Obedience – it really is that hard!

Following the traditional Anglican daily lectionary is a lesson in old-fashioned obedience. It just goes right on through the Bible, not skipping very much, and not making any apologies, either. It includes a lot of the ugly stuff that you really, really wish wasn’t part of the Judeo-Christian message. But there it is. Politically incorrect and as obtuse about it as your Great-Uncle Elmer.

In the First Epistle of St. Peter, apostle and bishop, he is quite blunt about how to live as a Christian. “Slaves, obey your masters;” not just the nice ones who treat you well and give you a day off, but the awful ones, too, who are way too demanding and don’t appreciate anything anyway.

And then, the Big One: “In the same way, you wives should be obedient to your husbands.” What?! Is that still in the Bible?

“Then if there are some husbands who do not believe the Word, they may find themselves won over, without a word spoken, by the way their wives behave, when they see the reverence and purity of your way of life.” This suggests that maybe some husbands are like slave-masters, doesn’t it, unappreciative and domineering. But are modern men like that?

The human nature of 2000 years ago is a lot like the human nature of say, five minutes ago. I can say this because I continually appreciate that my own husband loves and appreciates me as a wife and a Christian, and lets me know. (And even though I think he has the right to edit and censor what I write, he insists that he doesn’t and won’t!)

Wives, obey your husbands, and “husbands must always treat their wives with consideration in their life together.” Now, Peter says women are the weaker partner and he does mean physically. This is just a general fact of sexual dimorphism (differences between males and females physically) and although as a woman, I am stronger than a lot of men my size, most men are a lot bigger than I am, and my husband is literally twice as strong as I am. Although women are physically frailer than men, they are equal heirs to the gift of life in Christ Jesus, not just weak children who need constant supervision.

Obedience is acknowledging that while marriage partners are equals in Christ, and give each other mutual respect, someone has to be head of the household. In some circumstances, if the husband is not able to do that, then the wife may have to take that role, but in a traditional household, the husband, who works outside and deals more with the public, has that decision-making role. Most things should be decided together, in cooperation, as Christians should always do, but if there is no concensus, it is up to the husband to take the leading role, standing in the place of Christ. He may make mistakes and needs to admit when that happens, but then the wife shouldn’t belittle him over it, either.

It is a modern disease in culture that women put men down, and men treat women as if they are stupid. There is a lack of mutual respect that makes “obedience” and “consideration” impossible, not just hard. I would rather “obey” my considerate and respectful husband than have nothing but contempt for and from him when I don’t get what I want.

Yes, men (and women) make mistakes about their family lives, and I have seen too often that this leads to hard feelings and recriminations and even marital failure, because one party cannot forgive the other. “Love each other as I have loved you,” the Lord said, and He, in love for us, has forgiven us everything, even the human sin that sent Him to a criminal’s death, undeserved. We forgive ourselves a thousand little faults every day – the burned toast, the late start, the lost pencil, and we forgive ourselves some pretty big faults, too – laziness, hesitancy, lack of compassion. But when our partner makes a big mistake, are we quick to rush to fault-finding and blame, rather than comfort and consolation? If we are truly one flesh with our spouse, then that problem is our problem, too, and the only sensible (and Godly) thing to do is address it and overcome it.

Marriages are sometimes so broken, though, by deceit and infidelity, that the other spouse cannot enter into that state of comfort, consolation and problem-solving. Sometimes the marital expectation is so unreasonable and so anti-Christian that a partner simply cannot stay and obey. This is worse than ever, I believe; we live in a world where we are taught “Me first,” and that we have rights to pleasure and personal fulfillment even at the cost of those who love us and deserve our love.

It is through daily interaction with the Word in Scripture and in Holy prayer that we learn how to live in a broken world as healed children of God. There is no harm in simply obeying! We obey God in how we act in our daily lives, not by spending an hour or so in a church building once a wekk and giving some money when asked. We live in obedience when we are willing to practice what we learn, or why bother learning it? Why would I bother studying civil engineering if I’m never going to build a road? Why would I read God’s Word if I have no intention of following Jesus?

Let the world know that thee is a Christian, by following the Way. The Lord gives thee simple instructions: be obedient; dress simply and modestly, give to those in need. Live in the kingdom of God as if thee is already in the New Jerusalem.

Waiting for God

Life seems to be in something of a holding pattern lately. We go about the usual things, we have our routine, which is occasionally interrupted, and in many ways we are at peace with our life. We’ve had our struggles and those dark days of heartache and longing and tears (strangely, in restrospect many of those weren’t grief but willfulness) even recently, but mostly we’re on an even keel. All right so far!

