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After the Misdeed Jean Beraud

Ash Wednesday is this week; this means beginning the Lenten disciplines. In this world where there is a huge gap between those of us who HAVE and the many, many who HAVE-NOT, fasting is a necessary discipline. First, it teaches us to do without, because in every life there are seasons of having less than we need, whether it is food or love; second, it puts us in solidarity with the poor, who daily suffer a lack of necessities; third, by cutting back what we spend on food, we have more money to share with those whose income does not meet their need. Keep the fast: Vegan and vegetarian meals, substituting beans and legumes for protein, with rice and whole grains and simply prepared vegetables. If fruit is expensive, skip it. Make time to cook and bake for yourself, which means giving up other pursuits like television, computer games and shopping. Go to church and pray regularly, so that your fast is not just self-congratulatory acts. The money you are not spending on groceries and self-indulgences then goes to a charity, or directly to the poor.

  • I am not open to hearing any excuses or exceptions. If you must make them, do not lessen the resolve and dedication of others, so keep them to yourself.
    Carnival Mary Cassatt
  •  Anyone who even brings up Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers will be given a penance. My experience with Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers is that more people come to them than will attend church throughout Lent. No fast, no feast.

I read a beautiful National Geographic story online about the Sami (or Suomi, or Lapps as we called them years ago.) These are the reindeer people, many of them still living their semi-nomadic life above the Arctic Circle. They are very much in tune with the environment around them, with the signs of weather and the ways of the reindeer. Although they once followed the reindeer according to where the reindeer thought to go, they are now confined to certain pasturing grounds. This has affected how they live by forcing them to herd the reindeer more, using snowmobiles rather than their traditional skis and sledges, and it has changed the reindeer, often causing stress and lower birth rates. The Sami believe, and are most likely right, that the reindeer know by instinct and herd decision where they should be, but the government thinks differently.

A friend recently wrote me with a question about forming Christian community, and I posted to him the article about the reindeer people. This is what I want to do; I almost feel compelled to it. I don’t mean move to northern Norway, but live a life according to the seasons. Christians should be good at keeping the seasons, as our church year is seasonal. Yet we are so often driven by the clock and calendar. We are driven by expectations which, when we examine them, are worldly and not other-worldly. This earth is God’s creation for us. He placed us here. And when Eden was brought up from the mist and mud, there were no roofs or clocks or shops. It was just the animals, God, and then the adama – the people of the earth.

So this earth should be our world, not the world of buying and selling, of status and prestige, of power and money. We speak of the two kingdoms because we humans built the second one; that tower of Babel is not finished, nor abandoned in our desires. There is but one true kingdom, and that is the Kingdom of God. Jesus told His followers that it is at hand – meaning imminent, and at His resurrection, that Kingdom was founded.  But in sin and blind ambition, we refuse to fulfill the promise of the Kingdom, and live on in our fantasy world, regulated by clocks, driven by desire, harassed by human, not divine, expectation.

My recent round of  illness was aggravated by worry and the feeling that I needed to get a job, get better medical care, get it all done so that I could rest and maybe recuperate. I can hear my mother’s voice yet in my head criticizing the pile of laundry and the dusty floors. Dear mother, you left this world more than decade ago, with not a dirty dish in the sink and the laundry folded. I most certainly would put up with mountains of dirty clothes and floors that yet needed washing to have you back.

When we work closely with animals, a lot of other things hang fire. Sometimes the herder or shepherd leaves everything – dirty dishes, phone calls to return, sermons to write, checkbooks to balance – because the herd needs their human companion. One animal down can cascade into illness through the whole flock. Things must be done when the time is right, usually not a moment sooner nor a moment or two later. The flock becomes the focus. And I believe this is as it should be.

Shetland sheep via wikimedia

We will not regain Eden before the return of Christ, but we can work at living in God’s Kingdom now. That may seem like an impossibility to many people, who are tied to work hours, with debt to be paid. Nor should our work be other than in the Kingdom; must we work for unethical companies, at soul-destroying jobs? And even if we are satisfied with our work, is it really what God intends for us? Getting free of debt as quickly as possible, planting even a small garden, spending more leisure time in natural surroundings are good beginnings to living closer to the Kingdom. Sometimes our church home stands in the way as well; there’s an issue for all Christians to consider. Is the church itself too much of this world? I know mine is often too concerned with raising money and finding new parishioners, while employing church leaders concerned with their ambition and advancement rather than with the health and well-being of their flock.

