I review books on my blog that are relevant to the issues at the core of my work: social justice, undoing racism, healing from trauma, and so on. I’ll get to today’s book review in a second. First, a little background is in order…
Prior to January 2006 I knew almost nothing about Mennonites. I thought they were kind of like Amish people, which, as it turns out, they kind of are. Both denominations are rooted in the Anabaptist movement of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The followers of Jacob Amman (the Amish) split from the Mennonites in 1693 over doctrinal disagreements. Though both groups eschew infant baptism, agree on basic Bible principles, and share a commitment to pacifism, the Amish are more conservative than Mennonites in terms of dress, use of technology, interpretation of the Bible, and other issues. This, of course is WAY too simplistic an explanation, but hey, this is a book review on a blog, not a class on Anabaptist history and theology.
One fateful weekend in January 2006 I attended the first gathering of Coming to the Table at Eastern Mennonite University. I experienced an unexpected and significant life-shift. I began what have become treasured, ongoing relationships with Coming to the Table, the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU, and several people of the Mennonite faith.
Consequently, my interest in Mennonite in a Little Black Dress was high. Rhoda Janzen was 43-years old when her husband of 15 years left her for a man named Bob whom he met on gay.com. One week later a drunk driver almost kills her. To recuperate from her injuries–both physical and otherwise–she returns to the home of her parents and the community of Mennonites she had left many years earlier. And she wrote this book.
I was uncomfortable quite early in the story with Janzen’s descriptions of various bodily functions, her use of language that will be considered vulgar by many, and her use of sarcasm to ridicule some family and church members. I thought of my Mennonite friends and could feel them cringing… and I cringed. I also got really tired of hearing about her ex-husband and Bob from gay.com. But I got used to it. I found her story an engaging and mostly enjoyable one. Most of the anecdotal tales she tells serve her memoir well.
Though my feelings about Mennonite in a Little Black Dress are not all positive what puts Janzen’s book firmly in the “yes, I recommend this book” column are two things. First, she’s a talented story-teller; the book moves along well and never drags. Second, she weaves throughout the book the recognition that when times are truly difficult she knows where “home” is. No matter how difficult her relationships with the Mennonite faith and various of her family members, they are–at the core–her community. And this is, ultimately, a story of the importance of community.
And the importance of community is something I believe all my Mennonite friends will agree rests at the core of their faith. Community is, for everyone, certainly at the core of all true healing.