Living Off the Clock

I read a beautiful National Geographic story online about the Sami (or Suomi, or Lapps as we called them years ago.) These are the reindeer people, many of them still living their semi-nomadic life above the Arctic Circle. They are very much in tune with the environment around them, with the signs of weather and the ways of the reindeer. Although they once followed the reindeer according to where the reindeer thought to go, they are now confined to certain pasturing grounds. This has affected how they live by forcing them to herd the reindeer more, using snowmobiles rather than their traditional skis and sledges, and it has changed the reindeer, often causing stress and lower birth rates. The Sami believe, and are most likely right, that the reindeer know by instinct and herd decision where they should be, but the government thinks differently.

A friend recently wrote me with a question about forming Christian community, and I posted to him the article about the reindeer people. This is what I want to do; I almost feel compelled to it. I don’t mean move to northern Norway, but live a life according to the seasons. Christians should be good at keeping the seasons, as our church year is seasonal. Yet we are so often driven by the clock and calendar. We are driven by expectations which, when we examine them, are worldly and not other-worldly. This earth is God’s creation for us. He placed us here. And when Eden was brought up from the mist and mud, there were no roofs or clocks or shops. It was just the animals, God, and then the adama – the people of the earth.

So this earth should be our world, not the world of buying and selling, of status and prestige, of power and money. We speak of the two kingdoms because we humans built the second one; that tower of Babel is not finished, nor abandoned in our desires. There is but one true kingdom, and that is the Kingdom of God. Jesus told His followers that it is at hand – meaning imminent, and at His resurrection, that Kingdom was founded.  But in sin and blind ambition, we refuse to fulfill the promise of the Kingdom, and live on in our fantasy world, regulated by clocks, driven by desire, harassed by human, not divine, expectation.

My recent round of  illness was aggravated by worry and the feeling that I needed to get a job, get better medical care, get it all done so that I could rest and maybe recuperate. I can hear my mother’s voice yet in my head criticizing the pile of laundry and the dusty floors. Dear mother, you left this world more than decade ago, with not a dirty dish in the sink and the laundry folded. I most certainly would put up with mountains of dirty clothes and floors that yet needed washing to have you back.

When we work closely with animals, a lot of other things hang fire. Sometimes the herder or shepherd leaves everything – dirty dishes, phone calls to return, sermons to write, checkbooks to balance – because the herd needs their human companion. One animal down can cascade into illness through the whole flock. Things must be done when the time is right, usually not a moment sooner nor a moment or two later. The flock becomes the focus. And I believe this is as it should be.

Shetland sheep via wikimedia

We will not regain Eden before the return of Christ, but we can work at living in God’s Kingdom now. That may seem like an impossibility to many people, who are tied to work hours, with debt to be paid. Nor should our work be other than in the Kingdom; must we work for unethical companies, at soul-destroying jobs? And even if we are satisfied with our work, is it really what God intends for us? Getting free of debt as quickly as possible, planting even a small garden, spending more leisure time in natural surroundings are good beginnings to living closer to the Kingdom. Sometimes our church home stands in the way as well; there’s an issue for all Christians to consider. Is the church itself too much of this world? I know mine is often too concerned with raising money and finding new parishioners, while employing church leaders concerned with their ambition and advancement rather than with the health and well-being of their flock.

I hope to be closer to the Kingdom myself in seasons to come, really closer to our flocks and herds, spending more time as a herder and shepherd rather than as a household manager and professional worrier. I do desire fields and pasture for the animals where they can be what they are, and I can be with them. But we too are constrained by fences and government; we too, as the Sami, must adapt somewhat, even when we see that it is not the best thing. We can always work for change, though. We can work toward restoring something of Eden, a place in which to wait for the Lord’s return. Best that when He comes to us, He finds us at the work He gave us, not the work of the other world.

by Edward Hicks

National Geographic article:http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/11/sami-reindeer-herders/benko-text

More information about the Sami by the Sami: http://boreale.konto.itv.se/samieng.htm

Cultural Conditioning and Honey Cures

I used to work in offices, for corporations. “They” give you maybe ten sick days a year. If you are ill more than that, you have to figure out a way to remain home for recuperation without losing your job. This does not always work in reality.

