Un-Traditions for Anglicans

I’ve been thinking about Anglican Christmas traditions. I wish we had some better ones, or could get back some of the old ones. We have become a very cultural church, and follow the latest trend a little too closely. Some so-called traditions I would like to see dropped:

1. Christmas trees EVERYWHERE. The Christmas tree did not appear in England until Queen Victoria got married, and was brought in as a German custom by Prince Albert. That’s  all right, but the Victorian tree was a wee thing with a few baubles and some candles stuck on it, and usually sat on a tabletop in the parlour. It was not for public display. The Lutheran legend is that Martin Luther brought home a small evergreen one Christmas eve, and put candles on it to show his children how the trees looked at night with the stars shining through them, a kind of representation in a Nordic way of the night of the Nativity, with the star over Bethlehem, and the angels glowing in the night sky. Well, this was pretty impressive for sixteenth century children who must have had better imaginations than modern children. And that version of why we have Christmas trees is much nicer and sweeter than the sacrifice to Wotan one.

So why do we have to have Christmas trees – massive Douglas firs or the plastic equivalent – everywhere we turn from American Thanksgiving to Epiphany? Because the wasteful large tree has become a status symbol, covered with lots of expensive designer ornaments.

And please, keep the tree out of the church!

2. Expensive parties from November 30 through New Year’s Eve.

Advertising would have us believe that the whole month of December is about parties: glittery clothes, lots of food and drink, decorating the house like Versailles on the Sun King’s birthday. We are reminded and cajoled to shop for the perfect little dress, get our hair dyed, cut and ornamented, paint our faces like courtesans, and wear high heels in the winter. Spend money, look glamorous (although we can be pretty frumpy the other eleven months) and pretend that we live amongst the glitterati and rock stars.

Come on, now. So few of us really aspire to that lifestyle that these holiday ads are nothing but 30-second romance novels. It isn’t going to happen. We don’t live in a world where we get invited to dozens of parties, because most of our families and friends are striving to just get to work and pay the bills. But we buy into it anyway, and indulge in clothes we might wear once, in food and drink no one really needed, and we try to pretend for just a little while that the world is not what it is. This is unhealthy and leads to a huge emotional drop when January 2 comes, and we have loads of laundry to do, a busted bank account, nothing but gumdrops and cheap champagne in the pantry, and a reality of grizzling children and hung-over spouses. And there’s no black-uniformed maid to swoop down, straighten up the mess and set us on our feet. The glmaour was just that – fake stardust and lies. The root of the word glamour is illusion. It is not about financial and social success; it is about being deceived and literally led astray by the dark spirits.

3. Christmas Cards. Considering the amount of waste that goes into sending cards, including trees, money and your time, why are you doing this? Even recycled paper cards are using up a resource that could go elsewhere. Hand-make and hand-exchange a few cards with close friends and family. The children can help with this, or you can utilize your innate artistic skills. It will be more satisfying and take no more time to produce twenty hand-made cards than to address, sign and send 100 general printed greetings. I used to dread the Christmas card exchange, and the resulting flood of return mail. I dropped out of the whole thing when I started seminary. With papers due, I was not going to spend hours addressing envelopes and dutifully writing little progress reports to people I hadn’t seen in years.

That’s a brief list. There may be more…

Hoarding, Ekonomia and the Kingdom of God

We watched a program last night called “Hoarders.” It is about the intervention offered people with – what to call it? – possession disorders? Ownership obsessions? Of course, it was pretty awful for these poor people. They have completely ruined their lives, their relationships, and their finances by hoarding. Some buy things they don’t need and stash them in their houses and apartments. Others drag home trash finds, ostensibly to fix up and resell or use. Some just keep everything, mostly food container trash, that is normally thrown away. The rooms in their dwellings become filled to overflowing, and they have to navigate by narrow pathways through boxes and piles. Of course it’s unsanitary. Of course it’s ugly. Of course it’s even dangerous. But they keep doing it unless they get help. Many refuse the intervention and therapy; they don’t want to get well.

Maybe it is because I had a sheltered childhood or because I grew up in a poor community, but I don’t remember any hoarders from my young years. There would be a hushed word among the adults sometimes about someone having to go to the nursing home because they weren’t able to care for themselves, that they hadn’t cleaned or taken out trash, but it was attributed, I think, to old age and infirmity.