I hope to be closer to the Kingdom myself in seasons to come, really closer to our flocks and herds, spending more time as a herder and shepherd rather than as a household manager and professional worrier. I do desire fields and pasture for the animals where they can be what they are, and I can be with them. But we too are constrained by fences and government; we too, as the Sami, must adapt somewhat, even when we see that it is not the best thing. We can always work for change, though. We can work toward restoring something of Eden, a place in which to wait for the Lord’s return. Best that when He comes to us, He finds us at the work He gave us, not the work of the other world.

by Edward Hicks

National Geographic article:http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/11/sami-reindeer-herders/benko-text

More information about the Sami by the Sami: http://boreale.konto.itv.se/samieng.htm

Advent is almost upon us. Traditionally, this is a season of preparation for the great festival of the incarnation, Christmas in the West, Nativity in the East. How do we prepare to greet our King? We clean everything, we get ourselves in good shape, we pay our dues to Him. Spiritually, this means prayer and repentance, fasting (cutting back on food and drink), and giving to the poor and disadvantaged.

It does not mean shopping and giving or receiving gifts, or going to parties. That is all reserved for the Twelve Days – the Epiphany celebration, from Christmas Day to January 6. In this world many, if they have heard His name, have never felt the joy of His gifts on earth. We should keep in mind that our celebration should be quiet, inexpensive and in keeping with a sobriety that remembers those who have been lost to famine and disease.

Here are some resources to help plan for Advent, Christmas and the year to come:

http://www.adventconspiracy.org/

Advent Conspiracy is a programme to motivate people to move away from materialism and the cultural push to spend and borrow. It is geared toward  group participation, such as a church. Pastors can utilize video and print resources directly from the website.

 

Another charity helping people who are caught in the worst conditions is Samaritan’s Purse. They are best known for “Operation Christmas Child” which sends gifts to school-age children around the world. I’m not a big fan of the OCC shoeboxes myself; many people are clueless as to what is appropriate so there ends up being a lot of waste. It does get people started on thinking about those in great need in other places, though. If you think you and your church or family are ready to move past the shoeboxes, a donation or a collection drive for Samaritan’s Purse efforts to relieve famine is a great undertaking.

http://www.samaritanspurse.org/

Samaritan’s Purse does relief work in many countries; they were in Haiti and Japan and are very active in Africa right now. They have a good track record of relief monies reaching those in need.

I will post more on other charities every week, or more often. I appreciate any references and personal stories, as well, if I may use them publically. If you wish to write to me privately, my email is magdalenaperks@gmail.com. Gmail is a great spam filter, so I am not at all worried about that. Send photos if you wish to publicize what your church or organization is doing. It will encourage others.

 

 

paper, lots of it

We see it ahead, now that Halloween is past; American Thanksgiving lies in its path…Christmas. Our friend George, downriver, saw the first lighted Santa lawn ornament yesterday. The advertising fliers have arrived, full of Christmas gifts, food, decorations. The silly season is upon us.

This the season to pretend we are what we are not. We are rich, successful, urban bon vivants. We are people who throw great parties. We have gourmet tastes, and banker budgets.

from ChristmasTwinkle

We’ve seen “A Christmas Carol” and read the book; we love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We think Christmas is going to be:

Victorian caroling in Yorkshire

And instead it is Chevy Chase and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Christmas train wreck

The fliers from Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart have all the tackiest Christmas decorations anyone could want, because nothing says the joy of the first Noel like a huge inflatable plastic snowman. Mostly, in this climate, they partially deflate from the extreme cold, and flip themselves over in the high winter winds. It looks as if Santa jumped from the flying sleigh, and his parachute failed to deploy.

Then there are the gifts that seem to appear only at Christmas. Beyond the gag gifts (mooning Santas, ugly reindeer sweaters, tinsel jewelry) the stores stock up on odd appliances. This year I see something called a wine aerator, and I have no clue how that works, as if the $12 plonk you do drink could use a little oxygen to improve the bouquet; a travel blender, because don’t you hate staying in a hotel room  where you can’t have daiquiris in the middle of the night; various massaging foot appliances, from booties to baths; the usual suspects of electric shavers in various styles and genders; coffee makers that do everything from grind beans and heat the cream to duplicate the processed sweet sticky mocha drinks you usually buy at the convenience store; and crackling wick ™ scented candles, and I have no idea what that means.

The catalogs and store fliers show svelte young women in spangly, low-cut dresses. I wonder how many women actually buy these dresses for the rounds of holiday parties. Maybe they do in wealthier enclaves; here party wear is jeans and sweater and parka. The fancy dress-up might give us a momentary sense of, just this once in the year, being in the 1% instead of toward the bottom of the 99%, but it also seems a fantastic waste of money and spangles. First, when will you ever wear it again? (Clue: Never.) Second, we live in the snowbelt, and that wee bit of spandex and glitter will not keep you warm if the car breaks down two miles from home.

