Homesteading – and Hoarding

A well-organized pantry - not a hoard!

I’ve said before that I may be the pathological opposite of a hoarder, that I will get rid of good things just because they are taking up space.

People hoard for  a number of  reasons, but I think the main one is that they are planning a life they don’t have yet. They may never have it. Hoarding may actually prevent that life from happening as they get trapped in acquisitions, crippling debt and loss of quality of life. Some hoarding cases I have known: Animal hoarders who tried to rescue abandoned or lost animals, and end up starving them because theycouldn’t afford proper food and care; a woman who bought furniture, decorative items, dishes, clothes and jewelry suitable for a duchess living in a palace when she, a retired school teacher, lived in a tiny four room apartment; a man and his son who were recyclers but never sold anything to be recycled and let it pile up on a five acre property worth in itself a million dollars; and homesteaders whose house sites were piled with lumber, sheds full of old magazines and hardware, and decrepit refrigerators and cars.

Would-be and new homesteaders can be tempted into hoarding. The one really good piece of advice I got years ago about preparing to homestead was not to buy anything for the homestead until you had all the money saved to buy the homestead. In other words, don’t tie up your earned capital in stuff.

That, though, is not what hoarding is about. We can all make some mistakes in judgment when it comes to a new endeavour – I bought a used scythe instead of a new one, which made cutting the long grass too much of a chore, for instance – but I didn’t buy every used scythe I came across. Hoarding is about living in the future,  instead of trusting God to provide for our well-being. It can be about living in the past, when we cannot forgive someone else or ourselves, and we keep going back to the scene of the pain.

I think it is why we need to look carefully and prayerfully at why we want to homestead. Is it to serve God? There can be no other, better reason. We can be serving God in homesteading by living simply so as to leave resources for others, to improve and guard our God-given health, to provide our communities with healthy food, to raise our children separated from the world. But serving God is the core reason.

Have you ever known a history buff who was, well – obsessed? I was the curator of a historic museum in a small town. It was a wonderful job, except for the obsessive founder. He was a champion hoarder. He filled houses, and after I had de-ascensioned some trash he had left at the museum because he had no room for it, he was quite irate with me. It was part of my job to get rid of items that were inappropriate for the collection, and he was the reason. I stood up to him and sent him home with a couple of suitcases of his possessions he had left in the supplies closet.

Homesteading can be an excuse for the same kind of behaviour. You meet these people at country auctions, garage sales, barn sales, thrift stores. They are buying up anything old and potentially useful, at least potentially useful if they can fix it. Some day, they will need that lathe, hayfork, oil lamp sans globe, double boiler, auger, or fence wire stretcher. They can’t use it yet, haven’t bought the land, built the house, found the right stock…

The garage, basement and a new shed get filled. They stack things behind the house. They rent a storage unit or old barn. They have dozens, sometimes hundreds of books on homesteading. Yet they haven’t even planted a garden because there is no room, what with the three parts trucks and the old van in the yard.

They can describe that perfect homestead, how the house will look, how they want the lay of the land, what livestock they will get and what crops to plant. They live in that dream, and reality is ignored. The reality is that they may attempt to live their dream, and fail. Better never to start, than to be a failure.

I don’t mean those of us with delayed dreams – circumstances and finances may prevent us from moving along when we want to. We can contribute to realizing the goals of others with our knowledge and visions.

I mean those whose dreams have become a castle in the air. This is a serious condition. It will make the sufferer miserable, as they try every way but the right one to alleviate their anxiety and pain. It will make the sufferer’s loved ones miserable, as they are controlled by the person’s habits and hoarding.

Hoarders need to control, because they feel they have no control over circumstances. They have received a big shock at some time and felt helpless. They can control things, they can control people, but it is in a passive, manipulative way. They may feel superior to others by spending a lot of money, or “being prepared” for an imagined event or crisis that never happens. (Or if it does, they aren’t truly prepared because the items hoarded are no longer useful, or are inaccessible because of disorganization.)

