Bonnet Beauty

Thanks and blessings to Bayley at Plain and Simple Headcoverings in Kentucky! And to Mable, the able milliner who crafted the new bonnet.

It was an “investment” piece – new, custom-made and a bit above my usual clothing expenditure. But it is also the lifetime bonnet, assuming I don’t lose it. (Not likely!) I have a small head, and I need my face shaded, so it was designed to fit me. I do love it.

If we can ever find a camera, we will post some photos.

This is where you will find Bayley: http://www.prayercoverings.com.

Apocalypse When

I am not a prophet to predict the end of the world; the Lord will return when it is time. That doesn’t mean there are no hard times ahead; there have always been hard times. We don’t need a 2012scenario for circumstances to get more than difficult. Throughout recent history people who were comfortably complacent found themselves out on the byways, looking for a meal and a pair of shoes. War, weather, geological conditions, politics, fire, religious conflict – anything can happen, and the cozy suburban home is no better than a dank cave, or it’s gone. Burned, confiscated, repossessed, overrun, wiped out.

That should brighten your day. But how can we be prepared if the bad times overwhelm us? Who can stand alone against the darkness?

No one can.

There’s always the survivalist scenario, where a family or very small group hoards and saves, with dried food, seeds, and stock animals enough for three years, deep within a remote gated compound, surrounded by their weapons. They will be a little nation unto themselves, and they will survive. At least until someone bigger, badder and with armament enough to blow them away comes along. Maybe he’ll let them stay on as slaves. Probably not. The biggest baddest guys will not bother stockpiling anything but weapons, and they will spot the family compound from the air, and come clear it out like an anthill.

I’ve heard that scenario so many times. I’m from the isolated North; there’s always some urban refugees burned out on traffic and crime trying to homestead. They convince themselves that they could defend themselves against the potential enemy, but since some of them seem to have trouble dealing with skunks and raccoons, that’s not likely.

To prepare for the potential disaster, we will have to do it together. And we will have to start now, by forming lasting Christian communities that can network and support each other. We will have to be people of peace, and people willing to sacrifice. In simple words, we will have to be the new apostolic church. Instead of fearing and repelling outsiders, we will have to start learning to take them in, to see what it is we do to care for each other. So we will have to make some real effort to care for each other, and get into practice.

I don’t care what denomination or tradition we are in; it can’t matter. We can’t be concerned about polity, power, or the fine points of ritual. The most important concern will be to love each other as Christ first loved us. That means feeding each other, healing each other, carrying each other. It will mean caring for the unbeliever as well as our own faith group. That’s what the apostolic church taught us two millenia ago. It was how they survived.

How do we get started though? I say put down your weapons. Literally, if necessary. (Shame on Christians who pack weapons! Did Jesus do that? No, and don’t give me the sword argument. He meant the scripture and the faith, not steel.) We also need to put down our weapons of rhetoric. Time to stop the arguing, and get to work, because the dam may burst any minute. Time to move to higher ground, and if we can do that in some organized, purposeful way instead of scrambling like scared deer, that would be good.

It is time to rebuild our communities instead of repairing our church buildings. Shore up the walls, slap on a coat of paint, and stop worrying about sound systems, projector screens, and Power Point. The power of the unamplified human voice, backed by faith, scripture and the Holy Spirit was all the Church needed for all its history.

Plant gardens. Open a food bank. Set up a clothing exchange. Organize a daycare centre. Hire a parish nurse. Take meals to the housebound. Build a homeless shelter and a group house for the disabled. We will need all these people if the world as we know it collapses. We will need to have structures of caring and giving in place.

I don’t think this is difficult. I don’t think it is expensive. We need to get our priorities straight.

We will need to free up some money, whether it is redirected income or invested capital. We need to invest our money and energy in people, not in things. maybe the national churches should liquidate assets, pay off ministers’ student loans, and then cut their salaries. (Oh, that would iconoclastic, wouldn’t it?) Maybe parishes and churches should plant gardens on every rectory lawn, to feed the clergy and the poor. Maybe church members should stop buying new cars and taking travel vacations in order to contribute to the real work of the church.

If we don’t start building community now, it will be too late if the crash comes. I don’t think it gets any simpler than that.

New Bonnet in Waiting

I had a bonnet custom-made. I’ve only seen photos so far (Thanks, Bayley!) And now it is sitting in the post office, waiting to be picked up! I have to pay duty on it, which seems an outlandish amount, but – it’s sort of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am so excited.

Raising Up a Child

God gave parents a huge responsibility. It’s not just that we have to clean, feed, house and tote the children around like luggage, but we must train them in the way they should go. Which can be hard, since often we are not going that way.