Saddest is the Christmas food. Not the candy canes, which are just sugar and flavouring, but the “have on hand for drop-in guests” frozen hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Little bite-sized pastry wrapped savoury things; chocolate dipped everything-else. Are we sitting at home, waiting for friends and neighbours to just drop by to admire our lovely Christmas decorations, bring a small but tasteful gift, and flaunt their spangly Christmas clothing? More likely we are folding the laundry on the couch, watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If the neighbours drop by acting all uptown, they are likely to get coffee and pretzels.

I’m suspecting that the retailers and merchandisers are in for a big surprise. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. If they have credit cards, they may be unwilling to charge gifts and treats when they are hanging on to any unused credit balance in case they need car repairs. Maybe the days of sitcom Christmases are over. I won’t miss that, because I never had them, really.

And the chocolate-coated-everything will be half-price by December 27.

 

Back when I was a young mother, “The Tightwad Gazette” was a hit among our circle of friends. Most of us were under thirty, in first-time jobs, starting families and households. We loved Amy! We needed this kind of advice, and for people my age (now over fifty) it helped us feel normal as frugal people, and not like paupers when we compared ourselves to the consumer culture spreading through our society like an influenza virus. Amy and her family lived in Maine, like our little group, and many of us shared the same conditions and challenges her family had.

via Amazon.com

We learned to make our own granola, bake our own bread, darn socks, clean with baking soda and vinegar, establish car pools for work and playgroup, refinish furniture and power-shop garage sales and thrift stores. We used it up and wore it out, made it do or did without. I admit: My mother and grandmother taught me most of this, but it was new to the people who had moved to almost rural Maine in the late sixties and early seventies, looking for a quieter, healthier way of life. Amy helped them find it, as they had left a suburban and urban world that was rapidly evolving into the greedy, status-hungry mess we now see.

Amy and her frugal companions never advocated harming your family by neglecting nutrition, good sanitation or medical care. They advocated giving gifts and helping others. They did not mean “tightwad” as in miser; it was a humourous play on how others characterized them when they saved buttons and zippers from old clothes that they then made into patchwork quilts or diapers. They weren’t hoarders. If you want you can find photos and interviews on video with Amy at her home. It is spare and clean. Her collections of reusable items are well organized.

But times have changed. And this is why I am not a tightwad. We are just poor. I do employ those old ways of keeping body and soul together; I have food in the house at all times because I have a supply of dried foodstuffs in the pantry – beans and lentils, flour and cracked wheat, potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips I bought in quantity, which should last us at least a couple of months. We have firewood, and we installed a woodstove because we could not afford to heat with oil or electricity, which were the existing systems in the house. Our reasoning was that it is cheaper here; seasoned firewood is available from our landlord; and in the worst case, we can scavenge wood, which we can’t do with oil, electricity or propane.

Back when I was a young householder, it was possible to buy or rent a big old house in rural Maine with barns and sheds, acres of land, and maybe a woodlot. A couple of Jotul stoves and a big garden  later, you were good to go. This isn’t possible now. The houses are older and losing condition if they weren’t renovated 30 years ago. Woodburning stoves are expensive and old ones are no longer acceptable to insurance companies. For someone without a woodlot, cords of wood in an area where there is high demand can run as much as oil overall.

Many of us have to look at living in smaller houses, and even micro-homes, less than 500 square feet. Ours is less than a thousand, but since we use only four rooms principally, we use about 700 square feet of living space.

This is why I can’t be the classic tightwad, and I’m not sure I am inclined in that direction. We can’t afford the space to store all the bits and bobs to be re-used; we can’t trawl the thrift store and garage sales for items to be stored for later. All my extra fabric, notions, items for resale and out of season coats have to be stored in a dresser and one closet. In a micro-home, there would be even less room, and it makes no sense at all to rent a storage locker for $25-$100 a month to store items that could be purchased new for less. I’ve seen what happens when people with a tiny home start to store those things – the vintage finds for resale (that don’t get sold); the bags and boxes of extra clothing the children outgrew and haven’t yet grown into; the hardware, kitchenware, linen, toys, appliances, and even lumber for the house that is not yet built, and can’t be built until the two acres is cleared of sheds, old trucks in various stages of cannibalism, piles of scrap metal to sell, and firewood to cut and split.

I limit the saving. I don’t stock up unless I am certain I can use it within its lifespan. I am the opposite of a hoarder – I get rid of things when they have not been used. I find this is the only way to live in a small house without getting overwhelmed.

