Thoroughly Plain

I forgot to put out the trash Sunday night. It was late enough, dark enough and wet enough that I couldn’t ask Nicholas to do it, with his limited sight. So I went to bed anyway. I awoke at five a.m. with the thought: “The trash!”

Sometimes the truck comes at seven a.m., sometimes at nine a.m., but this particular load of trash needed to go to the curb – lots of recycling, and the remnants of a party.

I don’t like dressing in the dark, with too many pins and tucks. It doesn’t take long, but I didn’t want to get started and then go back to bed. What would most people do?

Going to the curb in bright pink pajamas and bathrobe is not an option. I’m not a superstitious person, but that’s just courting a minor disaster – getting locked out, police coming to see why crazy woman is on curb at six a.m., neighbour out walking the dog and telling the whole village what you look like in your jimjams.

“I’ll put on jeans,’ I thought, “and a sweater.”

Hold on.

No jeans. Except husband’s, and his waist measurement is just a little less than my hip measurement, and he is several inches taller. What could be worse than being caught in bright pink jammies on the curb? Being caught wearing clown pants.

But I was determined to put out the trash and go back to bed. I scrounged around in the closet until I found soemthing suitable – old exercise pants from my boxing days. They are plain black, drawstring waist, and say “everlast” on them in various places.

(Just a quirky little aside: When Everlast started selling branded merchandise at Wal-mart, looking Plain starting to be a real option for me. Is that a strange kind of vanity, or what? I had taken way too much pride in my ability to hit things/people. Yes, Plain was the penance, and that tiny violent corner of my soul was subdued through prayer and fasting, and the grace of God.)

I donned the pants, an old sweater, and my ordinary boots. Trash went to the curb despite the wet, cold, not yet dawn morning. I went back to bed for a couple of hours, snug in the bliss of a task well done, albeit late.

Note to self: Go to Len’s and buy some garden clogs, will you please? Leather ankle boots without socks is a weird sensation.

Plain, Niqab, Hijab

Quebec wants to ban the wearing of chador and niqab. That is, they want to outlaw women covering their faces.

Most of us are aware that Islamic custom calls for women to be modest, even to the point where they don’t show their faces. Not many Muslim women who live in the West do this. While many practice the headcovering and modesty of hijab, they don’t feel called to cover completely. The government of Quebec, as well as other places, wants to prevent women from covering to the point of anonymity.

Why does the government think they can legislate religious practice and modesty? It’s just none of their business. If I want to go out in public in a hat with a full net veil, are they going to suspect me of plotting sedition? Western women used to veil under certain circumstances – getting married, wearing widow’s weeds (a long black dress, hat and face veil were common until about eighty years ago) and when they travelled in dusty or contagious conditions. A face veil that partially or fully concealed the features was considered fashionable at certain times.

This singling out of Muslim women is nothing but xenophobia. It is prejudice and hostility toward the religious practices of other cultures. There seems to be an assumption that the woman has no choice in this (according to a columnist here in Ontario) and that women do it because their husbands order them to. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam. Not all Islamic women practice hijab or niqab; not all Islamic men wear the beard or head cover. It is an individual choice. Certainly, some husbands may hypocritically order their wives in hijab or niqab while looking thoroughly Westernized themselves, but that is between the couple and maybe their religious community. Matters of family structure are not public matters unless they cross the line into abuse and violence.

My concern is that those of us who cover in other ways are going to be regarded with suspicion and come under scrutiny. We all look alike to some people, we cover too much of our hair and our bodies; there’s nothing to make us look like individuals. Which is the point. My individuality has nothing to do with my attire, my hair colour, or how much face or ankle I show. It has everything to do with being the person God wants me to be.

Traditional and Plain women need to stand up for their Muslim sisters’ right to choose niqab, the chador, the burkha and hijab. Their rights to religious expression and freedom are just as important as ours. If you want tolerance, you must practice tolerance.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

It’s a lot easier to simplify if you are Henry David Thoreau living in a little cabin at Walden Pond, unmarried, no children, a part-time job surveying or doing Dad’s accounting down at the pencil factory. It’s a lot harder to simplify if, like us, you have possessions you now need in another province, money to clear from another country, a two year old to potty-train and the one fully employed priest in the household has to have a wisdom tooth extracted in Holy Week. Oh, and the truck needs to be registered in this province, which means a new inspection certificate since the previous one has now expired.

Did I mention taxes? Yes, taxes.

Some things just have to be done.

