Reflections on Menno-Pause

This post accompanies The 50th Anniversary of Menno-Pause, and includes reflections by Lowell Miller, Tom Harley, Verlin Miller and Sue Clemmer Steiner.

Lowell Miller

Fifty Years Later

There once were five guys at GC
Who wrote what they wanted to see
They tried a new style
But just a short while
And the Pres put them all out to sea.

We went separate ways
For most of our days
After what we did write
Was considered a blight
And an insult to Mennonite ways

It’s been fifty years
Since we left GC in tears
We’ve lived normal lives
With children and wives
Have wrestled and overcome fears.

We still like to think
Some with paper and ink
Some by fishing
Some by wishing
And look for a good way to link.

— Lowell Miller, September 2017


Tom Harley

I am now 71 going on 102.  I was then 21 going on 14.

My memory is notoriously unreliable. But if I remember correctly, I wrote two satiric pieces for Menno-pause. One was the article about dancing. It was bitingly satiric. But it was far more ironic than it was satiric. I had never danced. I had no interest in dancing. I couldn’t dance. I wouldn’t dance. I was afraid of dancing. If Goshen College had sponsored a dance, I would have been too shy to go, too scared of women to participate, and too ashamed of my body to make it do anything even remotely akin to dancing. But hey, such is the life of a revolutionary satirist.

But I think I also wrote the “deleted words” summary. I liked it then and still do. It too is ironic. I actually got thrown out of college for deleting the word fuck 37 times. That is a remarkable feat. We had the common decency and social sensitivity to remove obscenities from our writing, and they still chucked us out. In retrospect, I wish we had left those words in. It certainly did us no good to take them out. And it was such hard work – they had been so strategically placed and artfully deployed.

Long live satire. Long live free speech. Long live gay rights. Long live progressive politics. Farewell uptight institutions and quaint Moralism. Farewell homophobia. Farewell coverings.

— Tom Harley, September 2017


Verlin Miller

Post Menno-Pause Reflections Fifty years later

This week watching the PBS Vietnam War series of Ken Burns and Lyn Novick brought back to me the angst, anger and fear during the 60’s. The impulse for Menno-Pause cannot be understood without the experience of the immediacy of a world gone crazy with violence. The Vietnam series is required viewing for anyone wanting to understand. My “coming of age” maybe began with the rude awakening of John Kennedy’s assassination, news of the civil rights movement in the South, the Vietnam war and the draft, and the broader student peace movement of the 60’s.   Our story [my story] can’t be told without folk and blues roots music, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and of course Sargent Pepper. We listened to them together. I also learned to appreciate Tom’s collection of Hayden and more [having not had Mary Oyer was my loss]. And I still have memories of Pete Seeger’s “Waist deep in the big muddy and the big fool says push on” and The Smothers Brothers sarcasm.

We were five young men from rather conservative churches and sheltered cultural backgrounds exploring dissent in a time when leadership was fearful of losing control. We felt that we had been “sold a bill of goods’ –both theologically in our churches and politically/socially by our conservative cultures– which demanded fresh responses. We were not really activists like some people we knew, but felt compelled to speak somehow.

There was a kind of meanness in the suspensions, since all would immediately lose their student deferment and be subject to the draft. Any Girardian or reader of James Alison would recognize right away the dynamics involved in a large majority of Goshen College students standing and applauding President Mininger’s speech justifying the abrupt suspension. “The many righteous have to stand up to the wicked few”. We were not heroes, though in the aftermath, I think Sam and Tom’s resistance to the draft was heroic. But it was clear that for some Menno-Pause was “dangerous” and many of you reading this decided you were on “the other side”-siding with President Mininger’s call for “family values” and exclusion- standing and applauding with approval for removing and punishing the “audacity of a visible danger on campus”. I still don’t understand that need to make a stand against. It was a fearful time. Some no doubt had little idea how to respond or which side they were on.  For the editors there was a personal urgency to call for a sane world. During my years in college I read all I could of the Anabaptist history of dissent, followed John Howard Yoder and the Concern movement as they wrote and spoke.

I have been asked in more recent years if I had “survivors guilt”.  I’m sure I felt some of that, but what I remember is the devastation and anger at the loss of my closest friends. I felt deeply the pain and disruption in their lives.  I kept contact in the transition and I knew the time was volatile. I didn’t feel the college administrators were on our side and felt betrayed by the acquiescence of some professors. Today I’m grateful and highly value my time, friendship and shared hilarity with the other four editors.

As far as my own journey, I was heavily influenced by the student house church movement that began on campus and later became a part of the Mennonite “fringe” communal movement of the Atlanta Fellowship, Reba Place Fellowship and the Fellowship of Hope.

The success of Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, also the Marginal Mennonite Society and the Daily Bonnet on Facebook stem from similar impulses. I am shocked but maybe not surprised at the current absurdities of today’s political situation. Fifty years later, dissent and resistance is needed now as much as any time in our history.