There is still plenty to be learned from Amy and the tightwads of my generation. But I think we are all going to have to look at the reality of downsizing – of consuming less – of turning old things into new things by recycling rather than storing for later. So if you have trash bags full of old detergent bottles for the Scouts to turn into bird feeders, well, just go ahead and take them to the recycling center. It’s time.

I live on the banks of the St. John River, between Grand Falls, where there is a deep gorge through which the river falls, and the broad expanse of the same river at Perth-Andover, two villages joined by a bridge older than I am. The next nearest community is New Denmark, across the wooden decked one lane bridge across the river, and up steep slopes.

View downriver from Brooks Bridge

I was priest in the Anglican Parish of Denmark (New Denmark, Lake Edward, Medford and Limestone Siding). We go to church at St. Ansgars, New Denmark. While my side of the river is wild and wooded, with tiny upland or river side farms carved out of wilderness, New Denmark is neat and well-kept, a microcosm of its original.

West view from St. Ansgars Rectory

It was a peaceful place to live. The two churches, Anglican and Lutheran, face each other across the main road. The Anglicans came first, but the bishop had to find a Danish speaking priest. They had the only Danish language Anglican service in the world. A very few original Danish prayer books remain. I occasionally had bilingual Danish-English services.

The neat farms and their hundred year old farmhouses remind me of Amish farms, except that occasionally some householder will break with the usual pattern of white house and black trim to have red trim and shutters. Few houses within the parish limits are painted anything but white or the shades common to red or yellow ochre.

 

Potato fields in summer

Most of the land along the main roads is cleared in fields, with hedgerows between. When the Danes first arrived, they had expected cleared land as they had farmed in Denmark, where all the woodland was owned by nobility, and many of them had farmed as tenants rather than as landowners. They were not prepared to clear land, but over the last 140 years, they have opened the forests and maintained good farm land when in other parts of the province the fields were neglected and have returned to forest.

Like the Amish, the Danish farmers have a reputation for being frugal. After I was appointed to New Denmark, I visited back in Maine, attending church at New Sweden. “Well, now,” said one friend there, “so you are in New Denmark. I remember when the Danes all came here to buy our old farming equipment!” “And who is still farming?” I asked. “Oh, they are,” he agreed. Frugality does pay.

 

St. Ansgars Cemetery, New Denmark

When I lived in the rectory, I had quiet neighbours. There was the Lutheran pastor’s family across the street, and a retired widow next door to her. Behind me were neighbours who never made a sound.

I didn’t mind living right over the cemetery. I had the most beautiful view from a rectory anywhere in the diocese – and my first rectory had been directly on the Bay of Chaleur. There is nothing more magnificent than the ever-changing light and shadow in this spur of the Appalachians.

Across the fields of New Denmark

 

I haven’t posted much on modesty lately. I am so fully immersed in my modest ways, that I no longer think much about it. That’s why the nun’s daily clothing was called a “habit.” There’s a lot to be said for the habit, for just stepping into the simple garments meant to just clothe the body, without a thought as to flattery or appeal. Everything I wear is easy, even if I have to wrangle some pins into it right now. My daily dress routine takes mere minutes, and unless I have some unforeseen encounter with kitchen splatter, garden mud or barn muck, I’m pretty much set for the day, no matter where I go.

apron over apron - upper Valley tradition

I used to be a clotheshorse, being slim and pretty. But that was living in what the world expected of me, not what the Lord expected of me. In choosing clothes and spending time on appearance – hair, make-up, outfit – I was making a little idol out of the image in the mirror. It was about ME. Either it was about my feeling like an attractive woman, or it was about me wanting to be just like others. Even as clergy, that got reinforced. I think many of us had a fear that ME would drown in the collar and suit. We even fretted over vestments, expensive lengths of cloth that cost a small fortune, to be worn one hour at a time on Sunday morning. Choosing the right vestments (for flattery and to express one’s innate good taste and brand of theology) was a major issue. After a few trials, I came to dislike vestments greatly. They are heavy, expensive, easily stained, difficult to clean, and a downfall of pride for priests and clergy. When I had several services a day, wearing vestments felt like spending a whole day modelling wedding dresses. The weight of the cloth, the care needed to keep it unsullied, the moving about in yards of satin and brocade – I dreaded it. I switched down to cassock, surplice and black stole pretty quickly. That felt as natural as a dress and apron.

So why was I still getting into the plastic collar and suit? To prove that I was a real priest? To impress others? Some of both.

What I am doing should tell people what I am. If I’m at the altar, or i n he pulpit, or visiting the hospital, I’m the pastor. But mostly I’m a Christian. Part of what I do is stifle that vanity and pride.