They can’t be done simply, they can’t be eliminated. I, for one, am not going to tell Mother Kay that the wisdom tooth will simply have to wait. I’ve had an impacted wisdom tooth and it was so painful that it occupied all the space in the universe.

But, then, having already simplified so much I don’t have to: rearrange someone’s squash lesson, cancel a dinner party, reschedule vacation, or tell the contractor I won’t be available Tuesday for the consultation on the addition to the indoor pool. I won’t be missing any meetings, or disappointing the bridge club. I will simply drive Kay home from the dentist, and pick up the child from the babysitter. The husband will fend for himself. He can even make his own coffee if he must.

I can devote an hour or two to get the truck legalities sorted out, and I’ve already quite simply postponed the trip back East for a week. There are leftovers for supper at least one night this week.

In the meantime, husband will let in the repairman who needs to fix the leak under the sink, and the same repairman can simply handle the front step repair without any further guidance. He knows more about plumbing and masonry than I do, anyway.

I have until the end of April to get the taxes done, and ours are simple. We live simple lives, so simple we don’t have much income.

A young couple we know are concerned about simplifying their lives. They would like to live in an intentional Christian community, having been taken with Shane Claiborne’s writing. I don’t blame them, I am too. But I’m a wee bit older (like older than their parents) and I have some experience in living intentionally.

“It means a change of lifestyle,” I wrote to them. “And everyone has to agree to rules, or it won’t work.”

The change of lifestyle for them will be the loss of recreational shopping, of friends who are not Christian and don’t want to be; and hardest of all, it will probably mean some shock and horror from immediate family. Why would you want to do all this?

Many of us have looked around at the world and we do not like what we see. We see that one cannot follow Christ and live in the world as a worldly person. We may move amongst the worldly, but we have to find ways to go trhough the masses without losing sight of the our Lord. It is not simple. Not at first. At first, when there is so much to give up, it is complex. Our emotions get in the way. Guilt over leaving so much behind can be overwhelming. People we love don’t help us; they judge and even try to hinder us. It would be simpler to give up and turn back.

But that doesn’t work. Turning back, giving up, putting on the three piece suit and tie or the heels and make-up again, will feel so false, so tiresome. We will long for the days of freedom, when we simply followed the way of Jesus Christ.

And how do we do that? Where is that way?

I can say this, simply: You’ll know when you are on the road. You may not know where you are going, but you will know when you get there that it was the right way. It looks different for everyone, even as it looks the same. Simply get started, and go.

Passion or Palms?

I’ve mentioned before that I loathe the palm processions. The old Books of Common Prayer emphasized the passion narratives of the gospels; the Canadian BCP used the Matthew passion. (I note that it is called Palm Sunday as an afterthought in the BCP; it is officially “The Sunday next before Easter.”) So by 1960 the palms had been integrated into general practice. Passion Sunday technically is the Sunday preceding Palm Sunday, when the foreshadowing of the passion begins in the gospel readings.

The purpose is to begin the long narratives of Holy Week. It was expected that the faithful would attend divine service every day in Holy Week, not just on the Sunday next before, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The ancient pattern was to intensify fasting in Holy Week, eating just unseasoned foods and dry bread, and all local feasts suspended, while attending the daily services. I would expect that most of the ancient practices included no eucharist (communion) until Maundy Thursday, or the commemoration of the last Supper, and then no sacrament was reserved. (Many churches, following a more modern Roman practice, have reserved sacrament from the Maundy Thursday service for Holy Saturday.) From the last Thursday servcie until midnight or daybreak on Holy Saturday, no food at all was taken, one of the most solemn fasts in the church year. In the most traditional churches, this is still the case. (Yes, Anglicans, this means you.)

The church would be swept and scrubbed clean, any altar linens to be used at the Pascha (Easter) vigil (the long, late night service to greet the dawn) would be mended, cleaned and pressed. Priests would be in their best vestments for the Pascha, parishioners would dress in their finest. Houses were readied, and the feast preparations begun. New candles all round were essential to the Pascha service.

While the Protestant west has Sunday morning services for Easter, most of the world still has the Great Vigil beginning late Saturday night. Some Anglican jurisdictions have restored the Vigil to its proper place. More should.

Oh, back to those palms. why do I hate them?

First, they are costly. They may not be very expensive in terms of dollars, but they are shipped from (wherever) and it isn’t someplace in Canada. I can just assume that they are sprayed with insecticides, fungicides and pesticides. They are, to the best of my knowledge, grown only for Palm Sunday use, rather than being part of a food-growing tree. Why are we doing this?