I have been under the weather and ill for most of this year. I manage to get up and get around, but if I had to put in a commute and an eight hour workday, I would definitely be unemployed by now. It is the nature of auto-immune diseases like this, to incapacitate for long stretches of time. Yet I expect that I should be well enough for a full work schedule in two weeks or less.

I think I am past the worst of it, barring another round triggered by some allergen. My cough is clearing up rapidly, and I think a longterm infection has caused this long allergic response. I developed a sensitivity to lavender oil; it has taken a couple of weeks to get that sorted out. I am resistant to the pharmaceuticals I’ve been using, so I needed to change gears on that for a while.

I put up a plea on facebook for advice from my friends. One suggested that I needed two things: a strong dose of honey in my beeswax and olive oil salve, and a lot of sleep. Skin does not heal, it seems, except in stage 4 sleep. Honey has long been used as a dressing on healing wounds and sores. I’ve seen it in Amish and Old World books on home remedies.

The honey cure has been great. Here it is, according to what I worked out for myself following an online recipe that wasn’t as effective: 1 part honey, 1 part beeswax, 3 parts olive oil. The beeswax should be all natural – I use drippings and stubs from my Ukrainian altar candles – and the honey should be unpasteurized. The olive oil can be just any olive oil. Heat the olive oil gently, on low heat, maybe over a double boiler but at least while you hover over it and stare meaningfully at it. Then add the beeswax in bits, stirring until it melts. Pull off the heat and beat in the honey (which can be slightly warmed to make it flow easier; warm it by putting the jar in a  bowl of hot water). Stir with a wooden spoon until it is well homogenized and cooling. If you don’t stir, stir, stir, the wax may separate out in grains and the honey sink to the bottom.

I have been warming this gently by placing the jar in a pan of hot water raised to simmer, and taking off just as it becomes spreadable. Make sure it isn’t too hot, then spread it on the affected area.

I feel as if I have been waterproofed, but it is amazingly effective at reducing eczema and treating dry skin that resulted from the prescription ointments.

The Modesty of Self

I haven’t posted much on modesty lately. I am so fully immersed in my modest ways, that I no longer think much about it. That’s why the nun’s daily clothing was called a “habit.” There’s a lot to be said for the habit, for just stepping into the simple garments meant to just clothe the body, without a thought as to flattery or appeal. Everything I wear is easy, even if I have to wrangle some pins into it right now. My daily dress routine takes mere minutes, and unless I have some unforeseen encounter with kitchen splatter, garden mud or barn muck, I’m pretty much set for the day, no matter where I go.

apron over apron - upper Valley tradition

I used to be a clotheshorse, being slim and pretty. But that was living in what the world expected of me, not what the Lord expected of me. In choosing clothes and spending time on appearance – hair, make-up, outfit – I was making a little idol out of the image in the mirror. It was about ME. Either it was about my feeling like an attractive woman, or it was about me wanting to be just like others. Even as clergy, that got reinforced. I think many of us had a fear that ME would drown in the collar and suit. We even fretted over vestments, expensive lengths of cloth that cost a small fortune, to be worn one hour at a time on Sunday morning. Choosing the right vestments (for flattery and to express one’s innate good taste and brand of theology) was a major issue. After a few trials, I came to dislike vestments greatly. They are heavy, expensive, easily stained, difficult to clean, and a downfall of pride for priests and clergy. When I had several services a day, wearing vestments felt like spending a whole day modelling wedding dresses. The weight of the cloth, the care needed to keep it unsullied, the moving about in yards of satin and brocade – I dreaded it. I switched down to cassock, surplice and black stole pretty quickly. That felt as natural as a dress and apron.

So why was I still getting into the plastic collar and suit? To prove that I was a real priest? To impress others? Some of both.

What I am doing should tell people what I am. If I’m at the altar, or i n he pulpit, or visiting the hospital, I’m the pastor. But mostly I’m a Christian. Part of what I do is stifle that vanity and pride.

Being a Christian became more important to me than being the priest. I identify more strongly with the simple portrait of Jesus and his disciples in the Gospels than I do with the medieval role of the presbyter.

