Crofting: The Rhythm of the Day

I am concerned about a couple of things here. One is my health. I have spent the last year battling a terrible reaction to a flu virus which left me sensitized to many chemicals. I have had to alter many things about our daily life in terms of food, cleaning products and even where I can shop. I cannot tolerate -at all – scents and chemical cleaners. Plastics are gone from our life, as I am concerned about their esters leaching into food. I am very cautious about buying prepared foods. I have been back to the doctor, and asked for a change in medications. I am hoping that finally we will see some advance and improvement.

The other is that we too can get caught up in a way of living which is not a way of life. Our energy costs hold steady from month to month, but I don’t seem to be able to drive them down any. Some of this is unavoidable, as we have a refrigerator and a hot water heater. The two surviving silkie chickens are living in a crate in the heated shed for now, as both have had some spells of ill health and injury. They have become pets, and as it is very inexpensive to feed them, I don’t mind. They are happy and melodious these days. One had a setback and spent an hour in the kitchen, on my lap, next to the wood stove. The dear little thing got so comfortable it put its head down on my arm and went to sleep for a few minutes. So cutting off the silkies’ comfort isn’t viable – the shed stays heated.

I keep a big pot of hot water on the wood stove, but often I forget to use it when I am washing dishes. It is easier to run hot water quickly over the dirty plates, and scrub them down with a soapy dish brush. I’ve also had to use the dryer this month because of my ill health and bad weather. Today is the last day for that, though!

I have been reading much on the Sami – the reindeer people of northern Scandinavia. While they have had to change their traditional ways to some extent, they are anxious to lose no more ground. They have been people who were not tied to clocks and calendars; they do not even define dates for the change of seasons, but call the changes according to what the natural world is doing. They once followed the reindeer, almost as wild as the animals themselves, but taxation and government accountability changed them. Still, there has come a time when the herding Sami, as well as those who fish and farm, are saying “no more.” They believe that the eco-culture of the North will be changed drastically if they must become reindeer-farmers rather than reindeer-pastoralists. Many of them would like to go back to smaller herds and more family groups in the far north, using the snowmobiles, ATVs and helicopters much less often. The governments made the mistake of seeing the reindeer as a commodity with a monetary value, which the Sami did not. The reindeer were valuable in themselves; sometimes animals were used as a currency. The parallels to the pastoralist patriarch Abraham in the Biblical book of Genesis are obvious.

Like the Sami, I see no reason to be bound to a clock or calendar, although one friend has pointed out that the government does expect the tax forms to be filed on time. We have occasional appointments to make, and we do try to be prompt for them. It is good to remember family birthdays, too.

Circle of the Year, from "Sami Culture"

But I’m wondering if we regulate our spiritual weeks, months, seasons, years, too much. What would it be like to have “church service” or “meeting” when we felt so moved? When we needed to pray, or we needed to praise? What if we celebrated the Pascha (Easter) or the Nativity (Christmas) not according to new moons or artificial dates, but when the time was right? Would we call upon the histories and examples of certain saints when we thought we needed them? Would we remember Herman of Alaska when the salmon spawned? Would you read the passages about Mary of Nazareth when we were anticipating the birth of a child in the family? Would we talk about the poetry of John of the Cross in the dark long nights of the winter? And if that was the way of the saints in our natural ecclesia (church) who would be our saints? Perhaps there would rise histories and remembrances and writings of people who were not noticed in Rome, Antioch, Moscow or Canterbury.

We are moving in a few days to a different schedule while keeping the same house. I think it will make the croft more useful to us, and ourselves more integrated in the life of the croft which now may seem a little bit peripheral. We will go to bed as the night falls, and rise, as much as possible, at dawn. In this latitude, just before the winter solstice, the corresponding hours would be about 7-8 am for sunrise, and 5-6 pm for sunset. We anticipate being in bed by 7 pm, asleep before 8 pm, and according to research on people put on natural nordic winter day/night cycles, we can expect to have a couple of hours of near waking in the night. This used to be a special time, according to anthropologists and sociologists. It was a time to share dreams, nurse infants, pray, make love, meditate and remember, without resorting to artificial light. Then naturally, the body eases back into deep sleep for another four or five hours.

