In the Nov 1 issue of the New Yorker, the humour section of the magazine included an “Extinct-Species Waiting List” by writer Bill Scheft in which we Mennonites make a surprising appearance.
The article begins with the observation that the US Fish and Wildlife Service had recently proposed moving two species – the ivory-billed woodpecker and the Bachman’s warbler from the categories of “endangered” to “extinct.”
It then provides a list of 100 other so-called species that are also to be considered extinct. The list begins tamely enough with a dozen names that bear a resemblance to the two above-mentioned newly extinct birds. And then it becomes increasingly bizarre. Some of the names are punny and animal-sounding — the Six-toed defaulted-loan sloth, for example. Others are things that have become obsolete – the VHS head cleaner.
And, there we are, second from last – The Woke Mennonite.
We aren’t the only type of human to make the list. The Woke Mennonite is in the company of the Soylent Greengrocer, the Muted sycophant, the Neutered wacko, Nuanced pundit, Evenhanded flack, and the Irony-free hipster, among others. Given the cross-over between Mennonites and hipsters and our famous inability to appreciate irony, it seems that many Mennonites are extinct twice over.
The astute reader will have noted that not all Mennonites are listed as extinct, only the Woke ones. Most of us, on reading this, will naturally think that the reader means the Mennonites who are awake, and suspect this is a reference to the large number of Mennonites who doze off at least once during our 75-minute sermons. A quick consultation with the Mirriam-Webster’s dictionary (I am afraid that GAMEO is no help to us on this occasion), shows that “woke,” though indeed the past participle of wake, also means “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”
That woke Mennonites are extinct was news most disturbing.
You can imagine my distress. What kind of cataclysmic event had occurred, I wondered, that had wiped out the greater part of all progressive Mennonite Churches? That I am still alive and able to read of the extinction of the Woke Mennonite suggests that I, myself, am not woke. I know this might be the case. I expect that all of the woke Mennonites out there will find themselves nodding with humble acknowledgement that, though woker than some, none of us can claim total wokeness. After all, who but God can see into our souls and know the true level of our wokeness?
But then, who is this Bill Scheft who thinks he has seen into all of our souls and called out our wokeness as so paltry as to be nonexistent — as extinct even as the “sufferable boar”?
No, I decided I could not simply accept the reality of Woke Mennonite’s extinction based on the authority of it appearing in the mainstream media.
Instead, like all good truth-seekers, I turned to the internet and social media.
I first checked Mennonite Twitter. If the Woke Mennonite was indeed extinct, my follower count would have dwindled to the double digits and the church facebook page would consist of nothing but memorial posts. I was relieved to see that this was not the case. I found there many a woke Mennonite alive and well and still posting about action against social injustice.
I even checked the mainstream Mennonite media. I am happy to report that woke Mennonites are still there as well. In the most recent issue of the Canadian Mennonite, the second book listed in the annual book roundup is a book about race relations and theology (my book, which cannot claim the same level of wokeness, is much further down the list). Moreover, the featured articles on the Canadian Mennonite webpage include one about facing our involvement with Indigenous residential schools and another about defunding the police.
All of this is to say that we should not be alarmed. Given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I am here to say that – despite the New Yorker’s assertion to the contrary – the Woke Mennonite is by no means extinct.
This is not, of course, the first time that the mainstream media has erred in its understanding of Mennonites.
It could be that Bill Scheft made that common error of mistaking us for the Amish, Quakers or Mormons though I cannot say which group he thought were alive and well and actively aware of racial and social justice at some point in history and now, sadly, extinct. Perhaps it was none of the above but rather the Shakers, who might have been considered woke in some regards and are almost now extinct. Mennonites have pacifism in common with the Shakers but traditionally diverged from them both in our preference for patriarchy and for having large families.
We Mennonites don’t really have a golden age of wokeness to look back upon. Oh, sure, we might look to our Anabaptist ancestors as the wokest of all people in their staunch refusal to have anything to do with the systems of oppression that dominated sixteenth-century Europe. They didn’t speak out about racial injustice, it is true, but we are all pretty confident that Dirk Willems would have turned back and saved his pursuer, whatever the colour of their skin.
Yet, I think the general consensus among people who care about such things is that there were some early indications of wokeness among Mennonites in the Americas back when they were quietly opposing slavery but that real concerns about racial justice began in the 1940s and really took off during the civil rights movement. By the time the word “woke” came to refer to social activism, Mennonites were there and could rightly use the word to describe themselves. And that, far from being driven to extinction, wokeness has been slowly but steadily growing among us since then. Not all Mennonites, of course, but some. And more and more each year.
And so I am telling your here and now — do not believe the words of Bill Scheft as printed in that worldly magazine, the New Yorker. He might not hear any of us Mennonites calling ourselves woke. But that doesn’t mean that there are no Woke Mennonites among us.
We’re just too humble to call ourselves woke.
And also there’s that nagging sense that the term might be used ironically.
A cocktail exists called the Stay Woke. This cocktail is a variation of the Stay Woke which is itself a variation of the Boulevardier. The Woke Mennonite is plainer than the Stay Woke, using sweet cold brew coffee instead of coffee liqueur and sweet vermouth instead of punt e mes.
The Woke Mennonite
- 1 oz bourbon
- 1 oz campari
- 1/2 oz sweetened cold brew coffee
- 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
- a twist of orange peel to garnish
Place all ingredients except the garnish in a mixing glass. Stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with orange peel.
Drink this while contemplating racial injustice and searching your soul to determine whether you have the right to unironically call yourself “woke.”
I agree that there is both historical evidence and a current connection between Mennonites and their better awakened selves. Not all Mennonites certainly, but enough to create a sizable wake.
I look forward to pulling your book from my to-be-read pile and search through its quenching contents for clues as to who is and who is not.
As always delightful and thorough in your research!
I would count myself in as a devoted woke Mennonite.