns project in conjunction with John D. Martin’s new Hymns of the Church. (Recordings will be available in October! Click here or here for up-to-date information regarding new musical releases.)

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Photo by Erin Martin.

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It’s no point trying to put into words what the experience of Oasis Chorale means to me, but I will try.

First, it is community. The more I sing with this choir, the more I come to love its individual members, the camaraderie that ensues, the spontaneous philosophical and theological discussions that we inevitably find ourselves in, and the way that we care for each other. People who aren’t conservative Mennonite may not be able to tell, but Oasis Chorale is actually extremely diverse. Our members come from a wide variety of Anabaptist, educational, and musical backgrounds, each with our individual experiences of Anabaptist communities and unique musical experiences within those communities. There is such strength in this diversity. For one, I think we are better equipped to minister to wider varieties of congregations. Second, it enables us to learn from and to support each other in our varying church, musical, and educational contexts.

THIS IS NOT TO SAY that Oasis Chorale is not first and foremost concerned about performing choral music well. It most certainly is.


You better have your pitches and rhythms learned. Along with your consonants, vowels, body alignment, proper breathing technique, appropriate tone, lifted soft palate, sense of line, inflection, suitable syllable stress, bright eyes, all performed with a sense of wonder.

But to me, Oasis is more than just a choir that sings beautiful music well. It’s a choir that strengthens its members for service beyond just a two-week summer tour. It encourages and refreshes singers, musicians, song leaders, artists (also a huffing lot of teachers) to pursue beauty and truth the REST of the year. This happens due to having a visionary conductor who expects discipline and personal musical growth (which is possible both within and without the choir) and who regularly invites us to contemplate the poetry of musical texts and the truth expressed therein. This emphasis on discipline and thoughtfulness is a haven for me.

Getting to be immersed in this convivial, contemplative, Christian community is something for which I thank God.
Every.
Year.

As a choir, we visited colonial Williamsburg this year and performed a candlelit concert in the historic Bruton Parish church. Definitely a highlight!

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Performing by candlelight in the historic Bruton Parish Church in colonial Williamsburg. Photo by Erin Martin.

One line from a hymn we recorded this year captured my attention and expresses a very particular worldview which I personally think aligns with the mission of Oasis Chorale:

“Crown Him the Lord of peace;
Whose pow’r a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease,
Absorbed in prayer and praise.”

For these things, we sing.

Amen.

Pardon Me, Lancaster

Have you ever wondered what happens when your most average Mennonite visits Lancaster, the hippest “Mennonite” city on the planet? THIS. A series of apologies for showing up in public. And some pretty lame Instagrams.

I offer my apologies to all the truly trendy Lancaster city-dwellers. You must know that I’m not actually trying to fit in. (I’m one beanie and one pair of ankle booties short.)

Also, I showed up in public at one of your meeting houses with, of all things, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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In this case, I should actually apologize to Russia.
Dostoevsky: Lancaster can’t even take you seriously. In fact, Lancaster, I have a question for you:

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Anyway, City of Lancaster! I visited! Apparently, it was kind of a big deal for you.

So pardon me.
*disgruntled huff
*situates skirt

One thing: it’s really not fair dropping me off and leaving me to figure you out for myself because I can’t tell your fake “English” from your real ones. I can’t tell who’s a “J.O.” (that’s northern Indiana dialect for “Jumped Over,” meaning those Amish who have “jumped over” the fence to the other side: being non-Amish.)

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You see, Lancaster, I’m an expert at picking out the “J.O’s” in Indiana. When my family (who does not live among the Amish) comes to visit me, they are surprised when I point at modern-looking teens walking around town and point out that they’re actually Amish youths, dressed up in their rumspringa clothes. My family sees a hipster, a prep, and a jock, but I see “Sadie Miller,” “Ida Hoffstettder,” and “Ray’s Johnny.” …Also, I can pick out  Mennonite and Amish J.O.’s on social media.

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No really, I’m pretty good. In this line, you see two people: an Amish lady plus a schlepped-up high school kid. But I know for a fact: it’s mother and daughter.

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#fact
#J.O.
#rumspringa

But in Lancaster, I can’t tell! Is that tattooed barista a closet Mennonite? Is that homeless guy actually an Amish hipster? Is the immaculately tailored businessman actually a wealthy Mennonite in disguise? How does one tell? It’s very unfair not to let me in on all your secrets.

I’ll tell you, Lancaster, that I started exploring at the Main Street Exchange, that Mennonite mecca of modest clothing goods. Off of 322 in Blue Ball, PA, Main Street Exchange is every Mennonite girl’s dream. Racks and racks of gorgeous, modest skirts. A-line, denim, maxi, and pencil. Tube, pleated, and midi. It’s all there. And artfully arranged, differentiated by style, texture, and material.

And so Lancaster, to try to fit in, I Instagrammed. (Don’t laugh.)

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Next, I headed off to Rachel’s Crepery, where I’ve made pilgrimages in the past.

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I was seated next to a light-colored brick fireplace and a curiously large palm. I hugged my mug of coffee, anticipating my Greek Omelette crepe. The blue skies and sunshine streaming in the window, my crepe, and my cheerful waitress did not disappoint. (You know, some businesses know how to hire workers who are unequivocally delighted to serve everyone who enters, no matter how dour and dawdy they are. Rachel’s Crepery in Lancaster and Jeni’s Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio are two companies who do this.) My waitress smiled at me,  even though I was wearing a shirt from last season! Good job, Lancaster.

I would have photographed my crepe, but:

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Next, I scouted out a runing shoe store to look for new trainers. (NEW BALANCE FRIENDZ: HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEW 1080s?!!!) The shoes are turning out to be rather elusive, however, and I didn’t even find them.) Soon, I had the abrupt realization that I was shopping for athletic wear in LANCASTER.

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I’m pretty sure no one in Lancaster even wears athletic shoes.That, for you, would be so… basic. So much for trying. (See, even when I try to be Lancaster-y, I can’t even.)

Wow. Also. Sorry, Lancaster! You guys have a LOT of rules about using credit cards! Several times people gave me the evil eye for whipping out my plastic. I’m sorry. In the rest of the world, we use credit cards for the tiniest of purchases, and no one charges our businesses exorbitant fees for processing. I mean, I can deal with your policies, but I’ll have to get used to it?

By this time, I was ready for more caffeine. Now, there were like a hundred hip coffee shops to choose from in Lancaster city.

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Obviously, I chose Prince Street Café because it’s so… central. Even though it’s kind of… basic. So I paid $3 to in Prince Street Café next to three “Chinese” men, a chemistry “student,” and a “guy” with a meticulously groomed mustache. (Not buying it. They were probably all just Amish.) I spent the rest of my afternoon in Lancaster reading Dostoevsky, but, in an attempt to fit in with the locals, I religiously kept checking Instagram. I didn’t TAKE that many Instagrams because I mean, I know that my photography isn’t that well composed, I know that it’s not white enough, and I know that you, Lancaster, would be embarrassed if I tagged you in pictures of my embarrassingly Midwestern self.

So, you’re welcome.

Soon, I left the city, heading south on 81, excited for my next stop, several states away. Later, I ended up stranded for over an hour in a traffic jam behind a car in which a man was stuck in the trunk and was trying to get out. I decided that it was highly metaphorical of my day in Lancaster city.

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Just kidding. (But thanks for reading.)
Peace, love, and authenticity to all.