An odd thing occurred while I was writing my last blog post. A ute pulled up at my front gate and a peculiar looking man stepped out. He was wearing a homemade, collarless shirt, long canvas trousers, and sporting a crew cut and Abraham Lincoln beard. He looked very much like those angry young Muslim men who have been all over the news in the past week. Only he wasn’t a Muslim.
I recognised Max* when he was about three steps from my open front door – too late to pretend I wasn’t home. It was one of those awful moments when your past catches up with you just as you were in the very act of wiping your arse with it in a blog post. We all know how that feels, I’m sure.
Ever since my children and I had moved back into the family home post-divorce-and post-2011-flood, I’d known there was a possibility that some blast-from-the-past Christian who hadn’t heard how eminently dumpable my family had become might wander innocently in hoping for a friendly reunion. This was it and here he was. Poor Max.
Max would hate me to say this, but he’s kind of a Mennonite. The epithet is offensive because, to Max, the Mennonites are a worldly, wishy-washy bunch of compromising slackers unworthy of the name ‘Christian’. Obviously. I mean, just look at their women. Those head-coverings hardly reach to their ears and what’s the go with the visible ankles?
Max’s wife Abbie** knew how to dress. (You can see a photo of a similarly clad woman here.) Winter or scorching Queensland summer she’d be shrouded in a calf-length cape dress of thick homespun with an extra layer of fabric extending from neck to waist (to conceal any errant boobishness), and long sleeves, elasticised at the wrist (so as to prevent passing men from being provoked to lustful imaginings by unscheduled glimpses of elbow). Abbie also wore a white, past-the-shoulder, nun-like veil; opaque black tights; and black, lace-up, nurses’ shoes. Young, blonde, slim and pretty, Abbie was a walking lust averter.
Max and Abbie had turned judgementalism into a fine art. On the surface, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine a couple more kindly, hospitable or warm. But behind their have-another-hot-buttered-wholemeal-zucchini-muffin smiles, they wuz judging on yo ass. I never measured up. I had hair that fell almost to my knees, wore dowdy, ankle-length skirts, homebirthed and then homeschooled a hoard of ostensibly sweet, Scripture-quoting offspring, but my refusal to wear a head-covering kept me firmly in the not-too-sure-about-that-one’s-commitment-to-Jesus box as far as Max and Abbie were concerned.
Mostly, Max and Abbie used my house as a convenient, central location to meet with Christians they did like. My best friend Louise and her husband Frederick passed muster, or very nearly. They had become Amish several years earlier, and dressed almost as nicely as Max and Abbie. There remained only a few details yet to be perfected, and Max and Abbie, I think, felt confident they’d bring Louise and Frederick around to God’s way of thinking in time. The fact that Frederick was a narcissistic sociopath impinged on his Godly Head of Household status not at all, although, to be fair, none of us realised the severity of the abuse he was inflicting on Louise and their ten children. Not then.
Max and Abbie hadn’t been able to find anyone sufficiently holy with whom to spend their Sundays, so had to organise weekly church meetings via Skype with a handful of like-minded Better-than-Mennonites who were scattered – lonely and unappreciated – across North America. Abbie was US-born so eventually, they decided to move to Wisconsin in order to be closer to some of ‘the brethren’. Evidently, that hadn’t gone as well as they’d hoped so, some three years later, here they were back again with plans, Max told me, to buy some acreage in a rural area near my home, and take another crack at establishing a Christian community with some imported Americans who, he said, were soon to fly in.
As I looked at Max’s smiling face, a dozen small indignities I had endured during the years of our relationship flooded back. I remembered that I couldn’t say grace at my own table when they were visiting because, as a bare-headed woman, my prayers were deemed an affront to God. I remembered how, on two occasions they brought young Mennonite-ish men with them to visit. We showed those boys warm hospitality and thought we’d become quite friendly, but when one of them phoned from the US while we were all sitting to dinner in my home another night, Max passed the phone to Louise and Frederick, but not to us. It was then I realised they didn’t consider us friends or even believers. We were their mission field, their strategies: winsome example-setting and tacit disapproval.
Suddenly, I wanted Max gone. I considered terrifying him by stating plainly my current godless status, dropping a casual f-bomb for emphasis. I attended to an threatening attack of the giggles as I imagined a range of Mennonite-frightening subjects I could broach, and then realised none would be necessary. Max asked after my husband and I told him we were no longer married. I saw the judgement flash behind his eyes and knew I wouldn’t be hearing from Max again. Too easy.
That’s the great thing about Christians like Max and Abbie: so easily discouraged. I’m very glad they aren’t that pesky sort who care whether or not folk fry in hell. I hear those are out there.
* Not his real name.
** Or hers either.