I realize that I have known many hoarders in recent years. Some were extreme – piles of moldering clothes and furniture, broken appliances, derelict cars full of junk and garbage. Some were more subtle – packed closets and spare rooms, tables covered with packaged food, stationery, hardware, but always an excuse as to why it was there and how long it would stay. I mean situations beyond the stack of books, the newspapers on the way to recycling, or the art supplies on the work table. That’s just a sign of a busy life. This goes beyond the string-saving habits of our depression-era grandparents – how many of us have found their kitchen drawers full of bread bags and aluminum foil, good enough to re-use? That’s just moderate hoarding. I think there has been a huge surge in major, out-of-control hoarding, just as there has been an upswing in compulsive shopping.

This is more than a displacement disorder, a psychological aberration. It is, I believe, an indication of a pervasive spiritual illness in our culture. Owning is emphasized; status is more important than relationship. We are what we have. Instead of seeking friendships and stable family situations, we are encouraged to buy, to surround ourselves with the fruits of the consumer culture, sterile and even dead. (You can’t plant a toaster and get a toast tree.) Instead of personality we have veneers of sophistication, and when someone senses that their veneer is inadequate, they seek to build it thicker with acquisitions. Clothes. Make-up. Jewelry. Furniture. Cars. Electronics. When a person is so left behind in acquiring status and sophistication that they feel their relationships are terribly inadequate, then they may develop an acquisitions disorder, turning to accumulation of possessions to compensate – “I am nothing, so I must have everything.” They literally build a thicker wall against the outside world that is so threatening.

Many people suffer this to some degree. It may get very focussed – buying only designer label clothes, for instance, or an obsession with collecting a category of item. These people are already overidentifying with objects, transferring their personalities to things. They lack essential relationships and in this, they lack trust of others. Even God can become a possession to them, as they acquire religious objects, Bibles, spiritual artifacts of many descriptions. They are too frightened to have a true, trusting relationship with their Saviour, so they sometimes try to own Him in small pieces. They will often fall for a prosperity preacher, expecting that God will provide more acquisitions as a reward for faithfulness.

Our culture does not emphasize generosity and true charity. The commonality of goods is refuted by most of the mainline denominations. Tithing is over-emphasized, as if ten percent is all that God could possibly expect of us. The ekonomia of the house of God is that we provide from our own substance for those in need, not just for the heating bill and the rector’s salary. It will take more than ten percent to make the world equitable. It will take everything.  We have to stop being hoarders.

The Lord left us the keys to the Kingdom. We don’t use them, though. We are locked out by lack of love, lack of warm charity, lack of relationship, lack of shalom, that peace which is the peace and wholeness of God.

 

The Advent of Advent

Last Sunday was Stir-up Sunday, when the traditional collect is “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is the last Sunday before Advent, almost the end of the church year.

Stir-Up Sunday is the beginning of the week when we also stir up the Christmas puddings and cakes, those traditional dense fruit-laden sugar, egg and butter bombs so beloved of the British people. The rest of the world does not understand fruitcake and plum pudding, but no true Brit, no son or daughter of British roots, would want to see Christmas pass without the rum soaked and flaming pud carried into the darkened dining room, nor see the New Year rung in without a few slices of brandy flavoured cake.

My last fruitcake of the week is in the oven now, slowly amalgamating into a delectable mass. It will be cooled overnight, wrapped in brandy-saturated cheesecloth, wrapped airtight, and stowed on the top shelf of the refrigerator until the festivities.

It is a lot of work, and it takes a strong arm to fold together the densest fruitcakes. Although we no longer have to candy the fruit, chop it fine, and grind the suet and nuts by hand, it stil takes a while to get a good steamed pudding or fruitcake assembled. We started with a long-distance trip to Bulk Barn to get the ingredients by the pound (or kilo, here.) Then there is the marshalling of pudding bowls, fruitcake pans, steamers and cooling racks, the hunting down of cheesecloth in the store, and the debate over the liquor. (Dark rum or brandy?) All the mysterious and exotic ingredients are laid out along with familiar sugar, butter and eggs.

The plum pudding must be stirred by everyone in the house, and I assembled it on Sunday afternoon. The stirring was enjoyed by the two-year-old, who got to sit on the kitchen counter with a wooden spoon. She had haunted the kitchen while preparation was underway, until I gave her a wooden bowl, a plastic spoon, and a dozen raisins to stir herself. She then showed off her work, stirring raisins around and around, and finally ate the raisins. She was enchanted with being allowed to do big girl work with the real bowl, though. It is her first plum pudding.