I’m trying to approach this sensitive topic with an attempt at understanding the problem; I’m not condemning those who have fallen into this illness. But I also believe that we all need to be cautious about avoiding the syndrome. If we have a tendency to “save for a rainy day” anything that would otherwise be trash, then a sudden trauma could push anyone of us over the edge into a pathology. I am sympathetic to those suffering under this illness. It is as potentially damaging to happiness and health as a substance addiction.

The Advent Fast

Put away the wreath, the tree and the garlands. Stow the lights and ornaments. It is not Christmas yet. It is the time of spiritual preparation. We all need this. We are not exempt. The bridegroom has gone to prepare His Father’s house for us, and we need to get ourselves ready for the heavenly banquet. Christmas is a remembrance of the Incarnation, of Christ among us, and of Christ’s return. Be prepared!

Out culture rushes us into premature celebration, pushes us to buy things we don’t need so we can give them as gifts, and makes a mockery of Our Lord’s birth and life among us. Let the pagans have their Yule, we have Christ. But He expects nothing less than everything; we aren’t to give His gifts to the world. We must prepare ourselves to be holy people, to receive His holy gifts.

When I recently wrote about the separateness of Christians, I received angry comments, as if we are wrong to be separated, different from the world. One reader insisted that she did not want to be holy if it was exclusive! Of course it is exclusive! Christ didn’t die to make your sins right; He died to make you right! You simply do not get to keep your sinful nature, and once received into the household of God, you must put off your old ways, or out you will go. You cannot bring in other gods, you cannot bring in the gaudy and cheap ways of the world. If you will taste of the cup of grace, you must first wash your hands, clean your face, and put on the spotless garment. God calls you to do this, and obedience is imperative, or the wine and bread will be gall and ashes on your tongue.

Be prepared to sacrifice ease and pleasure. Be prepared to give up some of the little benefits of our wealthy culture – the food especially. We are an indulgent people, easily cossetted, greedy children. Fasting is a healthy exercise.

This is traditional Christian fasting: No meat, eggs, or dairy. No alcohol. No refined oils. Whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit. Very light seasoning. Olive oil and wine can be added on the weekends. (We may add eggs or dairy on weekends, as well, depending on our health.) Nut butters are a staple in fasting season. Hummus made without olive oil is also a good choice. Falafel can be baked instead of fried. The Russians eat sea salt on bread in the fasting season, rather than butter. Since beans without fat are rather bland, cook them with vegetables for flavour – tomatoes, onions, carrots. There are lots of online sources for the fast.

We are starting the fast late since we are in the process of moving, and I may have to adapt it a bit to accomodate my husband’s health issues. I can certainly use a fast, since I gained weight over the last year. I need to get back into my old eating habits. Part of my fast is going to be daily exercise. The dog and I really need it. I restrict her food intake to suit her lower level of activity, but I didn’t restrict mine. This is a fault on my part; I do know better! The fast helps us get our bodies back in line, makes us stronger, and teaches us discipline. It reminds us that all good gifts come from God.

And may I suggest that this year that we do not break the fast with a sumptuous feast, but a modest one? Rather than spending one hundred dollars on your Christmas meals (and that’s just a convenient number – don’t bother telling me “I never spend that much!”) spend fifty; if you usually spend fifty, spend twenty-five. There is no church canon that says you must have turkey, eight side dishes, and five desserts. A smaller turkey or ham or beef; potatoes, beets and other winter vegetables, avoiding the expensive imported ones; and a pie or two should suffice. Give what you save to your local food bank as cash, not canned goods. They need the money to get people through the rest of the winter.

Instead of gifts for the family, give to a family in need. The Salvation Army and other charities have programmes to help people buy heating oil. Donate to one of these. Give to one of the charities that provide farm animals or vegetable seeds to poor communities. Do something with your gift-giving money that doesn’t involve Walmart or the mall.

God calls us to be His people, not people of the world. We are blessed in simplicity and humility, not extravagance and arrogance.

NO Food Waste, Friday

If we eat the leftover soup and salad for lunch, that is. And I get the carrots and turnip diced, cooked and in the freezer before they become too weak and tired to be useful.