I suspect that some of what we call insomnia is the body asserting its natural rhythm, but our commodified and regulated culture calls it a medical condition, and prescribes drugs to keep us in a state of suspended thought for seven or eight hours.

When spring and summer come around we will have more hours of activity, and rather than being lulled into the cultural pattern of stopping work between 5 and 6 pm, eating, and taking leisure, we may use those later hours of sunlight for work, and reserving the hours of high sun and UV exposure for rest and recreation.

Another change we want to make is to do more of our activities together. I want to spend more time with the animals, and I have asked Nicholas to be more involved in food preparation. We are not going off to separate jobs, so we think we would like to have our work more intertwined.

We can’t ignore the tick-tock time nor the weekly regimen completely, but I am hoping that a more natural rhythm to our lives will improve our health and lower our overall anxiety and stress.


Heresy and IHOP

Ancient Icon of the Good Shepherd

I first heard about IHOP – the International House of Prayer – via facebook. Of course, I thought they were talking about the International House of Pancakes, the chain resaurant featuring many flavours of corn syrup to pour on flapjacks. I had no idea it was so controversial until I read an article in the New York Times. Now I can see what all the shouting is about. When I did see some assertions about IHOP, Bickle’s forerunner theology, and end-time prophecies fulfilled, my response was a shrug and “Nonsense,” which hurt those “friends” who are enamoured of Bickle and his praying down the eschaton.

I am not the only mainline theologian to think this way.

This sort of muddle-headed and puropsely deceptive theology is what I have called before “heroic Christianity.” With our efforts, Jesus will return! We have the knowledge!

The “forerunner” part of this is dangerous. It contradicts what both Jesus and John the Baptist taught, that John’s time has been supplanted, and that those who follow God will model themselves on Jesus Christ, not on John the Baptist. It turns ordinary Christians who should be out living good plain lives of faith, humility and virtue into generals in the heavenly army. It elevates hubris through false ascetic practices. Mike Bickle has already been involved with a discredited “Prophets” movement, and he seems to have carried that mistake into his new heretical teachings.

I am particularly disturbed by his teaching about a “killing Jesus,” that the Son of Man will return, literally, with a sword in hand to destroy those who serve evil, and that – literally – the streets of Jerusalem will run with human blood. This is based on an exaggerated interpretation of the Revelation to St. John the Divine, commonly and incorrectly called the Revelations. John was caught up in the horrific persecutions of Christians under Nero; city streets did run with Christian blood. Certainly, John is offering visions of the return of Christ, but he is also offering Christians of his day comfort in their afflictions.

Bickle also promotes the false teaching that Christ cannot return until the temple is rebuilt, contradicting 2000 years of orthodox teaching that Jesus Christ Himself is the new temple, as He said in the statement that the temple would be torn down, but rebuilt in three days. Yes, He meant His own body and being. End of argument.

Don’t be pulled in and deceived by these false prophets. Bickle is just another nutbar looking to for his megalomania to be aggrandized by a lot of naive people who will donate money and time to his cause.

Crofting: Getting Used to Things Not Changing

wearing a path

I like routine. I like things to be well-ordered. I like things to be repetitive. I want to use my mind-space for the big questions, for pondering the meta-truths, not for rewriting the script on a daily basis. Farm animals and a husband are good for keeping my feet on the well-worn path.

Despite the seller’s evidence, it looks as if Vanilla is not in kid. She hasn’t grown any wider in the belly, and her udder is still empty. She is filling out through the upper ribs, though, probably from good pasture and a daily grain ration after a winter of hay. I’d say her condition is improving, as is Tara’s, which foretells a good mating and maybe twins when they are bred in the fall. I’m not terribly disappointed, as I need to get a milking stand ready, and buy good milking pails. Getting to know the does before they are bred means they will be easier to handle when they have kids.

