Computer Fast

What I do with my time

Not a fast computer. I decided recently that I wanted to spend less time at the keyboard, down from ninety minutes a day, six days a week. (I was already budgeted.) I cut out Saturdays, then cut down to three days a week, up to two hours. It seems to be working fine.

I have time to do other things. It’s appalling how quickly the keyboard takes up our hours. If I were writing a book, I would try to do it without accessing the internet first; it’s email, google and facebook that steal the time. I’ve cut back and will cut again the number of blogs and websites I follow. I don’t have time to read them all, and some of them don’t hold much interest to me. I was quite involved for a while in emergent church reading, but the Holy Spirit is not leading me that way, and it seems quite repetitive now. So does reading up on intentional community. I guess I’m like Wendell Berry – more interested in unintentional community.

Yesterday was a “no computer” day. I did six loads of wash (yes, with a machine) but only one load – the dog blanket and the kitchen rug – went in the dryer for dehairing. The rest went on the clothesline and the clotheshorse to dry. I got loads of exercise, too – up and down three flights of stairs with baskets, hanging and removing clothes in the yard. Nicholas likes to help with this. I did have a laundry mishap – I dropped a wet sheet and then stepped on it. Mud. Instead of rewashing it, I sprayed it with the hose. It still dried in a couple of hours.

I marinated pork for supper, cleaned the kitchen and made beds. I spent time with my husband, just talking. Knowing I wasn’t going to the computer, I didn’t even think about what I might be missing.

Tomorrow is another computer fast day. I may take Nicholas to the farmer’s market, and finish my new dress. I am so pleased with finding new time in my day. I think the problem was that I had started planning my day to start at the keyboard, rather than planning real work. And the ninety minutes started creeping into two hours or more, and I gave myself permission to go back later – which I no longer do. Once the computer account is closed, it’s closed until the next computer day.

I do this so I can be a real person, not a virtual person. It’s easy and tempting to be that better person on-line, the one who never reveals a flaw or a failing. We can delete anything unflattering or critical. Friends who criticize can be elminated with the push of a button. We can, in the mask of anonymity, flame and flare people. We say things we would never say to someone’s face. We can be very superior. We can become the Great Oz, even if we are only the man behind the curtain.

time well spent

Plain Life, Plainly

Plain chores

It looks like we are seeing the leading edge of a Plain revival. The twentieth century left many people stranded spiritually; we moved from an all-encompassing Modern philosophy to a Post-Modern zeitgeist. The Moderns are still in control of most institutions, but those of us outside the mainstream of those same institutions are, from a Post-Modern perspective, looking to the past and lost tradition for a way to follow into the very uncertain future.

What is Modern and Post-Modern? In my context, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, a move in academia, society and politics to a philosophy of Progress and optimism based on human achievement, is the beginning of the Modern era. (Most academics would agree, I think.) Post-Modern (don`t be afraid of this term) is based on experience and philosophy of the twentieth century, when the senseless destruction and chaos of the world wars and other conflicts brought into question the legitimacy of Progress. Its seeds were sown in the Enlightenment itself and in the social protests of the nineteenth century. Widespread genocide and ecological destruction reinforced this philosophy amongst academics and influential thinkers. Post-Modernism asks:

How can we believe what we were taught when those beliefs brought so much destruction –

How can chaos and violent anarchy be Progress –

This is the meta-question that has led many of us to find another way. We want a way that follows the teachings of Christ without the excesses of culture that we now reject, such as materialism and consumerism. The cultural churches – the mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican institutions – seem to be still enmeshed in the dominant, destructive culture. So in the late twentieth century, other ways of faithful living have been explored, rejuvenated and reworked, such as the New Monasticism and the Plain movement.