We used up a lot of freezer food this week. I used some forgotten-in-the-pantry dried peas and beans, as well. I thought they were navy beans, and planned to make New England baked beans, but they are pinto beans, and they are still in the slowcooker, becoming New England baked beans. Traditionally, this was served Saturday night with steamed brown bread and potatoes, the leftovers used on Sunday, back when Sunday meals were low-work dishes, since it was a Sabbath rest day. My Baptist ancestors did NOT work on Sunday, whether it was earning money, tilling fields, or cooking and cleaning. Only the most necessary work was done and the family kept a quiet day at home.

Planning is the best way to avoid food waste. Know what you have, don’t impulse buy at the grocery store, and have a good idea of how long staples will last and when you must use fresh foods. I depend on a grocery list and a menu; others will keep certain staples in the house and make their meals from there – a good idea if you have uncertain schedules or children going through food-fussy stages. (The night you were planning to serve curried lentils and Little Miss whines about yucky brown food that looks like gravel, AND you don’t have the wherewithall deep inside to tell her to eat or starve, then you have the fixings for tacos on hand. She’ll have to eat the lentils on Saturday, but by then you might have the fortitude to stand up to her. Peace in the family is sometimes more important than Being Right.)

I am still unable to compost – thought I would use the back corner of the fence, but it is near inaccessible to me and very accessible to my scrounging Australian shepherd who loves cucumber ends and tomato cores.  I think I need a covered composter outside the fence, but this is not the time to add anything like that to the household. We do not have a municipal composting programme. I visited a church in BC where they had their own community composter; maybe churches should do that more often. How I miss having a country property where we could have compost piles, and if the raccoons went through it for the eggshells, well, it just helped to turn the pile.

Do people ask why you bother when you are mindful of wasting food, when you recycle even the box the toothbrush came in, and fuss over your compost? I get questioned quite a bit – members of my family think I’m more than a bit nuts! What’s your answer? Is it a point of contention in your circle?

How Clean is Your House – Ask Kim and Aggie!

I’m a big fan of British television shows. They have a lovely taste of exotic mixed with just enough familiarity. My husband’s family is British; his parents emigrated to Canada from London. I have been sorting through some of his family photos, and so many of them were taken in pubs – everyone holding a pint glass of something foamy and dark. The wedding photos are of large groups of people in elaborate dress, flowers clutched, women with veils, little girls in crinolines, men in dark suits, everyone grinning outside the church.

It’s quite the contrast to my family photos. My rural family gathered at holidays, surrounding tables laden with food. (No alcohol, we’re Baptist.) So a typical group photo is the family looking over their shoulders, or a casual picnic shot of wide-beamed women in skirts and aprons, backs to the camera, ladling beans and potato salad onto paper plates.  There are few old wedding photos – we married quietly, in our Sunday dress, no frills, with just family in attendance. My mother’s father was one of a large family who went to automobiles early, so as each boy bought his first car, the family would stand around the Model A and get a snap done. Solemn, dressed in sober dark colours: You would think it was a funeral.

British television reflects that difference in background. I’m quite in love with Kim and Aggie of “How Clean is Your House?” They are a no-nonsense team who motivate people to live in healthier home environments. They are a big contrast to the therapists and organizers we see in the American television shows such as “Hoarders” and “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” Kim and Aggie bring in a team to pack and clean; what isn’t trash goes to storage to be dealt with later. They aren’t afraid to scold, reprimand and warn. It’s rather like having Aunt Vera and Aunt Gwen show up , buckets and mops in hand, ready to do battle.

I expect that they do some screening before taking on their subjects so as not to cause anyone untold grief and trauma if they are pathological hoarders. Most have at least a clutter problem, others are out-and-out hoarders, unable to motivate themselves to get rid of the filthy mess. (Which is what Kim calls it. She also used “flaming” as an adjective. Be warned.) This is the deal: They come in, make all the comments they want, analyze the situation, and then call in their team. The homeowner helps with the clearing, but it is very much about getting the work done. There’s no halt to the process – trash or treasure, it’s got to leave. It can go in the truck to storage, or it goes in the skip. The ladies get right down to the basics, the house is scrubbed down, and the place redecorated with what the owner needs.