And tomorrow has to worry about itself…so we try not to be anxious and we try to place everything on God. But we know we are not surging ahead into wonderful new endeavours and if we didn’t have each other, (Thank God for that!) we would be pretty lonely and blue.

Shall we say we’ve had worse times in our lives? Of course – illness and bereavement and extreme poverty; we have a roof over our heads for now and food in the cupboard and we are mostly reconciled with those around us. It might be that we could get a little complacent in all this. It’s not wealth, although we have spiritual riches, as St. Peter said in his first letter to Asia Minor, riches that others brought to us, the apostles and martyrs and followers of Christ through the past. “Even the angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.” (I Peter 1:12.)

This time in between the calls to action, between the great spiritual battles is this time: “Your minds, then, must be sober and ready for action; put all your hope in the grace brought to you by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Do not allow yourselves to be shaped by the passions of your old ignorance, but as obedient children, be yourselves holy in all your activity, after the model of the Holy One who calls us, since scripture says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And if you address as Father him who judges without favouritism according to each individual’s deeds, live out the time of your exile here in reverent awe.” (I Peter 1:13-17.)

Reverent awe! This is a great gift of the Holy Spirit, that we would be given a glimpse of what is worthy of reverent awe.

Clotheslines and more on Laundry

I used to live in a town that had been home to a clothespin mill. The mills were long-gone, which was too bad, because they made the kind of clothespin I like. It’s the kind we used to turn into little dolls, with yarn hair and fabric scrap dresses, and I could sometimes get my grandmother to draw the faces for me, since she had a good artist’s hand at that sort of thing. A little girl with a shoebox full of “peg” clothespins, Nana’s rag bag and yarn basket, and some glue, would be busy all afternoon. (I make it sound as if I had some idyllic Little House on the Big Prairie childhood. I didn’t. We were a rural Baptist family with a black and white television and a Chevrolet station wagon. I had fashion dolls and a bike with an orange vinyl “banana” type seat. But I liked the old crafts even as a child, and I was naturally happy.)

I like peg clothespins, but I can’t find them, just the spring kind that come apart after a few uses. Don’t even offer me the plastic ones! They break and split way too fast.

My husband is really dissatisfied with the clothesline we just bought. It is braided nylon and according to him, not heavy enough, so it stretches when I get heavy, wet clothes on it. He is an old sailor, and he knows a good piece of line when he sees it, and this ain’t it. But it is doing the work for now. The heavier line is too thick for these scaled down spring pins, anyway.

I really, really dislike the plastic covered wire kind of line, since the plastic soons rots in the sun and then there are bare, rusty places, which leave marks on your white clothes if you’re not careful. When I did mission work in Honduras, another missionary and I went to buy new clothesline for the girls’ home where we worked. We never found “clothesline” – it was either horrid yellow polypropylene or the plastic covered wire. So we settled for the wire, took it back, and strung it up in the drying yard. It was an improvement on the string that had been there before!

Drying yards are so nice, if you can have one. They are enclosed, walled structures – like a hut without a roof – and have a concrete floor. The one at the girls’ home had a rather terrifying well, covered with a heavy concrete cap. When the electricity went out (and it did regularly) we had to heave this cap off the well and dip out the water with buckets. I was always worried that one of the little girls would go pitching into it, since they were immensely curious about the well, as they were about anything out of the ordinary. The home had a laundry room that had modern machines, but it also had two pilas, deep sinks with built in scrubboards. They were made of some cast stone mixture, and they were great for getting things really clean, as long as you were mindful not to scrub a hole right through the fabric. Most Latin American homes had a pila. I wish I had one sometimes. They are not portable, though.

Of course, Honduras has the kind of climate where you can hang clothes out year round (not counting the rainy season.)  Bad weather in the North sometimes limits clothesdrying days. If it is clear and cold, the clothes will freeze dry on the line eventually, but rain and wet snow can be devastating to the line and the cleanliness of the clothes! I had the sheets sag down into the sheep pen once, from the high position of the double pulley clothesline. The sheep found this very interesting, and trampled everything into the muck.

So, rule number one: Avoid clotheslines over sheep pens! This was an odd situation, as I had to remove some young ewes from the pasture, but had nowhere to put them but immediately behind the house. The clothesline was already in place. It was an unusually wet and gloomy winter!