I can`t speak to the New Monasticism; while we live in an informal community, it is not ordered in any way except that we are all Anglicans and the centre of our week is Sunday attendance and participation at worship. Nicholas and I are very Plain but have accommodated ourselves to the way of living here in the rectory. We have electricity, a vehicle, an internet connection and television. The house is old and not particularly up to date. But we are unable to garden since that would mean the removal of old trees much valued by the neighbourhood, and recycling is not as efficient as I could wish it. I make my own clothes, do some canning and we interact with other Plain people when we have the opportunity. We are trying to maintain our Plain philosophy in a more worldly church community. I don`t see that we have any influence on them at all.

It is what it is; this is a transition stage for us, and with some matters becoming realized, we should be able to move on to a more suitable place for small scale farming and a self-sufficient life.

I think this is where many of us Plainers are headed. While not Anabaptist in profession, we are looking for suitable places to adopt some of the best of Anabaptist and traditional Quaker ways. (I will acknowledge that not all Plain followers are necessarily traditionally Christian; we need to make room for Quakers and others who are more liberal in their theologies.) I hope that as a movement we do not fall into the sectarian errors we have seen in the past. (Formal shunning and the ban, for instance, are inappropriate. We can avoid close association with those whose influence on us is deleterious, but we cannot withdraw from our witness.)

The great irony, of course, is that one of the tools we use to be a Plain community is the internet. Most of us express some concern and even dismay that this is the best we can do, but I doubt if we can give it up without losing community. I would prefer a more traditional form of communication myself. Scott Savage tried this with Plain magazine, but the funding fell short and he could never exceed a certain circulation number due to the printing technologies he used.  (I have still not written to Scott as I had planned. He`s been through some rough stuff in the last few years, and I don`t want my concern and curiosity to sound as if I am criticizing him for choices he made.) I envision something more like the Amish Budget, a newsletter with many columns written from many locations, giving the local news and views. But publications are supported by advertising, and no one wants to advertise in a publication for people who reject consumerism; we are not a very good market.

I`m not at all sure we can define ourselves yet. We are Plain, but we have so many expressions of that. We don`t have an ordnung and won`t, since we don`t fall under but one authority as a group, and that is Christ. We are working out our salvation with fear and trembling, day by day, question by question, leading by leading. We are drawing on the Anabaptists who have been the living encyclopedia for Plain life, and the traditions of Quakers, monastics and other groups who chose to be isolated from the Modern world. I would prefer that we do not quarrel amongst ourselves – I had enough of that sojourning with the Orthodox and their many cries of `You are not canonical!` (If you have been part of an Orthodox community you know what I mean. The Paedalion is both beacon and cudgel.) This is a weakness in the Anglican church, which will ignore the dissenters until they get tired of the yelping and throw the pups out. (Puritans, Quakers, Methodists and now the Biblical Conservatives, whatever they are going to call themselves.) The Quaker meetings are, in their erudite and polite way, at odds internally all too often.

Let`s keep it simple and courteous. Let`s speak Plain English (not Plain speech, except amongst ourselves) and give the St. Francis sermon – preach with our lives, using words only when necessary.

Witness

as Plain as can be

The Witness of Plain life is not for everyone. It is a rocky road to walk, and it is a narrow way. The Holy Spirit has called a few of us out of our old lives into this New Life, and though it is a path trod by others, we are not a throng.

I think some people – women particularly – are in love with this expression of faith because they have encountered it in romantic situations. They read novels set among the Amish, they have visited Old Order communities, or they have admired a much younger Harrison Ford in the movie “Witness.” While this is an introduction to the Plain Life, it is not the whole of it.

Plain Life has its roots in Anabaptism, a separatist movement at the time of the Reformation. (You can look up the history on-line; I’m not going to go over old ground here.) The core doctrines of Anabaptism are believers’ baptism (hence adult baptism or rebaptism), pacifism and nonresistance to violence, and the two kingdoms (God’s Kingdom of the faithful and Satan’s kingdom of this world.) The physical sacraments of baptism and communion (the Lord’s Supper) were retained from the old church.

So it’s not just a matter of costume. The early Quakers adopted much of Anabaptist practice, and moved away from the physical sacraments to a spiritual understanding of sacramentality. The simple form of dress was a bit of cross-pollination, it seems. While Quakers learned much from Menno Simons, the Amish and Mennonites who emigrated to North America adopted Quaker standards and styles of Plain dress.