While this does not solve the problem of hoarding, at least it gets the mess out of the house. It’s hauled to the council tip, or it’s boxed and put away. The subject can look around and see what they’ve been missing – a safe, clean, comfortable environment. They can again sleep in their bed, cook in their kitchen, and take a bath, all within a couple of days. This gives them the choice – do I maintain this nice home, or do I haul my stuff back in here and live in squalor?

While the American television programmes deal with some people with deep-seated pathologies, Aggie and Kim deal with those who have been overwhelmed by a family death, ill-health, or other changes in circumstances. The cases may look as bad – a bedsitter crammed with boxes, clothing, ornaments and other detritus from a larger house, for example, with no room to sit, lie down or even walk – but the subjects are emotionally in a place to divest of their trash. And there are no kid gloves here – it’s fanciful rubber gloves all round, and a good scrub-down.

“How Clean” focusses on the health and environmental issues – Aggie sends out swabs and petri dishes to a lab, and usually finds that kitchens, baths and even carpets are hosting toxic levels of bacteria and mold. They teach how to clean, declutter and maintain as they go. They give the subject some skills as well as motivation to maintain a clean home.

This is not to say their approach is better than the therapeutic one of “Hoarders” and “Hoarding.” It is for some people, who are heartily sick of the mess they are in, and ready to change. Others will probably backslide as soon as the crew is out the door. (They sometimes follow up in a couple of weeks.) Shopping and hoarding compulsions are hard to beat. They tie into our basic drive to save for the winter. But spending money on bargains is not the same as saving; accumulating is not the same as stocking.

Only occasionally do these television programmes address an underlying motivation – the need to control. When people think their lives are out of control, they may try to control their environment. They may impose their need on those who live with them. That need for control then becomes a need to control other people, to even force them into a little corner and take over their lives. The child who left home for adult life can’t come back; their room is filled with a parent’s possessions. Their abandonment of the parent is retaliated. Or the parent who can’t let go buys an inordinate number of gifts to “please” the absent child, and fills the room with those in anticipation that the child will then come back. The parent or spouse may be trying to construct the perfect home by buying more things in hopes of bringing the family together. They seem to forget how much stuff is in the house already; they may have lost some spatial sensibility. “The perfect home” exists somewhere in their imagination, but the real building would have to be ten times as big as what they now have to accommodate all they own.

Others simply cannot let go of the possessions of a lost love one. They have all of Mom’s things brought in to their home when she dies, with the aim of gradually sorting through everything. But everything reminds them of their unresolved grief, and nothing gets discarded or repurposed. I once walked into a house where Mom’s things were still there after a year; the family was standing at the kitchen table, trying to sort out spice jars. The rooms were filled with furniture and artwork and books; no one could make a decision about anything, not even the now-worthless containers of old food. They were telling themselves that they were afraid to throw out something valuable, but the one thing they valued above all was gone – Mom – and hanging onto dessicated bay leaves was just not going to bring her back.

We all have a tendency to keep things. It may be hardwired human nature. But it is also human nature to walk away from what is disgusting and dirty. It is God-given human nature to keep order. Sometimes this goes wrong, and things are kept that should be thrown away; dirt, mess and decay are ignored in favour of keeping what is damaged. Attempts at order may be undertaken – containers bought, things boxed or bagged and put in closets or drawers – but for the chronic keeper this is a stopgap. Eventually all those spaces get filled. Other spaces get appropriated.

The boxes get stacked in a corner. The books get piled on the floor. New clothes get dropped on top of the accumulated dirty laundry until it is not clear what is worn and what is clean. Eventually the piles of stuff, paper and boxes topple over and the owner gives up.

This is not the world the Lord means us to have. God does not intend us to be buried under manmade possessions, but to live in His Spirit, free of sin and sadness. Every pile of possessions, every crowded room, closet and attic, says to the owner that he or she has failed, that life is out of control, that in trying to grasp at happiness they have instead damaged it. They can’t face the anxiety and pain of parting with what was once valued and treasured, but if they don’t, a greater pain and weight will bear on them.