I wish now that I had done better for my own. I had a pretty clear picture of what I wanted for them, how I would raise them up in the way they should go, but I gave in to cultural and peer pressure. I wanted an alternative life; I wanted to farm and live without television and worldly culture. I thought it was a good way to bring up children. But it wasn’t long before television, cartoon related toys, and the world in general invaded my organic patch. If I’d had more backbone, I would have resisted. I probably would have run away from the pressure, and done a better job parenting. Hey, sons: Forget the first twenty years, will you, and be good organic farmers, like I meant you to be, okay?

Now, I see the same pattern happening in another generation, perhaps even at a younger age. Why should a twelve-year-old girl be a fashion expert? Who wants to listen to a twelve-year-old tell you what you should be wearing? It gives me the shudders. How narcissistic are we? We seem to need our children to reflect what we want to be, instead of being the people they need us to be. We need to be good, positive, Christian role models, not reflections of television and films.

I am sick to death of the television tie-ins I see on small children. (And some older ones.) No child needs to wear Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger too on her clothes. Clothes are to protect your body from the elements, not give you an identity and ready-to-wear personality. It’s just the start of brand awareness, of expensive taste, of caring more for things than for people.

I know I wear a sort of uniform that identifies me very prominently as a practicing Christian. It may be a kind of “branding” itself, but that is only because the concept of brand identification exists. Otherwise, the black dress, white cape and apron, and prayer cap would be just my clothes, practical things to cover the body for warmth and modesty. Because we now associate personality with dress, other people make assumptions about me and who I am. Someone who has known me for months, seen me in church and gone to a theatre with me asked if I was mennonite. It rather surprised me, because by now, in those contexts, I would expect to be recognized for who and what I am.

Are we trying to mold our children into mini-mes? The answer I get from grandparents and observers of culture is “yes,” but not in the positive, community-oriented way it used to be done. We don’t fit into the culture the way we might want; we are not rock stars or famous actors. We are ordinary people, doing ordinary things, living in ordinary houses. So why do we want Louis Vuitton handbags, Seven jeans, Chanel perfume? Why do we make up our faces and talk and walk as if we were fabulously wealthy and the ordinary rules of life do not apply?

Why do we then impose those impossible false standards on our children? And at the same time, these children are not developing tastes and personalities and individuality; they become clones of the culture.

One of the principal tasks in raising children is to make them accountable to their own conscience, to the community, and to their Lord. Can we do that if their only sense of accountability is to look fashionable, to be an extension of some designer’s ego, or a clown in cartoon dress?

Doomsday scenarios are very popular in contemporary literature and film, and on television. And that seems strange to me, since most of the people who watch television and films are oblivious to the need to learn how to take care of themselves and the earth. They couldn’t hoe a patch of beets without direct supervision; they couldn’t plan a year’s growing season. Designer clothes will not feed you in the midst of a famine. Truth be told, these people are pretty helpless. Do they all think they will be on Ark 4 when the world comes apart? (I just watched 2012, the movie.)

So what are we teaching our children? If we don’t drop out of the whole consumerist culture, we will be teaching them to be dependent, dependent on someone else’s intelligence, labour and taste; we will teach them that they don’t need to have a personality or ethic of their own. And worst of all, we will teach them that God’s way doesn’t matter.

Why I Love Quakers and Why I am not One

Raised in a conservative American community, under the shadow of a Strategic Air Command Base (bombers going over the pole during the cold war), I had never questioned what it meant to be an American. I just accepted that the Air Force provided most of the local income, that men served in the Armed Forces, that the protests agains the Vietnam War were not helping any. It just was not something to be questioned; the Baptist Church and the local school system were one hundred percent American, and Democrats were in short supply.

I didn’t stay in the Baptist Church, but my faith journey was not in the peace churches. If anything, I went in the opposite direction, baptized as a Lutheran and confirmed in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church. These were state churches at their founding; they owed their beginnings to monarchs and parliaments. They were establishment churches, and still are.

It’s not as if I haven’t wanted to leave. I cannot abide the htought of providing for a standing army; seeing how the military almost ruined my sons lives made me see the armed forces quite differently. “Cannon fodder” is not just a joke, not just a cold statement by cold-hearted men. It is a reality. Those in uniform are expendable, no more than equipment. If it works well, fine; it it doesn’t, it can be discarded. If lost, it will be replaced. There’s no soul to the military.

I’ve been drawn to Quaker theology and philosophy since a young age. I’ve known Quakers, both Conservative and Liberal. I’ve never met a Quaker I did not like, love, or see as a newly-found brother or sister. I need peace people in my life, because there have been so many angry, warring, bitter people. I need people who will stand up and be counted for peace and the love of Christ. We all do even if we do not know it.

And yet I am not a Quaker myself. I’ve come close, but I haven’t crossed the line and never will. I suppose it is the sacramental nature of my faith. I also need the real, tangible, palpable signs of faith. I wish I could commune spiritually only, but I am of the earth, earthy. I need to hold the Lord in my hands, need to feel the water over my head. (Well, that happens once, but the memory is there.)