What is common to Plain people from these traditions is pacifism and nonresistance. This goes beyond refusing to answer an assault with like kind, but spreads out into a life of peace, including exemption from military service or the punishment for refusing to serve. Quakers and Anabaptists have often suffered because of their pacifism. For the Anabaptists, martyrdom is always preferable to violence.

One cannot be Anabaptist or Quaker and a patriot. They are mutually exclusive. Traditional Quakers will not support an established military; Anabaptists believe that established government is of this world, not God’s kingdom, and the two are by necessity separate.  Their political philosophy is one of self-governance and mutal support within the community, a benign anarchy under Christ. (We are the body; He is the head and sole leader. Bishops, ministers and deacons serve in prayer and humility, not in power and control. That’s the ideal, at least.)

This is one of the reasons that Plain Life is difficult. It represents more than five hundred years of living a way that the world doesn’t understand and that Satan doesn’t want the world to understand. It is a heavy legacy to carry.

I find myself struggling with it daily. I have to ask myself often if I am following the Way of Christ, or if am I following my own notions. I am convicted that Plain Life is the Way to which we are called, my husband and myself, but I also have to ask if decisions I make are based on the Way or on legalism, on following Jesus our Saviour or on compromise with the world. Unceasing prayer is the only solution to the inner conflict, a constant sense of the leading of the Spirit.

We want to be separate from the ways of the world, but we also want to be a Witness, for as John Donne wrote several centuries ago, “No man is an island.” We are interdependent with Christians who are not Plain, as well as with nonbelievers. Keeping in the middle of the road isn’t easy when there are so many distractions around us, and they are so beguiling. But what good is our witness if we will compromise and abandon the principles of our faith on mere whims?

It’s always a balancing act between faithful living and moving through the world.

Day Out at St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market

Approaching the huge St. Jacob's farmer's market

I do enjoy farmer’s markets. I like the variety of great food at good prices, the casual atmosphere, the conversations with the vendors and other shoppers. When the market is outdoors, and the day is sunny and clear, it just gets better. It is an activity I can pace to Nicholas’s speed, and extend or cut short according to his energy level. And how many activities are there where you can take a break whenever you want for a cup of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll, or a soft drink and a just-grilled Oktoberfest sausage?

We drove to St. Jacobs last Saturday. I was better prepared this time. I had money in small denominations, carrier bags and my packbasket. We found parking by the auction barns, where a crowd of blue-shirted Mennonite men stood, arms folded, watching the animals. We were expecting to meet our friends from up north, also in St. Jacobs for a day trip, so we hurried over to the food court/crafts building and spotted them right away.

Paula, Ella and balloon Tigger

Paula writes her own blog, At Home with Us (http://fletchingtonfarms.wordpress.com). They are a farming family north of Ottawa, and you can find them at the Petawawa Farmer’s Market on Thursdays. They sell farm-raised pork.

The market was very crowded, and there were not as many Plain people there as back in the spring, except for the vendors. I would think they prefer to shop and visit on the Tuesdays and Thursdays the market is open, because Saturday is definitely tourist day. Busloads of people arrived, some of them visitors from other countries. I don’t think I’ve ever been more photographed in one day. We were visibly Plain, and quite the attraction as we walked among the aisles of produce.

A successful shopping day

This is the famous packbasket, which got many comments and questions. (Yes, it is old and Indian made. No, I won’t sell it.) I am wearing the new blue floral stripe dress I made.

