In 1998 Bethel College sponsored a symposium in honor of Mennonite elder statesman Robert Kreider. Its theme
Walls and Windows: Creating and Nurturing Viable Community gave wide room for Kreider’s many interests, which we find reflected in the articles of this volume. The book was released at the symposium as volume 11 of Bethel’s C. H. Wedel Historical Series.
The articles span sixty-four years, beginning with his oration against child labor in America in 1934 when he was a fifteen-year old junior in the Bluffton, Ohio, high school, to reflections on the next generation of Mennonite historians at the inter-Mennonite historical conference in Abbotsford, British Colombia in 1998, where he modestly counseled,
Play to your strengths and gifts, take counsel, and follow your curiosity. (300) In a sense this volume is a biography of the author’s many interests and activities. It was a college History of Civilization course that drew him to the career of a historian, giving up the other options of architecture and journalism, but the writings in this volume show that he never really gave up journalism--the curiosity, questioning, probing approach to every situation. And Kreider has been a prodigious reader all his life. The many references to the writings of others, to historical figures ancient and modern, his broad inter-disciplinary interest in wide ranging topics from politics to mental health to spirituality, lead the reader to recognize in him a modern
Renaissance man, at home in almost every human situation.
Because Kreider has traveled extensively most of his life, many articles are based on journal entries. Some, like the account of his and a friend’s bicycle tour of Europe in 1938 on the eve of World War II, was published in 1998 and presumably written then. It is a fascinating travelogue, including the journal comment:
My total impression is still that National Socialism is a mild form of insanity (12). Equally interesting is Kreider’s keen perception of political issues when, as a student at Bethel College just back from Europe in 1938, he responded to a pro-Nazi editorial in The Mennonite with his own editorial in the Bethel Collegian stating
We sincerely believe that the Nazi dictatorship is evil, even as the Stalinist state (14).
Among the many themes considered in this volume, that of peace may be paramount.
1941: The , written in 1991, and
Good Boys of CPS
1941: CPS: A are major contributions to understanding CPS, including the sometimes stressful relationship Kreider, as administrator, and others had with Selective Service and government agencies. So also
Year of Service
The Chains of Conscription (69), a statement read before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1955,
Letter to Richard M. Nixon (124) written in 1974,
Vietnam-Little Peace, Less Honor, (138) written in 1975,
A. W. Roberson-Peacemaker (164), a graphic first person account of an African American in Newton, Kansas, slowly breaking down the barriers of racism in 1978, and
Verbs of Violence written the same year (169). Also in this peace stream are Kreider’s and his wife Lois’ reflections on visiting a missile installation east of Newton on a Sunday afternoon:
1979: (177). It is clear again from these readings that in his heart and mind and very being the author is deeply committed to peace in all its many forms. Small wonder then that he served as professor of Peace Studies at Bethel College for a decade, beginning in 1975.
Deadly Force Authorized
Following closely on the heels of the peace theme is a second one -- community and family -- of which the prime example may be
1983: Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom (187), excerpted from a longer article in the Mennonite Quarterly Review (July 1983). This is a perceptive, even brilliant, description of Mennonite pluralism as seen through the eyes of a young teenager, initially. The amount of detail remembered is amazing. Community is graphically present in the description of the suffering church in Central America in
1984: Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. (199), as well as in
1989: Camelot at Sharp’s Chapel, (254), a vivid description of a 1989 reunion of 18 members of a Quaker work camp of 1937:
how do you create community -- a product of work or a gift of grace?
Concerning family, two items: Most impressive is the article
1970: Camping in Europe on Three Dollars a Day (103), describing how Robert and Lois, with five children ages 19 to 9, spent four and a half months traveling through twelve countries, circling the Mediterranean and finally leaving their camping equipment with friends in Casablanca. Said the youngest
Now I can speak a little bit in 12 languages and a lot in one--English. And second,
1989: Ten Days That Shook My World, when the author had heart bypass surgery. He speaks movingly of a
reversal of roles when his children surrounded him:
here was an intimation of the Kingdom of Heaven, seeing drama and eschatology where others see only tragic misfortune. Ever the optimist!
Although mention cannot be made here of most of the 66 selections in the volume, note should be made of an unusual one on a theme not often heard among Mennonites:
1976: A Hymn of Affection for a Land and a People. (150). It begins with,
I am critical of America, but soon goes on to describe fascinating aspects of national life that most of us are familiar with but have not taken time to reflect upon.
I listen with respect to a state patrolman who is so gracious as he gives me a traffic ticket. Here is no strident nationalism, or its opposite, but genuine love of the things that make America what it is, like names: Shipshewana, Churubusco, Jim Town, Tiskilwa, Kickapoo, Paradise, Hinkletown. Or ethnic diversity--the names of the World Series players: Evans, Morgan, Bench, Driessen, McEnaney, Concepcion and
beautiful to the ear--Petrocelli, Yastrzemski, and Geronimo. If only there had also been a Reichenbach, Sawatzky, and Tschetter. The article was printed in The Mennonite, January 13, 1976, but reprinted also in the Wichita Eagle and Hutchinson News.
This book cannot be recommended too highly to all who are interested in seeing life and events through the eyes of a very keen observer with a creative mind, a great gift for writing, and a loving, caring spirit. Robert Kreider was born in Illinois, but spent his childhood and early teen years in Goshen, Indiana; Bluffton, Ohio; and Newton, Kansas, moving back to Kansas in 1975. He has served ably as college teacher, dean, and president as well as being on many committees where his presence always made a difference.