I had a slight surge of confidence that our financial picture would gain some rosy hues, but so far that isn’t happening. While I have a number of queries out about articles and books, I haven’t heard anything yet. My experience is that editors may take a month or more to address freelance ideas. My four small freelance online articles are now just three; I am withdrawing the fourth because the editor keeps asking for technical changes. After I have patiently explained there is a basic incompatibility between their proprietary word-processing programme and those extraordinary programmes that run on my laptop, Windows 7 and Google Chrome, she still thinks that somehow I can shoehorn links and jumps into the document. For the $15 fee plus the possibility of revenue sharing (which so far has amounted to a penny), spending three or more hours manhandling software isn’t my idea of time well-spent. I have an editing test to submit for the possibility of free-lance work, but the company is expecting a near-perfect recall of an edition of The Chicago Manual of Style I have never seen. I have to code-switch, too, now that I have been in Canada using British conventions for ten years. I have a couple of small changes to make and another read-through, and then I will zip it off to the home office and await their refusal. I am, in fact, a very good editor, but the universality of publishing marks has evaporated with my youth. Now editing mark-up depends on the meta-programme.

Perks family, 3 Generations

Nicholas likes and needs a regular routine. Any disruption, no matter how much he enjoys it, exhausts him for a couple of days. His schedule revolves around making sure that nothing unexpected is going to happen. He asks me the same questions at the same time every day; he says the same things in the same circumstances. He tells the same jokes at the same trigger words. I’m used to it, but it must be perplexing for people who don’t know him well. The stroke two years ago blunted his keen wit as well as his appetite for adventure and novelty. I keep the routine pretty much in the same groove. He loses track of anything complicated and new. He has no more interest in film or travel. In a group of people, he will speak to just those he knows well, perhaps afraid that he will lose the thread of the conversation. This does happen a lot. One old friend said to me after trying to carry on a conversational theme with him, “I miss the old Nicholas.” I hadn’t really worried about it until then; I was occupied with trying to cope with the changes in circumstances. All I had to say, to avoid bursting into tears, was: “I try not to think about it.” Of course, I had been with him at the onset of the stroke, when he was falling and unable to talk. I was with him in the hospital when he would not know where he was or what was going on. I saw him through the aftermath of the bad fall and injury that put him in ICU for weeks. I have seen him advance from being unable to bathe or dress or tie his shoes, to being able to do all this for himself.

He hasn’t lost his intellect even though he has lost his ability to engage in dialogue about intellectual subjects. He still follows astrophysics and theology. He can explain things just fine, but he has a difficult time articulating an answer in a creative way. With the loss of more than half his vision he has also lost the ability to track well, and he has lost a lot of depth perception. He uses a cane for guidance and balance, and he will stop and ask for direction or assistance if he needs it.

This is not going to get better. If anything, I can see that he has regressed a bit in the last few weeks. We did expect this. There was some pre-existing damage before the stroke, probably from sports injuries.

Does this limit me? Yes, it does. But he is not just my responsibility. It is my joy to care for him. This is the task God handed me. I know it could be much worse. Someday he may get to a stage where I won’t be able to care for him at home, and I am prepared to do what I must when that day comes, and find him a sheltered environment. I will not make the vain promise that he won’t go to a nursing home. I have done a lot of home and institutional pastoral care, and keeping an incapacitated person at home when they would be safer and healthier in a managed environment is short-sighted and often selfish.

I sometimes wish I had the luxury to be sentimental and a bit selfish.


Titus 2 Woman – Do You Mean It?

I’ve had a number of young women approach me about the following passage from Paul’s Letter to Titus. Titus, a student of Paul, is a bishop appointed to Crete, tasked to appoint others as bishops and priests. He is also to teach the elders so appointed to be devout and trustworthy.

“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness. not false accusers, not given much to wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the words of God be not blasphemed.”

It is quite evident to me, that taken in context (the appointing of elders and overseers), Paul is instructing Titus to ordain both men and women. Those who do not see the passage the same way at least see that elder women were to take some governance of the young people, and especially to tutor and lead by example, so tha the young women would know how to live in a Christian manner.

I readily admit I am counted now amongst the elders, as a woman over 50 years of age. I have been ordained, and I hope that, mostly, I have kept to Paul’s instructions here.

