Tag Archives: six degrees of separation

Playing The Mennonite Game

I think you went to college with my son.  Aren’t you the girl that just got married to my good friend’s nephew? If I’m not mistaken you played volleyball with my cousin’s daughter. Isn’t your aunt the principal at the high school where my son is a teacher?

That’s a quick excerpt from a conversation I had last week when I went to a Winnipeg school to meet the university education students I am supervising there. As I chatted on the front steps with one of my students a female staff member came out the door. We introduced ourselves and within a minute found we had four or five connections with each other. My student teacher stood there with this quizzical look on her face. You could tell she was thinking, “You two women have never met each other before and in sixty seconds you’ve found all these connections?” 

 I tried to explain.  “As soon as we introduced ourselves we knew from one another’s last names we were both Mennonite and so we started trying to find people we might both know. It’s called playing The Mennonite Game

      The Mennonite Game must seem strange to those who aren’t part of the Mennonite milieu. It is much like the popular six degrees of separation theory. This is the idea that everyone is on average six personal connections away from any other person on earth either by acquaintance or kinship or some common experience.  In the past Mennonites have tended to live in fairly isolated communities and have often married within their own cultural circle. Many have studied at Mennonite private institutions of higher learning, gone to a Mennonite summer camp or done service with a Mennonite charitable organization. These commonalities mean people with Mennonite names usually have plenty of easy to find connections with one another.

 Traveling and living abroad for six years my husband Dave and I discovered even when we met Mennonites in places as far flung as Australia and Hong Kong we were still able to play The Mennonite Game and make connections.

Bruno Dyck in his paper Exploring Congregational Clans: Playing the Mennonite Game in Winnipeg explains it well.

The goal of this game is to see how quickly two Mennonites, meeting each other for the first time can get to know each other’s family ancestry and establish how many of each other’s relatives they know. While some participants may play this game reluctantly due to peer pressure, others seem to play for the sheer fun and challenge of it. In any case participants likely believe that knowing something of another person’s familial ancestry helps to understand that person better.

A You Tube singer named BLT has made a recording of a song called The Mennonite GameThe chorus goes like this……..

Isn’t your brother Cornie related to my brother-in-law Abe

And doesn’t your sister Stella have a nephew by the name of Toews

Come on everybody play the Mennonite Game, you’ll like it you will see

Just open up your mind and if you try real hard, you’ll discover you’re related to me.

The Mennonite Game is becoming harder to play since the majority of North American Mennonites now live in a variety of neighborhoods in urban multi-cultural settings. Most Mennonites are attending public high schools and universities, and many Mennonite young adults are marrying non-Mennonites and gaining last names that aren’t instantly recognizable as Mennonite.  The Mennonite church is expanding at the greatest rate in African countries so there are thousands of new Mennonites who don’t have traditional Mennonite names. It may be that in a generation or two it will be almost impossible to play The Mennonite Game.  Depending on your point of view that might not be such a bad thing. 

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A Rhizomatic Sunday

I learned about rhizomes in church on Sunday morning. They are plants that propagate via an underground stem. Buds at the joints send out new shoots, and make new connections with other shoots. Rhizomes create quite a mess as they intertwine and grow madly off in all directions. A rhizome has been used as a metaphor by two theorists Deleuze and Gauttari who say it best describes a sprawling, unhierarchical system of connections. It is the direct opposite of the tree and root metaphor which can pin point the start of something and track its upward and linear growth.

The six degrees of separation idea is an example of a rhizome. Everyone is really only six connections away from any other person in the world. All humans are connected in some way.The internet is another example of a rhizome. You start searching for something, which leads you to something else, and then something else, and eventually perhaps back to where you started, but perhaps to something completely new you never expected when you first began your search. The speaker in church was using the rhizome metaphor to describe the pattern of the Mennonite Church’s growth worldwide. 

I liked the rhizome metaphor and couldn’t get it out of my head all day yesterday or this morning on my walk. 

Just for fun I decided to put my Sunday under a rhizomatic microscope, looking for as many connections as possible in everything we did and everyone we met.  We were visiting Fort Garry Fellowship on Sunday. We are in the process of ‘shopping’ for a new church home since moving to Winnipeg from Hong Kong. Our connection to Fort Garry Fellowship stems from the fact that my parents and two of my siblings and their families attend church there. 

The speaker who introduced us to rhizomes was a Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) professor named Gordon Zerbe. I don’t really know him but connections abound. My husband Dave and I are CMU alumnus.  Gordon was one of our son Joel’s favorite professors when he was at CMU.  Gordon’s wife Wendy has written an article about the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona,  where we lived for a year. A woman who attended my church in Hong Kong had studied at a seminary in the Philippines where Gordon was a teacher for a time. My sister and her husband visited the Zerbes when they lived in the Philippines. 

After the church service I found lots of people in the congregation I had connections with. I talked with Connie, who I’d worked with on a writing project in the past. She is an aunt to four of my cousins, but not my aunt. I talked to Marge who used to be my neighbor, whose husband played baseball with mine, and who I’ve been friends with for more than thirty years. I talked to Deb who was a high school chum. I talked to Henry who has read lots of my articles and columns. 

We went out for lunch with Matthew O Young who was our student at International Christian School (ICS) in Hong Kong and now happens to be studying Criminal Justice at the University of Manitoba. I had connected with Matt when he was a student in two of my ICS English classes and Dave was his basketball coach.  

In the afternoon we went for a walk to the St. Boniface home where the fashion company Voila is headquartered. I had bought a pair of pants there several weeks ago that needed to be hemmed. Now they were ready and I had to pick them up. I heard about Voila fashions through my future daughter-in-law Alisa who is friends with the Voila designer Andreanne Dandeneau. Alisa got to know Andreanne because her sister is friends with one of Alisa’s friends. 

In the evening Dave and I started watching the TV series Friday Night Lights. We are watching it on the recommendation of our son Bucky and his fiancée Alisa. They loved it and thought we would too. They were right. After three episodes we are hooked on this high school football drama. We’ve borrowed the complete DVD sets of all the seasons of the show from Eric Sung. We are connected to Eric because we are friends with his parents, he is a childhood friend of our son Bucky and he stayed with us for two weeks this spring in our Hong Kong apartment. 

These are just a few of the rhizome experiences in my Sunday. How we live our lives and pass the days of our lives are the result of all kinds of connections. Interesting lives are ever growing, constantly connecting rhizomes. What next? Well you never know where the next connection in the rhizome will take you. 

If you enjoyed this blog post you might also like…………

The Pool of Bethesda- Personal Connections

Connections at All Saints Church

What is Sin?

Connections at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

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