Patience

There’s no time like illness for learning patience. Poor Nicholas has no patience with his own illness, although I have seen him sit with the sufferinga nd dying, and listen to them and their families, for countless hours. But with his own frailties, he has no time to wait. In every event of our lives, God has a lesson for us. He does not give us podvig (a cross to bear) for no reason at all. Live looks random, but isn’t. Ny own immediate lesson? Trust God in all things. Try not to outguess Him. I, too, need patience at this time, so that I don’t rush into bad decisions just to be doing something. I pray that God is directing us to the place and way of life where He needs us the most. Will my impatient husband learn to slow down? Will he learn how much I love him, and how devoted I am to him? With God’s help…

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On Aprons and Maybe Other Practicalities

I love aprons. I’ve been browsing some websites that feature vintage apron patterns, looking for inspiration. I wear an apron everyday. My dresses stay cleaner for longer, and since my dresses are full and pleated, the idea of washing them, then ironing them back into shape, isn’t something I cherish. So cotton denim aprons go over them. If I’m going out, the apron comes off (unless I forget.)

I gave two of my aprons to an eleven-year-old girl who has decided that she needs to wear dresses most of the time. Since so many of her other clothes, jeans and t-shirts, were ruined with the usual pre-teen type stains, I suggested that she wear aprons at home. She’s quite pleased with her grown-up looking self, despite being about four feet and a few inches tall.

So why don’t we wear aprons anymore? Apron patterns were quite popular right through the seventies. The latest “vintage” pattern I found was 1981. Look in any current sewing pattern book, and aprons are relegated to the back, along with cushion covers and dog costumes. Is an apron some sign of an irrelevant past, an emblem of servitude? Well, of course it is, if one listens to the Steinem era feminists. But it is a symbol and perhaps a sign of the practicality of women who work in the home.

Back in the fifties, patterns for Mr. and Mrs. aprons became popular, usually with cute barbeque motifs, or cocktail glasses. It was an indication of new prosperity and leisure, that men had time to relax around their home, find that primal male that can only be expressed in cooking outdoors, and be a fun host while the wife handed round trays of canapes and petits fours. Men’s aprons were the butcher or baker type, usually. It was still a joke to put a man in a half-apron with pleats and ruffles. (My husband recently growled at some absurd male get-up on television with, “What’s next, aprons for men?”, unaware of the whole fifties host apron phenomenon, thanks to a Cockney family.)

But modern advertising would have us believe that what we need is to continually wash clothes. Laundry products and high-tech washer-dryers are the status rage. (Those who have read past posts know that I do my laundry in galvanized tubs, outdoors, with a wringer and a line.) We don’t need aprons because we wash everything, several times a week. Our teenager, in her tween years, hated that we moved into a house without a washer, because it meant she couldn’t decide at the last minute that she needed THAT pair of jeans or shirt for school tomorrow. She had been in the habit (before she was in our blended household) of washing just one or two items in the machines. Frugal me was horrified. She was horrified that I did laundry by hand, like some – well, she didn’t know about hillbillies and Ma and Pa Kettle.

I can’t imagine some of the SUV-driving Moms I see at the market putting on an apron. That would imply that they were actually going to cook. But surely, with $35,000 kitchens (yes, I cringe) and top of the line professional cooking equipment, and the new status rage of homegardening, one would think aprons were making some sort of status comeback. Maybe they need to be status designer aprons. The old sewing pattern lines had one or two occasionally, and the one that sticks in my mind is the Pierre Cardin one that looks ever so much like the pinnies worn by the sewing factory girls on Coronation Street.

While on the subject, I did see an amazing pattern for an apron that turns into a sunbonnet. I am a big fan of sunbonnets, too. Being Quakerly, I love bonnets in general, the simpler the better.  I am allergic to sunscreens, so face shading hats are a necessity if I’m working outside. I have made several sunbonnets for children to sell at the market, and plan to make up some adult sizes as well. I’m going to give the apron to bonnet a try, too. I’m not sure how practical it is, but there are times one is out in the yard, in an apron, and taking longer than expected. Wouldn’t it be great to whip off the old apron, fasten a couple of buttons, and have a stylish (ok, maybe not) sunbonnet on one’s head?

On Agrarianism

We have been listening to a preacher named Michael Bunker on the internet. We really enjoy a good sermon – isn’t that an odd thing to say? His expositions on scripture, modern life and Anabaptism have really helped us clarify some of our beliefs.

First, the doctrine of separation. Christians are not to be invisible in the world. If nothing else, we should be known by our good works and our love for Christ. We are not merely an ethical society, a philosophy of good. We are followers of Christ, guided by the inner Light that God grants us in the Holy Spirit. We are not just form, we live what we believe, we live what we pray. Our Plain dress is part of that, but not just because it is an identifier with a group; it is an artifact of  living the gospel, of modesty and humility, of serious consideration of what the scripture tells us.  It is not a legalism, because legalism is a dead interpretation of Law. We are called to a living faith, a way of peace and abiding in the land.

Bunker says we need to take Genesis seriously. I agree; it is not a matter of creationism versus evolutionism, of science against doctrine. It is a matter of knowing why God created us and what for. We are called to live our physical life as closely to the purpose God intended for us as we can. For us, that means homesteading, tough as it is. I truly wish at times it wasn’t so tough! But who said life would be easy? Who said it was going to be cakes and ale every day, if we were just good children like we are told? No, the Lord promised us great gifts, with tribulation.