This is what I mean when I say that hoarding and its accompanying indecision are spiritual diseases. They are endemic in our culture. We are lied to constantly, that we can buy happiness and satisfaction. Walmart is showing an ad on television right now, a family picnic scene. One only needs to go to Walmart, buy some products (cooler, grill, foods, toys) and the whole family will have a perfectly good time. It doesn’t show the family where the parents get drunk on beer from the cooler, the kids sulk on benches with their handheld video games, and the teenagers sneak off to smoke and complain about their lousy family life. All the products at Walmart can’t cure a broken family. A happy family doesn’t need to go buy a carload of products to enjoy each other’s company. It might include some grilled burgers and a water slide, but it doesn’t need to.

I’ve known homesteading hoarders, suburban hoarders, rich hoarders and poor hoarders. The church itself doesn’t seem to help these people much. Gossip and rejection are the opposite of what they need, but that is stock in trade in most communities. Integration, outreach and acceptance are the first steps to helping those who suffer from a broken relationship with the material world. Then we can offer some common-sense, Kim and Aggie-type physical help.

What’s with the Sin, All the Time?

Christians talk about sin a lot. Google or tag surf the word “Sin”. Lots to read.

That’s a frequent criticism of the church. “What’s with the sin! You talk about sin all the time!”

We do, and we always have. The Philokalia, a collection of spiritual readings intended for Orthodox monks, has pages of lists of sins. I was raised in a Calvinist Baptist Church where the constant theme was “Avoid sinning.”  And we were told how to avoid sinning, mostly by staying away from the opposite sex. My logical little mind soon realized that staying away from the opposite sex did nothing to check gossip, lying, and envy among teenaged girls. Also, staying away completely from the opposite sex meant that the reason we stayed “pure’ – marriage – wasn’t going to happen. I knew a number of elderly spinsters in that Baptist Church.

Sexual immorality, of course, is the Big Sin for most evangelicals and fundamentalists. They see it (in a theological sense) as misplaced love, love that is owed to God and expressed in the basic relationship of a man and a woman loving each other and loving God together. Sex then becomes a mystery of the divine order rather than a physical human need. At that theological level, to misuse sex is the same as dishonouring a sacrament. (Please note that what I mean here by “sacrament” is theologically technical – not the sacraments of the church, but an action and a physicality that are sacred.)

The modern problem with emphasizing sexuality is that it becomes the focus of the definition of sin. It is so interesting! Prurience itself is a sin, when to hear about sex while being shocked by it becomes stimulating. Of course, sin is much more than sexual immorality.

Sin is anything that separates us from our love for God. Sin is always an idolatry of the self. We are more interested in pleasing ourselves than in pleasing God.

And isn’t it easy to excuse it, even as Christians? “It’s not vanity, I’m just trying to look nice for my husband.” “It’s not greed, I just think it’s okay for Christians to have nice things.” “It’s not envy, it’s just that she really doesn’t deserve that.” “It’s not pride, I just think I did a good job and should have some recognition.”

So the Church has talked about sin a lot, in order to alert us to its dangers. If I don’t tell you about the jagged rocks under the water ahead, your boat will probably hit them. Forewarned, you can steer around, or turn back if you must.

We can’t avoid sin in this world. It is a fallen world. Christ waits to restore it in the last days, with the saints in heaven asking, “How long, O Lord? How long?” We wait, but we wait amongst our own fallenness and the accumulated sin. We see it everyday – in broken lives, in hurt people, in hearts that may never mend from the injury done them in the name of human love. We see a polluted and damaged creation. Like cleaning up the tar balls on beaches after this latest oil spill, we can only mop up on the surface. The real damage goes much deeper. The real damage of an environmental disaster goes beyond ruined beaches, dead wildlife, and a crippled ecology. It goes down into our hearts, where luxury, greed, and desire pollute and corrupt us.

Our world is based on lies, the child of the father of lies. We are told daily that we need to look and act young, that we should be spending money on things and experiences, that the past is a dead and ugly thing. All of this leads to sins of the heart.

Why do we want to be young as we grow older? Is not grey hair the wisdom and glory of age? We must have been brainwashed, to think that being young is a good thing. Although I remember the carefree days, I also remember the overweening self-esteem that led me into some bad situations. I got in well over my head at times. I’m glad that’s all past.