But I needed to stop identifying so strongly with the cultural role handed to me at birth – attractive woman, whose appearance evokes lust, envy, desire, smug approval, or pride. This is what happens when we unthinkingly, unquestioningly, accept what the culture wants for us, without regard for what God wants. And sometimes when we do question the cultural normatives, we still give in, out of fear of being different, out of pressure from those who don’t like our choice, out of persuasion from friends and family who are embarrassed at our rejection of what they accept. Subconsciously, we know that the adoption of a uniquely Christian way of life and its call to separate ourselves visibly will hold us up to a standard we may fail. We may want that opportunity to let our standard slide a bit.

I found that the clergy collar did not require a high standard. Too many clergy have used the collar to hide their sins. Others in recent years have boastfully worn it in the midst of their worldly life – ambition, envy, desire for wealth and status.

God calls us out of that.

And there’s no excuse for pride of modesty either. I see this in evangelical young women, for the most part, mainly because they are the ones who come to me for guidance and advice. There is a lot of initial enthusiasm, and they flaunt their new modest (but fashionable) dresses and headscarves before their less modest friends. They wear modesty rather than are modest. They are not interested in leaving the sinful world behind while aiming for the new Jerusalem. They want to be the Christian character in the game of culture. Others – usually young American women who have read some Amish novels or have seen some “Amish” themed movies or television – desire the Plain life, but find it means Self disappears into the cape dress and kapp. When the cape dress fails to flatter them as they wished, they abandon it. They have not given up the idol in the mirror.

Plain is as much a dedicated life as the monastery. It is a practice of Christian self-denial, and to some degree, all Christians are called to it. The context of it will be different from one place to another, but it is the same. It is a modesty of forgetting the anxiety around the projection of Self. God requires that we become transparent to His Will, both in receiving it and giving it forth. If what we want to project is our own personality, contrived as that is, we cannot be the medium for God’s Peace.

I will say it bluntly: Christian life, no matter who you are, requires great self-sacrifice. It requires great sacrifice of all that we may hold dear in this world. We don’t live in the world of popular culture – television, entertainment, parties, popularity, personal attractiveness, amusement, status, shopping – we live in the Kingdom of God. Jesus brought it to us, and we inherited it with His death, resurrection and return to the Father. We have it now. What we bring into that Kingdom must be beneficial to all who live in it. What we carry out of it must be what proclaims the Kingdom, and the reality of new life through Jesus Christ. It isn’t just a matter of “believing in him,” a brief prayer that we memorize as a talisman, but a change in our daily lives. We are called by Him – really called, like a parent calling a child home at dusk, and no matter where we are and what we are doing, we are with Him and alive in Him, and He in us. When the rest of the world looks for Jesus, they will see you.

from Amish Village

Why a Bonnet?

Amish Bonnet, Pennsylvania

If any one article of women’s Plain dress says, “I am not of this kingdom,” it is the bonnet. It is the public declaration of being different. It covers the hair, a source of vanity. It shadows the face, a clear boundary of privacy. It is the symbol of feminine identity as a Christian: Quaker, Amish, Mennonite, Anabaptist, Brethren, Salvation Army worker, Plain Anglican.

Amish bishop and wife

The bonnet is unmistakeably a way to say,”I am a serious Christian.”

It is anti-vanity, anti-lust, anti-world. It says that the wearer intends to guard her femininity.

It also says, "No foolishin' around."

I described wearing the bonnet as having the monastery on one’s head. It is a place of security and grace when one takes it on with the understanding that under it, one is in the Kingdom of God.

my bonnet

A Plain Advantage

Down-priced food

A friend recently admitted to me that she didn’t like to be seen buying deep-discounted things, and would never ask for a mark-down, even on a damaged item. She was afraid people would think her cheap. Her self-image, and her projected public image, were of a woman who didn’t need to pinch pennies.

Being Plain, people would wonder if I had lost my mind if I passed up a possible bargain. No one looks at me sorting through the dented and dated bin at the back of the market and says to herself, “Well, I never expected that! Maybe they aren’t making much money…” Anyone who has seen my snaggle-toothed truck or my husband’s spliced bootlaces knows that we aren’t making much money, and maybe we don’t care to, either.