— Verlin Miller September 29, 2017


Sue Clemmer Steiner

Navigating Churning Waters

There’s a spot in Indiana where the leafy maple grows;
Tis our dear and glorious Parkside where the Elkhart River flows…[1]

Thus begins the official Goshen College song. Yet in my four years as a Goshen undergrad in the late 1960’s, I ignored the Elkhart River completely. It was a mile away, over by the College Cabin and the dam, and was probably the most beautiful spot in Goshen. Yet I never once canoed on it or even got my pant legs wet from the banks.

But at Goshen College I did get my pant legs wet in another way. I steered a venerable but fragile craft through churning waters, avoiding rocks, trying not to take on too much water or capsize my little boat. The craft I steered was the college’s official student newspaper—The Goshen College Record—housed “across the tracks” in a non-descript cement block building.[2] During my stint as Record editor during the tumultuous 1967-68 school year, I claimed a voice I still own. I also began to imagine myself as a leader.

Thirteen years later I wrote in a commissioned article in the Goshen College Bulletin:[3]

To recall the late 60’s at Goshen College takes almost more energy than
I can muster. The times were heady, frantic, larger than life. It seems to me now that they must have run on sheer energy.

As editor of the Record, I had the job of analyzing the times while they happened. During that era, it seems to me, both the idealism and the disillusionment of the age impinged upon our sheltered institution—and our sheltered psyches—with a force which caught everyone off guard.

That year the war in Vietnam heated up, spreading dis-ease, threatening to keep us coming-of-age folks from the good life we thought was our due. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, spurring a distressed Record reporter to write: “Today the American Dream looks like it is nothing but a gargoyled vision of another time.”[4]

And early in the year, while the Record staff was still finding its way, four male members of our “publications Brüderhof”—including photographer Sam Steiner—distributed two mimeographed issues of an underground newspaper they called Menno-Pause.[5] While I had no part in creating the content, I did unlock an office door so the guys could make page stencils. The “M-P boys” saw their irreverent little rag as “a gadfly…a watchdog…a critic…an extended student opinion board…and general all-around crap.” They assumed it would be officially ignored.

We at the Record struggled with whether and how to officially respond. We were not of one mind. After much discussion, we agreed on a staff editorial stating our hope that Menno-Pause would survive beyond its initial issues.[6] To do so, we suggested, the paper would need to get beyond “immature sarcasm” and crude language and “choose more significant subject matter.”[7] Perhaps we showed our true colours by including in that issue of the Record three photos by Sam Steiner, as well as an innocuous signed news article or column by each of the other M-P boys. Privately, we enjoyed the unscientific stats on the rise and fall of the head covering in Menno-Pause, based on photos from the college yearbook from 1953-67.

None of us foresaw the degree to which Menno-Pause could be interpreted as a political act against the institution and its value system. The suspension of the M-P boys, applauded by a large bloc of the student body at a Presidential Forum, sparked a crisis for campus opinion leaders. The applause took us completely by surprise. It hit me smack in the face. It felt thunderous and endless and directed at me too.

We had dimly realized that some students considered us Record and yearbook folks to be a “self-styled elite.” Certainly some members of our loosely-connected Brüderhof were part of campus subgroups focusing on the arts or on popular music or on left-leaning politics. We tended to inhabit the English department or one of the social sciences. And our religious expressions were less conventional than the campus norm. But we hadn’t grasped how suspect these various associations and inclinations made us to some students.

From time to time we claimed to want to know what the “silent majority” thought. Yet we were unprepared when we found out. I and other campus leaders with mildly left-wing leanings wondered if we any longer had a mandate to do our jobs. We felt like a rejected minority.

During those dark days when I felt very unsure of myself, I had two invaluable guides. John Fisher, for whom I graded freshman English essays, advised: the important thing is to stay cool until tomorrow. He informed me that I was not going to even think of resigning. We need your leadership now more than ever, he asserted.

Meanwhile a beleaguered Dan Hess, the young faculty advisor we claimed as almost one of us, called a soul-searching meeting of the Record staff. We talked about the minimum requirement for campus publications to continue—the ability to be able to discern the main body of campus opinion and to present it at face value.

Over the next days and weeks, I glimpsed a way forward. I felt determination rising within me. We’d show those students who applauded. We were going to be darn good journalists!

With Dan’s support, we set ourselves to it. We began with a double-page spread on Menno-Pause which gave due voice to all varieties of campus opinion. Our features on the meaning of Vietnam and of Martin Luther King’s death for Goshen students followed the same pattern. I’m still proud of them.

My editorials took on a tone and angle of approach I still recognize and own. My confidence grew as various people—including a few administrators—wrote notes to me in campus mail, thanking me for my editorials and expressing the opinion that we were doing good journalism.