Vanity is encouraged by those who want us to buy their products. Fifty-plus-year-old women don’t have lustrous dark hair, at least not many of them. Telling us that we need to look young (to get partners) is just a way to sell us a poisonous product to turn our hair a different colour. Make-up is the same thing, as well as face creams, foundation garments and figure-enhancing clothes. If you look like the middle-aged grandmother that you are, who is going to want to be your partner? Look, I figure that while I am married in middle-age, my husband is also middle-aged, and I dont’ need to look elsewhere or win anyone else’s admiration. If I wasn’t married, I don’t think I would look for a new partner. If God sent someone my way, he’d better be interested in a  grey-haired, Plain-dressed grandmother or keep on moving.

Vanity is a waste of money and time. Get used to yourself. Start young, and avoid the silly products, the waste of money and all the anxiety around dressing and looking like an advertisement.

Greed is subtle. We measure success in this world by money and possessions – the most fleeting of things. Beyond meeting our basic needs, why are we concerned about having ornaments and luxuries? So we can impress others? Be more concerned with the state of your heart before the Lord than with the state of your goods before the world! Keep possessions to a minimum, be easy to move if the Lord calls you elsewhere. You are only a pilgrim here.

We are brought up to be competitive, on the theory that good-natured competition encourages excellence. But it more likely encourages working for praise, and that leads to envy. We can’t seem to rejoice in another’s blessings without wondering why we didn’t get the preferment. Competition, along with the anxiety generated in us by an inundation of advertising meant to weaken our self-confidence, ruins our joy. Someone else can get the prize, or get the preferment, or get the promotion: The Lord has work for you that may not include any of those things. Be happy in the work of the Lord!

And when we do get the envied prize, the coveted preferment, the gainful promotion, then we are proud. We won! We are better! Have you ever noticed that the only personal trait in Jesus that is described to us is His sinlessness? It isn’t His skill in His trade, His athleticism, His rugged good looks. None of the usual traits that lead to fame are there. It is His willingness to do the work of the Father. Certainly, we must strive to be competent at our work, for we owe that to God who gives us our talents. But to desire and then gloat in worldly success because of them displaces them from heaven and drops them in the muck.

While we know we will not achieve sinlessness here in this world – for we are drawn into it not only by our own desires, but by the ways of the world that we cannot change – The Lord desires to forgive our sins and lead us in righteousness. All we need to do is walk in His light.

Freebies

What to do with those items people give away as advertising promotions?

I used to work at boat shows when I was much younger. I would end up with packets of stuff – brochures, pens, gizmos too weird to describe. They would get carted home and eventually dumped in the office or kitchen, where they clogged the drawers and shelves. Then I would throw them out in anticipation of the next round of show freebies.

I don’t bring that stuff home anymore, not even the free pens.

What about stuff that comes in the mail? Do you send for samples, or are on a mailing list? This is especially true if you are a new parent.  The stuff that just comes in the mail is usually disposable, usually expensive once you’ve developed a taste for it.

I don’t ask for samples. I want to make up my mind without being burdened with new products to try. Mostly, I’m going to use an old product that isn’t disposable or has a lot of packaging.

I don’t even try the food samples in the supermarket. It’s usually junk food. Then they give you a coupon. I don’t use coupons – I want natural, whole foods without packaging, and I don’t want to pay for the advertising.

Our bishop used to give us nice pens at clergy meetings. They were a quality refillable product, quite attractive. I did appreciate that. If I didn’t need it, I gave it to a parishioner who might like a pretty little something, or used it as a prize in confirmation class quizzes. The bishop here gives out lapel pins, which would be quite useless to us. I don’t wear any jewelry at all, not even a watch, and Nicholas has no lapels.

Trade show freebies like that – how come no one gives me a really good vegetable peeler?

Acquisitiveness is fostered by give-aways. I think good stewardship leads us to question whether we need something and if it is worthy to take home, or if it is just feeding our greed.

Pinball Wizards and the Church, But Mostly about Hospitality

Mother Kay and I watched an old episode of the reality show “Ace of Cakes” last night. (We are cake voyeurs.) Duff, the owner and head chef at Charm City Cakes, brought a pinball machine to the bakery to inspire a commissioned cake.  (Which was really a set display piece and not a cake, which must have been very disappointing to people who saw Duff deliver the cake at the pinball convention.)  Then the Stanley Cup came for a visit. The bakers play with light swords and helmets when they make Stars Wars cakes. They really get into their work.

