Cautionary Tales

If you are just joining us, this is the fourth part of a series on Dear Princess. To start at the beginning, click here.

A major staple of Dear Princess, and all books of its ilk, is cautionary tales.

These are hair-raising stories of how children and teens (or even adults) failed to obey the admonitions of their God-given role model headship authorities, and came to a perilous end.

I recall reading a Christian Example account many years ago, about a couple that dragged their feet over the inclusion of a certain man in the lot. Apparently they objected strenuously enough that the ordination was postponed.

Eventually, the husband was killed in a farming accident when his tractor rolled on him, apparently turning against him for his rebellion against the Lord's servant. (Presumably, there were no bears available in the area for the Lord to send, and opening the ground to swallow him alive would have messed up the water table.)

Several months later, the brother they had objected to was ordained to the ministry. Lest any reader fail to notice the clear cause and effect in the story, it was entitled “Stricken by the Lord.”

What I find truly sickening is that every story in the Christian Example is based on a true story. Some community somewhere viewed a tragic farm accident as divine retribution.

Sinful Neighbors

Another staple of Mennonite stories is the sinful neighbors.

Without sinful neighbors, how will the children be exposed to the grave spiritual plot peril necessary to allow the story to plod to its predictable conclusion? There are two possibilities when it comes to this storyline.

Either the children see the error of their ways, and wipe away contrite tears, confessing that the wisdom of Father and Mother is absolute, or else they take the low road, and end up in grave unspecified sin, exemplified by their non-standard (see what I did there?) clothing choices.

Meet Paula

Paula loved the two little girls next door. Their sparkling eyes, curly heads, and dimpled smiles appealed very much to her.

Mrs. Glenn, their mother, was happy to have Paula's help with Patty and Connie. More and more, Paula slipped through the hedge and spent hours every day at the Glenn home.

The symbolism in this passage is rich- "slipping through the hedge" already gives the astute reader a clue that the Glenn's are not to be trusted. (This is known as foreshadowing.)

Mother and Father were very much concerned. The Glenn's were not Christians. They did not obey the Word of God. They drank, smoked, and followed the lusts and pleasures that the world has to offer.

When Mother spoke of this to Paula, she answered in surprise, "But, Mother, Mrs. Glenn is a Christian. She belongs to church and they attend nearly every Sunday."

Here we see Mother jumping to the conclusion that the Glenn's are not Christians, based on their drinking and smoking, when it is clear that they are in the Reformed tradition. 

Undoubtedly, Mr. Glenn has a practice of enjoying a good cigar in the evening, as he sips his craft brew, while he perusing the works of A. W. Pink, or J. C. Ryle.

Unaware of the spiritual danger, Paula places herself more and more under their influence, despite her parents' entreaties. And inevitably, harm comes of it.

Mother and Father began to see the influence of the Glenn's upon Paula. She became careless about wearing her stockings and spent hours fussing with her hair. She complained that her dresses were too long. Paula began to chafe under one after another of the safeguards for a holy life that Father and Mother had set up for her. 

They failed to realize their responsibility not to allow Paula to continue this association.

Yes, boys and girls, becoming careless in wearing your stockings is one of the surest signs of spiritual deadness. Things can only go downhill from there.

This passage is so ludicrous on so many levels. Notice the complete emphasis on clothes and outward appearance. That's the only thing that is mentioned as a sign of Paula's swift slide down the greased chute of worldliness and apostasy.

There is no mention of her sneaking copies of Calvin's Institutes home, and reading them under the covers by flashlight. There is nothing said about her taking a few sips of Mr. Glenn's excellent craft brew, while they discussed the two divine wills.

And the author blames Mother and Father for not seeing their responsibility to step in, while also blaming Paula for chafing under their safeguards. By the author's own admission, they lack the ability to responsibly lead. So why should their safeguards be trusted?

Later, Paula became attracted to Mrs. Glenn's younger brother and the two were eventually married. Paula was lost in the world and in sin because she had not trusted, respected, and obeyed the admonition of her parents.

Exactly what Paula's sins were is never made clear. We are expected to assume that they were very grave. Also, Mrs. Glenn's brother was undoubtedly divorced and remarried. All we know for sure is that she no longer goes to her parent's church, and she married the son of a woman who smokes and drinks.

Hardly damning evidence. For all we know, her new husband is a teetotaler.

Meet Miriam

Let's consider another cautionary tale, and see this played out again.

Look at the pattern.

A girl doesn't follow one very specific directive, namely "Don't become a nurse."

As a result of this one, specific choice, she ends up in dire straits on the path for Hell. But we are never told the specifics of her sins, only that she is lost in the shame of worldly sin, which, if you are Nationwide, could easily mean that she joined BMA or went Charity.

Miriam insisted that going into Nurse's training would not harm her. The warnings from her concerned parents and ministry fell on deaf ears because Miriam was sure she knew better.

Little did she realize the dangers and temptations that would entice her along the path that led to being a nurse. Her parents did not allow her to enter nursing school because they loved her and knew so well the dangers she would face.

One would question exactly how they knew what dangers she would face, never having gone to nursing school themselves.

Where do adults in these circles come by this knowledge? Throughout the book, we are told that children and young people cannot understand the extreme dangers that the adults in their lives are protecting them from.

But once they are adults, suddenly they understand all these dangers, so as to warn their offspring, even though they have never faced them.

Is there some secret initiation rite in which adults are inducted into the mysteries? Or are the adults warning of vague "dangers" of which they know nothing, only that it leads to "leaving the church"? Given the antipathy conservative Mennonites hold toward secret societies, I assume the latter is the correct answer.

But Miriam insisted on secretly cherishing her dream, and when she became of age, she immediately began her training.

During the years when Miriam should have been growing in her Christian life, with her face turned to the Truth like the sun, Christian growth was impossible, because she was secretly rebelling and hiding hurt feelings.

In her heart, she was living in disobedience to her parents' wishes, although outwardly conformed, because she had to.

Miriam's parents were brokenhearted when they saw Miriam caught in the downward current of the world that swept her along to ungodliness and shame.

Think about this.

Imagine that instead of going to nursing school, Miriam would have submitted mindlessly to the rules of her parents and the church, continuing to conform outwardly, because she had to.

She could have lived her whole life that way, outwardly conformed, and inwardly hurting, angry, resentful. But no one would know or care.

She'd be a hero. Because she conformed.

In contrast, Miriam's good friend, Betty, respected the counsel and warnings she received when she dreamed of going into nurse's training with Miriam.

Today Betty is a happy, Christian mother, a joyful princess, because her outward obedience came from a submissive heart that trusted the wisdom of her parents.

Yes, Betty got a guy fellow, is a mother (the only truly acceptable outcome) and is now happy and compliant.

Or maybe Betty counted the cost, and decided that going through the hell they put Miriam through wasn't worth it.

Nobody sees Betty's heart. But they don't need to.

Her outside looks just fine.

To read the next post in the series, click here.

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