Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rainbow Fondue

I spent this last weekend with 300 women at a retreat in Northern Minnesota. I found out later that the weekend was rainbow themed. Not that there was much diversity – they were all pretty much white Mennonites from both sides of the border; but I guess it was a time of thinking like Noah that God’s promises are true. The theme song was “Mine, Mine, Mine, Jesus is Mine” and the entrance was decorated with a small fountain, a garden-variety trellis, and a variety of potted plants. The basketball hoops in the church gymnasium had been shunted to the side and during the tea time were replaced by cascading chocolate fondu pots which bubbled continuously like a springs at Yellowstone National Park without the smell of sulfur. My job was to serve the “ladies” (as Mennonite women are called) Rainbow Amaretto Tea during the tea time which in terms of aesthetics and ritual was the unquestioned climax of the weekend.

My favorite part was the sale counter at the front of the gym/rainbow park fantasia. Rows of pristine tea sets straight from the set of an eighties version of Pride and Prejudice or Love Came Softly were flanked by startling hand-molded baby-dolls which were nested neatly in delicate tea cups (two essential symbols of Mennonite female identity combined!). Resting on the wings were copies of the Eldredges’ 2005 (?) female explainer Captivating and other handicrafts and embroidery. Co-incidentally copies of a second edition of Dorcus Smucker’s book Ordinary Days were also available for sale.

Dorcus was the keynote speaker at this ladies retreat (I wonder if she knew about the rainbow theme and what she said about it? They turned off the intercom so we couldn’t hear what was going on). She reads this blog sometimes she says so maybe she will let us know. Dorcus likes to act like Margaret Mead at events like this (not in a pubescent Samoan fashion I’m sure but in the general “Mother of Anthropology” sort of way); I wonder what she thought? With a bunch of relatives and pseudo-relatives at this one it was hard for me to really put on my inner Franz Boas or Clifford Geertz (and being excluded from the workshops and lecture sessions as a bearded male “server” did not help give balance to my critique). Yet the ritual and material culture of the place does seem to suggest a few things. I should have taken better notes in order to be more exacting, but my over-all impression is that the Ann of Green Gables-style princess in pure white with golden hair piled high on a sun drenched stroll under an Asiatic parasol still ranks as the leading archetype of Mennonite feminine romanticism. While serving what I was made to understand to be “Kievian” Chicken, I was struck by the shear thrall of the ritualized events as they were unfurled in undulating waves of (what to me seemed) kitsch and cliché, the anticipation was thick: What would happen next?, Who should receive the next round of applause? One black-haired, doe-eyed, 15-year-old girl put it this way, “This is just so intense! It all happens so fast! Like I know I heard everything people said, but I don’t know if I can remember it well enough to apply it to my life. There is just so much to digest.” Things happened fast here. In this chocolate heaven-rainbow dream/gymnasium it became clear how easily the males in the room could be regarded as secondary humans, there to serve the needs of the ladies, and how easily Mennonite ladies can do what they want when they set their minds toward a certain image of possible roles in a world where they make the rules for the weekend.

6 Comments:

Blogger Marilyn said...

awww, darren. u r such a respectable, servant-like, mennonite boy. i m sure all the "ladies" enjoyed bossing u around 4 the weekend. :)

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Harlan said...

Which would you prefer Darrin, the breathless, white clad, golden-haired, sun drenched Ann of green gables princess or the Warrior princess of the Eldrigdes?

7:54 PM  
Blogger Dorcas said...

I guess I saw the rainbows in their original sense of the symbol of a promise rather than of diversity, New Age thought, or any number of more recent hijackings.
Interesting that where you saw not much diversity, others saw a lot of it. But then, (cough) you're from NYC, aren't you?
It was good to meet you and also to catch up with your lovely wife.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Dorcas said...

RYC--Chuckle. You write whatever you want on your blog, whether I might like it or not, you hear?

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Karen Layman said...

Can't help smiling at your observations. Thanks for lending a hand and (hopefully) not taking offense at being "bossed around by women who have set their minds to what needs to happen".

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Karen Layman said...

and....for the purpose of clarification.....it was Chicken Cordon Bleu. :-)

4:56 PM  

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