I don’t like the double pulley “lazy woman” clotheslines. They never hold enough, you can’t take down clothes as they are dried, or rearrange items to dry better. The worst pulley line I ever had was at a little house that was built into the hillside, with the front door at ground level and the back door one story up. The clothesline was in the back, off a platform about the size of a desktop, no steps to the ground, and one false move away from a broken leg or worse. 

Nicholas did put up clotheslines in the basement after the sheep stole the sheets, attaching them to boards screwed to the walls. There was a woodstove in the basement, which facilitated drying if I cared to light it, but I found that a couple of ordinary room fans (the oscillating kind) got the clothes dry pretty quickly. My mother had basement clotheslines when I was small, and one of those wringer washers. During the summer drying was done in the backyard. I doubt if the washer made the trip upstairs seasonally; those babies are little monsters.

A porch line is nice, if you have a big porch and can put up several parallel lines. It’s not really protection against rain, but it keeps the sun from fading the clothes quite as much, and you don’t have to work in weather.

When we travelled in our little travel trailer, I took my washtubs and stand with us, along with clothesline and pins, and did the laundry wherever I could. Some parks – the “resort” kind – don’t want to see clotheslines, ruins the vacation experience, I suppose. We stayed the longest at a park on a native reserve, and they had no problem with looking at clean laundry.

A breeze helps dry the clothes and softens the towels and sheets. Too much wind, as I had at the rectory in New Denmark, means you never know where your clothes may land. It was rather embarrassing to have parishioners bring over my pillow cases and nightgowns from the church yard or cemetery. Still, the view from the back deck at that parish was breathtaking, across the green or snow-covered fields, over the forests, to the blue haze of the mountains.

That’s the best part of clotheslines – gentle exercise under the blue sky God gave us.

The Letter of St. James

We traditionally acknowledge this letter to be from James, brother of Jesus, first bishop of the church in Jerusalem. It is very much in the style of Old Testament wisdom, but reflects the practicality of the new faith in Christ.

James says: “Do not let class distinctions enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord.” And he goes on to say that we are all too ready to welcome the well-dressed stranger into our gathering, but dismiss or humiliate the one who is poorly dressed. “Listen, my brothers, it was those who were poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be the heirs to the kingdom which he promised to those who love Him.”

We can love the world and its rewards, or we can love God. We can’t love both. “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus said. If we pass among the worldly as one of them, if we are accepted in all the right places by all the right people, we will have had the reward we deserve: the World. We won’t get the reward God promises to the poor and faithful: His kingdom, the kingdom that is not just a future promise, but the life of the Spirit in which we share now.

According to James, we cannot separate the life of faith from the life of works. By our works the world will know us and the Lord will know us. He will know if we have been faithful by what we have done for the least of His children, not to earn a reward from Him, but simply from our love for Him. Our love for Him is expressed in every moment of our lives, from how we live and work to how we dress and speak.

For example, if I love my husband, I do not go around acting as if I don’t know him, smiling and flirting with other men. I don’t dress in a way that would give the impression that I am interested in other intimate relationships. I don’t say things about him that would shame or humiliate him. I don’t tolerate other people shaming him.

Yet Christians are tempted to act as if they don’t know their Lord. They may dress as if they belong to the world that despises Christ, that disbelieves God, that jokes and shames about the sacred. They may speak in a secular and irreverent manner. They are often ashamed to pray in public, or give a greeting of peace or a blessing. Will the Lord know them at that Day when all will be known?

We are to be cheerful prophets of the kingdom, not gloomy and harsh and judgmental. While we live in a critique of the world, we are still to be welcoming to the lost who seek Christ. The Lord makes it clear: Our life in the world is to be a life of love even when we are not loved ourselves.

Just wondering…

All blogs pick up spam. WordPress is really good at catching it and dumping it into a special file so we can review it. But this is what I’m wondering…

Doesn’t it seem a little futile to send adverts for insurance and gambling to Plain people?

Holy Poverty

When I was much younger, after some pretty intense reading in my undergrad days, I made a promise to God, that if He wanted me to do it, I would accept Holy Poverty, and live as one of the poor. Of course, I had no idea just what this podvig (Orthodox term for a cross to bear) would be. I suppose I expected a nice little Via Media poverty, no mansions or marble halls, but a modest roof over my head. God has had other ideas.

God doesn’t like His children to get too comfortable in the world, and because he has blessed me with holy poverty, I was definitely led in that promise rather than exercising some pious notion. Thank you, Lord.