Nicholas jokes whenever I serve lentils that we mustn’t let the neighbours know, “Or they will think we are poor.” My answer is always, “They might as well think it, because it is true.”

The prayer kapp, apron and sensible footwear really must say, “Here’s someone who isn’t wasting money on clothes – or much else.” I quite peacefully rummage the bargain bin, pick up the half-price items, and ask the manager for a discount on an item I want that is shopworn. If I loaded my grocery buggy with caviar, t-bone steaks and premium ice cream, the neighbours would think I truly had lost my mind – or won the lottery! (Which I never play; Anglicans in this diocese are prohibited from gambling. I wouldn’t anyway, since a dollar spent on a lottery ticket ensures one has almost no chance – just about a zero chance – of winning. Whereas not buying a lottery ticket guarantees I still have the dollar, which I will spend on Reese’s peanut butter cups, which guarantees I have a delicious snack.)

This is what I bought today on discount: macaroni, cornmeal, canned tomatoes, canned beans, yogurt starter, two heads of cabbage, dark rye bread, a pound of mushrooms, apples and tangerines. Toupie hams were half-price,  a lot of meat for $6. The pharmacy gave me a $10 gift card for groceries when I picked up my husband’s prescription, as well as a coupon for 50 cents off another purchase. Even toilet paper was on sale, 30 rolls for $12. I didn’t pay full price for anything today, not even the scrumptious, irresistable Reese’s cups.

half-price fresh food

What is worrisome is that the large supermarkets seem to always have food marked down, especially fresh produce and bread. Some items never sell for full price, it seems. It used to be that we only found the bargains on Monday morning, when beef, fish, and specialty fresh items that didn’t sell on the weekend would be discounted. Now, I can go to the supermarket anytime and find even apples, lettuce and tangerines marked to half-price. Meat is regularly re-priced at 30% off.  New specialty gourmet items – Starbucks instant coffee, which was about $8 for the packet of little coffee tubes- are already on the half-off table, and no one is buying. If the public can’t afford apples and lettuce, they surely can’t afford Starbucks indulgent single serving instant coffee. This supermarket now has a half-aisle shelf of marked-down cosmetics, soaps and shampoos. More items are having to be marked down just to get them to a price people can afford.

Hutterite Clothing

Some people say that they find Plain dress too austere – too plain. No colour, no pattern, loose and unbecoming. But there is a traditional Anabaptist group who enjoy colour and pattern.

Hutterite children, from Univ. of Regina

Hutterite women and children wear bright colours, calicos, plaids and prints. Sometimes they wear them all together. When we were out West in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Hutterite women would shop at Walmart or the market, in their distinctive polka-dotted black kerchiefs, wearing long pleated skirts and a matching, short-waisted, long sleeved jacket. (I can’t seem to find any photos of this ensemble.) They liked bright patterned fabrics, and looked very Eastern European. The men and boys wore white shirts, dark jeans, and white or straw cowboy hats. the babies looked like little Russian dolls, all bundled up in bright fabrics and bonnets.

Hutterite family 1588

The women still dress much like this, although the men no longer wear the long jacket, and the sugarloaf hat has disappeared!

Hutterite girls, in skirt, blouse and vest (via freeyello)

These may be one-piece dresses made to look like the traditional vest and skirt, always worn over the white blouse.  Each colony – the Hutterites live communally, in groups of about 100-150 – buys a quantity of fabric each year, under the direction of an older woman in charge of the sewing. The families can then choose from the storeroom for new clothes to be sewn. While the men are in charge of the fields, machinery, animals and general business, women take turns at running the kitchen, the sewing room, the school and the gardens. These are all large scale endeavours, as all meals are communal in a common dining room.

Old Magazine Photo of Hutterites, Univ. of Minnesota

Hutterites speak a form of German called Hutterisch. Sometimes families will leave the colony, which while it is considered a disgrace, doesn’t seem to cut them off from contact with their family back home. Many will join Mennonite churches if they choose to live away from the colony. It seems to be a hardship to leave, and learn to live without the support of the community, making decisions about money, furnishings, and even clothing.

Among other Anabaptists, Hutterites are known for their blunt speech and even bawdy, earthy sense of humour. They have some celebrated youth choirs, sharing the Mennonite history of choral harmony.

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