It’s the passion that we need to remember. Those people waving fronds ended up being hypocrites, calling for their triumphant messiah to be put to death. Are we joining their throng?

The gospel beginning at Matthew 27 says “When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus, to put him to death.” This is not the trumph yet! It is the bad news part! the entrance into Jerusalem isn’t mentioned at all in Holy Week.

I spuppose we would like to see ourselves among the excited throng, welcoming the messiah, but I hope we would have more sense than that. They were looking for a military leader,not a condemned criminal. They wanted King David, not a prophet about to die in Jerusalem. It is the core irony of the passion narrative, that the triumphal entry leads to death not an earthly vistory. For the victory was so much more than victory over an enemy; it was the final and complete victory over death in which we will share.

The joy of the entry into Jerusalem is an austere joy, an ecstacy that is more like pain. The journey is not over for pilgrims, but the we know our destinnation.

How Long O Lord?

I probably put my foot in my mouth very recently, in a brief discussion about what to expect from a new parish.

“If they are not prepared to do mission,” I said, “then the rector is there just to start shutting it down.”

It sounds, now, as if I have no patience. This is true.

I certainly do not have patience with “keep the homefires burning” churches. They aren’t interested in fulfilling the Great Commisssion; they are interested in maintaining the status quo. And I am so not status quo. I am also so not take-it-easy, get-concensus. I’m not. Just know that.

But can it be changed? I think so; it’s happening all the time. The Holy Spirit is moving through the churches, lighting new fires. It will be up to ministers, priests, and church leaders to fan that flame and feed the fire.

I’ve said previously that the churches must take on mission. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned. The church is cool water in the desert, literally as well as figuratively.

Expect this, parish-to-be: I will change things. I will shake things up. I will challenge the status quo.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to give you some new liturgy, introduce a new hymnal or change the hour of worship. I might, but that is the least of my concerns. What I will do is redirect your energy, away from maintaining the building and the structure and into making change in the world, into feeding and healing and clothing and visiting. There’s only one reason for doing that, though.

Jesus told us to. He wasn’t polite about it. It was a commandment: If you follow Me, He said, this is what you will do.

How we do it depends on who we are, where we are and what we have. There’s no formula, no plan, no training course to do this.

We just must do it, and do it now.

If we don’t do these things, all the water of baptism and all the bread and wine on the altar is meaningless. “If you have a quarrel with your brother, leave your offering and go apologize. Then your offering will mean something.” The exploited world has a big quarrel with the exploiters; the have-nots have good reason to demand from the haves. Can we meet Our Lord’s expectations?

There’s no one answer to injustice. Each case is different. But here are my suggestions.

Reduce your consumption by the end of 2010. Sell a car, cut your driving, grow some food or shop locally. Buy nothing new unless you absolutely must. Stay out of shopping malls and big box stores. Dump your television. (Well, send it to recycling.) Don’t go on a travel vacation; stay home and volunteer at a shelter or food bank or training centre.

Set up a regular time for family and personal prayer and scripture study.

Talk to other Christians about how to change things. Organize a food drive or daycare at your church. Raise money for an orphanage in Asia, South America, or Africa. Go door to door collecting unwanted shoes and boots to donate to a homeless shelter. (I know this sounds weird and patronizing, but better that your old Nikes and Hush Puppies get some use before they are completely dried out. Homeless shelters can almost always use good recycled shoes; people without transportation go through them quickly. Call first and ask if they can use them.)

If you change your attitude and how you do things – if you draw closer to the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ sent as our aid and comforter – if you live out the gospel – then many things will change around you. Your family will change. Your neighbours will change. Your church will change. It doesn’t take money, but it wil take prayer, effort and sacrifice.

Friday, Food waste

I may be a few minutes early…

But I threw out good food today.

A kind person had left a casserole for us. We ate about half, rather cheerily grinning at each other over a meal we didn’t have to cook. No one said the obvious, until I was clearing up.

“I’ll just pop this into the freezer,” I said.

“Hmm, OK. You might as well, I know I won’t have it for lunch.”


A quick poll around the living room. It was not a hit. So out it went. (I thought it too salty and fatty for the dogs.)

So I still feel guilty, two days later. It was a good three cups of food left, not stale or too old, just unliked. Would I have saved it if I had paid for it? Maybe, but it needed some fixing before I would have served it again. Maybe not. It may have been past redeemable in my eyes, with a discernable salt flavour.

We also have very full recycling boxes. A birthday party did not generate as much trash as I thought (despite disposables) but we cleaned out a closet and the shed, with a stack of cardboard to go.

How did you do this week in waste?