Young wives and mothers come to me, asking if I will be their “Titus 2” elder. All right. But this is the where it falls apart: they are happy to be instructed, some of them, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what they want to do. As long as I cheer them on, and give advice which they could probably reason out for themselves, they are obedient acolytes. But about half of them who have asked for this favour have dropped out of the relationship when I have offered correction instead of accolades.

One young woman described to me how she was led to dress modestly, in skirts, and to wear a head covering. She considered it an act of obedience to scripture, an honour for her husband, and a demonstration of Christian modesty. I encouraged her in this; she was called to it. This lasted a few months, but under pressure from other family members, she abandoned her modesty, bought a pair of jeans (which, sad to say, were too form fitting and, in my opinion, unflattering to boot) and took off her cover, with the excuse that she could be just a good a Christian in jeans and styled hair. When I reproved her for it, reminding her that she had invoked a call from the Lord to be apart from the ways of the world, she replied with a statement like this: “You don’t really understand my faith journey.” Oh, so was she lying to me all those months?  Was her sense of vocation to be a modest, head covering Christian woman all a pretense?

Perhaps it was. Perhaps she was looking for approval from others in that, and when the approval from the right sort of people didn’t come with it, she abandoned this notion and went back to worldliness. Maybe that is her excuse – she wasn’t really called, she had selfish reasons for adopting modesty. I can say to her, in that case, we all have selfish reasons. No one’s motivations to follow the Lord are entirely pure. We all put on an act at first, and it is probably necessary. Just as children pretend to be grown-ups in their play in order to learn their adult roles and duties, so new Christians need to “put on an act” even if their heart isn’t in it yet.

The best actors don’t just pretend when they take on a theatrical role; they become that character, and in the best of scripts, each character is an aspect of humanity and human relationships. At first, the actor has to pretend, has to mouth over the lines, and contemplate how to enter the character in order to project the deep reality in the stylized pretense of the play. Baby Christians have to do the same thing, with God’s help. They have to say no to the party, the illicit relationship, the old bad habits, the chatter and cynicism of the world, even when they would much rather hang out with their drinking buddies, have a fling, or lose themselves in the brittle public comedy of daily life. They have to look to a model of Christian behaviour in order to learn what “charity” really means in terms of sacrificing self gladly for the love of God and others.

God doesn’t call us to be just  good Christians. He expects us to be the best Christians, or little Christs, that we can be. We grow in faith as we grow in practice of that faith. Part of that practice is modelling behaviour on a mentor; the study of hagiography and iconography is to discover models for Christian living.

The women leaders in Paul’s church were to be exemplars. They were chosen partly on how well they could model that Christian behaviour, which means they were not neophytes. They weren’t just out of their catechism – Christian instruction – but had been living in the way of faith for years. They may have been teaching the catechumens, or students, and were experienced in guiding those young in the faith. I am certain that they did not expect the new disciples of Christ to tell them how it was done.

there is a contractual nature to mentorship. The instructor undertakes to be honest with the student, faithful and devoted to the teaching. The disciple suspends his or her own prejudices and preferences, is willing to let go of preconceived and possibly erroneous attitudes, and is obedient to the way of the mentor. That is usually where the contract falls apart.

I would say that young women, for two generations and maybe three, have had a false self-confidence. I know I had it as a young woman. Promotion of ‘self-esteem’ in our culture gives people a false sense of achievement. We think we know more than we do, that we are smarter than we are, that we can trust our own inner voice to guide us. It is worse than the blind leading the blind – although that is certainly the case with youth culture – it is the blind refusing to have their sight restored, and preferring to wallow in the ditch than walk clear-eyed on the high road.

When someone says to me, “You don’t know my faith journey,” I can state, with a bit of humour, that I indeed know it, because all of us walk that same road. We may be on different stages of it. We each walk the road of faith alone, in a way, but we are never the first over that stretch of ground.

The requirements Paul sets forth as to be achieved by those who will call themselves experienced Christians are fairly straightforward: A serious frame of mind, reliability, faithfulness with other people, great love at heart, action rather than talk; a settled person who practices patience; someone who is satisfied with her or his place, who knows the obligation of obedience. These virtues take diligence. They come by prayer, meditation, and practice.