A group of young Mennonite girls, between the ages of six and fourteen or thereabouts, had spent some time staring at us as we sat with Paula, her mother and Ella. Finally, three came over and began to speak to us in Deutsch. I haven’t said anything in German since I took a semester of high school German pretty close to forty years ago. Paula hears it more often where she lives, but doesn’t speak it. We got them to switch to rather accented English, and their question was about my beautiful bonnet! When they realized that I was not actually Mennonite, they didn’t quite know what to do. (Although it is a Mennonite bonnet, I purchased it online in the United States – no help to them.) I suppose they went back to Mama and asked her a lot of questions about strange Anglicans who dress Plain. It would help to travel amongst the Amish and Mennonite here if I could speak Deutsch, but aren’t I a little old for learning yet another language?

By the time we had finished shopping, the auction was over, so I wasn’t able to get any photos of the crowd and their buggies. I expect to go back in the fall, when the weather is cooler, the autumn crops are in, and there will be fewer tourists.

Here is the haul, though, back home in the kitchen: those are elderberries which I made into elderberry syrup in preparation for winter colds, melton mowbray pies, and garlic sausage, as well as heaps of assorted vegetables. I am canning in earnest now!

Hospitality and the Church

Churches just don’t DO hospitality well. They may think they do, but they don’t. Yes, there is coffee hour, and the potluck, and all those fellowship opportunities, like Quilt Club, and Men for Christ, and Youth Group, but that isn’t hospitality either.

Hospitality is about caring, giving and healing. It isn’t friendly chat and shared coffeecake. It goes far beyond that, and right into sacrifice and humility.

What would Jesus Christ NOT do for you?

So go and do likewise. That is hospitality.

Hospitality is more than a handout. It isn’t the food bank, the soup kitchen or the homeless shelter. All of these are aspects of caring, but it isn’t what hospitality is about. It certainly isn’t hospitality when the providers go home each evening to a nice snug home with lots in the refrigerator, and plan their next ski vacation. There’s no sacrifice in that. That’s hospitality as a diversion, a bit of guilt-assuaging.

Could you give everything to Christ? Could you give everything to those in need, knowing that Christ told you to do so?  (Matthew 25:31-46). The poor will always be with us, first because we let them be poor, and second because in them we serve Him who we love.

Hospitality is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan had no obligation to the victim of the robbers; he nonetheless put himself in danger, gave healing medicines, provided for his housing and food, and came back to check on him.

So the question isn’t “What am I obliged to do here?”, but “How much can I help? What is needed?”

The church too often falls into asking just the first question.

Treat every guest as if he were Christ; treat every stranger as a guest. (For some thereby have entertained angels, Paul’s reference to Abraham and the three men who came from the desert.)

When  strangers enter your church, what do you do? Turn around, stare and check them out? Do you whisper, “Who are they? Does anyone know them?” Or does the usher show them a suitable place to sit, as honoured guests? Does anyone sit with them to guide them through the service and hymns? Are they greeted by many after the service, and invited to share refreshments, a meal at home, their story? Or do you leave that up to the greeters and the pastor?

Do you plan shared meals with the people who visit the food bank and the soup kitchen? If you do, is it condescending, or is it a genuine desire to get to know them, and they you? Would you invite them to church on Sunday, and greet them if they come?

Hospitality toward each other is also part of the Christian requirement. Pastors and priests often suffer from the neglect of their parishes and churches. They are given barely adequate housing that just meets the denominational standards, or a housing allowance too small to provide a good home.  The manse gets neglected, goes unpainted, isn’t refurbished but once every twenty years, and has appliances that were cast-offs from someone’s remodelling project. There isn’t family hospitality extended, and clergy and their families are often isolated in their own communities, ignored by their own parishioners. They don’t know who to call on if they are sick or have an emergency. They pay for services that most families give each other freely, such as babysitting, dogminding, or gardening.

I was blessed in a parish that treated me like a member of the family. My rectory was well-kept and very comfortable, even if small and unpretentious, which suited me. The parish members would cook for me, help with my animals, and welcomed me into their homes often. I so miss them! If I were to retire somewhere soon, that would be the place.

Our priest or pastor is an elder in our church family. It isn’t a healthy family that works against its own elders, or undermines their authority, or refuses to help them when in need. In a family we would call that dysfunctional. How we treat others says a lot about our relationship with Christ. Do we serve Him in others, or are we serving ourselves, and therefore never serving Him?