Honouring this tradition seemed to be vital to our starting the Nativity season this year. Perhaps it is Nicholas’s stroke and the thought that he almost didn’t see this season; perhaps it is a need to feel rooted in our heritage again, building a little sanctuary of memory and history away from a fast-changing world. Tradition roots us in the year itself, both the natural year of seasons and crops, work and rest as well as in the liturgical year of feasts and fasts, saints’ days and commemorations. “Here we are again,” can be a comforting thought, a home-place found each year.

So we are carefully picking up some traditions stowed away while we sojourned, antique treasures inherited from parents and great-grandparents. At the same time, we are dropping some recent traditions that are counter-productive to our spriritual life.

Christmas shopping is one of them. It was easy for me this year – we have absolutely no money. My gifts will all be prayers this year. I will ask the Lord to bestow His blessings on each of us, according to our needs. I refuse to speak gently of some of the horrors of consumer Christmas – Black Friday shopping (Canadians don’t have this) and Boxing Day sales (Americans don’t have this.) Greed and status-seeking are so far from the message of the Incarnation that it is truly horrible to contemplate this filth in the Season of Light. Please don’t be tempted by “bargains.” You simply do not need that stuff anyway.

Our Advent discipline this year is not fasting. This household is ill-equipped to fast this time; I do not want to set myself apart from the people I nourish daily. Meals are a little eucharist for us here, and we need to continue to share the common loaf and cup. After some thought, I proposed that our discipline would be using our food resources better; specifically, using up the surplus in the pantry and freezer. Generosity put some of that food there, and it would be in gratitude that we prepare and eat it. Rather than buy more, we will use what we have, even if on first glance it is not very appealing. But I have time to cook, read recipes and prepare good food from basic components; that is my gift to the house this season.

Perhaps others are in the same position. Are there goods in your house that need to be lovingly consumed before they spoil? Do you have a hoard or stash of something that you should share? If you do, will it be for the daily nourishment of your family, or in a big party for friends? Or do you need to move the surplus on to those in need this winter, donating to a food bank? Be extravagant in your hospitalityand generosity.

If your surplus is not in the pantry, do you have goods that are not being used – small appliances, clothes, furniture, books,maybe even a stack of firewood you won’t burn this year. Can these be donated to a charity to be given to a family without resources, or to be sold? Even better, have a sale of your own, in the garage or barn, or list the items on craigslist or kijiji, whichever serves your area. Donate the proceeds.

Preparing our loving hearts for Advent and the Festival of the Incarnation (Christmas, nativity) is of greater importance than preparing our homes by filling them with purchased junk.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)

Anglo-Catholico, Moderate-High Church

No, that does not describe me at all. I am so far from Catholico-anything. While moderate in the via media kind of way, I am not exactly high church anything either. I’d describe myself as Anglo-Chocolate maybe, because I’m sweet-tempered with a dark side.

The blogs are dominated by the whole Anglo-Catholic group, whinging and moaning about ordained women, Pope Benedict the latest, and so forth. Boring, fellas, so twenty years ago. time to grow up and move on.

Really. The kingdom will not come just because you are whining like brats.

Plain clothes, detected

I am a bit discouraged about drssing plain these days. My clothes are wearing out, I have no funds, and no sewing machine with me! It may be weeks yet before I can retrieve my stuff, including the mighty Pfaff, from New Brunswick. (Hoping it’s still there, and hasn’t been discarded from storage! It was’t a formal arrangement, nor very secure.) I am patching and mending as much as I can – sweaters, dresses, aprons. I did pick up a shirt and shoes for Nicholas at a rummage sale, and night clothes for myself, but suitable plain clothes? No. Although some of the donations in their 80s high style might make anyone look dowdy…

While we have shelter and food, I simply have no cash at all. Outside of looking like a hard winter until I am employed or the disability pensions starts, I don’t have many options. Few communities run a clothing bank anymore, preferring the rummage sale or Salvation Army donation route. That just doesn’t help people who have NOTHING.

Are we making too many assumptions these days about what people can manage? Are too many falling through the cracks? Even one is too many.

Am I going to have to give up Plain just so I can cover myself in a suitable way? I pray it won’t come to that. But sensible, modest clothes, used or free, are very hard to come by, in a country where everything is disposable.

Headship theology

As an ordained Anglican, I am under so much headship that I feel top-heavy. I am married, so I am under my husband’s headship; I am ordained, so I am under my bishop’s headship; I am a Christian, so I am under Christ’s headship. I need the long hair and the cap just to steady the load!

Why am I willing to do this? It is the way Christ called us to follow, so I do it, even if the world doesn’t like it, thinks I’m crazy, and calls me oppressed. It is the way of humility, and we cannot reach God through pride, so it is the way I must go. It is a relief to be able to bow with grace in this, to know that I am loved and protected, to know that my efforts in family and Church are appreciated and useful.

