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It’s Becoming a Muppie World for Mennonites Who Move to the City

Associated Press

What do you call a Mennonite who left the farm, went to college and got a job in the city?

A Muppie. Not to be confused with a Yuppie.

Yuppies drive BMWs. Muppies drive Saabs and Audis. Yuppies vacation in Bermuda. Muppies visit their siblings who are missionaries in Haiti. Yuppies bathe in Jacuzzis. Muppies prefer claw-footed tubs.

Although Muppies may spend their money like Yuppies, they usually feel more guilty about it.

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Their story is told in “The Muppie Manual: The Mennonite Urban Professional’s Handbook for Humility and Success,” which takes a humorous look at serious changes in the Mennonite community.

“Symbolic of the conflict is that Muppies often hold Sojourners (a social-conscience magazine) in one hand and Money magazine in the other,” the manual says.

Old Farming Culture

Descended from generations of farmers whose religion dictates a simple life without modern conveniences apart from the rest of the world, Muppies evolved as they received more and more education and moved into cities to work as professionals.

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The Mennonite Urban Professional has a new set of conflicts to deal with:

“I see it as an internal conflict of values, not something played out between people in the church,” said Ron Kraybill, 32, a Mennonite who left his family’s farm for a renovated town house in Lancaster.

His “gray area” residence, between slums and a wealthy neighborhood, is typical of the way Muppies justify their increasing wealth.

“We live in a section of town that keeps us in touch with people who have less than we do,” said his wife, Meribeth, 31.

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“There is sort of a pull to a life style that’s upwardly mobile,” she said.

That pull conflicts with the teachings of a church that has stressed simplicity since it was founded in Europe in 1525, during the Protestant Reformation.

Childhood Without TV

Kraybill grew up on the farm, near Elizabethtown, without television. He had only a few non-Mennonite friends and saw his first movie at age 16.

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He remembers feeling embarrassed during family trips to Lancaster: “I felt like we were a bunch of people coming from the country into a world where we didn’t belong,” he said.

Meribeth Kraybill grew up in Taiwan, where her parents were missionaries.

Both Kraybills work at the Mennonite Central Committee, which provides relief overseas and services in the community.

Kraybill, in tweed jacket, V-neck sweater and Oxford shirt, and his wife, in crewneck sweater, turtleneck and short haircut, don’t appear very different from Yuppies or Preppies.

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But their appearance represents a giant step away from Mennonite tradition. Believers dress differently to separate themselves from the rest of society. A Mennonite man wears a “plain” jacket buttoned down the front without lapels; a woman sticks to long, plain dresses and wears her long hair in a bun covered by a prayer cap.

18th-Century Immigration

Kraybill’s family has lived on farms since 1753, when they arrived from Switzerland. They were among many Mennonites who settled in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“What kind of audacity do I have, to break that chain of rootedness?” Kraybill said.

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On the other hand, living isolated from the rest of society isn’t “a terribly healthy thing” either, he said.

College is often the beginning of Muppyhood.

Mennonites at first sought higher education so they could serve their communities as doctors, nurses, teachers and missionaries. Muppies tend to do a lot of soul-searching about their reasons for entering a profession.

Once on campus, Mennonites are exposed to a variety of people and ideas. Some of the Old Order Mennonites don’t approve of education because they fear that it brings about a loss of faith.

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As Mennonites become better educated, more urban and more affluent, “it still remains to be seen if Muppies can retain certain values,” said Emerson Lesher, author of the Muppie book.

“A lot of Muppies feel proud that, somehow, they made it out of the Mennonite community,” he said. “They’ve survived Mennonite culture and gone on to do better things in the outside world, so they beat the system.”

Conflict of Values

Muppies should explore the basic question, “How am I different from a Yuppie?” he said.

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One of the main differences is that Muppies feel a need to justify their material possessions.

Lesher said that he and his wife, Ruth, who both have earned doctorates in psychology, struggled for years over the question of whether they should have a telephone message machine. They finally justified the purchase by thinking of it as a way of keeping in touch with the community in case their friends might be trying to reach them.

“You can buy a VCR if you’re willing to share it with other people,” he said. “That’s how we play mind games.”

Bishop James Shank, of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, said that the most radical differences he has seen are changes in dress and a greater interest among women in becoming pastors. The Mennonite Church is in transition and has become more flexible, he said.

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Country Ways Admired

As Muppies, “we’re in a better position to share our values, because we’re a bit more approachable,” Meribeth Kraybill said.

But Muppies must hang on to some very important traditions, such as mutual aid and “barn-raisings” on the farms, Lesher said.

“How do you do that if you’re a stockbroker, or a psychologist, or a lawyer?” he said.

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Muppies need to discuss how they can continue what the barn-raising symbolizes while living in the city, Lesher said.

Lesher said he hopes the Muppies can keep in touch with the old values.

But, he added, “Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m just a Yuppie.”


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