Modest Brides, Modest Women, The Best of Hospitality

I don’t think we can expect young women (and some older ones) to suddenly decide that they are modest after all, just because they are getting married. “Raise them up in the way that they should go.”  And if we, their elders, have not given them much of an example (and I shake my head when I think of my past) then why do we demand it now? So, physician, heal thyself!

To me it is more than a matter of physical modesty; an expensive stylish outfit that shows no leg below the knee or doesn’t accentuate the bosom, paired with gold jewelry, a flattering haircut and a bit of colour to hide the grey, is still not saying to the world that a Christian woman is standing before them. Of course, the Plainest of Plain dresses, the severest of headcovering, and a sharp temper with a rough tongue doesn’t either. Modest, simple, headcovering dress and a meek temperment tell the world that thee is a Christian!

I know many will disagree with that, that they don’t think headcovering is required, that it is oppressive and outdated. I say it is back in date, even if it dropped out for a while. The world needs the Christian witness more than ever, and if we do not make that witness, if we are not living martyrs to the ways of the world, then we are not listening to what the world needs, which is the Way of Christ. We are called to be prophets of a different sort, living out our faith by example rather than words.

Nor is it enough to marry in a modest dress, live modestly and covered, and never give of our hearts. Marriage is more than the binding of two into one and the establishment of a household. It is also living out the mission of the little family church that you have become. Marriage is a mission to the world. It is a way to show how God loves us, how Jesus saves us. It is a place of extravagant hospitality in the humblest of settings.

This does not mean that the wedding reception has to be an extravagant waste of money and resources, the most expensive of everything in order to impress one’s friends. The party can be quite modest in budget, and simple in taste, while providing the guests with a wonderful time of food and fellowship.  It can be as simple as cheese, fruit and lemonade, a barbecue of burgers and sausage and salads, or a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and juice. The wedding cake should be good cake, and if it is homemade, all the better, without the over-the-top decorations of the expensive cakes we see on television. (Not that I don’t love seeing the artistic creations, but what used to be ordered only on the corporate level for huge business parties is now expected at little suburban weddings.)

That’s the beginning of family hospitality. I don’t believe in head tables, special wines for the wedding party, or the horrid habit of numbering the tables for the buffet line. Have two buffets set up or have waiters, or keep the meal so simple that there is not a backup at the buffet. The food should be well-prepared, and most multi-item buffets just don’t meet that standard. It used to be a custom in some places for the wedding attendants or the bride’s family to serve the tables, and special aprons were made by the bride for that purpose.

And that’s just the beginning. Christian hospitality is not about entertaining friends and family every Sunday, though.  It goes well beyond that. The new family – this little church – has a mission in the world, to serve the hungry, provide for the needy, to reach out and love as Christ has loved us.  Activity in outreach, the food bank, the soup kitchen, the homeless shelter, or raising money for and even serving in mission beyond our own walls is part of the Christian family life. We will have no trouble practicing modesty if that is the mission we fulfill, because we will have little time for mirror gazing and contemplation of our own desires.

Hospitality and the Church

We can call the virtue of hospitality in the Church either radical hospitality or faithful hospitality. I use “radical” here not to evoke some wild, anarchist kind of hospitality, but that is the root (radix) of what we do. Hospitality is “faithful” because we do it under command.

God gave us hospitality in Eden. The first created humans lived entirely in God’s hospitality. All was love and generosity, care and nurturing. The earth itself was hospitable, sheltering, warm and nourishing. Why did Adam and Eve ever envy God? They had all that he had. But envy was their sin – they desired to be as God, thinking that it would somehow be better than what they had. (Obviously, Satan has already fallen- literally – into the sin of pride. Pride and envy are closely related.)

Is lack of hospitality a sin of envy and pride? We call it selfishness, but isn’t that a kind of pride? “I deserve to have this for myself, and not share it with someone of lesser value.”

Is there more to the myth of Eden than we think?