This is the exchange: True peace at heart rather than false self-esteem; humility rather than hubris; true companionship rather than shallow friendship. Self-esteem is casting but one vote for the best person in the world (me); hubris is faith in one’s self rather than God, a rather sad and desperate form of idolatry; shallow friendship is looking for fellowship that is no more than a mutual admiration and a support for vices.

The Lord chastises those He loves, and sometimes He allows that discipline from the hearts and mouths of people who truly act in our best interest, even if it hurts our feelings.

Witness: To Peace

Quaker, 1866

As we discussed Plain dress recently, I think a number of us offered all the usual reasons for it – conformity to Biblical precepts, practicality, denial of self. These are all good personal reasons for Plain dress; I say it is my Christian witness. When people look at me, they know they have seen a Christian. But couldn’t I do that with a cross necklace, a modest skirt and blouse, a kerchief instead of a prayer cap? I could wear a t-shirt even, with Bible verses and great fish graphics. Christian. I could wear my clerics – Christian.

But as I thought about it I was inspired: my Plain witness is a Witness to Peace. I am a Peacemaker.

The Quakers are, throughout their whole Plain history, notable Peacemakers. The Anabaptists who followed Menno Simons were pacifists. that white prayer kapp, apron and long blue dress say “Peace be with thee.”

My husband’s beard and long hair, as well as his Plain coat and hat, are symbols of Peace. The early priests in the apostolic church grew out their beards and hair as a way to disassociate themselves from the Roman Empire, whose male citizens were shaven and shorn, a symbol that they were eligible to join the army.

Most people know about the Amish mostly from popular fiction like the movie “Witness.” The witness is a young Amish boy, but the “Witness” is the Amish witness to Peace throughout the movie, over against the kill-or-be-killed ethic of the corrupt police force that the protagonist works within.

The white kapp and the black bonnet, the beard and the broad-brimmed hat, are symbols that we, Nicholas and I, are dedicated to that same Witness. We live that non-violence, and we let people know that. We are witnesses – and hostages – to Peace.

Quaker woman with bonnet, ca. 1890

Crofting – Two Places At Once

Laws of physics – they always work. Two objects cannot occupy the same space, one object cannot occupy two spaces. This applies to crofters as well as atoms.

I started a big batch of caraway rye bread. Rye bread is extra sticky! It’s one the reasons I don’t make it often. I got to the proofing stage, and was setting the bowl aside for a short rising when the dear husband came in from the barn to get my help. A person with low vision just isn’t going to get all things done by himself in an unlighted barn in overcast weather. So I set the bowl aside, planning to come back to it in afew minutes. I put a nice clean tea towel over it. This is what I thought I would have:

Textbook bread dough

And this is what I had, an hour later:


This is not.

The tea towel was just glued to the top of this mess. I said “D*mn!” and tossed the towel into a pan of cold water. I scraped bread dough from the counters and the side of the bowl. (It had not flowed onto the floor, mercifully.) I punched it down. I went back to the barn. We finished what we had started, and when we got back into the house, I worked in some white flour and managed to do this:

Bread rising on the warming shelf. Much better.

I am wary of letting Nicholas work with a circular saw alone. He has poor depth perception, and sometimes is unaware of what is around or under him. He was cutting a point on a stake yesterday, and I had to stop him, since he was using a stack of tires for a workbench. He was getting a bit carried away by focussing too much on the notch and not at all on whether the saw blade was going to catch the tire underneath. Hitting s steel belt radial with a circular saw is not a good idea. There is a workbench, but it does need some excavation to be useful. The former user of the workshop left it in a state somewhat similar to a packrat’s nest. And he was a mechanic, not a carpenter, so there is a lot of oil, spray cans, bits of belts and rubber and other car-related flotsam. Car guys usually have greasy stuff and bolts. Wood guys have sawdust and nails. Carpenters are usually easier to clean up after. We need to get some trash cans and a cool afternoon with the promise of beer and pizza when done. A lot of the artifacts out there require recycling and special handling, which may be why they are still there.