Being a Christian became more important to me than being the priest. I identify more strongly with the simple portrait of Jesus and his disciples in the Gospels than I do with the medieval role of the presbyter.

But I needed to stop identifying so strongly with the cultural role handed to me at birth – attractive woman, whose appearance evokes lust, envy, desire, smug approval, or pride. This is what happens when we unthinkingly, unquestioningly, accept what the culture wants for us, without regard for what God wants. And sometimes when we do question the cultural normatives, we still give in, out of fear of being different, out of pressure from those who don’t like our choice, out of persuasion from friends and family who are embarrassed at our rejection of what they accept. Subconsciously, we know that the adoption of a uniquely Christian way of life and its call to separate ourselves visibly will hold us up to a standard we may fail. We may want that opportunity to let our standard slide a bit.

I found that the clergy collar did not require a high standard. Too many clergy have used the collar to hide their sins. Others in recent years have boastfully worn it in the midst of their worldly life – ambition, envy, desire for wealth and status.

God calls us out of that.

And there’s no excuse for pride of modesty either. I see this in evangelical young women, for the most part, mainly because they are the ones who come to me for guidance and advice. There is a lot of initial enthusiasm, and they flaunt their new modest (but fashionable) dresses and headscarves before their less modest friends. They wear modesty rather than are modest. They are not interested in leaving the sinful world behind while aiming for the new Jerusalem. They want to be the Christian character in the game of culture. Others – usually young American women who have read some Amish novels or have seen some “Amish” themed movies or television - desire the Plain life, but find it means Self disappears into the cape dress and kapp. When the cape dress fails to flatter them as they wished, they abandon it. They have not given up the idol in the mirror.

Plain is as much a dedicated life as the monastery. It is a practice of Christian self-denial, and to some degree, all Christians are called to it. The context of it will be different from one place to another, but it is the same. It is a modesty of forgetting the anxiety around the projection of Self. God requires that we become transparent to His Will, both in receiving it and giving it forth. If what we want to project is our own personality, contrived as that is, we cannot be the medium for God’s Peace.

I will say it bluntly: Christian life, no matter who you are, requires great self-sacrifice. It requires great sacrifice of all that we may hold dear in this world. We don’t live in the world of popular culture – television, entertainment, parties, popularity, personal attractiveness, amusement, status, shopping – we live in the Kingdom of God. Jesus brought it to us, and we inherited it with His death, resurrection and return to the Father. We have it now. What we bring into that Kingdom must be beneficial to all who live in it. What we carry out of it must be what proclaims the Kingdom, and the reality of new life through Jesus Christ. It isn’t just a matter of “believing in him,” a brief prayer that we memorize as a talisman, but a change in our daily lives. We are called by Him – really called, like a parent calling a child home at dusk, and no matter where we are and what we are doing, we are with Him and alive in Him, and He in us. When the rest of the world looks for Jesus, they will see you.

from Amish Village

Everyday Me

It’s a quiet day here, as I am under the damping effects of a minor cold. Colds are slightly more serious for me than most otherwise healthy people. I have an allergy to viruses, and even a cold can cause flare-ups of eczema, hives and angio-edema, the most serious form of that group of allergic reactions. So I am on the couch, coughing and sneezing, waiting for the subcutaneous bump on my forehead to disperse (it usually takes about 24 hours) and doing some on-line reading. I use Google Reader and the tag surfer on WordPress, and this opens up a lot of sites it would take me hours to find on my own.

I don’t have to tell my readers how much misinformation is online about Plain groups like the Amish. People who barely know what Anabaptism is about criticize Amish, Mennonites, and anyone who looks Amish as cultish, needlessly romantic, and anachronistic. The Amish and such Anabaptist groups are not a cult, and don’t come close to a definition of a cult. Most of those misperceptions are based on watching movies and television. Although the Amish follow an ordnung, or code of behaviour, so do most Christians. But most of us in the mainline churches don’t take it seriously; that’s the main difference. Then we sit around in committee meetings at church wondering why so few people care about the church anymore. Our blatant hypocrisy may be the key answer to that question. I could have been accused of this myself a few years ago, and justifiably in some ways. But not in the way most people would think: my divorce and remarriage. That was setting to right situations that had gone horribly, destructively bad. Details aren’t necessary here; but it was the worldliness of other behaviour that was really isolating me from fulfilling God’s intentions for me. I was a clotheshorse and a culture dilettante. I was trying to live with a foot on both sides of the Jordan River. I was called into the Kingdom of God, but I wanted to keep a pied-a-terre in the world.

