new Mennonite Life logo    June 2004     vol. 59 no. 2     Back to Table of Contents

The Sayings of Abraham Nofziger II

edited by Dallas Wiebe

Dallas Wiebe was born in Newton, Kansas, on January 9, 1930. He grew up in Newton and attended Newton public schools, graduating from Newton High in 1948. He attended Bethel college from 1948-1951 and again in 1953-54, graduating with a B.A. in English Literature. He then moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he began graduate study in English and American Literature. He recieved his M.A. in 1955 and his Ph.D. in 1960. He then taught for three years at the University of Wisconsin from 1960-63. He moved to the University of Cincinnati in 1963 and taught there until 1995 and retirement. In 1951 he married Virginia M. Schroeder of Halstead, Kansas. Virginia, who passed away in 2002, graduated from Bethel College in 1951. They have two children and five grandsons. Since his retirement in 1995, Dallas continues to read and write poetry and fiction. His Mennonite novel "Our Asian Journey" came out in 1997. His most recent book is "Vox Populi Street Stories," published in 2003 by Burning Deck Press. He is at work on a volume of poems called "Aging and Dying" and a book of poems that are meditations on the cross.

There are no extant photos of Abraham Nofziger.
Abraham Nofziger

The life history of Abraham Nofziger (January 9, 1908-December 5, 1998) remains a mystery. A few bits of information have been forwarded to this editor since the initial editing of part one of Nofziger's sayings. Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannabecker, of Pandora, Ohio, sister of Arabella Nofziger, née Pannabecker, the long ago deceased wife of Abraham Nofziger, contacted Abraham Nofziger's neighbor Rachel Swartzendruber, née Smucker, who, presumably looked after Abraham Nofziger during the many years of his reclusive existence. It was Rachel Swartzendruber, née Smucker, who showed Agnes Stolzfuss the grave of her sister Arabella Nofziger and the woodshed in which Abraham Nofziger kept Arabella's dead and frozen body until he could bury it on the sodden bank of Wolf Creek. It was Rachel Swartzendruber, née Smucker, who threw out the rotted pumpkin with which Abraham Nofziger weighted down his last will and testament on his kitchen table.

Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannabecker, reports that Rachel Swartzendruber, née Smucker, reports that Abraham Nofziger traveled once a year at Easter time to Columbus, Ohio. Rachel Swartzendruber did not know why Abraham Nofziger made the trips. She knew about the trips because she drove him in her 1939 DeSoto to the bus stop in Coshocton, Ohio, where Abraham Nofziger got his bus into Columbus.

Rachel Swartzendruber, née Smucker, also gave to Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannabecker, a letter never mailed which Abraham Nofziger had deposited with her along with twenty-eight cents for mailing the letter to this editor. In that letter which Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannabecker, copied and sent to this editor, Abraham Nofziger pleads with this editor to edit and publish his, that is, Abraham Nofziger's, sayings. In that letter he describes briefly the agony of his composing of the sayings and his unbounded hope that his sayings would, in his own exact words, "better this God-forsaken world."

Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannabecker, also spoke with Abraham Nofziger's neighbors Penelope Swartzendruber, née Stutzman, Emily Luginbuhl, née Heatwole, and Otillie Hostetler, née Swartzendruber. They were of no help. Agnes Stolzfuss did get some information from "Mercury" Yoder, real name Herald (sic), who delivered the mail to Abraham Nofziger. "Mercury" Yoder reported that Abraham Nofziger received oil royalties once a month from Knox Oil and Gas in Conway, Kansas. Evidently Abraham Nofziger's parents owned land west of Hesston, Kansas, on which oil was discovered and Abraham lived on these royalties for his lifetime. The checks continued to come even after Abraham Nofziger's death.

Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannabecker, got some excellent information from the neighbor lady across the road from Abraham Nofziger. Her name is Heather Showalter, née Detweiler. Heather Showalter took charge of Abraham Nofziger's property after he died. She had his power of attorney. She arranged to have Abraham Nofziger buried beside his wife Arabella on the sodden bank of Wolf Creek. Heather Showalter, née Detweiler, sold the house and the property and donated the $20,000 to the Mennonite Central Committee.