As a shepherd I’ve had my share of disasters and trouble, both for me and the animals. Sick animals in the flock, a lamb that doesn’t make it through a cold night, contaminated feed, poor pasture. But there are good things about raising animals, too, and more than just the physical benefits of warm wool, top quality meat, or milk. There is the tangible benefit of being in the real world, the world God created, and following the way of the ancestors. I can understand Abraham and David much better. I can understand the parables of sheep and shepherds Jesus told. There’s knowing that when I have to get up at 3 a.m. to tend a ewe in labour, and the stars are as bright as they were when first created, that God meant me to see them, to hold a wet, shuddering little lamb, to give a pail of warm water to a tired new mother. It is more real, more intentional than any office or shopkeeping job I ever had. It is more real than all the church meetings I ever sat through. It is certainly more real than the fantasy world of malls, television, the internet and status seeking.

Life is hard. It is especially hard for the poor. Until we have lived among the poor as the poor we cannot understand why the Lord blessed them with His kingdom. If we are too centered in this world, the world of earning a paycheck, of sending the mortgage payment, of buying a better car and having a good time, then we are not of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is, in this life, a place of struggle and doubt and trouble. It is also a glimpse of the glory to come when the Lord returns (maranatha!) and restores the universe to what He intended. Right now, it is as we meant it to be, and haven’t we done a lousy job so far?

A Year Later, We Return

When Nicholas and I arrived in Ontario last year, I made all kinds of hopeful statements about living there, mostly to keep up my own courage. Many things happened there, but not what we expected. It was a rather long and difficult passage, a pilgrim’s progress. Some of our beliefs and expectations about the church got readjusted incredibly. (There’s plenty to say about that.)

Our return last week to this small city in New Brunswick was a good experience. We have a lot of work ahead of us to start homesteading again, and already some expectations have to be delayed and modified, but that is always the case, isn’t it? Our little abode is in good shape, and as soon as we can ready the systems in it, we look forwad to moving in. It’s a 19′ Prowler RV, circa 1976, well-maintained and nicely refurbished. It can run on AC, DC or propane. We’ll start with a land-line AC connection, shift to DC with solar panels when we move further off the grid, and rebuild the propane appliances before winter as a back-up. Our goal is to build a 12’x20′ A frame cabin, open plan with a loft. Just when that will get done is up in the air. With a temporary roof and shed, we can winter over in the Prowler.

The site is part of a lot that was once a scrap metal storage yard. There doesn’t appear to be anything yucky, but big hunks of metal are still appparent. This sounds pretty awful, but it will only take some effort to move them to a more suitable place to clear the back lot. The sheds on site for wood and tools are in pretty good shape, just needing a little closing in and siding to look Plain-presentable.

Is it true that Plain people are what my mother would call house-proud? I sometimes worry that I am too concerned with my physical surroundings. I cannot abide clutter and lack of cleanliness. I like to have just the very basic articles of householding so that I am not overwhelmed with possessions and their attendant needs. We don’t own much clothing and absolutely nothing “collectible.” But I am concerned that I put too much stock in cleanliness and order.  (All right, my husband doesn’t think I do, so maybe I have the right balance.)

It’s a matter of stewardship. If we take care of what we own, it will be last longer. If we are mindful of how much we take from the environment, we will take only what we need. There’s a lot of talk these days about our “carbon footprint,” whatever that means, but relatively, North Americans consume huge amounts of carbon resources, far more than our share. We have taken steps to reduce that for ourselves, and hope to reduce it even more.

That’s simple husbandry, the basis of agrarian philosophy. God gave us the land to use properly, to make it productive to support life. Instead, the history of humanity is a history of greed and exploitation. We are not following the way of the ancestors, the way of Israel, the ideal given to Adam and Eve in the Garden.

It’s not easy to do this. It is so much easier to run to the store, buy the convenience foods, amuse ourselves mindlessly with television and internet and video games. It is a lot harder to plan ahead, plant the garden, raise the chickens, and find a way to support ourselves until we are self-sufficient. Yes, we can give into the culture and “compromise.” (Although it isn’t really a compromise, because the culture always wins.) We could get out of the Plain clothes, into the business suits, bully and wheedle our way into good-paying corporate jobs, and basically have it all! Have what? Having it all, to us, is having nothing. It’s all a delusion, a trick to keep us from following Christ.

It’s sad to say, but the church has become part of the corporate structure. It’s about numbers and revenue, power and production. We have to compete with the distractions of Sunday morning, we have to build a thriving parish, we have to get bums in the pews and checks in the bank account.  It sounds like a business to me! A simple life of prayer, Christian fellowship and waiting on the Spirit for direction doesn’t seem to be part of it.

I’m sure people think we’re crazy. We’ve had bad experiences homesteading – flooding, poverty, illness – but we couldn’t wait to get back to it. We aren’t anxious, obviously, to rush back into church life. We’ve tried to reconcile, but the cost seems too high. We broke some unspoken code, some unwritten canon, and we are outside and not really welcome back into the marble halls. If the church cannot tell us what it is we did wrong and how to fix it, then there is something wrong with the church, not us. Christianity is not a religion of secrets. We aren’t the masons or the rosicrucians. Jesus welcomed all and didn’t hold anything back. He told the apostles what they needed to know, and they told us.

As we walked around the farmer’s market last week, we were greeted by many old friends. Some are Baptists, some are Evangelical, some are Roman Catholic, some Anglican, and Presbyterian and Orthodox. Denoimination has never been important in our ministry. So many people came to us because they could not find comfort or healing in the traditional churches. And that’s where we need to be, available to those who are outside the structure, who don’t fit into the hierarchy, who need ministry and pastoral care but don’t know where they can turn to get it.

The church today needs to ask itself: Why do we keep hurting people? Why do we shut out the least of God’s children?

There is still much work to do, and there will be until our last day on earth. Signs are that things will not be getting better or easier. Pray that we have the strength and the basic resources for our mission here, that we will be granted a discipline in which we can do good work, that we will find a peg on which to hang our hat! Pray for the lost souls who need comfort and counseling and the presence of Christ.