Practicality is my natural turn of mind. There is nothing baroque about me. “Plain” was, perhaps, easier for me than for others. I think all Christians are called to give up the world as much as possible. We are not to be a frivolous people, and we are always called to a life of sobriety. We are to be considerate, thoughtful, and aware of our place in the Kingdom. We are given joy and even happiness, as long as we do not forget who we are.

I submitted to Plain in dress and way of life. We have occasionally ventured back into some worldly pursuit – television was the worst temptation, when we lived in a place where it was always available – but after a spell, we left that behind. Even in reading secular literature I am always asking myself, “What does this mean to me as a Christian?” We can’t completely avoid interacting with the world and culture, but we are called to do that on His terms, not the world’s.

Giving up a worldly wardrobe was a bit of a wrench at first. Through clothing I told the world who I thought I was. I expected that the world would take me at my word, and it pretty much did. I had a classically proportioned figure and I let the world know that. And as one friend once told me, “You are quite beautiful without make-up, but with it you are stunning.” So I would play up the blue eyes, high cheekbones and cupid’s-bow mouth. I wanted to be admired and desired. But that was making an idol out of my appearance, and that kind of  shallow self-absorption was contrary to my natural self, who didn’t care much for frivolous indulgence.

I missed my fine clothes because costume was a canvas for my projection of my pretensions, a rendering of my view of self-worth. Once gone, and once in sober black and grey dresses and white kapps, I didn’t mind anymore. Without make-up, I was more concerned with my real health issues, rather than being focussed on appearing healthy while disguising the neglect of true health.

I took to Quaker Plain dress quickly and easily. It is comfortable, inexpensive and easy to maintain. It doesn’t go out of style quickly. The Amish had adopted Quaker style when they emigrated to Pennsylvania, and the two Christian denominations seemed to have supported and influenced each other for about a hundred years.

But modern day Plain dress, whether overtly Amish as in an ordnung or Conservative Quaker as it has evolved and been adapted, is not historic. Even a hundred years ago Plain Quakers and the Amish had a more elaborate form of dress, especially among women. Skirts were much longer, in keeping with the expectation in the dominant culture that a modest women doesn’t even show an ankle; aprons were at least in two parts, cape and skirt; many Amish did not use buttons but continued to use straight pins, as some conservative groups do today. Kapps covered more of the head, had wider ties, and were invariably tied under the chin, especially among the Amish.

Today’s typical Plain dress is simpler in construction, and shorter. Aprons may still consist of two parts, but are much shorter and use less fabric. Only a handful of Old Orders bother with the open front cape and the innumerable straight pins to hold clothing closed. (And the pins aren’t that bad to use once the wearer gets accustomed to it. I have rarely pricked myself pinning on a dress or apron. I went to safety pins and snaps because my husband became wary of all the straight pins. A lost straight pin is much easier to replace than a lost button, too.) The kapp can be a very light, almost transparent confection that sits gloriously on the wearer’s glossy, swept up hair, or it can be the cupped and pleated style that covers the head from the ears back. It is practical because it keeps the loose ends of hair under control, and I don’t often have to redo my bun and kapp unless I have been caught out in a gale.

As for footwear – shoes have become as much a status statement in Western civilization as an expensive automobile or an exotic vacation. Shoes are a bit of poshness that most women can covet and even express. The more ridiculous the shoe in material and height, the greater the status. Stiletto heels say exactly the same thing as footbinding did in imperialist China. Just like displaying long, painted fingernails, the wearer is saying, “I don’t have to work, walk or do anything for myself.” This is where feminism failed us. Instead of being about equal rights under the law for women, it devolved into “Do what you want.”  So how can anyone take women seriously if women act frivolously just because, well, they can? We as women object to men being lifelong adolescents, concerned with sex, fun and drinking. Why do we accept the same sort of role for ourselves, and worse, put ourselves in fetishistic, impractical outfits to do the same stupid things?

I am liberated by Plain dress and Plain life. I am not chained to a credit card anymore. I am always suitably dressed for any occasion, assuming I am not covered with flour, goat hair or garden mud. And if I have become disheveled in doing my real work, I can easily change into a fresh apron. I don’t have to choose special undergarments on which to hang my tight, skin-exposing clothes, and I am not in four-inch high hobbles.

Yes, I dress Plain as a statement of Christian witness, but part of that witness is that I am no longer a slave to the hell-driven commodification from Madison Avenue. Not only has Jesus Christ given me spiritual freedom, following His way has freed me from the anxiety and wasted energy of fashion and status.