Because of Heather Showalter's, née Detweiler's, revelation, this editor has purchased a gravestone to mark the graves on the sodden bank of Wolf Creek even though the flood waters of Wolf Creek wash over the graves each spring. On the gravestone, along with the life dates of Abraham and Arabella, née Pannabecker, Nofziger is the saying, "Forgiveness is all; without it there is no life."

Because Abraham Nofziger in his letter of June 24, 1998, was the only reader to praise this editor's novel Our Asian Journey (mlr Editions Canada; Waterloo, Ontario, 1997. $30.00 U.S. and $35.00 Canadian), this editor could not, as a God-fearing Christian, decline the pleas of a serious writer. It became, for this editor, a burden of gratitude to receive, sort, record and publish the sayings.

The reader of this second selection of the sayings of Abraham Nofziger must be aware of the problems in the editing, which are the same problems as in the first selection. Again, some of the sayings in the original texts are barely legible. Many are written with a soft pencil, probably a number two lead pencil, on cheap tablet paper, on three by five cards, on the walls of his kitchen and his bathroom and elsewhere. Some of the sayings are illegible. Those have been omitted. Abraham Nofziger may have been collecting his sayings in the tablets. But that's conjecture. There is no apparent order in his writing.

This editor has transcribed, selected and arranged the texts. The originals have no dates on them. It is thus not known when they were written and in what order. The reader will see some repetitions in the texts. Those repetitions are in the originals. This editor has tried to be as accurate in the transcriptions as possible. The arrangement is his responsibility.

Moreover, no attempt has as yet been made to address the scholarly provenance of the sayings. Some of the sayings seem to be quotations. Some seem to be paraphrases. Some seem to be adaptations of other sayings. This editor has not begun to ferret out the sources of the sayings, if sources exist. A large research effort is clearly called for before we can evaluate, explicate and understand the sayings of Abraham Nofziger.

Herewith, then, is the second installment of the sayings of Abraham Nofziger, recluse, philosopher and admirer of this editor's novel Our Asian Journey (mlr Editions Canada; Waterloo, Ontario, 1997. $30.00 U.S. and $35.00 Canadian). From the darkness of Holmes County, Ohio, comes the light of epiphany. From the sodden banks of Wolf Creek come the spiritual ruminations of a man examining his life and the life of contemporary America. His work, like himself, was not known in his lifetime. But, like all wisdom, it is timeless. All those who care about the condition of their souls will find in these sayings the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

Dallas Wiebe, Editor

The Sayings:

1. God gave us brains for understanding His will. Let us understand.

2. The mysteries of God may exceed our understanding. That is no excuse for committing evil.

3. Religious belief may be a mystery, morality is not.

4. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is not difficult to understand. It may be difficult to practice, but it is not difficult to understand.

5. Belief and morality aren't the same thing. You don't have to read Thomas Aquinas in order to know that it is wrong to take human life.

6. You don't need a revelation from God to see the atrocities of this world.

7. The limits of human understanding are no excuse for brutality.

8. Literacy doesn't include understanding.

9. Reading and learning aren't necessarily the same thing.

10. Literacy and intelligence aren't the same thing.

11. Reading and writing don't necessarily add up to intelligence.

12. Lead, kindly light. Please.

13. I came once to the edge of darkness and I didn't know where I was.

14. In this world of darkness we must shine, you in your small corner and I in mine.

15. Give your soul to God; all others pay cash.

16. If there is no free will then nothing matters.

17. How long will they be incapable of innocence?

18. By nature we are prone to evil, and are children of wrath.

19. If original sin didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

20. Mankind will create his own Day of Wrath, as God well knows.

21. The abomination of desolation will be initiated and accomplished by man himself.

22. There's no stopping a prophet once he gets started.

23. The wisdom in a book is always on the next page.

24. God's kingdom on earth will come when we desire it enough to let it come.

25. As I write this, the Messiah might be being born into our world. I pray that is so.

26. Every child must be cared for because each child could be the Messiah.

27. Teach each child the ways of grace and the Messiah has come.

28. God is not dead. He's only a' sleepin'; patiently waiting for Jesus to come.

29. The instruments of violence are produced by the millions. The instruments of peace are produced one soul at a time.

30. All the technology in the world cannot save your soul.

31. You can't buy a soul at the convenience store.

32. Kmart may not steal your soul, but you can leave it there.

33. You can't buy wisdom at a mall.

34. We must learn to do without what we never had.

35. The road to Hell is paved with good investments.

36. God does not want the wicked to die; He wants them to repent and do good.

37. Anyone who does no good is useless.

38. A blind man can lead a sinner to righteousness. A one-armed man can praise God. A deaf person can pray for forgiveness. A dead person can do nothing.