Holy Poverty is what monks and nuns and dedicated religious practice. Some of them are blessed with orders that provide the roof and pot of kasha on the table, but I am just an Anglican, in ordained orders, married and therefore outside the monastery wall! Poverty is indeed hard. It means that sometimes we have to make choices about eating or paying the rent. Sometimes the choice is just not eating and not paying the rent, until someone is moved to show up with a little help.

Someone rather cruelly said to me recently when I was explaining why I couldn’t afford to do what someone wanted me to do, “Get a job!” but jobs for middle-aged, non-parochial priests are very scarce. As defenceless Christians, we can’t take just anything that comes along, and let’s face it, not everyone wants Plain people working for them. This is not a complaint, but an observation. If an employer is not moved in his or her heart to hire us (even if we are well qualified) then there is not much we can do about it. We are not called to take anyone to law over our rights.

Holy Poverty is a prophetic ministry. It is breaking a hole in the city wall; it is suffering down a well; it is going into captivity or spending the seasons far from home, because God sent you to do that. It is suffering along with the children of God, the poor. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5.) A person can be poor in goods but not poor in spirit if they resent their poverty and dream of grasping the goods of others. Holy Poverty is real poverty, but it is rich in Spirit. It is a life free of worldly distractions and avaricious climbing to get the next prize.

I believe that to experience the poverty of the Spirit, you must be poor in the goods of the world. It is not a matter of detachment in spirit, but a matter of real detachment. You don’t own things. You don’t look to own things. You don’t hoard. You don’t collect. You have only what you need and if you have a surplus, you look to share. We are physical creatures in a physical world. We can’t live at some “spiritual” level unless our bodies are there, too. So the goods have to go.

There can be humiliation in this kind of poverty. We sometimes have to ask for help. Those who give are then blessed in the giving. Going to fellow Christians and asking them to share isn’t that humiliating, though, when they give in goodness and generosity, as members of the family of God. The humiliation is when we have to turn to the State for help, guaranteed under law, and have to answer all the too-personal questions and face the inevitable sense of judgment. We get to experience this so that we can understand what other poor people live through. We will manage to find work soon, since we have job skills and contacts. (Hiring is slower and more complicated than it used to be.) Some people will never find suitable work, because they lack education, or skills, or a network to help them. “Get a job” is incredibly humiliating when you know there is no job out there for you.

Remember the poor, in thy giving and in thy prayers. It may be thee some day who turns to thy fellows for help and succour.

A Quote from John Howard Yoder

Did I tell you that we have a new favourite theologian? I probably did, with my usual evangelic zeal. This man, now home with Christ, was a Mennonite theologian who had studied under Karl Barth in Basel. He was probably one of the sharpest thinkers of the twentieth century, a real no-nonsense, no-excuses Anabaptist. If you have not encountered Politics of Jesus (1972, Wm B. Eerdmans Co.), it’s time.

I want to quote briefly from the book, but it is difficult to find the right sound bite. Yoder is not a sound bite kind of writer. His arguments are well-reasoned and complex. I just can’t believe that in seven years of theological education, no one told me about Yoder (or Anabaptism, except in the negative way.)

On the Haustafeln (house tables or rules of order) in the New Testament epistles:

“After having stated the call to subordination as addressed first to those who are subordinate already (my note: slaves and women) the Haustafeln then go on to turn the relationship around and repeat the demand, calling the dominant partner in the relationship to a kind of subordination in his turn. Parents are asked not to irritate their children, husbands are called upon to love (agapan) their wives. Philemon is invited to receive Onesimus ‘no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, both in the flesh and in the Lord,’ as he would receive Paul himself. That the call to subordination is reciprocal is once again a revolutionary trait…” (Politics of Jesus.)

We practice this radical subordination because Christ became subordinate to the redemption of humanity. Christ gave us the example and imperative of defencelessness, a choice to practice subordination and meekness. Yoder and his students made this clear: Pauline ethics are not just a Christianized reiteration of Stoicism or Judaism, but unique and new. Wives and slaves are in obedience to husbands and masters not because they have a lesser role, but because the husbands and masters are now in obedience to them, as well, in the unity of Christ. The covered head of a woman and the iron cuff of a slave are no longer signs of subjugation, but signs of the headship of Christ under which both the husband and the master are now subjects.

The “politics of Jesus” aren’t a matter of who God may favour, or of sovereignty on earth, or of controlling money, but the politics of defenceless, nonresistance, and the politics of peace.