I’ve had a number of young women approach me about the following passage from Paul’s Letter to Titus. Titus, a student of Paul, is a bishop appointed to Crete, tasked to appoint others as bishops and priests. He is also to teach the elders so appointed to be devout and trustworthy.

“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness. not false accusers, not given much to wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the words of God be not blasphemed.”

It is quite evident to me, that taken in context (the appointing of elders and overseers), Paul is instructing Titus to ordain both men and women. Those who do not see the passage the same way at least see that elder women were to take some governance of the young people, and especially to tutor and lead by example, so tha the young women would know how to live in a Christian manner.

I readily admit I am counted now amongst the elders, as a woman over 50 years of age. I have been ordained, and I hope that, mostly, I have kept to Paul’s instructions here.

Young wives and mothers come to me, asking if I will be their “Titus 2″ elder. All right. But this is the where it falls apart: they are happy to be instructed, some of them, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what they want to do. As long as I cheer them on, and give advice which they could probably reason out for themselves, they are obedient acolytes. But about half of them who have asked for this favour have dropped out of the relationship when I have offered correction instead of accolades.

One young woman described to me how she was led to dress modestly, in skirts, and to wear a head covering. She considered it an act of obedience to scripture, an honour for her husband, and a demonstration of Christian modesty. I encouraged her in this; she was called to it. This lasted a few months, but under pressure from other family members, she abandoned her modesty, bought a pair of jeans (which, sad to say, were too form fitting and, in my opinion, unflattering to boot) and took off her cover, with the excuse that she could be just a good a Christian in jeans and styled hair. When I reproved her for it, reminding her that she had invoked a call from the Lord to be apart from the ways of the world, she replied with a statement like this: “You don’t really understand my faith journey.” Oh, so was she lying to me all those months?  Was her sense of vocation to be a modest, head covering Christian woman all a pretense?

Perhaps it was. Perhaps she was looking for approval from others in that, and when the approval from the right sort of people didn’t come with it, she abandoned this notion and went back to worldliness. Maybe that is her excuse – she wasn’t really called, she had selfish reasons for adopting modesty. I can say to her, in that case, we all have selfish reasons. No one’s motivations to follow the Lord are entirely pure. We all put on an act at first, and it is probably necessary. Just as children pretend to be grown-ups in their play in order to learn their adult roles and duties, so new Christians need to “put on an act” even if their heart isn’t in it yet.

The best actors don’t just pretend when they take on a theatrical role; they become that character, and in the best of scripts, each character is an aspect of humanity and human relationships. At first, the actor has to pretend, has to mouth over the lines, and contemplate how to enter the character in order to project the deep reality in the stylized pretense of the play. Baby Christians have to do the same thing, with God’s help. They have to say no to the party, the illicit relationship, the old bad habits, the chatter and cynicism of the world, even when they would much rather hang out with their drinking buddies, have a fling, or lose themselves in the brittle public comedy of daily life. They have to look to a model of Christian behaviour in order to learn what “charity” really means in terms of sacrificing self gladly for the love of God and others.

God doesn’t call us to be just  good Christians. He expects us to be the best Christians, or little Christs, that we can be. We grow in faith as we grow in practice of that faith. Part of that practice is modelling behaviour on a mentor; the study of hagiography and iconography is to discover models for Christian living.

The women leaders in Paul’s church were to be exemplars. They were chosen partly on how well they could model that Christian behaviour, which means they were not neophytes. They weren’t just out of their catechism – Christian instruction – but had been living in the way of faith for years. They may have been teaching the catechumens, or students, and were experienced in guiding those young in the faith. I am certain that they did not expect the new disciples of Christ to tell them how it was done.

there is a contractual nature to mentorship. The instructor undertakes to be honest with the student, faithful and devoted to the teaching. The disciple suspends his or her own prejudices and preferences, is willing to let go of preconceived and possibly erroneous attitudes, and is obedient to the way of the mentor. That is usually where the contract falls apart.

I would say that young women, for two generations and maybe three, have had a false self-confidence. I know I had it as a young woman. Promotion of ‘self-esteem’ in our culture gives people a false sense of achievement. We think we know more than we do, that we are smarter than we are, that we can trust our own inner voice to guide us. It is worse than the blind leading the blind – although that is certainly the case with youth culture – it is the blind refusing to have their sight restored, and preferring to wallow in the ditch than walk clear-eyed on the high road.

When someone says to me, “You don’t know my faith journey,” I can state, with a bit of humour, that I indeed know it, because all of us walk that same road. We may be on different stages of it. We each walk the road of faith alone, in a way, but we are never the first over that stretch of ground.