That year at Goshen, I sorted out how to honour my own views while endeavouring to represent the whole student body, and to some degree those things important to the institution itself. Somehow I figured out how to do this while staying connected with the M-P boys and other friends who expressed little use for “the establishment.” Weekdays I studied and edited the Record. Some weekends I visited two of the M-P boys in Chicago. Less than two years later, I married one of them.

That Record year also afforded me the chance to try my wings as a staff leader, team builder and encourager. Forging a team spirit, making space for others to shine, but also knowing when my own voice needs to be clearly heard—this has always been my best leadership stance. I learned it at Goshen College, navigating a small craft called the Record during that tumultuous year.[8]

[1] “Goshen College ever singing” was adopted as Goshen’s alma mater in 1911. After falling into disuse, it has  recently enjoyed a modest revival.

[2] Previously, caged mice occupied the space as part of a psychology experiment.

[3] Sue Clemmer Steiner, “1967-68: The Way They Were” in Goshen College Bulletin, March 1981 (Vol. 66, No. 2), 4-5.

[4] Dan Kauffman, “A Nation Divided—Will There Be A Sane Answer?” in The Goshen College Record, April 12, 1968 (Vol. 69, No. 12), 4.

[5] Copies of Menno-Pause are on deposit at the Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN) and at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario at Conrad Grebel University College (Waterloo, ON).

[6] We adapted a pro-M-P piece submitted by columnist Steve Kreider, reworking it with his participation.

[7] “On Campus Gadflies,” in The Goshen College Record, October 6, 1967 (Vol. 69, No. 2), 2.

[8] In spring 1968, I wrote an 11-page piece for myself and a few others, chronicling what had happened and my reactions.  It was invaluable to me as I wrote this essay.

— Sue Clemmer Steiner, extracted from Flowing with the River: Soundings from my Life and Ministry (2013; no longer in print)


If you have memories of the Menno-Pause affair at Goshen College, please share them in the comment section (“Leave a Reply” at the bottom of this blog.)

See also The 50th Anniversary of Menno-Pause, with historical review and comments by Sam Steiner See also Menno Pause Revisited by Dan Hess, first published in CMW Journal in 2009

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Menno-Pause

  1. I write from Kobe, Japan, where I am celebrating the 50th anniversary of my first visit to this country. My father, then Dean of AMBS, brought me along on his 3-month “Project Contacting Younger Churches in Asia and Africa.” As a boy of 15, the trip opened my eyes to the revolutionary situation of the world in 1967, with visits to Hong Kong, where the Cultural Revolution spilled over into the British colony, a wild weekend in Vietnam where we watched fire fights from the roofs of missionaries, to London, where we viewed John Lennon acting in the film “How I Won the War.” All over Asia were whorehouses devoted to the rest and Recreation of American .GIs

    My father pulled me away from a turbulent junior year at Goshen High School, where I had joined a band of precocious hippie freaks. When Dad went to see the principal for permission to miss a term at school, the principal replied that he wouldn’t have let me return anyway, since I was a Communist. Thus I wound up as a 16-year old freshman at Goshen College in the spring of 1968.

    There I fell in with a band of elite revolutionary intellectuals, including Sue Clemmer, who published my reviews of books by Norman Mailer and William Burroughs in the Record. We were all reading Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown. Mennopause was regarded as a hallowed revolutionary act. One night a large crowd on campus gathered and began chanting “Ho Ho Ho Chi Miniger.” Dick Burkholder introduced me to Ramparts Magazine. The Backdoormen brought Chicago blues to campus. I visited Jim Wenger in Chicago, where he took me to see the Joffrey Ballet and Howling Wolf.

    That spring a group of us went up to Wisconsin to canvas for Eugene McCarthy. When we got home, LBJ resigned. That summer a group including Lenny Preheim took a van to New York City for the GC/EMC Urban Seminar. I wound up living in Harlem and working with Carol Beachy at a children’s day camp at the Seventh Avenue Mennonite Church. My first demonstration was a massive picketing of Hubert Humphrey at an Upper East Side hotel. Afterward the NYC mounted police chased us on horseback all the way down Park Avenue.

    Like others I have been watching the Burns/Novick “Vietnam War” documentary. As to its fairness, Todd Gitlin had one of the best reviews I’ve heard for a Nation magazine podcast.While I was in Saigon for only three days, I saw the Buddhists sitting in the streets before the presidential palace, saw police chief Loan who notoriously executed a VC suspect on TV. We drove up to the vast American base at Bien Hoa north of Saigon, filled with American military vehicles as far as the eye could see. Along the way were car washes every few hundred yards, which doubled as brothels for the American soldiers.

    1968 at Goshen College was a high-water mark for revolutionary thought and excitement. Afterward either it or I calmed down, and nothing after was quite the same.

    Ross Lynn Bender
    Kobe, Japan

    Like

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