I’m not a culture junkie, but let’s face the facts – we all want to have some fun at work. We all want to laugh a bit. We all like some games and a modicum of silliness. The great saints weren’t dead serious all the the time. They had a glass of wine with the monks, told jokes and ridiculous stories, and even Mother Teresa laughed and joked and hugged and partied a bit, in the midst of the tragedies that surrounded her in Calcutta. Fun and laughter engender creativity, which is part of our holy image.

I encourage churches to plant gardens. There’s a great deal of God-partnering creativity there, and who doesn’t laugh and smile when they see a garden growing and blooming? I used to have my confirmation students take on craft and art projects – big paper banners to hang in the church on special occasions. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t anything to last forever, but they got to contribute to the liturgy and the church environment. They had fun doing it.

I think the church hall could use a pinball machine. The hall could use a glass of wine and some music, too. Our hospitality to others and to ourselves is so weak. Don’t just serve lemonade on the lawn, serve it on the sidewalk! Have a meal after church service, a good meal, not a cheap meal, and put up signs all over the town “Join us at NOON Sunday for a celebration of joy!” If people know we are joyous and a fun bunch of people, who are that way because we love God and each other, they may join us at 11 am on Sunday. And if they don’t, well, they got to see a group of Christians who care.

All those meetings we have in the church – oh, lots of them, too many to count – they need to involve some fun components. Serve good coffee and snacks, creative snacks, not just the box of Tim’s doughnuts or the fruit tray. Bowls of yummy home-made granola. Fresh-baked bread and good cheese. Chocolate dipped strawberries.  (As an aside, seminarians learn to find the free food, usually laid on for the higher-ups like board members. And the skill persists. Nicholas and I were at someone else’s seminary a couple of years ago, working in their library. This wasn’t even our denomination; I was cataloguing a unique collection and he was reading John Howard Yoder. Their local clergy had sponsored a seminar and they left an unattended coffee buffet outside the auditorium. A quick glance up and down the corridor, and several muffins and a couple of cups of coffee walked away. At university, we theology students found that the business department that bordered our wing sponsored occasional buffet brunches.  They had chandeliers and couches in their lounge. We had plastic chairs out in the hall. We paid as much in tuition, so we felt no qualms about walking through the adjoining door and helping ourselves to the Friday fruit salad and danish.)

I’m not sure why we make people sit through church before we reward them with coffee and stale mini-donuts. Shouldn’t we set up a coffee and tea service in the narthex so people can refresh themselves through the sermon and the choir anthem?

I could say something here about food charity. Okay, I will. When buying for the food bank, don’t be stingy. There are just pennies difference between the cheap soup and the good soup, between oatie-o’s and the Gen’ral Mills brand that rhymes with Tear-ios. Poor people are always having to buy the cheaper brand. Buy them the good one! (And please stop donating the cans of black olives. You don’t like them, either.)

As for distant hospitality – why aren’t we fighting harder for food and water aid in places that have neither? Are we keeping it for ourselves, as if we needed all of it? We don’t. There are surpluses. Maybe I’ve said this before. If the U.S. Army can move entire military bases thousands of miles and set them up in hostile territory, why can’t they set up aid bases where they are needed? The “local corruption and war lords” argument is not working for me. There’s no money in it for oil companies, armament suppliers and the Pentagon overlords, so it doesn’t get done. Fight for it, out there! Write letters, email your bishop, throw some good demonstrations when and where they count. Forget the G8/G20 conferences. They never see the protesters, who now are known as thugs and troublemakers. (Fair or not, that’s how they are viewed.) How about a big sit-down protest at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC? Or in front of Westminster Abbey, or Notre Dame? Lots of signs saying “Feed the world now,” some speeches by celebrities, and don’t move for three or four days.

Hospitality is more than coffee after church; it is everything from a cup of cold water given in love to massive movements of rice and medicine in the name of the Lord. Are we stingy? Are we cheap?

If it were Jesus asking for bread, would you give Him a stale crust, or reach for the freshly baked whole wheat loaf?