Authority is natural; it derives from our relationship to God, and our right relationships to each other. Proper authority, granted by God and taught us in scripture, leads to right relationship. Right relationship is a relationship of mutual respect, mutual love, and mutual self-sacrifice. Authority is not abusive or manipulative. It is an attitude of openness that comes from respect and trust.

Abuse in the form of authority is always destructive. Its end does not justify its means. Our only goal is the love of God, and the hope of salvation, the on-going creation and the promise of redemption. Headship authority sometimes is used to hide sin; this is so perverted as to be satanic. There is no redemption, no salvation, no act of creation in abuse and pride.

One of the most puzzling aspects of headship theology is its hierarchy, until we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord; Caesar (the world) is not. (A phrase from Bishop N.T. Wright; see his Surprised by Hope.) We are all under His headship, husbands and bishops included, and if they act without Him, then they have violated His headship as well as their own. All action, all relationship, must be seen in the context of the gospel light of Christ.

Because the two become one flesh in marriage, my headship under my husband supersedes that of my bishop. If my husband’s authority is reasonable and supportable in Christ, then his authority will prevail with me if it opposes the headship of the bishop. Has this happened? Yes, and to this day remains unresolved. The relationship is still not healed; my husband, too, is under the bishop’s authority as a priest, but again, Christ’s headship supersedes any earthly authority. Anglicans believe that only God is infallible; all men will fail in perfect knowledge. Bishops therefore may be disobeyed if their orders are not supported by tradition, reason and scripture. (This is reverse order of authority. Scripture comes first, reason next, and tradition last. Tradition can never take precedence over scripture, and we acknowledge that reason may be man’s wisdom but not God’s. Scripture is therefore of the greatest authority.) However, the disobedience may lead to discipline, and that is under due authority even if the bishop is wrong.

This is but a brief sketch for those looking for some basis to what I do. It could be a full book at some point, if I should ever have the time and anyone was interested.

Hair Anxiety, Gossip and a Clean Heart

I would hate to find out that hair is a bigger issue than feeding the poor. Maybe it is. Maybe we have so much anxiety about what is the right thing to do that we get caught up in details.

So…the right thing to do is what Jesus Christ told us to do.  Matthew 28:19…go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…and Luke 6:27…love your enemies. Jesus did not come to remove the law but to fulfill it. And if we are to make disciples and love our enemies, among other things he told us to do, we do it for the love of Him, not out of fear of punishment.

Do those of us called to the tradition of head covering do it out of fear? Do we do it because we are afraid that the Lord will reject us now or at the day of judgment? I don’t think just a headcover is going to save anyone. We wear our hair uncut and our heads covered to serve Him, as a witness, not as a hedge against hell. And that witness needs to be backed up with good behaviour, Christian behaviour, not just rules-keeping and hypocrisy. And the first rule is Love.

A lying, gossiping tongue that does harm, even in the name of good, is not covered by headship. Jesus Christ has no part in a malicious, controlling, spiteful heart. A perfection of dress will not cover that sin! Cleanse your hearts first, before covering your heads. That pristine cap or that beautiful scarf will be a lie if it is not the emblem of your clean heart and soul.

I try to remember that when people see me in my prayer cap and plain dress. Many have gone before me in these clothes, and they wore them humbly and with the grace of God. Why should I betray them and their witness? If this witness is the witness of humility and God’s righteousness, I too must bear that burden, not a spirit of pride and self-righteousness. Hair to your feet and the habit of a nun will not cover a multitude of sins.

Lately I have seen people troubled by gossip, and it is gossip among Christians. Has no one told the offenders that gossip is murder of your neighbour? It is that sinful, that harmful. Gossip keeps your neighbour from living freely amongst her community. It sets up a prison of lies, and forces the victim to leave the community. Yes, it does. It happens all the time. It has happened to me. Gossip slays the love between neighbours and Christians. It is a sword to the heart. No woman under headship should speak ill of her neighbour, or collude to cause another’s pain and isolation. No Christian can remain worthy of His name if she has a sly tongue. She who gossips betrays her headship, and puts her own head to shame, and that shame is not covered by hair or fabric.

Gossip and slander are too often used in traditional and conservative church communities as a means of control. It may be much worse in Christian communities, so-called, than in the general, secular population. This is shame for all Christians, that those of us who claim His name so often do not speak as He taught us. Sister, put a bridle on that tongue, and do not dishonour thy head, who is Christ.