39. God made our jaws strong in order to hold back the evil we would speak.

40. For a Mennonite, doing good to others should be a habit.

41. If it weren't for words we'd have nothing to say.

42. Consecrate your life to God or you can kiss your ass good-by.

43. Does God have a sense of humor? Of course. He calls us sheep and He created Australia.

44. Does God make mistakes? It sure seems that way.

45. Can God commit suicide?

46. Why should God withhold from man the knowledge of good and evil?

47. If Adam and Eve didn't know what sin is, how could they not sin?

48. God once said to me, "Abraham Nofziger, write these things in a book."

49. The Germans address God the same way they address a child.

50. If you cannot sin, are you human?

51. If the Holy Spirit is your father, are you human?

52. How did the Virgin Mary get pregnant?

53. How long were Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?

54. Did Adam and Eve have navels?

55. Before they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, was sexual intercourse a sin for Adam and Eve?

56. Did sexual intercourse become fornication after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden?

57. If God hasn't exterminated me by now then He hasn't used up all His forgiveness.

58. God gave us laughter for when belief becomes a burden.

59. It is better to see the world as comedy than to see it as tragedy.

60. Humor and religious belief are not mutually exclusive.

61. How could you make Stalin laugh?

62. God is not offended by human happiness.

63. You don't have to be stupid to be happy.

64. Happiness comes from the condition of the soul.

65. Life should be full of peace and plenty, not suffering and want.

66. The first theologian was the Prince of Darkness.

67. Theology is a form of necromancy.

68. Theology and the Bible have nothing to do with each other.

69. Belief and theology are not the same thing. They may be mutually exclusive.

70. If you kiss a theologian he will turn into a frog; if you kiss a frog he will turn into a theologian.

71. Theologians are the clowns of the intellectual world.

72. A theologian invented the fire extinguisher.

73. For theologians, God is a nuisance.

74. Theologians have turned the City of God into a slum.

75. A theologian once said, "If you are called to righteousness, hang up."

76. Theologians first brought starlings to America.

77. A man's reach must exceed his grasp or what's a theologian for?

78. Kansas is the perfect state for theologians; it's dry, windy and dusty.

79. There is no muse of theology.

80. There are no theologians in Australia.

8l. Theologians have no pubic hair.

82. How can you explain grace to Canadians?

83. How can you explain the rain forest to Kansans?

84. Columbus, Ohio, is the dress rehearsal for the abomination of desolation.

85. A city built on football is a city built on sinking sand.

86. There is no irony in Columbus, Ohio.

87. Where football is king, there is a nation of the spiritually dead.

88. To pay admission to lose your soul is the height of folly.

89. Better to be a recluse than to be a student at the Ohio State University.

90. "Who is Jesus?" they say in Columbus as they steal your soul.

91. To walk in Columbus, Ohio, is to know the presence of evil.

92. The river of evil flows from Columbus, Ohio.

93. Under the Capitol in Columbus is a cemetery of souls.

94. When Satan rules the world, his capital will be Columbus, Ohio.

95. If you practice forgiveness, you will be driven from Columbus, Ohio.

96. The Ohio State University is the gateway to oblivion.

97. Don't expect mercy from an Ohio governor and you won't be disappointed.

98. A Mennonite should tolerate evil only as long as it takes him to pack up and run.

99. Indifference and tolerance are not the same thing.

100. Better guilt than indifference.

101. Protect your righteousness through a little guilt and a little intolerance.

102. Why must our lives be guilt-ridden?

103. Thinking about morality brings joy to your life.

104. A moral conundrum is more fun than a joke.

105. Jokes are transient; moral questions remain.

106. Thought is not painful; it doesn't hurt to think.

107. The books about suffering are insufferable.

108. God gave Noah the rainbow sign. This time the water. The Republicans next time.

109. If God gave us what we deserve, he'd send a plague upon the Republicans.

110. God created Republicans to show us what spiritual corruption is.

111. The Republicans are lucky because God is infinitely merciful.

112. If everyone exercised forgiveness, there would be no Republican Party.

113. Republican compassion is for the rich.

114. Poverty does not lead to the White House.

115. If there were justice in this world all the Republicans would be in jail.

116. Republicans laugh at poverty.

117. The pitiful hate of Republicans for the poor.

118. Poverty begins in contempt for the poor.

119. There's nothing as dangerous to the U.S. as a Republican with an idea.

120. If negligence and persecution are reduced to jokes, then your nation is in severe trouble.

121. It is better to tell a joke than to be one.

122. Ideology is not intelligence.

123. Ideology is not thought.

124. Generalizations lead to oppression.

125. "Family values" is not a statement of morality.