I want Nicholas to do this carpentry work, though. The first day was a failure. After more than an hour we had one 2×4 in place. I called a halt. The next day I started the work by cutting the lumber and predrilling holes. Nicholas came out to help assemble. Yesterday, he went to work without coaching or prompting, repaired the loose boards on the stall already built, and together we hung a better gate. He felt his self-confidence in his ability to do things grow.

Stall construction underway

I cannot bear the thought that he will give up on doing things he enjoys and which used to be second nature to him. Construction is one of those things; he was a construction manager for a few years; he is good at this. He helped his father build boats. He doesn’t have the stamina for more than a couple of hours of slow work now (and yes, I am praying for patience) and he tires quickly, but with my help he can get some work done and feel productive.

I have to step out of my old expectations of him and myself, and step into his place when we work on building or planting. It takes longer; tools get lost or dropped; I have to rig  extra light and aids for his balance. I have to consider that we may have to stop well before things are finished, and come back to them later. My temptation is to just rush in, get it done, and say to him, “Oh, it’s okay, you didn’t need to do it.” But he does need to do it, for himself and for me. He still “sees” ways to do things I can’t. He is being forced to work parts of his memory that are damaged, and I can just gently facilitate that brain work. He’ll never be able to work in construction again, but this small scale work that can take a couple of weeks to get finished keeps him active and motivated.

I am learning to adapt. I had enjoyed our early years together; he did all those things I didn’t like doing – taking the truck for oil changes, repairs and new tires, for instance. He managed the money and paid the bills, and did it very well. I had to do all those things when I was alone, and it was a luxury to me to be able to focus on the home itself. He never could cook, so I have always done that, and enjoyed it. I had time for sewing and spinning.

The boundaries shifted in our relationship with his stroke. Thanks be to God, I did have experience managed the household finances, and I have been driving since I was a teenager. I have degrees and skills that can be turned into employment. I was not overwhelmed by the seachange in our marriage. We had times of mourning what was lost, but two years later, we are rejoicing that we are team, that Nicholas was not more disabled by the stroke, and that God continues to bless us here.

Our version of Valhalla - the hero's reward.

Plain Dressed Men

Someone asked recently how men can dress Plain, as to be distinguished from some guy in jeans and a blue shirt. Plain as a conviction of a Christian witness is a powerful statement. Plain attire is as much an identiification factor as a Franciscan’s brown robe or a priest’s white collar. I’ve found some images to help those who are Plain outside traditional Plain communities.

Mennonite, 1947

The flat black hat (or flat straw hat) is associated with Plain orders. The wide brimmed hat is practical and distinctive. This older man is wearing a placket shirt and a black jacket without lapels. His square beard and lack of mustache indicate that he is Anabaptist and married (or widowed). Why the lack of mustache? Either because the mustache was associated with military rank, or to indicate the setting aside of vanity. My husband has a full beard and mustache, because he finds shaving to be very difficult with his reduced vision, but he prefers the “peace” or “brethren” beard. Some Anabaptist groups have men start their beard when they married, and a few others when they are baptized.

Amish men at barn raising

This old postcard shows young men working at a barn raising. They are wearing “broadfalls” – old-fashioned button fly trousers – with suspenders. I’ve noticed that Amish and Mennonite men have their suspender buttons sewn outside the waist band, the opposite of what I was taught by my tailoring grandmothers, that suspender (or braces) buttons go inside the waist band. They are wearing long-sleeved shirts of the basic Oxford type, with the sleeves rolled up. Most Plain men now wear blue jeans or basic dress cut trousers in a  dark colour. A few groups continue to wear broadfalls.

I would guess these men were photographed at a mud sale, or spring auction. They are more formally dressed in mutze (jacket), dark trousers and the black flat hat. Plain men do not wear neckties or belts, as both are considered indicators of fashion. Plain men used to wear just black boots, but I’ve noticed a number of even older men have taken to wearing workboots, Oxfords, and running shoes, all for practicality. My husband wears workboots, casual Oxfords, or plain black dress oxfords. He used to wear a pair of all black running shoes at work, since he was on his feet all day.

I made this plain black vest, Nicholas’s “Sunday meeting” attire, worn with a white banded collar shirt and black jeans.