The requirements Paul sets forth as to be achieved by those who will call themselves experienced Christians are fairly straightforward: A serious frame of mind, reliability, faithfulness with other people, great love at heart, action rather than talk; a settled person who practices patience; someone who is satisfied with her or his place, who knows the obligation of obedience. These virtues take diligence. They come by prayer, meditation, and practice.

This is the exchange: True peace at heart rather than false self-esteem; humility rather than hubris; true companionship rather than shallow friendship. Self-esteem is casting but one vote for the best person in the world (me); hubris is faith in one’s self rather than God, a rather sad and desperate form of idolatry; shallow friendship is looking for fellowship that is no more than a mutual admiration and a support for vices.

The Lord chastises those He loves, and sometimes He allows that discipline from the hearts and mouths of people who truly act in our best interest, even if it hurts our feelings.

Uncle Buck

Poor Buck – he got stung by a bee or bit by a deerfly, and developed a large swelling on his shoulder. It didn’t bother him much, so I salved it with my home-made goat salve (olive oil, tea tree oil, a wee bit of vitamin e, lavender oil, and beeswax) and left it alone for about a week. It reduced by half but it was kind of ugly. Rather than lancing it and risking who knows what in infection, I thought it would either be re-absorbed or would drain on its own. Yuck. It drained; horrible congealed pus. I cleaned it up with an infusion of rosemary and daisy flowers (dried herb in boiling water). He was very patient with the whole process, even though I had to tie him to the stall door. I sopped at it with surgical sponges, then bound on a sponge or two with sticky cloth to catch the rest. In the evening I removed that, washed it again, salved it, and bandaged him. He has been good so far about the bandage; I’ll find out for sure in a few minutes when I go to shut the barn. I diluted the rest of the clean rosemary infusion, and all three goats had a long, tasty drink of it. Rosemary is an excellent tonic and antiseptic. I drink it myself when ill, especially with colds. I do use a teacup and not a steel bucket, though. It is good tepid for a sick animal, with honey stirred in. I find that just about any animal, when ill, will relish rosemary tea with honey. It should be natural, unpasteurized honey, added while the tea is tepid and not hot. Heat destroys the medicinal properties of honey.

I have been using mixed pine and cedar shavings in the goat stalls, and this is working well. It keeps down the flies and the stall doesn’t become as mucky. I am also experimenting with raking up our lawn clippings (note: as long as hay) as green hay for the goats. I put some loose in the barn to dry, and this got them through a couple of rainy days. The rest was turned today by rake (hot, sweaty work) and I hope to get it in tomorrow. The shortest grass clippings just mouldered and bred flies, so that will go to compost. It was the good long grass and “weeds” – wildflowers – that dried well without mold.

Nikki just called from Moncton; she and her husband are visiting his family near here over the long weekend (Canada Day is July 1). They are bringing us replacement tomato and pepper plants. What few of my starts that survived the storm have been depleted by crows, who love to pull up the little cocoa-fibre pots I used. That was an entirely unsuccessful experiment, and this year I am saving all my soup cans and other containers, and will not use the “plant-it-whole” starting pots. The crows love them. I have found the old bottomless buckets used here previously for tomatoes and peppers, and even pumpkins, to foil crows. Once the cucurbit plant is well-established, the bucket can be removed.

My beans, radishes, lettuce and cucumbers as well as pumpkin and squash are up and doing well. Peas and beets are in. I am contemplating how to make hot caps or row covers if I need them into the fall. I will get some fall type crops in soon, like kale and rutabagas, that love the cold weather and do better after a frost or two.

Beans are important to us. These are drying beans, which will be our winter staple. I have one potato plant from my experiment with planting in tubs. Potatoes are grown locally. I can get plenty from farmers I know, but I was hoping for some early baby potatoes.

I closed my Facebook account. It was getting to be a lot of work; I was engaged in a lot of ministry through it and I got kind of burned out. We call it compassion fatigue, when caregivers (ministers, nurses, social workers, doctors) can’t put the work down, and it starts to prey on one’s mind. Facebook is also a place where people quickly jump to offense, and balancing how and what to say while being effective in my Christian witness was getting to be wearing. I was quite upset that a good friend thought I had insulted her, but her memory of that event doesn’t match mine. Explanations sometimes seem to be fruitless, too.

We are also in a conundrum of what to do about the internet connection. It is expensive for us. I am not making any money through it, as I had hoped. Friends have referred me to a couple more opportunities, and if they can pay enough, I will keep this connection. I am still praying, although in the face of probable disapointment, for ministry and parish opportunities. I have asked for an interview with the bishop, and friends are writing letters in my behalf, following up on letters written last year, and my own recent letter. We’ll see.

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