126. Those who live by the sword get very rich.

127. There's a connection between religious orthodoxy and the extermination of minorities.

128. Victims who feel sorry for themselves are twice victimized.

129. Victims who take revenge are twice victimized.

130. Preserving the earth is an act of worship.

131. If you tear away from your face the mask of the inner beast, the saint in you shines out.

132. The Old Adam is your fear of the holiness within you.

133. Killing animals for sport proves the idea of Original Sin.

134. The lovers of guns are the enemies of God.

135. Conscience is holiness in thought and action.

136. To love wisdom is to love life.

137. A moral conscience is a script for behavior.

138. Community is an idea, not a place.

139. The boundaries of community constantly change.

140. A community of the spirit knows no boundaries.

141. Propinquity is not necessary for community.

142. Despite any outward disagreements, we must never lose our inner spiritual unity.

143. The inner spiritual unity is more important than any church.

144. If we lose our inner spiritual unity, then our church is of no importance.

145. The function of a church is to preserve the holy in our lives.

146. A sacramental concept of the world is the first step to holiness.

147. If you do not preserve holiness in this world, who will?

148. Holiness is the recognition that at all times you stand in the presence of God.

149. The instruments of violence require hate; the instruments of peace require forgiveness.

150. It is better to live as a recluse than to carry a gun into your house.

151. Spiritual sloth and violence cohabit.

152. A crown of thorns is better than no crown at all.

153. If prayer changed things, Christ would not have been crucified.

154. We begin dying long before we're dead.

155. Just because a person moves doesn't mean that he's alive.

156. Old age is a form of humiliation.

157. Your mind comes to rest when you realize that it is too late for suicide.

158. Old age and death come upon you like the morning dew, like a soft rain, like the first snow. Take your pick.

159. Death is an indignity if you let it be.

160. To die with grace and dignity is not easy.

161. Getting old is a full-time job.

162. It takes a lifetime to die.

163. The death of the body is the easiest part of dying.

164. The automobile has become a form of madness.

165. We will exterminate ourselves before we'll quit driving cars.

166. Even when dying, your mind is important.

167. Courage without faith is an empty virtue.

168. To leave this earth with dignity requires faith and courage.

169. To fear death is to condemn one's life.

170. The community of the spirit includes the dead.

171. The dead are a part of the community of belief.

172. Why are the dead important? For the same reasons that the living are important.

173. The dead live in our hymns and in our Scriptures.

174. We sing the dead into eternity and then call them back with the same songs.

175. Our religious past lives in the hymns of our ancestors.

176. When we sing the hymns of our ancestors we welcome them back into our community.

177. Grace comes from the spiritual life of the community.

178. If a community has no spiritual life, then there is no life.

179. Sharing one's spiritual life with others creates the true community of believers.

180. We must live as if there is free will or we are doomed to destruction.

181. If there were no free will could I ask this question?

182. If God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, then only He has free will.

183. Contradictions in thought are evidence of free will.

184. Doubt is a sign of free will.

185. God was wise enough to let us choose our own fate.

186. We have sin on this earth because we choose to sin.

187. The words of a recluse carry no weight in the sanctuaries of sobriety.

188. Humility comes with worthlessness.

189. Only a spiritual recluse can be humble.

190. Humility comes in isolation and silence.

191. The soul of man is sacred; do not tinker with it.

192. Love is nothing; forgiveness is everything.

193. Character is the sum of your spiritual attributes.

194. You can make a spiritual journey in your chair.

195. Think before you speak--and after.

196. Imagined histories are as real as any other history ever written.

197. Abstention is the beginning of wisdom.

198. Grace is the sum of the spiritual lives in a community.

199. Crows speak to the snowflakes and tell them to land softly.

200. When crows land, they arrange their feathers for rest.