It’s probably deeper and more profound, as well. I am ordained to the sacraments, and the Lord is not going to let me go, come hell, high water or bishops with hardened hearts. The Lord has called me out to serve His flock in a profound way and I cannot put down the rod and staff and walk away. Besides, the sheep know the shepherd’s voice; they will follow anyway.

I am not leaving thee, Friends; I am just walking a parallel path.

Employment Anxieties

Oh, how I wish I were working! That is, I wish I were working in a parish position again. Or at least working in the field in which I trained. I do a lot of work, but it’s the work I always do. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing. It’s good work, but I guess I’m ready to put my hand to the plow again, and not look back.

I sat in worship yesterday, listening to the hymn “Be Thou My Vision.” The altar window is a very Irish looking Good Shepherd, and since it is spring, I missed the lambs so much it almost choked me. It’s been fine shepherd weather here, windy, cool, and rainy. It’s just the sort of weather that ewes choose to give birth, and the wary shepherd remembers to count heads in the morning feed buckets, since some wily young mother may be off hiding her new baby in the brush. Ewes can’t do much more for the new lamb but lick it and nudge it until it gets to its feet and finds the udder, so if it is chilled or entangled or weak she’s just going to stand over it, nickering softly and licking away. I’ve rescued lambs from sleet storms, tucked them inside my jacket, and warmed them before the fire until they get their wee hooves under them and start galloping around the house. Then it’s back to mama, who acts as if the lamb has been missing a year. Most of the time this is successful. Sometimes the lamb ends up in a box of straw, tucked into a corner of the kitchen, taking milk replacer from a baby bottle.

Palm or Passion Sunday is almost upon us. I prefer it as Passion Sunday, no palms. “All Glory Laud and Honour” is one of my least favourite hymns, and the palm procession, unless one has a well-trained choir, is a train wreck. We gamely do it every year, but I think we should reserve it for cathedrals. Be warned, whoever you are, my next parish – I am not proceeding on Palm Sunday. Sit in the pews and hear the narrative of the passion; it’s so much more important than waving fronds. I’m not one for the Disneyland moments of church anyway. Simple, serious and serene are how I like the gathering to be. It’s very Quakerly of me.

One Palm Sunday I was at the lambing pen early. God does not answer every prayer, as you may well know, for I had prayed that I would not have lambs that morning. There were three. A single born to a young ewe, and she was doing fine. Then the old ewe had twinned. She was absolutely in love with the one, probably second-born lamb. She pushed it around and whinnied to it, and let it suck. I found the first lamb tucked into a corner. I took it to her, and she nudged it away. Not mine, she seemed to say. She attempted to give it to the other ewes. It had probably been the stronger lamb, and got away while she birthed the scond twin, and now it smelled like other sheep. She would not take it no matter what. I rubbed the birth fluids from the second lamb all over it, plugged her nose, and still she refused. I had no time for more experiments – lamb jackets, vicks vaporub, jugging (putting her in a small stall with both lambs) so I grabbed the little black baby and carried it home. I had about half an hour until morning service, so I made up a bottle of milk replacer, popped the lamb into a dog carrier, and toted it to church. I was still wearing my bib overalls and the hideaous greean and black, foul smelling lambing jacket. I dumped the jacket in the back of the truck, changed from overalls to alb and stole in the vestry, and tied the nasty blood streaked overalls out on the church porch just as the organist sounded the first hymn.

Halfway through the Sursum Corda lamb woke up. Who would believe anything that small could make such a racket? One of my wardens, a farmer himself, headed for the narthex and gave the baby its bottle. I greeted parishioners at the door with little Mollie under one arm.

She was a good ewe. She followed me everywhere, and if the other sheep didn’t want to follow, I could haltar Mollie and they would tag along. finally, she went to another shepherd when I left farming, and she was a favourite there, with a lovely Shetland fleece and nice lambs.

I miss leading flocks. I miss the altar and the parish visits. But I also miss the fleecy flock, the sheering and the lambing and the move from witner pens to summer pastures. It set the tone for the year, it got me outdoors, it made the life and parables of Our Lord so much closer.

Friday, Food Waste

It wasn’t a good week in terms of waste. The trash bin filled up and got smelly – welcome, warm weather! – because the pantry is no longer a degree or two above freezing.

And I had to throw out food. We were all sick, and leftovers didn’t get used up. I couldn’t find the energy to turn a quarter pound of boiled ham and some greens into a soup or an omelette. It wasn’t a big hit the first two times around, either, so it got pitched.

Then I found that a stored winter squash had gone soft. I cooked its companion just in time – the seeds were starting to sprout. I’m sure if I had waited any longer I would have had squash plants climbing up the kitchen shelves.

But that’s what happens in spring. Onions, potatoes, squash – they all hear their destiny singing the song of the spheres, and they dance along to the music.